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.
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:
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
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)
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
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
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.
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.
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.
Hard to believe, but, 14 games down (12-2) with just 2 more before the real season begins. This season has flown by.
If nothing else, 2016 has been a season with many surprises for the New England Patriots. Some have been pleasant…and some haven’t turned out too well. Despite all the changes, this year’s team is once again a legitimate Super Bowl contender and are, at 10-2, right where most expected them to be. Here are my 5 biggest surprises as the season progressed.
#1 BRADY ACCEPTS 4 GAME SUSPENSION
He gave it a gallant fight, but TB finally got tired of deflategate and moved on. Many were disappointed, but it was time to play football. He never acknowledged any guilt despite the Brady detractors using his acceptance of the 4 games to claim it a “win” for the NFL. Nothing about deflategate was a win for anyone…the NFL, Brady, the Patriots or fans anywhere.
#2 – DEFENSE
As the season started fans and prognosticators (my $50 word for the day) were saying the 2016 defense would be top 5 caliber. In one way people were right. As of now they are tied with their next opponent (Baltimore) for 2nd in the NFL for least points allowed (17.2 PPG), trailing only the Seahawks.
The big surprise from that group has been the departure of Collins, benching of Sheard and under performance by all but Butler. Overall the defense has not been as bad as it seems to the naked eye, but it certainly still hasn’t proven itself to be an elite unit.
The team is currently ranked in the top 10 in 4 key categories, but considering the weak offenses they have faced, questions still abound :
#2 points allowed (207)
#9 total defense
#12 passing defense
#10 rushing defense
#9 yards allowed
It is a must for this unit to improve if the Patriots are to go far in the playoffs, let alone win the Super Bowl. Monday Night vs Baltimore will be a true test
#3 OFFENSIVE LINE
Shock would be the word I use to describe how well the OL has performed. Dante Scarnecchia’s goal coming into the season was to solidify a unified unit of 5 to play most snaps…and he has been highly successful with (LT) Nate Solder, (LG) rookie Joe Thuney, (C) UFA David Andrews, (RG) Shaq Mason, (RT) Marcus Cannon. Just how good has this group been?
Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett have been sacked just 26 times while throwing 417 passes
LeGarrette Blount has rushed for 957 yards and 13 TDs
Add in that Marcus Cannon, who I have been known to chastise in the past, just had his contract renewed and is having his best season ever in his 6th year as a Patriot = you have realize just how much of a surprise this unit has been. Thank you “Scar.”
#4 – ROOKIE WR MALCOLM MITCHELL
The Patriots drafting of wide receivers has been beyond bad, but this year they hit a home-run (sorry for the baseball analogy) with 4th round pick (112th overall) Malcolm Mitchell. He has quickly gained Brady’s trust and has grown game-by-game while exhibiting his toughness, route running, speed and sure hands. Just look at what he has done over the past 3 games:
8 receptions/82 yards vs Rams
4 receptions/98 yards/1 TD vs 49ers
5 receptions/42 yards/2 TDs vs J-E-T-S
This young man will only get better. He needs to continue to improve with the loss of Danny Amendola & Rob Gronkowski for the offense to control the game. Mitchell is this year’s Dion Lewis.
#5 – KICKING GAME
The inconsistency of the kicking game has truly been a surprise. This was consider an area of strength when the season began, but has been erratic throughout the first 12 games.
Stephen Gostkowski has been AFC special team player of the week twice, including last week against the Rams, but has missed 4 makeable field goals and 3 extra points…not good enough for the highest paid kicker in the NFL.
Ryan Allen (no, not Logan Ryan as identified during the Fox telecast Sunday) has given the Patriots great field position throughout his 4 year career in the NFL. This year he hasn’t been consistent, shanking some and leaving opponents in good shape. His net average is fractionally his highest ever (40.8 vs 40.4 for his career), but of his 52 punts only 17 have been inside the 20 yard line.
Playoff game are usually won and lost by field position (I have no data to prove this, but let’s net let facts get in the way of the story), so both Gostkowski & Allen need to be on-their-game as that part of the season rolls around.
Tom Brady was the story, picking up win #201, most by a QB in NFL History in the Patriots blowout of the Rams. But, let’s face it, we knew it was coming…just not when.
What no one predicted, or thought possible, was the season that LeGarrette Blount is having. Admit it, as the season began you were hoping the Patriots would get a “real” playmaker for the backfield. Blount was a plodder who had to go north & south to make any yardage, and then was going to get 2-3 yards without breaking off anything long…right!
BLOUNT FORCE TRAUMA
Let’s start with some statistics thanks to Mark Daniels of the Providence Journal: Blount leads the NFL in rushing touchdowns (13), he’s fifth in rushing yards (957) and ninth in rush yards/game (79.8).
The only non-quarterback to have more touchdowns is David Johnson (15).
4.4 yards per carry
53 First Downs
1 Fumble lost
Not too shabby for a “plodder” no one wanted.
The first four games without Brady looked to be his only opportunity to strut his stuff. In those 4 games he made opponents shake when he handled the ball, gaining 352 yards on the ground and, surprisingly, catching 3 passes. He ran for over 100 yards against both Miami & Houston before Tom Brady came back in week 5 and, as expected, running the ball was less important.
Carrying the pigskin 31 times in wins against Cleveland & Cincinnati for 87 yards, he averaged just over 3 yards per carry, as Tom Terrific took over his team.
Not to be forgotten, Blount ran for 127 yards against Pittsburgh and 124 against San Francisco while scoring at least 1 TD against Arizona, Miami, Houston (2), Cleveland, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh (2), Buffalo, Seattle (3) and LA. Now, that’s production!
TIME TO BACK OFF CRITICISM
With that resume, it’s time to realize that Mr. Blount has been way above average this year. He has looked quicker, and shown he is capable of actually breaking off a long one once in a while (see featured photo where he broke off a 43 yard TD run).
After the game Blount said “I think he (Jeff Fisher) knows our names now. He already knew my name,” Blount said, via the Boston Herald. “I think he knows James and Dion now for sure, though.”
The New England Patriots have had a long run of exceptional success. The Bill Belichick-Tom Brady link has a lot to do with the dominance they have over the rest of the NFL. This year, despite losing Brady for the 1st four games (no comment necessary), they have what could be the deepest, if not most skilled, roster in years. Despite missing some key players early due to injury, fans will be rockin’ as the 2016 Patriots evolve.
Are there still areas of concern? Definitely… but all positions are filled with strong, talented young players chomping at the bit to replace seasoned vets. Think about it. The lack of training camp transactions and difficulty in selecting who will be among New England’s 53 man roster opening day this deep into camp is a strong indication that the back-end will have skills needed to survive the long season.
COMPETITION IS GOOD FOR EVERYONE
After two pre-season games, the competition for playing time is fierce. And, let’s face it, that’s good for everyone. Shoot, even Tom Brady, arguable the best QB in NFL history, can’t find playing time when he wants to. OK, I know, he was playing with scissors and cut himself, keeping him out of game #2, which he was scheduled to start. But the point is, someone has stepped in and done the job. You may not be a fan of Jimmy Garoppolo as the “long-term” answer when TB retires, but he has shown the ability to hold things together while Brady is out. Let’s take a quick look at what we could see on offense opening night, September 11, in Arizona.
QB: (2) This one’s a no brainer,( so I qualify), and my prediction -ta dah- unequivocally: the two slots are owned by Goroppolo and rookie Jacoby Brissett. How’s that for stepping out on a limb. It is doubtful the Patriots will sign a veteran back-up QB for the 1st four games unless one of those two get injured. Brady does not take up a roster spot until game 5.
WR: (6) Who needs a real deep threat when you have a roster full of good hands, elusive players battling it out for a limited number of positions. The days of Randy Moss are long gone, so, as they say in certain circles, “forgeddabout-it.”
Veterans include Danny Amendola, Jules Edelman, Nate Washington, Chris Hogan, Keshawn Martin, Aaron (yep, he’s still here) Dobson and old faithful MatthewSlater.
Young and looking to step in players are Chris Harper, Malcolm Mitchell, DeAndre Carter and Devin Lucien.
Injuries will factor in the final six. The availability of Amendola and Mitchell are the two question marks. If healthy they are locks, along with Edelman, Slater, Hogan and Harper. That leaves Washington, Martin, Dobson, Carter & Lucien on the outside looking in. If either Amendola or Mitchell can’t go, look for Martin to fill their slot.
TE: (3) Like QB, the first two are easy – Rob Gronkowski & Martellus Bennett. After that is a big question. Do you want a blocking, athletic or flexible player filling that role? Based on his performance to-date, I’m going with AJ Derby (FB James Develin is capable of filling the blocking TE role). As of 8/21 veteran Clay Harbor is listed ahead of Derby on the Patriot’s unofficial depth chart.
Rookie TE AJ Derby (Photo courtesy patspulpit.com)
RB: (5) BULLETIN – CSNNE is reporting Dion Lewis needs more surgery. James White has looked good in that role, but lacks Lewis’ elusiveness. LeGarrette Blount has impressed in pre-season, but is vulnerable with the emergence of Tyler Gaffney. Branden Bolden’s value on special teams will be the determining factor for him, leaving Joey Iosofa and D.J. Foster with little chance. As mentioned under TEs, James Devlin’s flexibility as both a blocking back and TE make him seem a certainty.
Final five – Gaffney, White, Devlin, Bolden & Blount. Would not be shocked if either Blount or Bolden were cut. It seems like every year Belichick makes a surprise cut, so either Blount or Bolden could be this year’s shocker.
OL: (9) As in all but a few predictions, health is the determining factor. Sebastian Vollmer is out & Tre’ Jackson is hurt. A decision on Jackson needs to come shortly. (A player must open training camp on PUP in order to be eligible to be placed on the reserve/PUP list to open the regular season). His leadership will be missed, but the offensive line is gradually revolving into a young aggressive group, with rookie Joe Thune at left guard and Shaq Mason (broken hand) looking at more playing time. Center Dave Andrews beats out Bryan Stork at center, leaving veterans Nate Solder, Cameron Fleming, LaAdrian Waddle & Josh Kline joined by youngsters Ted Karras & Tre’ Jackson. If Jackson isn’t available (heaven forbid). add Marcus Cannon (ugh) to the list. No sense at all about Jonathon Cooper, who has been suffering with foot problems since the 1st padded practice. Probable IR candidate.
The regular season is fastly approaching and with that comes roster cuts. Over the next few weeks the Patriots have to cut their roster down from 90 to 53, which won’t be easy with this being the most talented and complete 90-man roster the team has had during the Bill Belichick era. With only one preseason game played and a few weeks of practices here is how my Patriots roster projection looks
Quarterback: Jimmy Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett. (Brady suspended first 4 games) (2) This ones pretty obvious, Garoppolo will be starting the first four games of the season while Brady is suspended and once Brady’s back he’s taking over. There was talk about the Patriots possibly bringing in a veteran QB with rookie Jacoby Brissett in the backup role but Bill Belichick shot those rumors down this week and the two QBs on the roster will be Garoppolo and Brissett.
Running Back: LaGarrette Blount, Brandon Bolden, James Develin, James White, Tyler Gaffney. (5) Let me start off by saying no Dion Lewis is not getting cut. Lewis is currently on the PUP list and has yet to practice after his season-ending torn ACL last season and I think the team leaves him on the PUP to start the season. There has been speculation that Blount could be cut but I don’t think that’ll happen, running back is probably the weakest position on the team right now and I don’t see them cutting the veteran and going into the year with a bunch of backs with not much if any NFL experience. White did a pretty good job after the Lewis injury last season and looked good in the teams first preseason game and can be the pass catching back out of the backfield until Lewis returns. Gaffney is finally healthy and looked pretty good in the first preseason game, breaking off a 44-yard touchdown run. If he can continue to look good in games and practice he could find a spot on the roster.
Wide Receiver: Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell, Aaron Dobson. (5) The first four guys listed are obvious, Edelman and Amendola are your starters, Hogan signed a big contract this offseason and Mitchell was taken in the 4th round this year and has looked like a stud prior to his elbow injury, which thankfully he’ll only miss up to four weeks with and has been practicing with the team already in non-contact drills. Not listing Matthew Slater as a receiver because he never plays on offense and is a special teamer. Aaron Dobson is the luckiest man in the world and will somehow find a way to make the 53-man roster again. Dobson always shines in camp and the preseason but can never get it together in the regular season. Keyshawn Martin is still not practicing with the team due to an injury and though I’m a fan of Martin don’t think he’ll make the final roster if he can’t get healthy. Rookie Devin Lucien and Chris Harper I think will find their way to the practice squad.
Tight End: Rob Gronkowski, Martellus Bennett, A.J. Derby. (3) Gronk and Bennett are two of the best in their position in the entire league and are obvious roster locks. The third tight end spot will come down to either A.J. Derby or Bear Pascoe. The two are completely different players, with Derby being a receiving tight end and Pascoe being a blocker. Derby made a few nice plays in the first preseason game against the Saints which could help him earn a spot on the roster. Pascoe could take over the Michael Williams role from last year as pretty much being an extra lineman on the field. It depends which route the team chooses to go but right now I give Derby the slight edge.
Offensive Line: Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer, Joe Thuney, Josh Kline, Shaq Mason, David Andrews, Ted Karras, LaAdrian Waddle, Marcus Cannon. (9) Jonathan Cooper was a tough cut here but with him being injured and his injury history it could be tough for him to make the team. Joe Thuney has looked like the teams best offensive lineman and like a steal selecting him in the third round of this years draft. Bryan Stork was a tough cut but with his concussion problems and inconsistent play it shouldn’t be a total surprise if he doesn’t make the team. With versatile players such as Kline, Karras and Thuney able to move to center and backup David Andrews, Bryan Stork could be replaceable on the line. I HATE HATE HATE HATE HATE Marcus Cannon but it doesn’t look like the team will be cutting him, even though he couldn’t block my 12-year old cousin. Tackle is really weak with Solder, Vollmer, Waddle and Cannon and the team could look to make a move. From what I’ve seen and heard I really like Ted Karras, he’s a guy who can play a few positions on the line and adds a toughness to the line. I think Tre’ Jackson starts the season on the PUP list to get completely healthy and see what they have Karras, if he struggles they could move him down to the practice squad when Jackson is healthy.
Defensive Line: Rob Ninkovich, Jabaal Sheard, Malcolm Brown, Alan Branch, Terrance Knighton, Trey Flowers, Geneo Grissom, Vincent Valentine, Chris Long. (9) The most complete area on the roster. No debates on who makes the team out of this group. Markus Kuhn is someone who Bill Belichick likes but I don’t see him beating out any of these guys for a roster spot. Ninkovich is already practicing after tearing his triceps and is unknown if he’ll be able to play week 1 but he’ll be on the roster. Heard is gonna replace Chandler Jones with the help of Trey Flowers who was electric against the Saints and was all over the place making plays. Brown, Branch, Knighton and Valentine will add some beef to this line that will be hard to run against.
Linebacker: Jamie Collins, Donta’ Hightower, Jonathan Freeny, Shea McClellin, Kamu Grugier-Hill. (5) Not too much depth at linebacker butCollins and Hightower are two of the best linebackers in the league and are obviously locks. Jonathan Freeny played well last year and should also be a roster lock. McClellin is a similar player to Ninkovich and can play both linebacker and defensive end, he doesn’t do anything great but can do a few things well. Grugier-Hill is a smaller linebacker and played defensive back in college and played well in pass coverage against the Saints. He could have a big role covering tight ends and backs out of the backfield. I expect to see a lot of two linebacker sets featuring Collins and Hightower if both can stay healthy.
Cornerback: Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan, Cyrus Jones, Jonathan Jones, Cre’Von LeBlanc. (5) A very inexperienced group outside of Butler and Ryan. Cyrus Jones was the teams top draft pick taken in the second round this year and is a lock to make the team and looks like he will be the teams starting slot corner. Jonathan Jones generated a lot of buzz during OTAs and at the beginning of training camp. He got beat a few times against the Saints but also made a few nice plays and pass deflections. Cre’Von LeBlanc has also been generating some buzz in Foxborough after his amazing interception against the Saints. He had good, tight coverage throughout the game and performed well in joint practices this week against the Chicago Bears. Was tough to not include Justin Coleman because of experience over Jones and LeBlanc but he has not had a very good camp up to this point. Got beat a couple times against the Saints in the first preseason game and struggled this week in joint practices with the Bears. This is a young unit with a lot of potential, but also a lot of question marks.
Safety: Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Jordan Richards. (4) A very strong safety unit that could hopefully help out the young corners. McCourty and Chung are two of the best in the league with McCourty providing help to corners over the top and Chung playing down in the box and covering tight ends. Harmon is similar to McCourty providing help and creates a lot of plays in the secondary. Jordan Richards was very limited last year and will be interesting to see how he does this year and the different roles they could use him in.
Special Teams: Stephen Gostkowski, Ryan Allen, Joe Cardona, Matthew Slater, Nate Ebner, Brandon King. (6) The best special teams unit in the entire NFL. Gostkowski is by far the best kicker in the league in my opinion, Matthew Slater might be the best special teams player of all-time, Ebner is back from the Olympics and who is another great special teams player, as well as Brandon King. Another big contributor to special teams is Brandon Bolden who I have listed with the running back group.
The focus on Julian Edelman’s return to the Patriots line-up has rightfully been the center of attention since the season ended with the New England offense looking more like the Cleveland Browns than the juggernaut that started the season. His week 10 broken foot against the Giants crippled not only the player, but the entire Patriots offense.
Why Edelman’s Return Is So Critical
There are many reasons why his return will help rejuvenate a stagnant Patriot offense.
He is, by a wide margin, the man Tom Brady trusts most (my apologies to Rob Gronkowski) to be in the right spot at the right time
He seldom drops a pass and often makes the hard catch look easy
When Edelman is in, defenses have to adjust, giving others – like Gronkowski – more space to make the catch
The weakest part of the New England offense, the offensive line, is exposed less with Edelman playing because Brady has that security blanket available for his quick release. No one else filled that role during his absence. Danny Amendola did his best, but it wasn’t quite good enough.
Don’t underestimate the importance of #4. The bye-week does give time for the big guys up front to rest. However, at it’s best, this season it was mediocre…even when rested.
The return of Edelman alone is not a cure-all. Although it should make a huge difference on offense, the defense needs to get back to the dominant group that intimidated QBs throughout the league. The return to health of some key defensive players should take a lot of pressure off the offense, allowing wins while falling short of scoring 30+ points a game.
Remember three years ago when we were all questioning Hightower’s ability to diagnose offenses and actually make the big play? As we’ve seen over the past two seasons, he has dispelled any doubt…he was a great 1st round draft pick (25th overall) in 2012!
Arguably the most valuable player on the defense, Hightower has played injured for a while now…and it has shown with his hesitancy on the field. Hopefully this bye-week gets him confident that he is OK and he’ll return the All-Pro that he was prior to getting banged up.
When Hightower got injured Jones production suffered, despite the help he got from Jamie Collins and Jaball Sheard. At one point it felt like Jones was going to smash all Patriot sack records, but by seasons end he had an injured toe and was struggling to get to the QB. The two weeks off (he sat the last game) should re-energize his motor and the combination of Jones, Hightower, Sheard, Collins, Akiem Hicks, Malcom Brown and, old faithful, Rob Ninkovich will have opposing teams scratching their head when they have the ball.
…And Let’s Not Forget
If Edelman hadn’t been out Amendola wouldn’t have played (injury) at the end. No one can ever question his toughness to me. Here’s hoping fans appreciate how much he has done this year, beside building a car port in an upper class area of Rhode Island.The trio of Gronkowski, Edelman, Amendola along with James White, Brandon LaFell (yes, as 4th receiver), Steven Jackson and Keshawn Martin should keep defenses on their heels, cutting back on the pressure being put on Brady.
No, he’s not an afterthought. When he limped off the field in Miami, Patriot’s Nation held their collective breath and looked to the sky. Why, oh why, was he even playing? Despite the (high?) ankle sprain sustained on a low hit (no penalty?) by arguably the dirtiest player in the NFL (Ndamukong Suh) you know #12 will be on the field doing anything it takes to win.
…And No More Injuries, Please!
It seems every day something new pops up on the injury front. Whether it was Chandler Jones last week or Nate Ebner Thursday, enough is enough.
In case you forgot, the non-playing Injured Reserve list for the Patriots includes these names we were counting on to help get to Super Bowl 50:
Nate Solder & Ryan Wendell from the OL
Running backs Dion Lewis (sigh) & LeGarrette Blount plus FB James Develin
Oft injured DL Dominique Easley
There are more, but those six were key players.
So, everyone else, please, stay healthy for the 1st real game of the season, January 16 at Foxborough…as the next step to ring #5 commences.
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 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)
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.
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.
It wasn’t all good news though, as the injuries continue to mount.
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
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
I am a Patriot fan and have been since the original Boston Patriots came into existence in 1960, so now you know I’m REALLY old. Hell, I remember when Elvis was still The King. Those following this now great franchise are as loyal as you will find anywhere, and more so than most.
Now that I have that out there, I have to admit that I’m getting tired of the whining. A team of mostly battered and bruised players at almost every position (I know, no player in the NFL is 100% healthy right now) in a meaningless game, an offensive line (and, yes it is offensive!) that can’t block, one of the youngest defenses in the NFL and a usually reliable group of special teamers gave away two games they should have won. As a result many (not all, but a lot) Patriot fans are ready to hang the officials, blame Roger (Mr. Integrity) Goodell and, worst of all, start doubting the team.
Hey, they are 10-2 and still control their destiny. New England is positioned to get a bye throughout the play-offs by winning their last 4 games against teams they should beat. Calm down…Sunday was about as bad as it will get. Bill Belichick said after their worst loss in Kansas City last year…It’s “on to Cincinnati” … this year it’s “on to Houston.”
Worst Loss Of The Belichick Era?
This was perhaps the worst loss of the Bill Belichick era. No, not in term of importance of the game, but just how bad the coaching was, lack of adjustments made and overall team performance. At least the loss to the Chiefs last year was against a decent team. Not the case Sunday. The Eagles were ready to cave when the Patriots went up 14-0. And then something happened that had occurred a few times early in the season. The Pats decided they needed to pour it on and the world turned upside down (someone please explain to me what that means…but it seemed to fit here).
The Turning Point?
Tom E. Curran of CSNNE disagrees, but the game changed when the Patriots decided to try a play that rivals that used earlier this year by Indianapolis in their loss to this same Patriots team. Their blunder was a fake punt, our was a fake kick-off!
At that time we mocked the Colt coaching staff for their ineptitude and were thankful our Patriots wouldn’t and couldn’t do anything that dumb. Well, guess what? Bill Belichick just took a step back into the crowded list of coaches who do really dumb things that look horrendous when they don’t work…which is usually the case (ergo the word dumb).
A few weeks back it was an onside kid that the Patriots were lucky to recover (again when up 14-0) and we all laughed and said…smart move. Go for the knock-out punch. Sunday the brain trust on the sideline decided to try…are you kidding me…a drop kick by Nate Ebner, and it was the beginning of the end.
Up 14-0 and having the Eagles ready to concede the game, the brilliant minds of New England’s football team gave them hope…and the ball in great field position. Before you could blink (well, maybe not that fast, but it sure seemed like it) the Eagles had tied the game 14-14.
The botched kick (BB said after the game it wasn’t an on-side kick) and a missed assignment that led to a blocked punt resulted in two TDs for an Eagle team that had been inept up to that point. If it wasn’t an on-side kick than was the attempt being made to give the Eagles a chance? Sorry, not buying it Bill.
Second Half Adjustment?
Throughout this season I have praised the Patriots for their ability to adjust on the fly. Well, for yesterday’s game, I take it back. Any adjustments they made were either wrong, or just plain arrogant. It seemed like the strategy was, as in last week’s loss in Denver, let’s throw the ball long and let our fleet-footed (huh!) receivers outrun a poor Eagle secondary.
Forget the fact that Brady was being hammered in the pocket and long passes take time to develop
Who cares if the Eagles are 26th in rushing defense, let’s fool them and pass-pass-pass…Brady threw the ball 56 times.
With the score knotted at 14-14 the Patriots continued to look like the Detroit Lions (that’s about the worst thing I could say), only worse. New England usually owns the second half, especially at Gillette Stadium. Shoot, when they get the kick to start things off after the break fans know something good is going to happen.
Forget that “score at the end of the half and starting the 2nd half” strategy that has worked all year. This time it was, let the Eagles score five (yes, 5) straight TDs without scoring a point and see if you can come back.
How The Eagles Scored
This isn’t pretty, so take a deep breath:
Botched on side kick = TD. Coaching blunder
Blocked punt = TD. Missed blocking assignment
99 Yard interception = TD. Brady throws into a crowd and looks really foolish trying to tackle Malcom Jenkins as he runs through the entire Patriot team (see featured photo)
83 yard punt return for Daryl Sproles = TD. Patriot special teams part the waters as he scrambles to the end zone.
Bradford to Matthews for 10 yards = TD. Once again Tom Brady was intercepted on an up-for-grabs long pass intended for Brandon LaFell which was nowhere near him. Wrong route? Bad pass? Only the Patriots know, but bottom line another Eagle TD.
Every Eagle score was a result of a Patriot miscues. The only impressive offensive drive by Philadelphia was after Brady’s second interception. They took over with 2:10 left in the 3rd quarter and marched 80 yards, scoring with 11:14 left in the game to make it 35-14..
Despite the big lead in the 4th quarter the Eagles still were ready to
give the game away (this is a terrible team folks). After the Pats went three and out following the Eagles final score, the defense stepped up and forced a Philadelphia punt with 7:54 left in the game. Brady marched the Patriots 71 yards, culminating with a Brady to Scott Chandler 14 yard TD as the clock ticked down to 5:33. 35-21 Eagles
This time the Patriots successfully executed a regular on-side kick and recovered the ball on their 45. Nine plays later Brady scored on a 1-yard run and it was 35-28 with 3:02 left.
Many in the Gillette Stadium crowd had already left, but those headed to the exits at this point stopped in their tracks and scampered back to their seats.
Another Brady Miracle Finish?
The Patriots 3rd on-side kick almost worked again, as Philadelphia muffed the kick, but the ball went out-of-bounds as the Eagles took over on the NE 46.
The Eagles again tried to give the game back when, after getting to the Patriots 25, Jamie Collins (he’s back) forced a fumble. It was all in the hands of the greatest QB in NFL history. Well, actually, it was in the hands of the receiving corps, who, after getting 1 first down, had 3 drops and the game was over. Eagles win 35-28.
If my memory is correct the Patriots last drop kick was an extra point by Doug Flutie against the Dolphins in his last game in the NFL
James White was finally given a legitimate chance to make a
difference and he took advantage of the opportunity with 10 receptions (on 13 targets) for 115 yards and a TD
The running game, when given a chance was effective. Despite just 13 carries, LeGarrette Blount averaged 4.2 yards per touch while bowling his way to 59 yards.
Danny Amendola made a difference with 7 receptions (13 targets) for 62 yards and a TD
It looked like Brandon LaFell cut off a long route on Brady’s 2nd interception. He ended up with 9 targets and a poor 4 receptions for a measly 24 yards…and he was the intended receiver on most of Brady’s long throws
Brady was sacked 4 times while the Patriots only got to Bradford once. Tom has already been sacked more times than he was all of last season
Scott Chandler had one of his better games (that’s not saying much) since joining the team with 4 receptions (7 targets) for 61 yards and a tough TD catch
Jamie Collins returned and led the team with 7 tackles
Of the Eagles 5 TDs, 1 was on defense and 2 were by special teams
Brady, pressured all game, was 29/56 for a deceptive 312 yards, 3 TDs, 2 int’s and a rating of 71.4. Bradford, with little pressure went 14-24 for 121 yards, 2 TDs, 0 int’s and a 99.3 rating
Get the Philadelphia fiasco out of your head now. Don’t dwell on it, it will just give you a headache. It’s on to Houston to face the Texans, who are suddenly playing some very good football.
Early in the season this looked like a no brainer. When they were crushed by the Dolphins Patriot fans set them aside as a non-entity. That’s just not the case anymore.
Despite losing to the Bills yesterday 30-21 the Texans are in the hunt in the weak AFC South, tied with the Colts for the division lead at 6-6. In case you missed it, the game has been moved to Sunday Night.
Is it possible the Denver Broncos are Tom Brady’s achilles’ heel? Going into Sunday night’s match-up there was only one team in the NFL TB has a losing record against. It may be hard to believe, but the best QB in NFL history is 6-7 against the Broncos, 5-5 in the regular season and 1-2 in the playoffs.
So, here it is. Sunday night at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver and Super Tom still has something to prove…one more mountain to climb. The big difference over past years is ( are you ready for this?) Brady may have a mediocre/poor game and the Patriots still should win. I know, Denver has a great defense…but this year so do the Patriots.
The Patriots have allowed the fewest points-per-game (18.2) in the NFL while the Broncos are 18th in scoring (22.2). When you realize how many of the points scored against New England’s defense were in garbage time, after games were already decided, the figure is decidedly lower.
Meanwhile, the always tough Denver defense is just behind NE, allowing a measly 18.3 PPG of their own. Yes, the Patriots are 2nd in scoring (32.3), but the days of rolling up points look to be over with a depletion of skill players on offense due to injuries. Danny Amendola and Aaron Dobson will be among the missing (Dobson for the year) leaving Brady with limited options in the passing game. Sure, he still has Rob Gronkowski and Brandon LaFell, but after that there are a bunch of question marks.
Home Field Advantage
Big Edge: Denver
The Patriots are just 9-19 in Denver since the two teams first met in 1960. Ah yes, I remember it well, a 13-10 Denver win. (The long-term memory is fine, it’s the short-term that’s a killer).
Yeah, I know. Different year, different players…but still, it has to be on Tom Brady’s mind. He absolutely hates to lose with a passion that is unequaled. I know everyone hates to lose, but he takes it to a new level. Just a few weeks back he was pounding the ground in anguish when he was sacked and felt it was his fault…and the Patriots won that game easily!
Why The Patriots Should Win
Despite the advantages the Broncos have, as listed above, the Patriots are still favored, although by a very slim margin…and the reasons are:
Tom Brady vs Brock Osweiler (No Brainer)
Brady showed his emotion repeatedly in last weeks win against the Bills, and his teammates would rather not face his wrath two weeks in a row.
“I was pretty agitated all night,”Brady told WEEI’s Dennis and Callahan Show, via Boston.com. “For three hours and 20 minutes, I was pretty agitated.”
More action from James White, who was clutch despite limited touches, in last week’s win over Buffalo. His snap count should increase with a reduction in touches by LeGarrette Blount.
Bill Belichick vs Gary Kubiack (Another No Brainer)
Rob Gronkowski is due to have a breakout game. Denver now has Vernon Davis, who had his best game of the year last week, and Gronk won’t take kindly to being outplayed on national TV
Both teams are looking forward to this one. Here are a few pre-game quotes from the Bronco’s camp:
“It will be fun—Sunday Night Football, undefeated team coming in. It will be a lot of fun. It’s great playing against [Patriots QB] Tom [Brady], though. He’s a great competitor.” – Broncos CB Aqib Talib
They’re really physical. Their defensive line—they’ve been causing a lot of chaos for quarterbacks. They’ve been getting to the quarterbacks. I think [Patriots DE] Chandler Jones is over 10 sacks at this point in the year. I think they just play extremely hard. They know their scheme inside and out and they execute their scheme.” – Broncos QB Brock Osweiler
New England Patriot fans worldwide were worried that the 8-0 season was about to show a “1” in the loss column. After all, these were the NY Giants that ripped the heart out of fans in two Super Bowls as Eli Manning outperformed Tom Brady…they were kryptonite to Superman. Hell, the ‘Gints were the only team in the NFL the Patriots hadn’t beat since 2008!
With the game played in MetLife Stadium, the Patriots offensive line still in shuffle stage and JasonPierre-Paul confident he’d get to Brady to disrupt New England’s high-powered offense, an upset looked to be a given. Add in OdellBeckhams: ‘I’ve loved-hated the Patriots’ statement and you had the perfect setting for fans of the NY Giants…and then they started the game! It lived up to all the hype, as the final quarter determined the winner on the last possession as the clock ticked down. Patriots 27-Giants 26.
Scoring Streak Extended – First Quarter
Losing the coin toss (what’s going on here?) didn’t slow down the Patriots scoring streak as they drove 78 yards and ran off 14 plays in 8 minutes 25 seconds the first time they had the ball…culminating in a 1 yard TD pass to Scott Chandler. Split with 8 runs (including a 10 yarder by Tom Brady) and 6 passes, the TD extended New England’s scoring streak to 32 straight quarters, an NFL record.
It didn’t take Eli Manning and the Giants long to knot things up as the New York QB connected on an 87 yard TD pass to Odell Beckham Jr., who beat Malcolm Butler in single coverage as he scampered into the end-zone untouched. It was the longest offensive play ever against a Bill Belichick coached team.
After all the fireworks opening the game, things settled town with both teams going 3 and out before the Patriots took over on their 30 yard line with 3:29 left in the quarter. Following a short run by LeGarrette Blount, a 30 yard pass to Julian Edelman moved New England into NY territory as the quarter came to an end.
Another Quarter – Another Score
Edelman limped off the field with a broken bone in his foot, putting a big crimp in an already struggling offense. 3rd and 4 from the 8 yard line brought pressure up the middle, bringing Brady down with the 1st sack of the game. Stephen Gostkowski kept his perfect season alive with a 31 yard field goal, moving him into a tie for the most FGs in Patriot history and putting the Pats up 10-7.
The Giants proceeded to march down the field on their next possession before Manning was strip sacked by NFL sack leader Chandler Jones (10 1/2) and the ball was recovered by Justin Coleman at the Pats 16. With Edelman out of the game and the season long loss of Dion Lewis, the New England offense was stuffed. A critical Rob Gronkowski offensive pass interference call eliminated a 1st down and the Patriots were forced to punt from deep in their own end of the field.
After a 51 yard punt and an 11 yard run back the Giants had great field position on their own 46. After their drive stalled at the Patriot 19, Josh Brown hit his 19th straight field goal and the game was knotted at 10-10.
Reuben Randle grabbed a 31 yard pass from Manning at the Patriots 43 with a minute left in the half. Manning completed his 18th pass of the game to TE Will Tye and he rumbled to the 1 yard line. With 18 seconds left Eli lobbed a TD to a wide open Dwayne Harris and the Giants took at 17-10 lead into the second half.
Tom Brady vs Eli Manning
Manning had the most 1st half yardage of his career (251 yards) while completing 12 of 20 passes with two TDs. Brady, meanwhile, went 14-21 for 127 yards and 1 TD. History was rearing its ugly head as the Giants looked to continue foiling any bid New England had for a perfect season.
The Streaks Continue In The Second Half
The Giants received the 2nd half kick-off and once again exploited the Patriots secondary, including an interference call against Patrick Chung and another (highly questionable) by Malcolm Butler. The drive ended in a 38 yard FG by Brown (21 of 21) stretching the lead to 20-10, the largest deficit New England had faced this season.
Danny Amendola had a spectacular 82 yard punt return on their second possession of the second half as he brought the ball to the Giants 7 yard line. He was tripped up by a Patriot or would have had a TD. Blount ran it in from the 1 and the game got closer as the Patriots stretched their scoring streak to 34 quarters. Giants 20-Patriots 17
Josh Brown followed with a 53 yard FG, his 22nd of the season, putting the Giants up by 6, 23-17 as the 3rd quarter wound down.
Brady Turns The Ball Over
The Giants returned the favor they gave up in the 1st quarter with a strip-sack fumble of their own by Jasper Brinkley at the New England 39, but couldn’t capitalize on the turnover. The Patriots defense stepped up, led by a Rob Ninkovich sack, and forced the Giants to punt keeping the game within one score.
The stop looked to be the turning point of the game, as the Patriots took over after the punt deep in their own territory. Gronk stepped up and caught the longest pass of his career with a 76 yard TD. The extra-point was good and suddenly New England was ahead 24-23.
With the win staring them in the eyes, Tom Brady made his 3rd mistake of the quarter with a fatal interception at the Giants 1 yard line. Manning had his chance once again to stick a dagger in the heart of Patriot fans…and he did just that. On a 3rd and 3 he hit a wide open Harris for 30 yards at the Patriots 28…well within Brown’s range.
Another Manning to Harris pass put the ball at the Pats 5 with just over 2:00 left in the game. The Patriots caught a break when what was originally called a TD pass to Beckham was overturned on replay as Butler batted the ball out of his hands before he could establish possession. Brown kicked a 29 yarder with 1:47 remaining in the game and, once again, it would be a final possession game!
Needing a FG to win and under 2:00 to go with no time outs the pressure was on. Brady, who lives for these opportunities, was almost intercepted again but the ball hit the ground. Super Tom completed critical passes putting the Patriots at the Giant 37 with :06 left. Gostkowski was on the spot for a 54 yard game winning kick as NY called time out. The kick was good with 1 second left on the clock…and the Patriots remained undefeated, pulling out a hard fought 27-26 win.
After the game Brady commented “It always comes down to the end against them”
Although he was victimized by Beckham on the Giants 1st possession, Malcolm Butler played a solid game. His pass interference penalty was a bad call and he made a great play when he knocked the ball out of Beckham’s hands in the end zone in the 4th quarter.
The Giants came into the game with the worst TE defense in the NFL. They had done a decent job on both Gronkowski & Chandler until giving up the 76 yard TD in the 4th quarter
The Patriots entered the game as the least penalized secondary in the NFL, yet had 3 big interference calls
Brady fumbled twice and had an interception in the 4th quarter. The Patriots fortunately recovered his second fumble with over 9 minutes left in the game. That fumble was followed shortly by a 54 yard completion to Brandon LaFell at the Giants 15. His interception (3rd of year) came as the Patriots were looking to put the game away when Trumaine McBride picked him off at the 1 yard line with under 5 minutes to go
New York was 1 for 5 on TD attempts in the red zone
Jason Pierre-Paul had his 1st sack of the season called back on a hands-to-the-facemask call in the 4th quarter
The game ended with the Giants recovering a short kick and trying to pull off the miracle win as they shoveled the ball player-to-player before finally stepping out of bounds.
Follow me on Twitter @SnowdonBob
Your NFL news. A few laughs and hard nosed opinions and facts. What more could you want? It's a one stop shop.