Tag Archives: Trey Flowers

After Initial Free Agent Frenzy, What’s Next For the Patriots?

Steve Balestrieri
March 22, 2018 at 8:30 am ET

The initial burst of signings is over in free agency, the Patriots lost four key players and brought in four of their own new players while resigning a few of their own free agents. So, now the question is, where are they at this point in free agency and what are their needs right now with still plenty of free agents still out there before the NFL Draft starts.

They’ve already addressed some of their needs early in free agency. That doesn’t mean that they’re done at any position per se, we would still expect them to double down on some positions in the draft.

With that said, after the initial free agency period what the are the Patriots biggest needs moving forward that can be addressed in free agency, the draft or both?

Left Tackle: No one wants to downplay the losses of Danny Amendola, Malcolm Butler or Dion Lewis, but the loss of Nate Solder arguably hurts the most because the team, at least initially has no replacement in place. With Marcus Cannon on the right side, the Patriots need a left tackle. Their two backup swing tackles, LaAdrian Waddle and Cameron Fleming are free agents. Ideally, the team would like to get both back.

There are also some players on the roster that they’ve stashed from 2017 Cole Croston and Andrew Jelks. They just signed Matt Tobin, who was a backup swing tackle from Seattle. Last season the Patriots moved up in the draft to snag Antonio Garcia in the 3rd round of the draft. But Garcia missed the season with an illness where he lost 40 pounds. He’s now cleared to resume his football career but will he be ready?

This year’s draft isn’t a great one for tackles and the one most associated with New England seems to be UCLA’s, Kolton Miller. And I’m not a fan of this if that is who they are targeting. He tends to play too upright and to me is too much of a finesse player which reminds me of last year’s pick also from UCLA Connor McDermott. Croston beat him out for a roster spot.

How they approach the next few weeks and the draft will tell a lot of how they feel about their current situation. If they resign Waddle or Fleming and then don’t draft a tackle high, then they believe that Garcia will be their guy and Waddle is insurance. If they go for a tackle early in the draft, then that answers that question.

Linebacker: The Patriots front seven needed a big upgrade this offseason. They will be getting back Dont’a Hightower, Vincent Valentine, Derek Rivers, and Harvey Langi off of IR so that already increases the depth. But then they added a big defensive lineman in Danny Shelton, a two-gapping space eater who can take on the double teams and allow the linebackers to stuff the run. And they added Adrian Clayborn, a 280-pound defensive end that can set the edge in the running game and get pressure on the quarterback.

Now they need a linebacker inside with better athleticism than they have. The two guys in free agency that we liked, Nigel Bradham and Preston Brown were quickly signed elsewhere.There are some very intriguing names in the draft. The Patriots usually like their linebackers big, although the trend is going smaller, faster and more athletic. One big guy who is intriguing is Leighton Vander Esch. Bill Belichick was just at Alabama and they have a very impressive backer in Rashaan Evans but he’ll probably be gone before they pick at #31.

Belichick also scouted South Carolina’s Skai Moore, an undersized, smaller type player who led his team in tackles for four years. He’d be a mid-to-late round guy. Some others in that vein are Joe Ostman a DE/OLB from Central Michigan and Jack Cichy from Wisconsin.

Quarterback: So, do the Patriots like any of these quarterbacks in this season’s draft? Everyone is assuming that they’re going to draft one early and look for the successor to Tom Brady but would I be shocked if they pass? No. They always seem to do the opposite of what everyone is predicting for them.

Trying to predict which quarterback the Patriots will pick is another difficult proposition.  The ones who seem to fit what they do are Kyle Lauletta from Richmond who was a mid/late round prospect until his Senior Bowl performance turned some heads.

Other guys rumored to be on the Patriots radar are Luke Falk and Logan Woodside. But something to keep in mind if he’s still around when the Patriots pick is Louisville QB, Lamar Jackson. The Cardinals play in the same system, the Erhardt-Perkins system that New England uses.

Tight End: Rob Gronkowski is still slated to return this season. But we haven’t heard any confirmation on that. His agent had said that he was contemplating retirement. Regardless, the Patriots need to begin planning for his replacement, as crazy as that sounds with a 28-year old tight end who is still at the top of his game.

Dwayne Allen remains as does Jacob Hollister. Allen has a $5 million dollar contract and was a terrific blocker but offered very little in the passing game. Hollister flashed the ability to make some tough catches and to attack the seams but will need to make a big second-year step up in his play.

There are some good tight ends in the draft. The Patriots have met twice now with South Carolina TE Hayden Hurst. The former professional baseball pitcher is already 24 and maxed out physically but is an impressive player. He has excellent hands and above average speed. His production suffered from poor QB play on many occasions, having watched most of SC games.

Other excellent options in the draft include Dallas Goedert from S.Dakota St., Mike Gesicki, from Penn State, and Mark Andrews from Oklahoma among others.

And of course, Martellus Bennett may reappear on the scene. He hinted on social media that he may return to the Patriots at a lesser amount. But they should look to get younger at the position but it never hurts to have a player of his ability on the roster either.

Running Back: The Patriots resigned Rex Burkhead and added Jeremy Hill to a very team friendly contract and seem like they are well stocked. Hill and Mike Gillislee will battle it out for the big back, short-yardage role. James White is the passing back, strictly third down option while Burkhead can do a bit of both. Brandon Bolden is the depth piece who plays special teams.

I’d still believe that the Patriots need a younger back to add to the puzzle to build for the future. And this draft is chock full of them. Some running backs slotted for the 2nd round or later include, Auburn’s Kerryon Johnson, Georgia’s Sony Michel and Nick Chubb, San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny, North Carolina State’s Nyheim Hines, and Notre Dame’s Josh Adams.

The Patriots met with Hines at the Combine and then recently attended NC State’s Pro Day and have been speaking about how he feels he fits with New England as others have told him also…which usually means the team won’t touch him.

The team will probably also dip into the draft for an edge player as well. With Trey Flowers, Adrian Clayborn, Deatrich Wise, Adam Butler coupled with the return of Hightower and Derek Rivers, they have much better depth than the team that went to the Super Bowl just in February.

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.

Free Agency Fits For the New England Patriots Defense

Steve Balestrieri
March 13, 2018 at 8:23 am ET

The legal tampering window is upon us and with free agency and another blizzard right around the corner, it is a good time to kick back with a coffee and look at the free agency help that is out there. For this particular exercise, we’re looking at fits for the Patriots defense, specifically, the linebacking core as all but one of these are linebackers and one corner. Are there others out there? Absolutely. But these are the ones we like the fit to New England.

As always the price of the free agents will drive the train and the Patriots don’t have anywhere near the flexibility that they had a year ago. And many of these free agents, perhaps all of them may be out of their price range. But in terms of fit, in our opinion, these players would be good additions to the defense.

Again, there are other players out there who may either be of interest to the Patriots but here are some of the ones we believe will be a good fit in the defense.

Nickell Robey-Coleman: The Patriots are very familiar with him, having played for four seasons with the Buffalo Bills and he fits a very specific need of theirs, which is a slot corner. Coleman can play boundary corner but at 5’8, 165 pounds, he’s better suited for the slot where he’s flourished.

Coleman was an undrafted free agent in 2013 played on a one-year prove-it type deal with the Rams last season and there is plenty of talk that he wants to return to Los Angeles and that Rams want him back.

Coleman had a very good 2017 season logging 50 tackles, two tackles for loss, nine passes defensed, one forced fumble, and one interception. The Patriots need a slot corner. Jonathan Jones was close to taking over that spot but then was injured and went on IR. He was missed in the Super Bowl, especially with Malcolm Butler being benched in the game.

Eric Rowe is better suited to be a boundary corner which would leave the slot wide open. Cyrus Jones is still in the mix, but at this point, he can’t be counted on as he’s still an unknown. I would still expect them to address the position in the draft as well.

Paul Worrilow: If the name sounds familiar, it should reportedly the Patriots kicked the tires on him last spring when he was a free agent from the Atlanta Falcons. The 27-year old linebacker signed a one-year, $3 million dollar contract with the Lions last season.

Worrilow was slowed by a knee sprain of his MCL and played in just 13 games, starting in eight. He put up only so-so numbers with 30 tackles, one pass defensed and a fumble recovery. He struggled with his tackling as well as in coverage.It doesn’t appear that Detroit is interested in bringing him back with new head coach Matt Patricia.  

Would the Patriots be interested in him a second time around? I’d say no at first glance but one can never be too sure. If they feel he’d fit better in Foxboro in what they’d ask him to do, he could be a middle of the road, lower cost free agent.

Avery Williamson: Another guy that the Patriots have liked in the past is Titans inside linebacker Avery Williamson. The 26-year-old has just finished his rookie contract deal with Tennessee and wants to test the market.

Williamson would immediately upgrade the Patriots run defense in the middle as he led the Tennessee defense with 92 tackles, 3 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles. He received a 90.1 grade in run defense from Pro Football Focus, which was sixth best in the league. He’s a very durable player who has missed only one game in four years and is decent but not great in coverage.

He turned down a four-year, $12 million dollar deal with Tennessee and according to Diane Russini from ESPN is drawing interest from both the Jets and Dolphins. Spotrac has reported that he’s due for a possible four-year, $36-million dollar deal which would put him probably right out of the Patriots market.

Nigel Bradham: We wrote about this about a month ago as he’d be a great fit for the defense. Bradham is a very durable, sure tackler in the middle of the defense who is very good in coverage.

After Jordan Hicks went down with a torn Achilles last year in Week 7, Bradham began calling the signals for the Eagles defense and was one of their leaders and a very well respected veteran in the locker room. The 28-year-old finished with 88 tackles, 1.0 sack, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.

He’s one of the most highly sought free agents out there with sources within the NFL reporting that 8-10 teams are interested in his services. While Philadelphia would love to have him back, they are currently $17 million dollars over the cap. And the interest he’s being given, will no doubt drive his price out of the Patriots range, but in terms of fit. He’d be excellent in the Patriots defense.

Preston Brown: Brown has already made it clear that he would be open to signing with the New England Patriots as they’ve gotten a lot out of several former Bills players.

“I think I can definitely help the young guys they have,” Brown said. “They’ve got some good young talent at linebacker. They run pretty well. I know Harris retired. A lot of young guys were playing well, Van Noy and Roberts played well. They definitely have some things they can work on like we all do, but I think I can help that defense get better. “

The Patriots know him well having faced him twice a year in the division. Brown has never missed a game in his four-year NFL career and calls the plays in the Bills defense. He’s a tackling machine and led the league with 144 tackles in 2017.

He’s just 25 years old and would be an instant upgrade in the middle of the defense and a fantastic fit. He’s rumored to be in the market for about in the area of a $7 million a year range. If the Patriots can somehow make that work, Brown would be a tremendous addition to the front seven.

Alex Okafor: The Saints definitely had a free agent under the radar hit signing when they nabbed Okafor during free agency last year. He was playing very well for a rejuvenated defense that went back to the playoffs in 2017. He had 4.5 sacks, nine QB hits, and two forced fumbles in the first 10 games before tearing an Achilles that ended his season prematurely.

Okafor, 27, is expected to be fully healthy and is a versatile defender as the Saints used him both on the edge and kicked him inside as a sub-package interior rusher. The Patriots could some help on the edge.

With Dont’a Hightower, Shea McClellin, and Derek Rivers all ending up on IR, it left the team thin with Trey Flowers, Deatrich Wise, Adam Butler and Eric Lee. Okafor could be one of those veteran signings (we’ve already mention Connor Barwin) that won’t break the bank but would allow the team to rotate their players in and out, set the edge and get some pressure on the quarterback.

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 Edge Rushers in 2018, Biggest Need is Health

Steve Balestrieri
February 26, 2018 at 8:00 am ET

If there was an area more snakebit than the edge for the Patriots in 2017, then please share. The team lost both Jabaal Sheard and Chris Long during free agency. But with Rob Ninkovich, Trey Flowers, Dont’a Hightower, Shea McClellin, and Kyle Van Noy returning, they weren’t in terrible shape. Then they addressed it with two draft picks, Derek Rivers, and Deatrich Wise. Kony Ealy was brought in with a trade and Harvey Langi was added as an undrafted free agent. So things didn’t seem bad at all, …and then the wheels came off.

Ninkovich retired abruptly during training camp. Rivers and McClellin were hurt in training camp and lost for the season. McClellin may be gone for good as he’s suffered numerous concussions and this one may be it for him. Wise missed time during camp but came on strong afterward. Things weren’t helped when Ealy flamed out and the player they brought in from the Seahawks Cassius Marsh wasn’t a fit. Langi was shelved for the year after he and his wife were rear-ended at a traffic light and both got seriously injured.

Derek Rivers, here against the Jaguars, was just beginning to flash in TC when he got hurt. (SBalestrieri photo)

The team moved Hightower to the edge before he too was injured and ended up on IR. Keionta Davis never took the field as he had a bulging disk in his neck that didn’t hurt him in college but it made it where no one drafted him. It remains to be seen if he’ll be able to contribute down the road.

The team brought in Eric Lee who displayed a decent ability to rush the passer but struggled to set the edge. And very late they brought in James Harrison who at 39 still set the edge very well and had some juice left to get after the passer. Harrison, as well as ST/Edge player Geneo Grissom, are both free agents.  Now entering 2018, the team is back to square one. Obviously, edge rusher is a big need, but good health is paramount.

Getting Hightower, Rivers, and Langi back is big. Hightower is a known commodity and he’s the Patriots best defender in the front seven…when healthy. Which is becoming an issue. We still don’t what they have in Rivers and Langi. But both flashed potential last season. Although they both got to sit in the meeting rooms last season, they’re still essentially rookies on the field. So while question marks on one side, they’re both like a free draft pick on the other.  McClellin will bear watching, it may be in his best interest to call it a career after multiple concussions and missing the entire season due to others.

Harvey Langi in coverage against Tommy Bohanon, was injured in a car wreck. (SBalestrieri photo)

Free Agency Options: So what is out there in Free Agency? Top tier pass rushers Demarcus Lawrence and Ziggy Ansah are going to command much more cash than the Patriots can afford. Second tier players that may interest New England are Adrian Clayborn from the Falcons, who had 9.5 sacks in 2017. Trent Murphy from the Redskins had a nice 2016 but then missed all of 2017 with an injury.

Of course, they could bring back Harrison but one name to keep an eye on, could be Julius Peppers. The ageless, 38-year old pass rush specialist for the Panthers had 11 sacks last year in Carolina and could be one of those veteran players the Patriots and Belichick have brought in to bring some heat on the QB.

While we have been beating the drum that they need to get younger and more athletic on the edge, why bring in Peppers? Great question, while we’ll continue to believe that, there is nothing like solid production. Peppers hasn’t had less than seven sacks since 2007. He could be a nice fit with Belichick and the Patriots in a limited snap count role.

Names in the Draft: Now we’ll be the first to say, don’t even bother with draft scenarios until free agency is about played out. That will ultimately decide how the team decides to approach the draft and not the other way around. However, we always get a ton of questions about talented edge guys coming out in the draft.

Some guys to watch during the NFL Combine are Bradley Chubb, NC State, who will go far before the Pats select, and in no particular order (yet) are some edge rushers that could be of interest to New England:
Arden Key, LSU 6’6, 265
Marcus Davenport, UTSA, 6’6, 250
Harold Landry, BC, 6’3, 250
Sam Hubbard, Ohio State, 6’5, 266
Marcell Frazier, Mizzou, 6’5, 260
Duke Ejiofor, Wake Forest, 6’3, 275

This list will grow as we get past the combine and get deeper into our NFL Draft coverage as we’ll look at some players whose skill sets may be of interest to the Patriots. If they opt for a guy like Peppers in free agency for instance, then they’ll likely look for an edge player closer to the middle rounds.

But regardless, the biggest thing the team needs now is health. Getting a healthy Hightower, Rivers, and Langi all on the field will do wonders for what ailed the team in 2017. Be intriguing to see if Davis, who was a productive college player can get a clean bill of health, ditto for McClellin.

We’ll be watching as free agency unfolds like everyone else, but with a limited amount of cash this spring, the Patriots will probably not be big players in free agency this season. They’ll have to do some creative work with the cap to make that happen and most of their big decisions will come down to whether or not to sign their own players. And while it won’t be the kind of moves that Patriots fans want to see, their biggest moves this spring may be just getting their own injured players back in the fold.

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.

Podcast: Can We Turn The Page Yet To The Next Patriots Season?

Russ Goldman
February 22, 2018 at 11:17 am ET

In this episode, we looked forward to the next Patriots season by discussing the biggest positional needs for the team and sharing our thoughts on which Patriots free agents we would want back. However, we started the show by once again discussing Malcom Butler.

Offense Anyone? Foles, Eagles Hold Off Brady, Patriots 41-33 in SB LII

Steve Balestrieri
February 4, 2018 at 11:42 pm ET

This one won’t go down as a defensive struggle as both teams combined for nearly 1200 yards of offense and 84 points, but it was the Philadelphia defense that made the one big stop when Brandon Graham stripped Tom Brady of the ball and it was the Eagles and Foles who played tremendous all game long walking over the Lombardi trophy and a huge win in Super Bowl LII.

Foles, who was the MVP completing 28-43 for 373 yards with two touchdowns and a pick. He connected with Zach Ertz for a touchdown with 2:21 left to give the Eagles a 38-33 lead but it certainly appeared that the call would be reversed.

But the call didn’t matter a bit. It would have just 35-32 before the Brady sack.  There were a couple of close calls in terms of what is or what isn’t a catch… but again, when the defense couldn’t stop Foles and the Eagles offense all game, that wasn’t the reason for the loss.

It was simply another tremendous Super Bowl, maybe not if you like a defensive struggle in terms of drama, it doesn’t get much better. Right down to the final pass into the end zone as time expired. The Eagles made just one or two more plays than the Patriots did and that’s why they are the new Super Bowl champions.

Other observations include:

Philly’s Coaching Staff Called a Great Game:
Doug Pederson said after the game that the Eagles wanted to stay aggressive with their play calling and they did and the Patriots were completely unable to stop them. Alshon Jeffrey was getting the better or Eric Rowe early in this game. Nelson Agholor was beating everyone the Patriots trotted out there against him. The Eagles identified mismatches they felt they could win and exploited them. Agholor had nine catches on 11 targets…he was uncoverable all game long.

Zach Ertz had a very strong game and Corey Clement torched the Patriots for 100 yards receiving, including a 55-yarder where Jordan Richards took just a brutal angle on the play. Pederson’s best call was on 4th and 1 near the end of the first half, they ran the option pass to Foles. With him in the shotgun, no one accounts for him and he trotted all alone for a huge touchdown to put the Eagles up 10 at the break.

Defense Was MIA:
The Patriots defense was dissected and shredded for over 500 yards of offense (374 passing, 164 rushing) by the Eagles who also gashed them for 41 points. The Patriots defense was manhandled up front by a very good Philadelphia offensive line that opened up big holes in the running game while giving Foles plenty of time to throw.

The pass rush was missing most of the game, Trey Flowers had a very, very quiet Super Bowl and was not a factor at all. With the exception of Gilmore and perhaps Pat Chung, and James Harrison, it was their worst performance since Week 1.

Matt Patricia and Bill Belichick didn’t have the answers this week. With the exception of moving Gilmore on Jeffrey, who was shut down, they didn’t make any adjustments that worked. They were out-coached in Minneapolis.  It doesn’t happen often but it did tonight.

Brady Was Fantastic Despite the Loss:
Immediately after the game, I was reading criticism of Tom Brady which is laughable. Brady was shredding the Eagles defense in the second half as bad as they were being shredded.

Brady threw for 505 yards and three touchdowns averaging 10.5 yards per attempt on the night. And the offense put up 33 points. I didn’t like the play call early in the game on 3rd and 2 with the end around to Brandin Cooks, where they were moving down the field, but that is the way the cookie crumbles, it could have been 40 with a better call.

Cooks left with a concussion on an awful collision with Malcolm Jenkins but Brady and the offense reacted well and spread the ball around. Danny Amendola was his clutch self, catching 8 passes for 152 yards, Gronkowski had nine catches for 116 yards with a pair of touchdowns, nearly all of it coming in the second half. Chris Hogan had six catches for 128 yards and a score. Overall the Patriots had three players with over 100 yards receiving.

The Butler “Didn’t Do It”, Benched for the Game:
With several players in the secondary struggling all game, it was more than curious that Malcolm Butler was benched for the entire game other than special teams. Bill Belichick said after the game that it wasn’t a disciplinary decision but a strict football one why he didn’t play.

Butler, who was very emotional during the National Anthem, may have realized that his last game in New England (and the chances of him returning now are practically nil) was coming to an end in the worst way possible, by riding the pine. What had to be particularly galling for Butler was that the secondary was being gashed.

With no one able to cover Agholor, in the biggest game of the year, was Butler the worst option between Rowe, Bademosi, Richards et al?

Changes are Coming:
Suffice to say, the team we see at the mini-camp in June will be quite different from the one that took the field tonight. Matt Patricia is gone. It was thought Josh McDaniels was gone too, but now, some in the media are saying to pump the brakes on that talk…at least for now. But the roster will see changes as the team will have several decisions to make in the coming days, which we’ll address later.

Sorry New England, no parade this year, we’re on to the NFL Combine.

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 2-4, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 2-4, & AFC East Notes.

***Update****  Tom Brady was announced as the MVP of the NFL, the third time that Brady has won the award. Julian Edelman accepted the award for Brady as he was busy preparing for Super Bowl LII.

Patriot great Ty Law came up short in his bid to be named to the NFL’s Hall of Fame and once again Bill Belichick gets zero consideration for the NFL’s Coach of the Year

Happy Super Bowl Sunday, the Patriots are back for the third time in four years and with a win, they’d cap a double dynasty, the three wins in four years during the 2001-04 seasons and the run now. With the eighth appearance in the Brady, Belichick era in the Super Bowl it is amazing the extended run of success that they’ve had and worked hard to achieve. For those of us who grew up in the not-so-great years, it never gets old nor taken for granted.

With the bye week of the Super Bowl filled up with the hype and over-the-top “reporting” from some crazy folks given media credentials from the league, thankfully that is done and we can focus on seeing the actual football game tonight. But there were some good highlights this week. Among them and not in any particular order are:

Edelman Has a Love/Hate Relationship W/BB But Ultimately…it is About Respect:
Julian Edelman did a pretty revealing interview this week at the Super Bowl, despite missing the entire season, he’s in Minneapolis with the team.

We’ve got to see a lot of Edelman this week, on the Tom vs Time documentary with Brady, we saw the back and forth jawing the two and Danny Amendola share with one another but the incredibly hard work that goes into their workouts to build their chemistry and timing. But in regards to the Two Bills special, Edelman pulled no punches on his relationship and respect he has for Belichick.

“I love Coach Belichick, he gave me my opportunity. He believed in me, and a lot of people didn’t. He’s an a’hole and I hate him a lot of the times, but I still love that man to death.”

“I know that the day my production goes down or I’m not playing well he’s going to get rid of me. Doesn’t mean I don’t love him for what he has given me right now in my life.”

“When other coaches tell you to do something, you’re kind of like, all right, …, but if Bill ever says anything, my shoulders are back, my head is tilted straight. I’m still terrified of him.”

“I’m getting to witness greatness just being around him, I feel like I’m a part of it.” Indeed he is…a very big part of it.

Brady’s Excellence at its Zenith in the 4th Quarter of Big Games:
We’ve been hearing about the Eagles’ defense for two weeks, and they’re very good. They can rush the passer with four and not have to blitz but do so effectively when they send six or more as we’ve seen in some game tape. But if this game is close in the 4th quarter, and we believe it will be, don’t bet against Tom Brady and the Patriots pulling off some more fourth-quarter magic when the chips are on the line. And he’s done it against some very good defenses as well.

In the 2014 playoff game and Super Bowl versus the Baltimore Ravens and Seattle Seahawks, Brady was a 17-18 with 3 TDs in the fourth quarter and leading the Patriots to come-from-behind victories. In the Super Bowl last season, Brady was a very impressive 21-27 for 246 yards in the fourth quarter and overtime sessions.

In this season’s AFC Championship Game, Brady led two late fourth-quarter touchdown drives after being down 10 points. He tossed two touchdown passes to Danny Amendola. These are the kind of games where he steps up big at crunch time.

Patriots By the Numbers:
Here are some interesting tidbits in terms of numbers for today’s Super Bowl.
4 – Number of points Stephen Gostkowski needs to score to move into a second-place tie all-time (175 David Akers) of points scored in postseason history. (Adam Vinatieri #1 with 234)

5 – Number of receptions TE Rob Gronkowski needs to become the #1 receiving TE in NFL postseason history. Currently, he’s fifth (Dallas Clark 64, Jay Novacek 62, Shannon Sharpe 62, Brent Jones 60)

5 – Brady is the only QB with five Super Bowl wins. He joined Hall of Fame DL Charles
Haley (5) as the only other NFL player with five Super Bowl wins.

8 – Number of Conference Championships by Bill Belichick, the most in the Super Bowl era. Second place belongs to Don Shula with six.

8 – Number of completions Tom Brady will need tonight to reach 900 career postseason completions.

11 – The Patriots scored in the final minute of the first half in 11 of 16 games in

11 – Super Bowl appearances by Belichick, eight as a head coach and three others as an assistant with the Giants

41 – Wins (regular and postseason) by three points or fewer, since 2001. The Patriots 41-17 .702 win percentage record in close games is the best in the NFL. Indianapolis is second with a 42-23 .646 win percentage.

51 – The number of Interconference wins by the Patriots since realignment in 2002. The Patriots 51-13 .797 is the best in the NFL. (#2 is Pittsburgh 43-20-1 .680

The “Two Bills”? A Fantastic Story: The ESPN 30 For 30 Series produced a classic and aired this week concerning the partnership and interaction of Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick.

The lead-in for the show contrasts the bombastic “wanting to buy the groceries” Parcells with the dour, quiet Belichick. The Giants players called Belichick “Doom” because of his harping on the minutiae of mistakes he’d pick out from a game film. Belichick’s arrival in Minneapolis fed into that perfectly on Monday. Wearing a black fedora, “Doom” Belichick was like one of the capos in the Godfather. “Leave the gun, take the cannoli.”  Of course, the truth is always somewhat different, sometimes vastly so.

Belichick wasn’t embracing the bad guy role this week, we learned. The hat belonged to his father. And his embracing of the past and its history is what, in essence, this story was all about. We see the older clip of Belichick, growing teary-eyed, his voice cracking as he looks inside the Giants old coaching offices, talking about the hours he spent inside there, “trying to establish my coaching career.”

Parcells, looking a bit aged now at 75, his voice getting a bit raspy is a much more mellow and at peace with himself man now, than he was a few years ago. Although the two men have long since made their peace with one another, they were still both a bit guarded, but when they cut back and forth between the two men when airing fantastic interview clips with former coaches and players that played for the two, and even Patriots owner Robert Kraft, they’d share glances and smile genuinely.

The two men have won seven Super Bowls between them and will be forever linked. They were the perfect combination. Belichick was the detail guy, he’d leave nothing to chance. Parcells was the master manipulator. As Lawrence Taylor said, “he always knew the exact buttons to push.” Together, they were a tremendous team and the coaching staff that Parcells built around those teams with Belichick, Romeo Crennel, Charlie Weis, Al Groh et al were fantastic.

While the “Two Bills” didn’t really break a ton of new ground, it was a fascinating, well-done look at two very complicated, vastly different personalities that at the heart, shared a very common trait. The burning desire to be the best at their chosen profession. And when they worked together, they were a truly dynamic duo… led by Darth Vader (teaser alert). If you haven’t seen it yet, put it on the must-see list. The ending is an absolute classic.

Brady’s “Tom vs Time” is a Peek Inside A Closed World:
In the fascinating, docu-series that Tom Brady is airing, it gives an inside look at his life both inside and outside football that few people have ever been allowed to see before. The series has another segment which will air today before the Super Bowl and another segment which will air at a time TBD after the big game.

Filmmaker Gotham Chopra was granted some pretty incredible access and Brady wanted to show certain sides of him that we’re never allowed to see, namely his family and despite uber-ridiculous cheap shots taken at him and his children by some twisted people, it has been a fascinating watch for not only die-hard Patriots fans but anyone who is looking for an inside look at the life of the very rich and famous.

Chopra is an admitted die-hard Patriots fan who is excited (and rightfully so) about getting the chance of a lifetime. He spoke recently about wanting to show the different sides of Brady and not just football.

“There’s an emotional component,” Chopra said. “How do you manage all the stuff that’s going on with your family in your private, personal life with your desire to stay on top?”

As for Brady, he’s trying to show that he’s balancing the many facets of his life while letting people know what drives him. “I’m trying to find a deeper purpose,” Brady said.

“To live it through sports in a very authentic way makes so much sense to me. Having these dreams or goals or aspirations and waking up and putting in the work and miracles happening and all this magic that sports create, I’m in the middle of it. I get to live that through sports.”

I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait for Sunday’s episode.

No AFC East Notes this week during the Super Bowl…

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.

New England Patriots – Philadelphia Eagles Super Bowl LII Key Matchups

Steve Balestrieri
February 2, 2018 at 8:30 am ET

And then there were two. The Patriots and the Eagles rightfully face off for the Super Bowl LII bragging rights for the final game of the 2017 NFL season. The teams are remarkably evenly matched. Each is the #1 seed in their respective conferences. Both were 13-3 in the regular season. Each had a close playoff game and a blowout.

The Eagles had a close win over Atlanta and blew out the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship Game. The Patriots blew out Tennessee and then had a close, come-from-behind win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

During the season the Patriots scored one point more than Philadelphia offensively, 458-457, while the Eagles defense bested New England by a single point defensively 295-296. Even? I don’t know how it gets any closer.

This year’s Super Bowl will be broadcast by NBC on Sunday, February 4, at 6:30 p.m. ET and can be seen on NBC Channel 10. Al Michaels will handle play-by-play duties with Cris Collinsworth as the color analyst. Michelle 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 (15-3) came back from a 10-point 4th quarter deficit with Tom Brady firing two touchdown passes to Danny Amendola to beat Jacksonville 24-20.

The Eagles (15-3) blew out the Minnesota Vikings 38-7, by scoring 38 unanswered points. Nick Foles threw three touchdowns and the Eagles punched their ticket easily.

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 Eagles are meeting for just the 14th time. Philadelphia leads the all-time series 7-6. The two teams met once in the Super Bowl already with New England beating Philadelphia 24-21 in SB XXXIX where Deion Branch took home MVP honors with 11 catches for 133 yards.

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 Eagles Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Philadelphia
The Patriots running game has been extremely effective with Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead as a dynamic 1-2 punch that is effective in the passing game as they are in the running game. Lewis will be the main guy in the running game and he’ll have a tall order this week.

Philadelphia had the #1 rush defense in the league in 2017 allowing only 79.2 yards per game. The big men in the middle, Fletcher Cox, and Timmy Jernigan make it very hard to run inside, especially where the Patriots like to run by stuffing up everything at the point of attack.

In order for the Patriots to be successful, they are going to have to remain balanced. So play-action passing is key here. Josh McDaniels will have to get a bit creative here, mixing in some draws and Jet Sweeps to take advantage of their aggressive pass rush, but this will be some tough sledding this week.

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

The Patriots passing game will tremendously benefit by having Rob Gronkowski cleared for this game. Although he’s been practicing, as of right now (late Weds. night), he still hasn’t cleared concussion protocol.

Tom Brady can spread the ball around with Danny Amendola, Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan and out of the backfield with James White, Lewis and Burkhead. But having Gronkowski out there and healthy makes it all go.

Philly’s pass defense is built around that terrific front four (read seven). They can freely mix things up and substitute. Their subpackage pass rush is especially effective where they move Brandon Graham inside next to Cox and have Vinny Curry, Chris Long and Derek Barnett as edge guys. Protection for Brady will be the key here as the Eagles don’t get tons of sacks but DO get tons of pressure.

One area to watch, Philly will probably play much more man coverage in this game. They played a lot of zone during the season and the Patriots, if Brady has time to throw will attack the linebackers with play action and Ronald Darby on the perimeter. Look for them to take some shots down the field early.

Next up the Philadelphia offense:

Eagles RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Philadelphia

The Eagles have two very good and varied backs in LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi in the running game. Philly is using both in a committee approach and goes with the hot hand They are very effective at running the ball averaging 132.2 yards per game.

The Patriots run defense has been terrific down the stretch and into the playoffs. With Malcom Brown and Kyle Van Noy healthy again as well as the addition of James Harrison, they slowed the running games of both Tennessee and Jacksonville.

The Eagles will want to run to take the pressure off of Nick Foles and give him the option of play action as well. While the Eagles will get their yards on the ground, I look for them to slow down the running game and force Foles to beat them.

Eagles WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge New England
The Eagles passing game was a question mark after Carson Wentz went down with a torn ACL. But Foles has answered his critics with a pair of playoff wins, including a blowout conference championship win where he carved up the NFC’s best defense in Minnesota. The RPO (run-pass option) we’ve all heard about is their bread and butter and Foles has Zach Ertz as the team’s leading receiver at tight end and their go-to guy. But Alshon Jeffrey, Torrey Smith, and Nelson Agholor give them plenty of weapons to throw the ball to.

The Patriots defense has been very good down the stretch and the strength is the secondary with Stephon Gilmore, Malcolm Butler and Eric Rowe at corner. Jonathan Jones who recently went on IR may have been a better matchup with Agholor because of his speed but it will be interesting to see how they line up.

The key for New England is to keep generating pressure with their front four, where coincidentally the Patriots have had 11 sacks in their two playoff games, something no one is mentioning. And relying on their corners to remain in tight coverage. Containing the RPOs (something Jax ran) requires discipline and gap control. The chess match here should be a fascinating one. Watch for Trey Flowers here, he’s primed for a big game. 

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots’ Special Teams continue to be among the best in the NFL. Stephen Gostkowski had a very solid season and his pooch kickoffs consistently put opponents deep in their own end. Ryan Allen was the underrated difference in the conference championship game, pinning the Jags deep in their own end ….field position here will be key.  Pro-Bowl ST player Matthew Slater on the coverage units.

The Eagles are very solid on Special Teams with kicker Jake Elliott and punter Donnie Jones. The coverage units are very good as well but no one’s STs units have been better than New England’s down the stretch.

Next up, who wins and why…


Well, here we go… .This one should be a Super Bowl worthy of its name. As we pointed to above, the teams are evenly matched and both, being the #1 seeds have earned the right to be here.

I look for a high scoring game, it may not begin that way, but like the 2003 game with Carolina and New England, I see things heating up. This one will be a back and forth affair. I see Agholor and Amendola having big games for each team. The key for each team will be field position and not be turning the ball over.

But in a close game like this, I don’t ever bet against Tom Brady and I think he gets it done once again with a late score to bring home Super Bowl victory number six. Cue up the Duck Boats Marty, there will be a parade next week. Patriots 31-28

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

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

Super Bowl Sneak Peek, Eagles and Patriots Are Evenly Matched

Steve Balestrieri
January 30, 2018 at 2:10 pm ET

This is shaping up to be a Super Bowl worthy of its name as the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles are preparing for this Sunday’s championship. And in the Super Bowl, you’ll hardly find two teams more evenly matched.

The Patriots scored one more point offensively than the Eagles 458-457, and the Eagles allowed one less point defensively than the Patriots 295-296. It doesn’t get much closer than that points wise. Both are 13-3 and both are the #1 seed in their respective conference. Both have had to overcome serious injuries to get here.

Philadelphia lost MVP candidate, QB Carson Wentz late in the season, offensive tackle Jason Peters and running back Darren Sproles. The Patriots lost Julian Edelman, linebacker Dont’a Hightower and tackle Marcus Cannon amongst others.

While the teams met in the 2015 season, both are very different from the ones who played in Gillette. We’ll do a detailed break down of the key matchups later this week  But here is our quick look at the Philadelphia Eagles and what we’ve seen in watching the film of some of their games this season.

Foles Shook Off Criticism to Play Very Well in the Playoffs:
Nick Foles is in his second stint with the Eagles and they are certainly glad he’s back. After Wentz went down with a torn ACL, Foles stepped in and after some initial struggles to find his comfort level in the offense, he’s been excellent in the postseason.

Foles has completed 77 percent of his throws in the playoffs with three touchdowns and more importantly zero interceptions. The important factor for Philly has been, they didn’t have to change the offense with Foles at the helm.

With his comfort level in the pocket, the Eagles are clicking offensively. It will be the Patriots’ defense to change that comfort level early in the game by disguising looks and pressures. Otherwise, it could be a long evening.

Run-Pass Option (you’ll hear about this all week), RPO is NOT a New Star Wars Character:
One area of the Eagles offense that will be discussed a lot this week is the RPO.  Foles and the Eagles carved up Minnesota’s defense with this badly in the NFC Championship game. They took advantage of the Vikings aggressive nature and shredded them with it. The keys were the quick slants off of them, much in the manner that Jacksonville ran.

The Patriots, however, aren’t an aggressive defense, but more of a read and react group. So the key from New England’s perspective is maintaining gap integrity and setting the edge. Foles isn’t as mobile as Wentz so he’s not the threat to run that the starter was.

Linebacker play will be key here. With two good and very different styles of backs in LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi, Foles will have the option of handing it off or faking it and passing the ball in the quick open field.

The Eagles Run Defense is Excellent:
Philadelphia’s run defense is #1 in the NFL allowing just 79.2 yards per game. It begins with the big men in the middle, Fletcher Cox, and Timmy Jernigan. They are the big, immovable objects in the center of the line.

They make things very tough to run in the middle of the field, exactly where the Patriots like to run. The stretch plays and the slow developing runs to the outside are very tough on this defense because of the way they flow to the ball.

The Jaguars defense made running the ball tough last week on the Patriots offense. The opportunities will be there but Josh McDaniels will have to be creative. Which segways into our next topic…

The Patriots Need to Find Success on Early Downs:
Philadelphia’s subpackage defense is really tough. They go to a NASCAR type package in their pass rushers with Cox and moving Brandon Graham inside, then they still have Vinny Curry, Chris Long and Derek Barnett as their edge rushers.

While the Eagles don’t blitz a ton but will send safeties or corners on third and long situations and don’t rack up huge sack numbers, they do rack up a ton of QB pressure. Consistent pressure is what drives the defense and they’re very good at it.

So from a Patriots perspective, they need to be successful on first and second down. Mix things up, use play-action passes which should be very effective against their linebackers and use the hurry up once they get a first down to keep the Eagles from substituting. Of course, they’ll need to produce as well. Otherwise, it is just getting the Philly offense back on the field that much quicker.

The Eagles front four is deep and talented, arguably the best in the NFL. Getting in obvious passing situations on third down is inviting trouble and they’ll respond by bringing the pressure. In their last four games, Philly’s defense hasn’t allowed more than 10 points.

The Tight Ends for Both Teams are the Focus:
While both offenses operate quite differently, the tight end in each is a big part of what makes them go. The Eagles boast three good tight ends with Zack Ertz, Brent Celek, and Trey Burton. Ertz was their leading receiver in 2017 and was Foles’ go-to guy against the Vikings, completing first down after first down. He’ll be matched up with Pat Chung and if New England is going to be successful, Ertz can’t be allowed to become that kind of target again.

For New England, Rob Gronkowski (if he’s healthy) is the gold-standard for TEs in the NFL. While Malcolm Jenkins will probably see him a lot in this matchup. The Eagles may try to pull a page out of Jacksonville’s book and double up Gronk with Jenkins and Corey Graham. If that is the case, then the WRs will have to win one-on-one matchups.

Philly played a lot of zone coverage this year, Brady will pick those apart. Look for them to match up in man coverage. Their corners are ok but not great, they look better because of the pass rush, much like the Pittsburgh corners used to be in years past.

It is just another interesting piece of the chess match. We’ll be back later this week with the full matchups and our prediction.

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 1-28, Super Prep Started

Steve Balestrieri
January 28, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 1-28, & AFC East Notes.

The Patriots (via Russell Baxter on PFW FB page) are 54-14 and 59-16 including Super Bowls against the NFC since the 2001 season. Something that should bode well in looking at next week’s game.

Distractions? Not Here: The Patriots are getting prepared to fly out tomorrow for Minneapolis for Super Bowl LII and once again are a game away from the pinnacle of the sport. The team has been all business in their preparation and despite a couple of comments that were highlighted this week, the Eagles are too.

While the rest of America is decidedly sick of the Patriots success, fans here are not. And much of that success has to be attributed to the attitude of Bill Belichick and his coaching staff. They never get too high, too low and keep their focus directly on what is in front of them. That focus carries over to their players.

While many teams are very successful for a year or two, they eventually stumble and fall. The Patriots have been largely immune to that for the past 17 seasons. And now they prepare for their 8th Super Bowl appearance in the Brady/Belichick era. It is crazy how successful they’ve been year after year with different supporting casts. The big game and all the hype will go over the top this week. They are prepared to handle it and the distractions. Not Done Yet.

Shots Across the Bow… From “Friendly Fire” This Week:
The Patriots are used to the barbs by national media members who never fail to pen poison pieces on the team in the week of the big game. The recent piece in ESPN about the supposed “crumbling” of the Belichick/Brady/Kraft relationship that came out just before the Divisional Round of the playoffs wasn’t a coincidence in the element of timing.

This week Dan LeBetard went right up to the line, circled it, put in an exclamation mark but stopped just short of accusing Brady of using PEDs. His only “proof”? That Brady’s age should have him playing poorly now. People forget how impressive Jerry Rice was at 40, at wide receiver no less. But people marveled at his workout regimen. Brady does the same with his guru Alex Guerrero. There are no drugs, the interview Colin Cowherd did with former Bengals WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh should have put that to bed, but we called that well over a month ago that this would be an issue….if the Patriots went to the Super Bowl…Again, surprised? You shouldn’t be.

But now they are taking the shots from within New England. And Murphy’s Rules of Combat apply to the media as they do in warfare…#1 Friendly Fire Isn’t.

One Boston radio personality claimed that David Andrews et al are on Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs). Granted this is the same writer who falsely accused the Patriots of filming the Rams walk-thru before SB XXXVI, which now repeated as gospel.

But then another radio voice described Tom Brady’s daughter in his video “Tom vs Time” as “an annoying little pissant” as the first impression of Brady’s video. And this is the station that Brady agrees to come on every Monday during the season.

Finally, another respected writer decided to pen a sarcastic piece about Brady’s video and it was all innocent enough, I read it. But what it suffered from was a horrible lack of timing. Patriots fans, already on edge after a week of having to listen to the ridiculous “the refs gave NE the game” against Jacksonville, coupled with the other three pieces, didn’t get the joke and unloaded on him. They’ve had enough, and aren’t taking it anymore.

What other breaking news should we expect this week? I can hardly wait…

A Double Dynasty? The Results May Play Out Again:
If the Patriots beat the Eagles next Sunday, this will be their second three Super Bowl win in four years scenario. When they completed the first in 2005, they’d won Super Bowls in the 2001, 2003, and 2004 seasons. After the defeat of the Eagles, Belichick, Charlie Weis, and Romeo Crennel shared a hug on the sidelines as both coordinators left for head coaching jobs elsewhere. Success breeds promotions.

Now they are on the edge of doing it again. If they beat the Eagles next Sunday, the Patriots will have won the Super Bowl in the 2014, 2016 and 2017 seasons. Both Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia are expected to leave as offensive and defensive coordinators to take head coaching jobs elsewhere. Assistants Brian Flores and Special Teams’ coach Joe Judge may be gone as well.

So, regardless of what happens, the 2018 version of the Patriots should look decidedly different than the one that takes the field next week. But the two key cogs, Belichick and Brady should be around for one more rodeo at least.

Brady’s “Tom vs Time” is a Peek Inside A Closed World:
In a fascinating, albeit very limited peek into the world of Tom Brady, we finally get a look at what his training regimen looks like, his often painful sessions with Alex Guerrero, and his family up close and personal.

Brady and Gisele Bundchen have kept a very private existence while leading a pretty public life. They don’t hide in the back of limos being driven from place to place with legions of security personnel keeping the public at bay. They’ve kept their discreet home life exactly that and we’ve never been able to see how they interact daily. That has now changed… a bit.

Watching Brady interact with his kids is no different than any of us experience on a daily basis, perhaps not quite in the same type of home, but it decidedly normal. One scene that stood out was Brady driving home after the opening night loss to the Chiefs on Rte 1 and merging onto 95 with Gisele trying to comfort him.

But the workouts and the sessions with Guerrero were fascinating. Even Shannon Sharpe, a noted anti-Patriots’ commentator on television said that those scenes in particular resonated with him. Because it shows the dedication that is needed to not only perform at an elite level in the NFL but to do so at an age where most players are long since retired.

Episode 2 is today…

Chung One of Bill Belichick’s Biggest… and Best Mistakes:
Pat Chung is living proof of the power of second chances. The nine-year veteran has enjoyed a career rebirth in his second stint with the team and shows little sign of slowing down.

Chung was drafted in the 2nd Round of the 2009 NFL Draft and was misused by Bill Belichick as a free safety in his first four seasons. He was considered a bust, and left for the Eagles in a good 3-year contract in 2013. That lasted a year, and Philly released Chung. The news that he was returning to New England wasn’t met with much fanfare by the media or the fanbase.

Chung and Belichick met before he signed and each vowed not to make the same mistakes twice. In his first stint with the team Belichick used Chung as a deep free safety, something he was ill-suited for. Starting in 2014, Belichick moved Chung to the box as a strong safety. There his natural physicality and the ability to stop the run and good ability to cover tight ends has him playing not good, but outstanding in his second go around with the Pats.

Bill Belichick, not one to hand out undue praise called Chung this week, one of the best players in the NFL, not safeties…players. Is that Belichick’s way of further lighting a fire under Chung because he knows he’ll need a big effort from the vet to counter Philadelphia’s excellent TE group? Quite possibly.

But if New England is indeed successful next week, it will be no doubt because of a strong performance from its stellar safety crew. And Belichick’s biggest mistake? Not any longer. Bringing him back was an exercise in self-scouting and the ability to admit he made a mistake in not utilizing a player right and fixing it.

No AFC East notes this week…

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

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

Patriots Report Card, Super Bowl Bound (Again) 24-20 Win

Steve Balestrieri
January 24, 2018 at 8:17 am ET

The AFC Championship Game was the seventh in a row that the Patriots played in, the Jaguars were in the playoffs for the first time in several years. Both of those statements were apparent during the critical junctures of the game, especially at the end of the first half and late in the game.

When all was said and done, the Patriots made the plays that they needed to make. Tom Brady showed once again, why he is Tom Brady and was absolutely brilliant in the fourth quarter, passing for almost as many yards at crunch time in the final quarter as Jacksonville allows in an entire game.

The Pats made the big plays at the big times because Bill Belichick is simply the best in the world at preparing his team and being aware of situational football scenarios and handling them like a 7-7 practice and not in a conference championship.

Jacksonville did none of those things. They cracked under the pressure, like so many teams do when playing the Patriots because they simply don’t make many mistakes and will rip your heart out when you do. The idea that the officials “gave this game to New England” is ridiculous. The Jaguars were up 14-3 and lost a key third-down conversion at midfield with a chance to put further distance between New England and themselves at halftime by taking a  delay of the game penalty AFTER calling a timeout.

On the ensuing drive an obvious helmet-to-helmet hit and a needless shoving of a wide receiver out of bounds when the corner had body position. Watch the replay, the flag doesn’t come until the shove. 47 yards in penalties to Tom Brady before the half is a recipe for disaster.

In the second half, their play calling, so sharp in the first half go repetitive and predictable where they followed the same pattern. And the Patriots defense caught on and stuffed them in the fourth quarter. And after playing man in the first half, the defense, the top defense in the league got conservative and laid back in zones trying to stop the big play. Zone coverage against Brady is a recipe for going home early.

Quarterback: A

All of the hand-wringing over Tom Brady’s hand and his subsequent 12-stitches proved to be much ado about nothing which we said but were ignored in our pregame matchups. He was cool, calm and was at his best with the game on the line.

Brady put those worries to rest on the second play from scrimmage when he uncorked a seed for 31 yards to Brandin Cooks. His third and 18 throw to Danny Amendola was another rocket where the Jaguars were helpless to stop it.

Then down by 10 points with six minutes left, Brady ripped the Jaguars apart. Once he saw them going to those soft zone coverages to protect against the deep ball, the handwriting was on the wall. He found Amendola twice in those six minutes for scores. The game-winning touchdown pass was a beautiful throw, high across the back of the back of the end zone where only Amendola could catch it. Both made great plays to make it work.

Running Backs: C+

Dion Lewis wasn’t nearly the factor in this game that he has been down the stretch gaining only a total of 66 yards, with 34 on the ground and 32 more thru the air. The Jaguars front seven did a great job of not only giving he and the other backs precious little room to run, they wrapped up well too, limiting his yards after contact, an area where he has been outstanding.

Neither James White nor Rex Burkhead had a big day production wise as well. Big credit has to go to the Jaguars defense for shutting them down, especially in the passing game, an area that their defense has struggled in and the Patriots thought they could exploit.

James Develin made a huge block at crunch time, allowing Lewis to run for 18 yards and the first down to run out the clock

Wide Receiver: A-

What more can we say about Danny Amendola? The Patriots wide receiver with the best hands on the team was once again at his best on Sunday, catching both of Tom Brady’s touchdowns in the late game comeback. The game-winner was a beauty as he read the coverage got open in the back of the end zone and had to make a high leap with a great catch and had the awareness to get both feet down.

He also caught the ball that turned the game around, a 21-yard strike from Brady on a third and 18. He knew where the sticks were, and gave himself room to come back to the ball finding the open spot in the zone. He caught a backward pass and launched a 20-yard strike to Dion Lewis but Miles Jack jarred the ball loose for a fumble.

Brandin Cooks had a big day catching six passes for 100 yards and drew two defensive pass interference penalties totaling another 68 yards. But he had a terrible drop that cost the team points, perhaps even a touchdown. Phillip Dorsett played in only 3 snaps but had a huge 31-yard reception on a nicely thrown ball and an equally good catch.

Tight End: C

Rob Gronkowski was double covered early in the game before the coaches began to find ways of getting him open. He caught a really nice 21-yard pass down the seam and when Brady attempted to hit again deep down the field in the final minute and a half in the second quarter, Barry Church leveled him with a helmet to helmet hit while attempting to jar the ball loose.

Was it a dirty, targeted hit? No, but it was a penalty and the conspiracy theorists claiming it wasn’t are crazy. It was a clear helmet to helmet collision and intent has nothing to do with whether it was a penalty or not.

Dwayne Allen came on and was invisible until the Patriots final series. He threw a nice block on Dion Lewis’ game-clinching 18-yard run to seal the game.

Offensive Line: B

The Patriots offensive line had an up and down day but they got better, especially at protecting Tom Brady as the game wore on and kept the Jacksonville pass rush for the most part off of Brady. They allowed three sacks, but one was a coverage sack where Dante Fowler had the time to put a second move on Cam Fleming spinning sway and finally sacking Brady. Shaq Mason gave up a sack from Marcel Dareus, who bulled right past him and nearly another when he whiffed on a Myles Jack A-Gap blitz.

The run blocking on Sunday wasn’t opening any holes for the backs to exploit. The Jaguars front seven stuffed the run all day…until Lewis iced it.

Defensive Line: A-

This group led by DE Trey Flowers keeps getting better and better and doesn’t get nearly enough credit for playing solid football. Flowers just gets better as the game moves along, his conditioning and relentlessness are contagious for the group. He made nine tackles with a sack, a forced fumble and a tipped pass he nearly picked off.

The interior three linemen, Lawrence Guy, Ricky Jean Francois and Malcom Brown were excellent against the run holding Leonard Fournette and the Jags rushing attack to just 3.1 yards per carry. They shut down the run in the second half and ramped up the QB pressure on Blake Bortles.

Linebacker: B-

The unit had both good and bad moments during the game. Kyle Van Noy was solid throughout, notching a sack and a pass defensed but was trucked by Fournette on his touchdown run. James Harrison was solid in the running game and he combined on a sack late on Bortles and jarred the ball loose. But the Jags got the faster Corey Grant isolated on him in the passing game and they got a big chunk play of 20+ yards.

Elandon Roberts was on the field for much of the base looks in run support while Marquis Flowers saw his snaps dwindle this week as the coaches decided to go bigger with Fournette in the mix. The unit had trouble getting their drops in tune with the secondary as the shallow crossers of the Jags gave them fits all day.

Secondary: B-

Cornerback Stephon Gilmore had the play of the game and may have saved the season when he launched himself high in the air and knocked away Jacksonville’s final gasp on fourth down that sealed the deal. Dede Westbrook was in perfect position to haul in the pass at about the eight-yard line, He nearly had a pick earlier in the second half, but couldn’t come up with the ball.

The Jaguars consistently gave the corners fits with those shallow crossers that they couldn’t stop. All three corners were beaten on those. Malcolm Butler had good and bad moments, he was battling with Marqise Lee which was a highlight of the joint practices back in August.

Eric Rowe got roasted on a big 20+-yard chunk play from Allen Hurns who had him all discombobulated. He also gave up another big one to Corey Grant. But they tightened up in the second half. Rowe, too, nearly had a pick.

Devin McCourty was his normally solid self and made a few key tackles. Pat Chung was very good in run support but got caught in no man’s land on Marcedes Lewis’ 4-yard touchdown. Bortles had a run-pass option and rolled to his right where Eric Lee charged in. Chung was caught not knowing how to proceed and Bortles flipped the ball easily over to Lewis for the score.

The game plan was to stop the run and force the ball into Bortles’ hands. They accomplished the first part but the second? Allowing nearly 300 yards wasn’t part of the plan.

Special Teams: A-

The Patriots Special Teams were a very underrated reason why they were able to come away with a victory. Lost in all the silly hysteria over the penalty calls, was the stellar day by Ryan Allen. Allen dropped three punts inside the 20-yard line and didn’t have one of his six on the day returned. Because of the STs, the Patriots pinned Jacksonville on their last four drives no further out than the 16-yard line with the other three at either the 10 or 9-yard lines.

After pinning the Jags deep, Danny Amendola, already having a day for himself returned a punt from midfield, 20 yards to the Jacksonville 30. Stephen Gostkowski was good on a field goal and all three PATs but once again it was his kickoffs that pin the opponent’s deep. And teams keep taking the cheese, running out the ball from 1-3 yards deep in the end zone and the coverage units led by Matthew Slater keep making them pay.

Coaches:: A

Bill Belichick showed why he’s the master at clock management and situational football and his opponent was not. No one practices those type of scenarios more than the Patriots. And it shows… time after time, after time.

The adjustments made after halftime was good both offensively and defensively although the Jaguars helped by playing scared. Jacksonville played man coverage and did a great job in the first half. In the second, once Josh McDaniels began to empty the playbook, the Jaguars, afraid of giving up a big play, went to a zone. Brady eats zone coverage like candy….er avocado ice cream. And it wasn’t if it was going to happen (comeback) but when.

The Patriots coaches earned their pay by making the adjustments on offense, defense and special teams and the Jags did not. And decided to sit on a 10-point lead. Bad move.

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