Tag Archives: Devin McCourty

New England Patriots: Confidence Is Soaring As The Season Winds Down

2015 Ended Poorly

As the 2015 season wound down, Bill Belichick made some decisions that, looking back, turned out to be questionable (I know, that is heresy in New England, but look at the results).  After winning their first eleven games the Patriots started to wilt. With a bunch of walking wounded, a beat up Tom Brady and the play-offs with home field in game-one guaranteed, he rested some key players and went to a non-existent running game against the J-E-Ts and Dolphins. For the 1st time in may years the Patriots seemed to be playing not-to-lose. 

11-29-brady-hit-high-after-releasing-the-ball-no-penalty-on-this-play
2015 Brady got beat up in Denver

Well, as we all know (so why am I reminding you????) the Pats lost both those games and went into the play-offs having lost four of their last six games. They never completely recovered from those decisions. After winning a home play-off game against the Chiefs (27-20) they traveled to Denver and lost to the ultimate Super Bowl Champion Broncos (20-18) in the Conference Championship game.

How Different Is 2016?

Now, with two games remaining in the 2016 regular season, New England faces the same two teams, NY J-E-T-S and Miami, in a similar situation. The J-E-T-S are out of the race, but always give the Patriots a good fight…and the Dolphins continue to fight for a play-off spot.

So…why does it feel so different?  Here are 5 reasons:

  1. The 2016 Patriots are now playing their best football of the season, unlike 2015, when they were unsure if the defense or offense could hold up
  2. Tom Brady won’t be going into these games already bruised & battered thanks to Dante Scarnecchia and a rejuvenated OL (yeah, I know he’s back to limited practice & on the injury list…but he’s still in better shape than last year) 
  3. The running game is at it’s peak, with LeGarrette Blount rushing for 15 TDs and over 1,000 yards…a healthy Dion Lewis..a solid #3 with James White and the impressive blocking of James Develin. Last year neither Blount nor Lewis were playing due to injuries
  4. The defense is #1 in points against in the NFL. I’ll say that again, the defense is #1 in points against in the NFL
  5. Bill Belichick seems completely confident in all aspects of the Pats game. He’s willing to trust his defense (say what?), offense or special teams to make the crucial play at the end of the game. That’s something that has been missing for many years

Same Decision = Different Results

So, that said, what if Belichick makes the same decisions this year that he did in 2015? If he does, the results should be completely different. This team is tough and in no way resembles the 2015 version of the New England Patriots.

malcolm-mitchell-vs-sf
Mitchell vs 49ers courtesy of Boston Herald.com

They don’t have Rob Gronkowski or Danny Amendola and both are big losses. However, they do have a bruiser in Blount, a quick Lewis plus new heroes in Chris Hogan (highest yards-per-catch in the NFL) and the speed of rookie WR Malcolm Mitchell. Add in tough TE Martellis Bennett and, oh yeah, a well rested Tom Brady!

With a defense that is starting to click without Chandler Jones or Jamie Collins…but is lead by Trey Flowers, always reliable Rob Ninkovich, Chris Long and, suddenly rejuvenated Jabaal Sheard, Malcolm Butler, Devin McCourty, Dont’a Hightower and a host of others…they are a formidable bunch.

NOTES:

  • Congratulations to Brady, Slater, Hightower & McCourty on their selection to the 2016 NFL Pro-Bowl. Hopefully none will be able to play as they prepare for the Super Bowl
  • Condolences to Malcolm Butler, Blount and Marcus Cannon (can’t believe I’m saying this), who all deserved a shot too
  • The NFL is always fair & objective…just look at their recent “punishment” to the Giants & their Head Coach for being caught cheating! #Integrity
  • This has been an outstanding year for Patriot Coaches Belichick, Josh McDaniels, Matt Patricia and Scarnecchia
  • Tom Brady is being penalized again! Many are saying he doesn’t deserve the MVP because he has played 4 fewer games than the others in the running. King Goodell strikes again
  • The Patriots are the only team in the NFL who have not lost a road game this year. Despite that, the advantage of playing in Foxborough in the playoffs is huge.

 

Dante Scarnecchia

 

Hard to believe, but, 14 games down (12-2) with just 2 more before the real season begins. This season has flown by.

Follow me on Twitter @SnowdonBob

 

New England Patriots: Play The Subs…PLEASE!

Another goal was reached Sunday when the New England Patriots routed the terrible (3-11) Tennessee Titans 33-16 in their final regular season game at Gillette Stadium. The win brought the beat-up, battered bodies of the home team to 12-2, but, more importantly, Denver’s loss to Pittsburgh guaranteed them a first round bye. The Patriots have now earned that honor for an NFL-record six consecutive seasons.

Malcolm Butler had a big game, including this interception in the end zone in front of Harry Douglas (83) (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Malcolm Butler had a big game, including this interception in the end zone in front of Harry Douglas (83) (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

How’s This For The Most Dominant Team In This Decade

  • Second team to ever have at least 6 straight 12 win seasons
  • Most seasons earning a bye since 12 team playoff format since 1990
  • 5 sacks against Tennessee and at least one sack in every game in 2015
  • Bill Belichick is 55-11 (.833) in December with New England, the best record in December among head coaches with one team in NFL history (min. 25 games)
  • Tom Brady tied Peyton Manning for the NFL record with the most seasons with 35 TDs (4)

The Patriots wrap up the season with road games in NY against the Jets and Miami to take on the Dolphins. They need to win one of those two games to assure home field advantage up to the Super Bowl. How important is home field? Well, since 1996 the Patriots are 17-3 playing at home in the real games. ‘Nuf said?

So, Who Do You Rest & When?

With injuries piling up every week the question arises, at what point do you start resting some of the walking wounded? The answer seems simple, NOW.

We all know Tom Brady will grit it out until the end, but even with a rotation of healthy running backs (James White has really stepped up and who wasn’t impressed with Joey Iosefa, oh yeah, and now Steven Jackson), enough WRs to get by (Brandon LaFell, Keshawn Martin, Leonard Hankerson Chris Harper) and the World’s greatest tight end (no need to name him is there?) New England should be able to win one, if not both of their remaining games.

Let Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman get as healthy as possible. Keep them on the bench until the games really matter, 4 weeks from now.

The defense continues to shine, so sitting Dont’a Hightower, Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung shouldn’t matter. Yes, all 3 are critical players if the team is to play in Super Bowl 50, but right now they can be replaced in the short run.

Defense Shines Again

Akiem Hicks recovers the ball for a TD after it was stripped from Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Akiem Hicks recovers the ball for a TD after it was stripped from Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Despite an understandable let-up in the second half the defense once again dominated. The list of players impressing grows game-to-game. This week it was Akiem Hicks turn to step up with a strip-sack (Chandler Jones featured photo) fumble recovery for a TD, a sack of his own, 4 tackles and constant pressure up the middle.

  • Chandler Jones had a two-sack game, bringing his season total to 12 1/2
  • New England is tied for 1st with Denver in team sacks (47)
  • The Patriots are now in the Top 10 in all key defensive stats…Points (7th), Yards (6th), Passing (8th), Rushing (10th)

Next Game: 1PM Sunday vs the Jets

Follow me on Twitter @SnowdonBob

 

 

New England Patriots: Forget Gronk, Who Is This Leonard Johnson Guy?

Let me start by saying it was great to see Rob Gronkowski back on the field. There’s no doubt he made a big difference in the Patriot offense as they destroyed the Houston Texans 27-6 on Sunday Night Football. The win & Miami’s Monday night loss to the Giants gave New England the AFC East Division title once again.

Tom Brady
Tom Brady explains to the officials why the call should be against Houston (AP Photo/George Bridges)

Tom Brady was efficient (22/30, 255 yds, 2 TDs, 0 ints). Heck, he even helped the officials out with a call (see photo). James White continued to show promise, Danny Amendola was solid and, once again, Brandon LaFell had the drops (caught 5 of 8 passes)…but make no mistake, this game was…

All About The Defense One of 6 sacks as Brian Hoyer is brought down by Dominique Easley with help from Ninkovich. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

One of 6 sacks as Brian Hoyer is brought down by Dominique Easley with help from Ninkovich. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Yes, the offense put up 27 points against what was a surging Texan’s defense, but this was a game dominated by the Patriots D. There was never a time when you felt Houston could score enough points to win from their opening 3 and out to Tom Brady kneeling to kill the clock over the last 2 minutes.

Keshawn Martin (82) fumbles a punt during the second half (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Keshawn Martin (82) fumbles a punt during the second half (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Even when Keshawn Martin muffed a punt (this is beginning to become a habit) and Houston recovered the ball on the Patriots 22 with 10:32 left in the 3rd quarter there was no concern. New England was up 20-6 at the time and, despite their recent troubles with 14 point leads, you just knew this team would not blow another double digit lead.

Obviously Houston Coach Bill O’Brien had no confidence in his team’s ability to move the ball long distances when he ignored the opportunity for a chip-shot field goal and went for it on 4th and 4 at the Pats’ 15 yard line. An incomplete pass from Brian Hoyer to Nate Washington, who was covered by Leonard Johnson, and the D had done it again.

It’s easy to question the decision to chase points that early in the game, and I have to confess I did. The game was within reach and putting any points on the board would have given the Texans a lift with most of the second half still to play. He proved to be right though, as that was the last time Houston had an opportunity to score.

So, Who Is Leonard Johnson

Leonard Johnson, a  previously unknown cornerback, played 42 snaps (courtesy of Mike Reiss) and had a solid game as the #3 CB behind Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan.  The Texans were 0-3 throwing in his direction and he had one of the better break-ups in the game. Johnson  joined the team this week after being released by Tampa, and Bill Belichick jumped at the chance to bring him in and sign him to a 2-year contract.

Belichick is slow to give praise to any player, let alone one who had just joined the team, but he had this to say about the 4th year undrafted free agent:

“He worked really hard this week,” “It was a long week, a lot of extra work, a lot of extra meetings, some good competitive time on the practice field. Got to give him a lot of credit — he came in, learned and his teammates embraced it … .”

As the year started everyone had concerns about the Patriots’ secondary, but, to the surprise of all, it has been pretty solid through the first 13 games. Butler has had some great and some not-so-great games, Logan Ryan has grown into a sold #2 and now it looks like (I know, it was just one game) Johnson brought the final piece to the puzzle.

It’s Nice To Be Back On Top

Everything fell into place on this Sunday as the Patriots went from the #3 AFC seed back to #1, aided by Cincinnati and Denver losses. Once again they have control of keeping an important bye-week in the play-offs and home field advantage throughout. With 3 games left (Titans at Gillette next week, J-E-T-S and Dolphins on the road) they could, and should, finish with another 14 win season and a healthier team when they play the real games.

Game Notes:

It wasn’t all good news though, as the injuries continue to mount.

LeGarrette Blount was on his way to a big game before injuring his hip early (99 J.J. Watt) (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
LeGarrette Blount was on his way to a big game before injuring his hip early (99 J.J. Watt) (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

LeGarrette Blount (Hip), Devin McCourty (Ankle), Dominique Easley (Thigh) and Jonathan Freeny (Hand) had all left the field with injuries by the end of the game.

Blount is walking with the aid of crutches and is reportedly out for the season, Freeney has a cast on his hand and McCourty has a high ankle sprain. Easley was put on season ending IR Tuesday

  •  Jerod Mayo had his best game of the season, leading the team with 7 tackles
  • Defensive Lineman Akiem Hicks,  acquired in a trade from the Saints for TE Michael Hoomanawanui , was outstanding with 2 of the Patriots 6 sacks and was credited with 6 tackles.
  • Jabaal Sheard seemed to spend the entire game in the Houston backfield, as he had 2 forced fumbles, 3 QB Hits, 2 sacks and 5 tackles
  • J.J. Watt was a non factor except for one late hit on Tom Brady long after he had released the ball
  • The Patriots clinched a playoff spot for the 17th time in the 22 years Robert Kraft has owned the team.
  • This is the 7th straight year the Pats have made it to the postseason
Rob Gronkowski's 10th TD catch (Photo: Patriots.com Keith Nordstrom)
Rob Gronkowski’s 10th TD catch (Photo: Patriots.com Keith Nordstrom)
  • Gronkowski notched his 10th touchdown, marking the fifth time he’s done that in his career. That’s the most 10-plus touchdown seasons for a tight end in history (From Paul Perillo)

The Patriots have already had their trap game (Philadelphia) so should not let up as they take on the hapless Titans in Foxborough this Sunday

Follow me on Twitter @SnowdonBob