Super Pats stifle the Rams to win their sixth title!

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I’m not sure that most fans or casual viewers were expecting a defensive slugfest when they tuned into Super Bowl LIII, but that ‘s what we got yesterday, as the Patriots prevailed 13-3 over the Los Angeles Rams (15-4) to win the Super Bowl for the sixth time in the last seventeen years. Although points were at a premium in this game, Julian Edelman capped off his impressive postseason with a performance that earned him the Super Bowl MVP Award.

Here are some takeaways from Super Bowl LIII.

1. Defense wins championships!

As most Patriots fans lament, the New England defense was the weak link the last time the team was in the Super Bowl, as they didn’t have an answer for Nick Foles or the Philadelphia Eagles who dropped 41 points on them. Following that dreadful performance, not much was expected of the defense, with most people overlooking them throughout the season and also leading up to this game, as pundits felt that the Rams had the edge against Bill Belichick’s defensive unit. That was not the case last night, as the raw physicality and ferociousness of the Pats’ defense sent the high-flying Rams crashing down to earth. Whenever Tom Brady and the offense struggled to finish off drives, the defense had their back, as they didn’t allow Jared Goff and the Rams to gain any sort of momentum.

Belichick and Brian Flores ensured that Goff would never be comfortable, as they consistently sent pressure after him which caused the young signal caller to either rush throws or absorb vicious hits. In total, the Pats sacked Goff 4 times and hit him an additional 12 times, with Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy playing a huge part. The Rams were one of the NFL’s best offenses due to a steady balance between their rushing and passing attacks which allowed them to either stretch the field with play action or punish their opponent with the speed and power of Todd Gurley. Neither facet of their identity was in play yesterday, as Gurley only got 11 touches, and Goff was forced to drop-back more times than he was accustomed to. This resulted in the Rams being shut out in the first half for the first time under Sean McVay.

In the second half, the Rams had a chance to take the lead, as Brandin Cooks was wide open in the end zone due to a busted coverage, but a second’s hesitation by Goff resulted in a wobbly ball that allowed Jason McCourty to cover 10 yards and dislodge the ball from Cooks’ hands. Later on in the fourth quarter, with the score at 10-3 in favor of the Patriots, the Rams were driving to tie the game, and Goff lofted a perfect pass to Cooks that was knocked out by Duron Harmon to save a touchdown. On the very next play, Harmon came on a safety blitz that caused Goff to panic and float a ball in the vicinity of Cooks that was picked off by Stephon Gilmore to all but seal the victory.

The game plan constructed by Belichick and Flores was absolutely remarkable, as it befuddled the normally impervious McVay, and knocked the Rams out of rhythm. As the Pats proved last night, defense wins championships.

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(Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports)

2. The offense was clutch when it mattered

As the final score indicates, the Patriots’ offense left a bunch of points on the field, as Wade Phillips’ defensive unit were able to consistently make stops in order to ensure that the Rams were in contention throughout the night. Tom Brady had a nightmarish start to his night, as his first pass was intercepted (due to a bad read on his part), which wiped out a promising opening drive that appeared to be destined for points. Julian Edelman (10 catches for 141 yards) was a consistent mismatch for the Patriots, as the Rams could not cover him regardless of who was on him, with Nickell Roby-Coleman and Aqib Talib being burnt on several occasions. Edelman was Brady’s security blanket throughout the night, and was especially clutch on third down.

In the fourth quarter, the Pats got the ball back with just under 10 minutes left, and Tom Brady relied on his old friends, Edelman and Rob Gronkowski, on a 5 play, 69 yard drive that helped the Patriots drive down the field. Gronk turned back the clock on this drive, as he first beat Samson Ebukam on a 18-yard catch and run, and he set up the Pats deep in the red zone with a diving 29-yard catch. On the very next play, Sony Michel pounded the ball in for the game’s only touchdown to give the Patriots a 10-3 lead that they would never relinquish.

I also feel that the penultimate possession by the Patriots was equally impressive, as they were able to use Gilmore’s interception to milk the clock. They rushed the ball from their own 4-yard line all the way to the Rams’ 24-yard line, with Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead leading the way to set up Stephen Gostkowski’s 41-yard field goal to make it a two possession game.

One of the headlines leading into this game was the matchup between the Rams defensive line and the Pats offensive line, who were amongst the NFL’s best at their respective positions. I think it’s fair to say that the Patriots’ offensive line performed much better than people expected, as the Rams only sacked Brady once (the first and only time he was sacked during the postseason) and hit him 4 times. The duo of Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh were limited to 2 combined QB hits.

Brady did look erratic at times and he was hardly his best self, but it is hard to deny that #12 and the rest of the offense were absolutely clutch when it counted.

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(Photo via Getty Images)

3. Special teams was remarkable!

Apart from Stephen Gostkowski’s missed field goal in the first quarter, the Pats’ special teams unit had an unblemished performance, with Ryan Allen constantly booting impressive punts that resulted in the Rams being pinned deep in their own territory. Matthew Slater also played a big role, as he was responsible for downing Allen’s punts and stopping punt returns before they could become deadly.

Gostkowski made up for his early miss with a late field goal that made it all but impossible for the Rams to mount a comeback.

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(Matt Rourke/AP)

Statistical Leaders:

Patriots

  • Passing: Tom Brady – 21/35 for 262 yards, and 1 interception
  • Rushing: Sony Michel – 18 carries for 94 yards, and 1 touchdown
  • Receiving: Julian Edelman – 10 catches for 141 yards
  • Defensive: Jonathan Jones – 8 tackles (including 1 sack)

Rams

  • Passing: Jared Goff – 19/38 for 229 yards, and 1 interception
  • Rushing: Todd Gurley II – 10 carries for 35 yards
  • Receiving: Brandin Cooks – 8 catches for 120 yards
  • Defensive: Cory Littleton – 10 tackles

 

What’s next?: The Patriots enter the offseason as champions, but will need to quickly turn their attention to the draft and free agency, as they may end up losing key contributors to either free agency or retirement. It will be interesting to see how this team looks during the 2019-20 season.

According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the Pats may end up hosting the Chiefs, Steelers, Cowboys, or Browns for their season opener.

Bonus: Check out this sweet Disney World promo featuring Brady and Edelman!

 

 

Duel at the ATL: Who will win Super Bowl LIII?

The Patriots have their second opportunity to seize their sixth championship this Sunday when they take on the formidable Los Angeles Rams (15-3) in Super Bowl LIII. Everything the Pats have worked for this season, from overcoming injuries and suspensions, to silencing their doubters, has led to this moment. The Pats will undoubtedly face one of their toughest tasks of the season, as the Rams are a team that can dominate on either side of the ball.

Here are some things to consider entering the Super Bowl.

1. Will the offense continue to dominate the time of possession?

One of the key strategies the Pats have employed this postseason is to control the time of possession in the game by consistently and strategically running the ball with Sony Michel, who has been remarkable this postseason. This tactic was heavily efficient against both the Chargers and the Chiefs, as it wore down their defenses, and limited the number of drives for their explosive offenses, hence enabling the Pats to dictate the pace of the game. With regards to the Rams defense, they were extremely porous against the run in the regular season with teams like the Seahawks running the ball down their throats. However, they have stiffened up in the postseason, with their most efficient performance in the Divisional Round where they held Ezekiel Elliot to under 50 rushing yards. 

Running the ball effectively with Sony Michel will be key for the Patriots if they want to have a chance of winning the game.

(Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

2. Can the Pats limit Donald to give Brady a chance?

All 3 of the Patriots’ Super Bowl losses with Tom Brady have featured effective pass rush down the interior, with the Giants consistently getting after Brady with their 4-man rush, and the Eagles sealing their victory with a strip sack in the fourth quarter. Unfortunately for the Pats, they’ll be facing the NFL’s best pass rusher in Aaron Donald, who has 20.5 sacks on the season, and can change the course of a game with his unmatched prowess as a pass-rushing defensive lineman. The Pats will also have to contend with Ndamukong Suh and Dante Fowler Jr. who were instrumental in the Rams making the Super Bowl. So far this postseason, the Pats have absolutely dominated the line of scrimmage and protected Tom Brady who has only been hit 1 time and still has not been sacked. The offensive line led by David Andrews and Trent Brown will need to figure out how they decide to block Donald, who will likely draw multiple blockers, which would challenge the other Ram defenders to win their one-on-one matchups on the line of scrimmage. 

Giving Tom Brady enough time in the pocket will be essential for the Patriots to emerge victorious.

  (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
3. Can Brady and his weapons dice up the Rams?  

The Patriots offense has been on a tear this postseason, scoring 41 against the Chargers and 37 against the Chiefs, in contests that could be described as offensive clinics. Apart from 2 interceptions against the Chiefs, Tom Brady has been at his best during the playoffs, as he has made the most of the clean pockets provided to him by the offensive line in order to dissect the opposing defense. Brady has been historically successful against zone defenses, as he is adept enough to find the soft spots in the defense, and deliver strikes to his receivers. As I mentioned earlier, this week could prove to be a tiny bit more difficult for Brady due to the daunting test of going up against Aaron Donald, Ndamukong Suh, and the rest of the Rams’ pass rushers, who are the best interior pass rushing defense in the league. Throughout this season, Brady has struggled against interior pass rushers, who have been able to rattle him. To counteract the threat of Donald and Suh, Brady will need to get rid of the ball in under 2 to 3 seconds.

Brady will need his playmakers, such as Julian Edelman, James White, and Rob Gronkowski to be at their absolute best on Sunday, as winning their individual matchups quickly would allow Brady to get rid of the ball quickly without being overly worried about about the threat of Donald. I think that White and Rex Burkhead will be extremely vital for the passing game, because they will likely be covered by the Rams linebackers who struggled to cover Alvin Kamara in the NFC Championship Game. Using screen plays would likely challenge the Rams to counter the Patriots’ speed at running back and receiver, with effective tackling.

If the Pats want to have a chance of succeeding, they will need to have big games from their receivers and running backs in the passing game.

(Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)
 
4. Can Belichick & Flores out-scheme McVay?

Ever since Sean McVay became the head coach of the Rams in 2017, the Rams have consistently been one of the NFL’s best offense, featuring innovative play-calling that challenges defenses to be disciplined and not be fooled by the flow of the offense. Under the tutelage of McVay, Jared Goff and Todd Gurley have flourished, with the duo being amongst the NFL’s best at their respective positions.

Bill Belichick and Brian Flores will have their work cut out for them, as out-scheming Sean McVay is easier said than done. Various analysts have said that it wouldn’t be surprising to see Belichick dust off some of his own game plans from games such as Super Bowl XXV and Super Bowl XXXVI. In Super Bowl XXV, Belichick was the defensive coordinator for the Giants against the Bills, during which he crafted a game plan that utterly negated the devastating passing game of the Bills, while allowing Thurman Thomas to run rampant. In Super Bowl XXXVI, Belichick and the Pats faced off against the then-St. Louis Rams, where his defense neutralized the explosiveness of the Greatest Show on Turf, with a focus on physicality, which was not something the Rams were accustomed to.

I think that Belichick will try to use a combination of both schemes, with a primary focus on the plan from Super Bowl XXXVI, because the current Rams bear a pretty significant resemblance to the 2001 Rams, with an explosive running back, and a duo of deadly receivers who can burn defenses with their speed, alongside a young but poised quarterback. With regards to the plan from Super Bowl XXV, shutting down the passing game sounds like a good idea, but having Todd Gurley running at full speed doesn’t sound very comforting.

I think that Belichick and Flores will repeat their game plan from last week against the Chiefs, with Stephon Gilmore drawing the assignment of covering Robert Woods, and J.C. Jackson and Devin McCourty doubling ex-Patriot Brandin Cooks. This would likely result in man-to-man coverage on other Rams receivers/tight ends such as Josh Reynolds, Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett. One of my major concerns in the passing game will be containing Todd Gurley on screens, because he has the potential to score on almost any play. Another major part of the game plan in the Chiefs game was to constantly put pressure on Patrick Mahomes, who was rattled for most of the first half. In comparison to Mahomes, Jared Goff is not as mobile, which could make it easier to bring him down. A key component to Goff’s success this season has been the high usage of play-action passes, which have enabled him to get out of the pocket and find open receivers down the field. Shutting down this part of the Rams’ offense would make life very hard for Goff.

The Rams have had one of the NFL’s best rushing attacks in recent weeks, with CJ Anderson serving as an excellent complementary piece alongside Gurley. An example of their dominance could be from their victory over Dallas where each of them rushed for over 100 yards. Gurley’s health has been under question ever since his limited involvement in the NFC Championship Game. The Patriots were effective in shutting down the Chargers’ dynamic running backs in the Divisional Round, but stopping a healthy Todd Gurley is something else altogether.

It will be interesting to see how the chess match between Belichick and McVay plays out.

(Photo via CBS Sports)


Injury Report:

  • Patriots: No players listed
  • Rams: No players listed

 

Prediction: Patriots 31, Rams 28

Here are some of my other predictions for the Super Bowl

  • X-factor on offense: James Develin
  • X-factor on defense: Trey Flowers
  • MVP: James White

 

 

Philly snatches the Lombardi from the Patriots in Super Bowl LII

The Patriots lost a heartbreaking contest against the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII, as they fell short with a 41-33 loss. The Patriots’ bid to win back-to-back Super Bowls was thwarted by a brilliant performance from Nick Foles, and a game-changing strip sack of Tom Brady with just over 2 minutes to play.

Here are a few takeaways from yesterday’s game.

1. How much more can Tom Brady do?

Tom Brady had a excellent performance against the Eagles, as he threw for over 500 yards (a new Super Bowl record) to go along with 3 touchdowns. Brady was able to dissect the formidable Eagles defense, allowing the Patriots to stay in the game. However, two plays are going to define Brady’s performance in this Super Bowl. Early in the first half, the Patriots opted to try some trickery, as Danny Amendola lofted the ball to TB12, who was unable to corral it on third down. This led to the Pats going for it on fourth down, and giving the ball back to Philadelphia.

The play of the game came with just over 2 minutes left in the fourth quarter. The Pats had just surrendered a touchdown, giving Brady the ball back with a chance to win the game. Brady calmly completed his first pass getting the Pats the 38-yard-line. It appeared as if Brady was going to work his magic again, and win his sixth ring in the process. However, on the next play, Brandon Graham got after his fellow Michigan alum, and forced a fumble that his teammates were able to recover. The fumble gave Philly great field position to milk the clock and extend their lead.

Brady was let down by both his defense and his offensive line, as he had to constantly play from behind, and deal with constant pressure at the same time. He was only sacked one time, but it happened at the worst possible time.

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(Photo by Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports)

2. The Patriots’ receivers came up big

Tom Brady and his weapons kept up their end of the bargain throughout the game, with Rob Gronkowksi, Danny Amendola, and Chris Hogan having monster games. Amendola had 8 catches for 152 yards, Hogan had 6 catches for 128 yards and a touchdown, while Gronk had 9 catches for 116 yards and 2 touchdowns. It is really disheartening to see such great performances in a loss, but at the same time, you can never say that the Patriots didn’t do their absolute best to claw their way back into this game.

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(Photo by Richard Mackson/USA TODAY Sports)

3. The Patriots’ defense was terrible

The Patriots’ defense picked the worst time possible to have their worst performance of the year, as they were thoroughly ripped apart by Nick Foles and the Eagles’ offense. They could not get off the field on third down, and also gave up two critical fourth down conversions, with one of them coming on Philly’s side of the field on their game-winning drive. They only forced one point and couldn’t sack Foles.

Other than Stephon Gilmore, the Pats’ secondary struggled heavily, with Eric Rowe giving up several long plays, including a 34-yard touchdown to Alshon Jeffery, and Devin McCourty not being able to cover Zach Ertz on both a crucial fourth down conversion and the game-winning touchdown. The most puzzling aspect of the game was that Matt Patricia opened up the game with Rowe covering Jeffery, which was a matchup that the Eagles exploited on several occasions. Moving Gilmore onto Jeffery earlier would have limited the damage in the first half.

Another mystery of the game was that Malcolm Butler didn’t play a single defensive snap, with Rowe replacing him as a starter. No one knows why Butler was benched, and the Patriots were very cryptic with their responses to the question. However, two things are very clear about Butler’s situation. Having Butler in the lineup would have definitely helped the secondary, and this was probably the last time we saw the Super Bowl XLIX hero in a Patriots uniform.

The Patriots’ bizarre game plan on defense, and their inability to stop the Eagles during crucial situations clearly cost them the game, and also wasted a historic performance by the Patriots’ offense.

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(Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

4. Special team woes hurt the Patriots

It was also a rough night for the Patriots’ special teams unit, as several miscues cost the Patriots points that would have been useful towards the ending of the game. With the Patriots trailing 9-3 in the second quarter, they opted to go for a field goal on 4th & 1 from the Eagles’ 8-yard-line, but their efforts were derailed when long snapper Joe Cardona had an errant snap. Stephen Gostkowski was still able to rush the kick, but it hit the left uprights. Gostkowski also missed an extra point later on in the second quarter.

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(Photo by Tony Gutierrez/AP)

 

Heading up North!

The Patriots start off their critical 3-week road stretch on Sunday, when they’ll take on their division rival, the Buffalo Bills. The Pats enter this game as 9-point favorites, and they hope to leave New Era Field with their 8th straight victory.

Here are a few storylines to think about entering tomorrow’s game…

1. Tom Brady’s dominance against the Bills

TB12 is the GOAT. If you want any clarification on that statement, just ask Bills’ fans. Brady is an astounding 26-3 against the Bills, and has 68 touchdowns against them (including 2 rushing touchdowns). An interesting stat to consider is that TB12 has more touchdowns against the Bills than Tyrod Taylor has scored in his career (63). #12 has been remarkable in his last 3 games at Buffalo, throwing for 11 touchdowns, with no interceptions. It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to imagine that Brady’s otherworldly production in Upstate New York will continue.

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(Photo by Timothy T. Ludwig/USA TODAY Sports)

2. Gronk’s homecoming

Rob Gronkowski is a Buffalo native, which means that his annual game back home is probably very special to the game-changing tight end. Just like his quarterback, Gronk has also dominated the hapless Bills at New Era Field, recording 35 catches for 583 yards and 7 touchdowns in 6 career games up north. Last year, Gronk’s main highlight of the season occured in Buffalo, where he caught his 69th career touchdown, breaking the franchise record. 

Bonus: If you’re in the market for wings in Buffalo, Gronk recommends Amherst Ale House. What’s an article about the Patriots without a mention of Gronk and his food?

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(Photo by Matt West/Boston Herald)

3. Containing the run game

The Patriots have continued to make improvements on defense, with a particular emphasis being placed on their secondary. The Patriots have managed to stifle opposing quarterbacks, but there is still some need to be concerned with their ability to stop opposing running backs. The Patriots’ run defense did have a good game against the Dolphins, holding all of Miami’s rushers to 19 carries for 67 yards, but they face a tall task against ‘Shady’ McCoy. McCoy’s elusiveness and brute force makes it very hard for opposing defenses to bring him down. McCoy is the heart and central focus of the Bills’ offense, so the Patriots will have a great chance of winning if they can stifle #25. 

The Patriots have also had a bad history against running quarterbacks. Tyrod Taylor is very athletic, and good at extending plays with his feet, which means that the Patriots’ defense will need to be alert in order to wrap him up.

Buffalo Bills v New England Patriots
(Photo from USA TODAY SPORTS)

PredictionPatriots 31, Bills 17

Although the Bills are a desperate team fighting to make the playoffs, I still expect the Patriots to pull out a win in Buffalo. TB12, Gronk, and Brandin Cooks should make life difficult for the Bills defense, and force Tyrod Taylor & Co. to play from behind. Look for Stephon Gilmore to make some big plays against his former team.

 

The Pats squish the fish!

The Patriots thoroughly dominated the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, winning their Week 12 contest 35-17. The Pats struck early on in the game, and were able to carry their momentum forward to secure a division win. This victory brings the Patriots to 9-2, tying them with the Pittsburgh Steelers atop the AFC.

Here are some takeaways from yesterday’s game.

1. Don’t forget about Gronk!

Over the last few games, Gronk didn’t perform at his usual level of production. He was largely a non-factor during last week’s win over Oakland, where he totaled just around 30 yards. Gronk’s lack of explosive plays made many pundits wonder if #87 was truly vital for New England to be successful. Gronk silenced his doubters with an inspired performance against the hapless Dolphins, recording 5 catches for 82 yards and two touchdowns. Maybe Gronk was motivated to get some of TB12’s Thanksgiving biscuits…

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(Photo by David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports)

2. Defense!

As I’ve mentioned several times before, the Patriots’ defense has rebounded dramatically from the beginning of the season, which has helped lead the team to a seven game winning streak. The New England defense continued its dominant performance yesterday, helping to stifle the Dolphins’ offense. The Pats sacked Matt Moore seven times, and also forced 3 turnovers (2 interceptions and 1 fumble). They were also able to stop the run, limiting Miami to 67 yards off 19 carries. This is the type of performance the Patriots need to build off of, as they approach Week 15’s key matchup against Pittsburgh.

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(Photo by Steven Senne/AP)

3. The Pats need to cut down on their small mistakes

Although the Pats played a great game, they did have several key gaffes. In the second quarter, the Patriots had 2 turnovers. First, there was miscommunication on a snap, when the backup center Ted Karras snapped the ball early, leading to a fumble which Miami safety Reshad Jones returned for a touchdown. TB12 also had an interception, when he forced a ball to Danny Amendola, which resulted in Bobby McCain picking the pass off. These mistakes allowed Miami to remain in the game, and need to be cut down on for the Patriots to sustain their winning habits.

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(Photo by Steven Senne/AP)

¡Una victoria fácil!: The Patriots rout the Raiders in Mexico City

For the second straight week, the Patriots outclassed and outperformed their AFC West opponent. The Patriots routed the Oakland Raiders in Mexico City, winning the game 33-8. New England showed the 100,000-plus fans at Estadio Azteca what the golden standard of the NFL looks like.

Here are some takeaways from yesterday’s game

1. Have yourself a day Brandin Cooks!

The Patriots traded for Brandin Cooks earlier this year, forfeiting a first round pick in exchange for the talented but disgruntled playmaker. Cooks has had flashes of brilliance earlier this year (for example, Week 3’s win against the Houston Texans), but at the same time he has been wildly inconsistent. It was clear at the beginning of the season that his chemistry with Tom Brady was a work in progress, as the two often weren’t on the same page. Cooks had a monstrous day against the hapless Oakland secondary, wracking up 6 catches for 149 yards and a touchdown. An interesting fact to note is that Cooks continued his dominance over Oakland from last season, when he was a member of the New Orleans Saints. If Cooks can continue to be a reliable down-field threat for the Pats, it will make it very hard for opposing defenses.

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(Photo by Matt Stone/Boston Herald)

2. Stephen Gostowski was brilliant

Gostowski has been one of the most dependable kickers in the NFL for almost 10 years. However, this narrative changed in 2016, when Gostowski notably struggled kicking the football in several games (including Super Bowl LI). Gostowski has mostly rebounded so far this season, and was remarkable against Oakland. Gostowski went 4/4 yesterday, and his main highlight was a 62-yard field goal, which was the longest in franchise history.

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(Photo from USA Today Sports)

3. The Patriots’ defense continues to dominate

For the 6th straight week, the Patriots’ defense held their opponent under 17 points. The Pats’ secondary continues to play impassioned football, making it hard for the opposing quarterback to be successful. Oakland’s best pass catcher on the day was Michael Crabtree who corralled 5 catches for 51 yards. New England also forced 2 turnovers in the first half, which derailed successful drives for the Raiders. A key play for the Patriots was late in the second quarter, when Oakland was driving to cut their 14 point deficit. The Patriots forced a fumble inside the 5 yard line, giving TB12 and the offense possession with less than a minute left in the first half. The next Patriots drive resulted in Gostowski’s long field goal, giving the Patriots a 17-0 halftime lead. Although the Patriots defense performed remarkably (they didn’t give up any points until the fourth quarter), they need to work on stopping the run. Marshawn Lynch gashed them for 67 yards off 11 carries in the first half. Stopping the run needs to be a priority for the Pats, as they will face LeSean McCoy and Le’Veon Bell in the next few weeks.

New England Patriots v Oakland Raiders
 (Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images)