It seems like a lifetime ago when the Cam Newton-led Patriots ran all over the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 3, en route to a 36-20 victory. Unfortunately for the team, Newton tested positive for COVID-19 the ensuing Saturday, right before their Week 4 matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs. That game was delayed and played on Monday night, with Brian Hoyer & Jarrett Stidham at quarterback during the 26-10 loss. The Patriots were meant to play the Denver Broncos (1-3) in Week 5, but Stephon Gilmore’s positive COVID-19 test led to this game being delayed to Week 6.
Here’s what to expect entering this Week 6 contest.
1. Can Cam & the offense regain their rhythm?
As I mentioned earlier, this game will be three weeks since the last time Cam Newton took the field for the Patriots, which makes this game important for New England’s offense to regain its footing as the season becomes increasingly difficult. Denver’s rushing defense ranks amongst the top half in the league, but I’d still expect Josh McDaniels to focus on establishing the run throughout the game. Having a strong rushing attack with Damien Harris, James White, & Rex Burkhead will help take pressure off of Newton in his first game back, and also open up play-action passes down the field. As Sony Michel is still on IR, and has also tested positive for COVID-19, it wouldn’t be surprising to see JJ Taylor back in the lineup as the fourth running back.
Hopefully the extended break helped Julian Edelman heal from his knee ailment that has bothered him for the past few weeks. More than anything else, I’m sure that he can’t wait to get back out there to make up for his crucial drop against the Chiefs. The Patriots need continuous production from N’Keal Harry & Damiere Byrd, as they have been able to establish some chemistry with Newton. I’m intrigued to see what practice squad receiver Isaiah Zuber can do, as his brief appearance in the Chiefs’ game was intriguing, due to his speed. It’s also been disappointing to see the lack of production from the tight end position, even though the team has been hyping up their production at practice.
If the Patriots can protect Newton from Denver’s pass rush, I would expect the offense to have a good performance tomorrow.
2. Can the Pats’ D contain the banged up Denver offense?
After a hard fought bout against a high-powered Kansas City offense, the Patriots’ defense will be facing an offense that is missing several key playmakers. Despite the return of second-year quarterback Drew Lock after a several week absence, Denver will be playing without their top running back, wide receiver, & tight end. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Denver try to establish their running game, due to the strength of the Patriots’ secondary & the relative inexperience of Lock. Limiting the effectiveness of Phillip Lindsey will be heavily important if the Patriots’ defense wants to ensure success.
I’d expect Bill Belichick’s defense to focus in on rookie receiver Jerry Jeudy, as he will clearly be Denver’s top threat down the field, with Stephon Gilmore likely drawing the assignment. In addition, I think that Belichick will test Drew Lock with heavy pressure, hence challenging the young quarterback to beat the Patriots’ secondary with his arm.
I would be surprised if the Patriots’ defense has a down game tomorrow, but anything is possible in the NFL!
Adam Butler (shoulder) – Questionable
Julian Edelman (knee) – Questionable
Isaiah Wynn (calf) – Questionable
Drew Lock (shoulder) – Questionable
Mike Purcell (knee) – Questionable
Jeremiah Attaochu (quadriceps) – Out
Melvin Gordon III (illness) – Out
KJ Hamler (hamstring) – Out
Noah Fant (ankle) – Out
What’re they wearing?:
Here are my picks for the rest of the NFL’s Week 6 contests.
The Patriots started off the post-Brady era with a win, as they knocked off the Miami Dolphins (0-1) with a 21-11 victory in an empty Gillette Stadium. Cam Newton made his heavily anticipated debut as the team’s quarterback, and was efficient as both a rusher and a passer. In addition, Bill Belichick’s defense came to play, as they were able to mostly shut down Miami’s offense throughout the game.
Here are some takeaways from this Week 1 contest.
1. Cam and the offense had their way
As I mentioned in my preview for this game, the biggest question mark for the Patriots was definitely Cam Newton’s health and effectiveness, as we hadn’t seen him in action for almost a year. Newton didn’t disappoint, as he had 230 total yards, including 2 rushing touchdowns. He was a decisive rusher, and most surprisingly, he didn’t shy away from contact, with a clear highlight being his second touchdown, where he got hit hard by a Dolphins’ defender as he crossed the goal line. After two decades with a immobile quarterback, it was fascinating to see the designed runs cooked up by Josh McDaniels, which varied from option runs to simple draws.
Furthermore, Newton’s passing was crisp, and apart from a couple of drops and pass breakups, he was accurate with the football. It was encouraging to see him build a rapport with Julian Edelman (5 receptions for 57 yards), N’Keal Harry (5 receptions for 39 yards), and James White (3 receptions for 30 yards). The trio will need to step up throughout the season for the team to have success getting the ball down the field. Unfortunately for Harry, he had a crucial fumble into the end zone which ended a great drive in second half, and breathed new life into Miami’s comeback attempt. More than anything else, Bill Belichick values protecting the football, so I’m sure that he let the second-year receiver know that mistakes like that won’t be tolerated in the future.
I believe that the offensive line had a great game, as they were able to protect Newton (he was only sacked 2 times), and clear lanes for the team’s running backs. It was encouraging to see David Andrews return to action after missing last season, and it was clear that having him back helped anchor the offensive line. The team’s running backs (along with Newton) collaborated for 217 yards on the ground, setting a record for a Patriots’ season opener. After struggling for most of last season, Sony Michel showed some burst, although he only netted 37 yards, to go along with a touchdown. The biggest surprise from the running back room had to be undrafted rookie J.J. Taylor, who showed his ability to be a power runner despite his shorter stature, as he totaled 28 yards off of 4 carries.
All in all, having a versatile quarterback such as Newton helped change the pace of the Patriots offense, as they’re definitely more versatile than they’ve been in the past. However, it’s important to note that they will probably switch things up as they get through the season, as it’s not sustainable to have Newton rush 15 times per game.
2. The secondary led the defense once again
The last time these two teams met, Miami had their way against the previously impervious Patriots’ secondary, as they were able to drive down the field at will to win the game. Yesterday was a different story, as the Patriots were able to force Ryan Fitzpatrick into throwing three interceptions, with Stephon Gilmore, Adrian Phillips, and JC Jackson responsible for the turnovers. Apart from some mental errors that extended drives due to penalties in the second half, it’s hard to be mad at how the Patriots’ secondary played yesterday. However, they’ll have to be better as their competition becomes tougher.
The Patriots’ defense was much better against the run, as they held Miami to 87 yards as a team, with crafty veterans Matt Breida (5 carries for 22 yards) & Jordan Howard (8 yards for 7 yards) accounting for less than 30 yards combined. My only complaint is that that they struggled to contain Fitzpatrick coming out of the pocket, as he picked up a few first downs, and even scored on a two-point conversion.
To sum up their defensive performance, I was impressed by the way they locked up a sneaky good Miami offense, but there are definitely kinks to be worked up as the season progresses.
Passing: Cam Newton – 15/19 for 155 yards
Rushing: Cam Newton – 15 carries for 75 yards, & 2 touchdowns
Receiving: Julian Edelman – 5 receptions for 57 yards
Defensive: Adrian Phillips – 9 total tackles
Passing: Ryan Fitzpatrick – 20/30 for 191 yards, & 3 interceptions
Rushing: Myles Gaskin – 9 carries for 40 yards
Receiving: Devante Parker – 4 receptions for 47 yards
Defensive: Jerome Baker – 16 total tackles (including 1 sack)
1. New uniforms!
It was great seeing the Patriots debut their new uniforms, which looked great under the September sun, although it wouldn’t be a bad idea to introduce silver or white pants.
2. Artificial crowd
The artificial crowd noise concocted by the NFL left a bit to be desired, as it definitely didn’t sound like a real crowd was in attendance, but I’m guessing that it will be improved as the season goes on.
3. Post game tussle
Cam Newton and some Miami defenders got into it after the game ended, with Newton insisting that they tried to yank one of the chains around his neck. Newton mocked them after the game on his Instagram, although two Dolphins chimed in to say that they didn’t want his “weak” chain.
In the NFL, it’s common knowledge that you’re not entitled to anything. If you want to put your team in a good position to succeed in the playoffs, you need to show up when it matters. Unfortunately for the Patriots, they didn’t seem to get the memo last season, when they unexpectedly dropped their regular season finale to the Miami Dolphins at home. That loss prevented New England from securing a first round bye, and forced them to host Tennessee for a Wild Card game that ended up being Tom Brady’s last game as a Patriot.
A lot of things have changed since that matchup in December, from the pandemic, to the vast exodus of veterans from the Patriots roster during free agency. A win tomorrow won’t change the result from that Week 17 contest, but it would help set the tone for a wildly different season with Cam Newton under center.
With that being said, here’s what to look forward to during this Week 1 matchup.
1. What will the Patriots’ offense look like?
New England’s offensive struggles throughout the tumultuous 2019 season were well documented, as it quickly became evident that receivers other than Julian Edelman consistently struggled to get open against man coverage. Other than letting Phillip Dorsett walk & releasing Mohamed Sanu, Bill Belichick didn’t do much to overhaul the wide receiver corps, which means that the Patriots will be relying on Edelman, N’Keal Harry, and Jakobi Meyers to carry the load. Personally, I’m excited to see what newcomer Damiere Byrd can bring to the table, as his pure speed could help open things up down the field. Due to the strength of Miami’s secondary, I’m pessimistic about the Patriots’ chances of winning one-on-one matchups against Dolphin defenders. However, the addition of rookie tight ends Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene could help lighten the load for the team’s wide receivers, as they are definitely miles better than the team’s putrid tight end room from last season. Based on what we’ve heard from training camp, both Asiasi & Keene are dynamic, but the learning curve for rookie tight ends is typically steep, so it will definitely be a storyline to follow.
After a stellar rookie season, Sony Michel struggled mightily during the 2019 season, as he had a tough time getting started behind a patchwork offensive line. Luckily for Michel, starting center David Andrews is returning to action, after missing the entire 2019 season due to blood clots in his lungs. Andrews was a key anchor for the offensive line that dominated opponents during the Patriots’ last run to the Super Bowl. Michel had a leg injury that sidelined him for most of training camp, but when he returned, it was reported that he was quicker and more agile than the last time we saw him. As always, the Patriots will turn to the reliable duo of James White & Rex Burkhead to supplement Michel, with the two veterans also playing an important role in the passing game as well. The most intriguing member of the running back room has to be Damien Harris, who had a strong training camp until he suffered an untimely injury that will sideline him for at least 3 weeks.
I think it’s obvious that the biggest question mark surrounding the Patriots right now has to be the health & effectiveness of Cam Newton. Due to a lack of preseason games, we haven’t seen Newton in action for almost a year, which means that his running ability (which typically energizes an offense) is an unknown for now. Hence, we don’t know how comfortable Newton will be scrambling around the pocket and line of scrimmage tomorrow. Most importantly, it’s interesting to wonder if he’ll still initiate contact with defenders, which was a big part of his game back in Carolina. That being said, the mystery around Newton’s game could actually be a boon for Belichick and Josh McDaniels, as Miami’s head coach Brian Flores won’t know exactly what he’s dealing with. Most analysts have said that they expect McDaniels’ plan for Newton to be similar to Norv Turner’s short passing game from Newton’s stellar but injury plagued 2018 season, which actually seems to suit how the Patriots’ receivers play, as they’re definitely more effective across the middle of the field.
All in all, I’m excited to see how the post-Brady Patriots’ offense looks with a more mobile quarterback in Cam Newton, whose strengths may help cover the warts at wide receiver and other skill positions.
2. Can thedefense deliver?
One of the biggest storylines of the offseason was the news that several Patriots veterans, including key leaders Dont’a Hightower and Patrick Chung had decided to opt out of the 2020 season due to concerns surrounding COVID-19. The absence of these two important defensive contributors will undoubtedly cast a spotlight on younger players on the defense, and test Bill Belichick’s confidence in them.
It may be hard to take the Dolphins’ offense seriously with 37 year old journeyman QB Ryan Fitzpatrick under center, but as the Patriots learned last year, he can hurt you when it matters most. Fitzpatrick’s top two weapons in Devante Parker & Mike Gesicki were key contributors during that December loss, and will likely be an important part of Miami’s game plan tomorrow. Uncharacteristically, Stephon Gilmore struggled mightily covering Parker, so I have to imagine that the reigning Defensive Player of the Year is salivating at the opportunity to exact revenge by locking up Miami’s top receiver. Due to the loss of Patrick Chung, it’ll be interesting to see how the Patriots decide to match up against Gesicki, but I wouldn’t be surprised if their top pick Kyle Dugger is given the assignment due to the success he had during training camp. Having Devin McCourty in the back end will be as important as ever, due to his effectiveness as both a player and a leader. New England will also have to deal with Preston Williams & Jakeem Grant, but I’m confident that the rest of the secondary will be able to limit their effectiveness.
However, the team’s defensive line and linebacker corps are much more of an enigma. The defensive line struggled to stop the run throughout last season, with the Wild Card game being a clear example, as Derrick Henry accumulated 182 rushing yards for the Titans. Other than adding veteran DT Beau Allen, the Patriots mostly stayed pat at the position, which means that Lawrence Guy and a slew of younger players will be tasked with playing much better against the run this season. Tomorrow’s game will be a tall task, as Miami has one of the fastest running backs in the league in Matt Breida, and a bruising rusher in Jordan Howard.
Dont’a Hightower’s decision to opt out dealt a devastating blow to the team’s linebacker corps, as he was a steadying force in the middle of the field. Luckily, the Patriots went into April’s draft with the goal of improving at linebacker, due to the departures of Jamie Collins, Elandon Roberts, & Kyle Van Noy (the latter two players signed with Miami). This led to the team drafting Alabama LB Anfernee Jennings & Michigan LB Josh Uche, who should help add versatility to the position behind three-year veteran Ja’Whaun Bentley. New England will also rely on Chase Winovich and John Simon to set the edge, and get after Fitzpatrick.
The Patriots had one of the NFL’s best defenses last year, so it will be intriguing to see how the retooled lineup looks tomorrow against a Dolphins offense that gave them fits last season.
Yodny Cajuste (knee) – Out
Gunner Olszewski (foot) – Out
Dalton Keene (neck) – Questionable
Cassh Maluia (knee) – Questionable
N’Keal Harry (shoulder) – Questionable
Chase Winovich (shoulder) – Questionable
Clayton Fejedelem (pectoral) – Doubtful
1. New uniforms!
Tomorrow’s game will mark the debut of the Patriots’ new uniforms, which are primarily based on the team’s popular Color Rush uniforms which were worn from 2016 to 2019. Interestingly, this will be the first time the team wears the combination in a non-prime time game.
2. Fans in the stands?
Due to COVID-19, the Patriots will not have fans in Gillette Stadium throughout September. New England has been provided with a recorded track of artificial crowd noise which will be filtered throughout the stadium.
Here are my picks for the rest of the NFL’s Week 1 slate (apart from Thursday’s opening game).
For the first time in 20 years, the Patriots will have a quarterback not named Tom Brady under center. However, that’s not the only big change for the team in 2020, as they recently debuted their “new” uniforms for the upcoming season. Other than the addition of alternate/throwback uniforms in the mid-2000’s and 2010’s, this is the first major tweak for the team since the turn of the millennium.
These uniforms are based on the Pats’ popular Color Rush alternates, which were introduced in 2016, as part of a league-wide initiative for Thursday Night Football. The Color Rush program was ultimately mothballed prior to the 2018 season, but teams such as the Patriots have continued to wear them as an additional alternative uniform. New England essentially took the monochromatic blue uniform, with thick red and white stripes on the shoulders (a nod to their popular Pat Patriot uniforms) and pants, and only changed the numeric font. In order to match their new home uniform, the team created a white counterpart (similar to their AFL away uniform), which features an inverted stripe pattern (with red and blue) and paired it with the same blue pants. Both jerseys feature slight silver accents on the numbers, and are paired with the team’s traditional silver helmet with a red facemask. The Pats also introduced new socks, which feature a color-blocked scheme of red, white, and blue.
Although there are people who think that the team came up with the idea of new uniforms as soon as Tom Brady announced his decision to leave, this change has been in the works since 2018, in cooperation with the NFL’s rules on uniform changes (which requires at least 2 years advance notice from teams to the league office). This means that Tom Brady would have worn these uniforms if he had chosen to stay in New England.
How have Patriots fans reacted?
As most NFL teams (other than the Chargers) have realized this year, it is impossible to please your fans when it comes to changing your uniforms. Even though ESPN’s Mike Reiss mentioned in March that these changes would be “subtle”, most Pats fans imagined unrealistic possibilities ranging from re-adopting the Pat Patriot uniforms to making a modernized version of the polarizing 1990’s uniforms. Hence, fan reaction to this change has been mixed at best, as evidenced by several heated reactions on the team’s Twitter feed.
Are you kidding me? I never liked the color rush look and it thought we were getting royal blue or pat patriot throwbacks
The negative reactions on social media can also be attributed to several blunders on the team’s part. For instance, the uniforms looked clunky on the models they chose, and they even advertised the wrong pants. The studio models were wearing last season’s Color Rush pants, with thick white stripes, while the uniforms sent to player such as Stephon Gilmore and James White featured pants with thick red stripes, which matches up with the stripes on the blue jersey.
Personally, I love the changes the team instituted, as I have been a big fan of the Color Rush alternates from the day they were introduced. Compared to the “Brady era” uniforms, these uniforms are much less cluttered, without unnecessary piping and side panels. There’s no doubt that the team’s previous uniforms are iconic and synonymous with success, due to the team’s unprecedented six Super Bowl victories while wearing that set, but it’s hard to ignore how dated the uniform got as time went on. This became evident when the league switched from Reebok to Nike for their uniforms, as Nike’s materials made the home silver pants look drab and boring, as compared to Reebok’s materials, which had made them look shiny and appealing.
In addition, as Nike’s uniform templates got more advanced, the Pats’ early 2000’s design looked more out of place, as form-fitting uniforms made the team’s piping and side panels look increasingly unappealing.
Going back to the new uniforms, I love the red and white stripes on the home jersey, as they really give a pop of color against the blue base. The white jersey looks sleek, although I do agree with the people on Twitter who feel as though the team would be better off switching the red and blue in the striping pattern, as it is more pleasant to look at. My main gripe with the uniform set is that the team opted not to include white pants (for now), which would have perfectly complemented the current rotation. The all-blue home uniform is attractive, but pairing it with white pants could take it to another level.
At the same time, having white pants would enable the team to also wear all-white on the road, which would be a heavily appealing option. The Pats wore all-white in 2017 against the Buccaneers in their old uniforms, which showed how sleek the combination could be. Hopefully the team chooses to bring them back!
A sign for the future?
Many fans wanted the Pats to bring back white helmets, which would have simplified the team’s color scheme, and enabled them to bring back the popular Pat Patriot throwbacks, which they have not worn since 2012 (due to the NFL’s controversial one-shell rule, which prevents teams from using more than one helmet). Fortunately, comments from the Patriots indicate that there may be changes in the works for the 2021 season, as the press release for these uniforms specifically mentioned the possibility of bringing back the red throwbacks if the league’s rule on helmets is nixed.
Ranking the other new NFL uniforms
The Patriots were one of seven teams to announce uniform changes, with the Rams being the only team to not introduce their new uniforms as of yet.
Here’s a ranking of the uniforms introduced so far (excluding the Patriots)
Throughout the season, the Patriots have unquestionably been led by their defense, who have been able to stifle opponents and force them into making costly mistakes. Yesterday’s game against the Cleveland Browns (2-5) was no different, as a dominant start by the Pats’ defense gave the team a lead they would not relinquish, en route to a 27-13 win in sloppy conditions. This victory improved New England to 8-0 on the season, and gives them a 2.5 game cushion in the AFC.
Here are some takeaways from yesterday’s game.
1. The Pats’ defense came to play
As I mentioned in the preview for this game, the utter dominance of Bill Belichick’s defense has been questioned by many due to the supposed weakness of their opponents. This media narrative unfortunately took a hit yesterday, as the Pats were able to rattle Baker Mayfield, and neutralize Odell Beckham Jr (due to an incredible performance by Stephon Gilmore). Even though Nick Chubb was able to gash the Patriots for over 131 yards on the ground, the defense was able to force two crucial turnovers that halted any chance of Cleveland gaining momentum. The first turnover took place deep in Cleveland’s territory, when the ball was kicked out of Chubb’s hands by an offensive linemen and returned for a touchdown by Dont’a Hightower. The second turnover occurred when Chubb outmaneuvered most of the Pats’ defense and appeared to be on his way to end zone, when Jonathan Jones caught up to him and punched the ball out of his hands, forcing a fumble that was ultimately recovered by Devin McCourty. Mayfield also threw an interception, which occurred when Lawrence Guy broke through the line of scrimmage and caught a shovel pass that appeared to be intended for Jarvis Landry. Guy’s interception has to be one of the most bizarre plays of the year, and was also the first interception of his career.
Ironically, these three turnovers happened on consecutive plays in the first quarter, which helped give the Pats a 17-0 lead.
Even though the Pats did emerge victorious, they need to work on their rushing defense, as Cleveland’s offensive line was able to effectively clear paths for Chubb to run through. If New England wants to make a deep run this year, they will need to shore up the line of scrimmage to prevent opponents from running through them, which could wear them down, and keep Tom Brady & the offense off the field for long periods of time.
2. Another inconsistent performance by the offense
Through 8 weeks of the season, the story for the Patriots’ offense has been upheaval and inconsistency, and yesterday’s game was more of the same. The offensive line once again struggled to protect Tom Brady effectively, which can be linked to injuries at center, left tackle, and right guard. Brady was efficient when he needed to be, but he did appear to be jittery at times, which is understandable due to the pass rushers on the Browns’ defense. Yet again, Julian Edelman (8 catches for 78 yards and 2 touchdowns) and James White (4 catches for 75 yards) were Brady’s top targets, and came through when he needed them. Edelman was the only Pats’ receiver who appeared to consistently get separation, as evidenced by his two touchdowns in the red zone. White gained most of his yardage on a 59 yard screen pass that came on a crucial third down when Cleveland had cut the lead to 7 points. White’s long catch-and-run got the Pats into the red zone and set up Edelman’s second touchdown. In his debut for the Pats, Mohamed Sanu had 2 receptions for 23 yards, which is not surprising as he has only been with the team for 5 days.
Sony Michel had an efficient day of rushing, as he totaled 74 yards off of 21 carries. Michel was able to find holes to run through, and ran hard for first downs when necessary. Michel’s performance drew criticism from prominent ‘analyst’ Skip Bayless, a frequent critic of Bill Belichick, who opined that the Pats probably regretted picking Michel after seeing what his former teammate Nick Chubb did on the same day.
I really like Sony Michel. I love his former Georgia teammate Nick Chubb, who went 35th overall to Michel’s 31st overall. It’s looking like Belichick made a mistake.
People like Bayless are nothing more than talking heads who try to gain attention by saying controversial things, but all I have to say to him is that without Michel’s performance in the 2019 playoffs, there is no chance that the Pats win Super Bowl LIII.
I believe that the Pats’ offense will be fine over the next few weeks, as they’ll receive reinforcements with the return of Shaq Mason, N’Keal Harry, and Isaiah Wynn. According to NFL insiders, the front office is still looking to add playmakers, so there is always a chance that Belichick finds another offensive weapon before the trade deadline.
1. Belichick gets to 300 wins
With the victory over Cleveland, Bill Belichick earned his 300th win as a head coach in the NFL. Ironically, he earned his first win when he brought his Browns to play the Pats in Foxborough back in 1991.
Here is a video of team owner Robert Kraft presenting Belichick with the game ball.
Yesterday’s win also marked the Pats’ sixth win in their Color Rush uniforms, bringing their record to 6-0 in their mono-navy alternates. The Pats will break out this combo one more time this season when they face off against the Chiefs in Week 14.
Leading up to the game, Odell Beckham Jr. promised to give Tom Brady a pair of Nike cleats made of goat hair, due to #12’s status as the GOAT. Beckham lived up to his word, as he presented Brady with the cleats after the game, which was a gesture that New England’s QB appreciated.
There were many pundits who expected yesterday’s game between the Patriots and Jets (1-5) to be competitive, due to the Pats’ injuries on offense, and the return of Sam Darnold to the Jets’ lineup. However, a dominant performance on both sides of the ball enabled the Pats to cruise to a 33-0 victory and their fourth straight season sweep of New York. This win improved the Pats to 7-0 on the season, and keeps them atop the AFC through seven weeks.
Here are some takeaways from yesterday’s game.
1. Another defensive masterpiece!
The Pats’ defense was remarkable yet again, as they shut out the Jets on offense for the second time this season, and limited them to 154 yards of total offense. Following a dominant performance against the Cowboys that netted him the AFC’s Offensive Player of the Week award, Sam Darnold was utterly neutralized by Bill Belichick’s defense, as he mustered only 86 passing yards, with a QBR of 0.7. Darnold’s first pass of the game was intercepted by Devin McCourty, and appeared to set the tone for the rest of the game, as the Pats used an effective pass rush to throw off Darnold’s timing and force turnovers. Darnold threw 4 interceptions and lost a fumble, en route to the worst performance of his professional career. Darnold’s frustration can be summed up by him mentioning how he was “seeing ghosts” on the field.
Sam Darnold is mic’d up and he came to the sidelines and said, “I’m seeing ghosts.”
Demaryius Thomas was arguably the only efficient receiver for the Jets, as he managed to eclipse 40 yards, and drew several flags against J.C. Jackson, which enabled New York to extend multiple drives. Le’Veon Bell was effective on the ground, as he totaled 70 yards off of 15 carries, after being limited to 35 yards in Week 3’s matchup in Foxborough.
The Patriots’ defense has been the catalyst for the team’s unbeaten start to the season, and will need to continue to play at this level as the schedule begins to become more difficult.
2. A good offensive rebound!
The Pats’ offense entered this matchup with several questions regarding their ability to overcome their perceived lack of depth at certain positions. Tom Brady and the offense opened the game with a drive that totaled nearly 9 minutes and culminated in a touchdown by Sony Michel. After a few weeks of uneven offensive performances, the Pats were able to sustain drives and move the ball against a physical Jets’ defense. The offensive line was much better at protecting Brady, as he wasn’t sacked, and was hit only 3 times. Due to injuries at fullback, Josh McDaniels enlisted several players to fill the void at the position, with linebacker Elandon Roberts being a notable example.
The Pats were able to spread the ball around, as Brady completed 31 passes to 9 different receivers, en route to 249 passing yards. Brady’s top weapons in this game were James White (7 receptions for 59 yards), Jakobi Meyers (5 receptions for 47 yards), and Julian Edelman (7 receptions for 47 yards), with Phillip Dorsett also pitching in with a 26-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter. Sony Michel didn’t have his best game of the season, but he was effective when the Pats needed him, as he was able to score 3 touchdowns (for the first time in his regular season career).
The Patriots’ offense wasn’t as effective in the second half, but another dominant performance by their defense gave them a high margin for error. The Pats should be encouraged by how they were able to push around a physical defense, but they will need to find more consistency as the season progresses. Luckily for the offense, they will likely get N’Keal Harry and Isaiah Wynn back soon, and today’s trade for Falcons receiver Mohamed Sanu should also give the passing game a boost.
Passing: Tom Brady – 31/45 for 249 yards, 1 touchdown & 1 interception
Rushing: Sony Michel- 19 carries for 42 yards and 3 touchdowns
Receiving: James White – 7 receptions for 59 yards
Defensive: Jonathan Jones – 6 tackles
Passing: Sam Darnold – 11/32 for 86 yards and 4 interceptions
Rushing: Le’Veon Bell – 15 carries for 70 yards
Receiving: Demaryius Thomas – 3 receptions for 42 yards
Defensive: Darryl Roberts – 8 tackles
What’s next?: The Pats head back to Foxborough to face Baker Mayfield and the Cleveland Browns (2-4) for a matchup that promises to test Bill Belichick’s defense, as they face off against an offense with weapons such as Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Patriots: No players listed
Rams: No players listed
Here are some of my other predictions for the Super Bowl
The Patriots secured a berth in Super Bowl LIII yesterday, as they triumphed over the Kansas City Chiefs (13-5) 37-31 in a thrilling contest that went into overtime. The Patriots dominated the Chiefs in the first half, as they grabbed a 14-point lead going into halftime, but the Chiefs roared back, led by their young phenom Patrick Mahomes, and gave the Patriots almost all they could handle.
Here are some takeaways from yesterday’s AFC Championship Game.
1. TB12 and his weapons came up clutch again!
When the Chiefs took the lead just under 8 minutes to play in the fourth quarter, it appeared as if the Pats had squandered their chance to advance to the Super Bowl, as they had just turned the ball over (due to a drop by Julian Edelman), and watched their lead evaporate in just 10 seconds of game time. The Pats were able to answer the Chiefs by driving down the field, partly aided by an incredible one-handed catch by Chris Hogan, which was upheld following a challenge by Andy Reid. After the Chiefs retook the lead, Tom Brady and the offense had to drive 65 yards with just under 2 minutes left in the game. For a moment, it appeared as if the game was over, as an errant pass went off the hands of Rob Gronkowski and was caught by Charvarius Ward, who seemed to have clinched the AFC for the Chiefs. However, the Pats were aided by the left arm of defensive end Dee Ford, which was over the line of scrimmage, and gave the Pats a second chance. They didn’t waste their opportunity, as their next play was a 25 yard pass to Gronk that got them to the 4-yard line. The Pats quickly scored, but the Chiefs answered, which sent the game to overtime.
Similarly to Super Bowl LI against the Atlanta Falcons, the Pats won the coin toss, and never looked back, as they methodically marched the ball down the field against the Chiefs. A common criticism of the Pats this season has been that their main targets (Gronk and Edelman) were too old and banged up to have an impact on a game. They changed the narrative last night, as the duo came up big on 3 consecutive third downs, which enabled the Patriots to win the game.
A vintage performance by Tom Brady, Julian Edelman, & Rob Gronkowski has the Patriots in prime position to win another Super Bowl.
2. The running backs were impactful!
The Pats employed a similar game plan to their Divisional Round victory against the LA Chargers, as they came out running the football during their opening drive that went on for over 8 minutes, and resulted with a touchdown by Sony Michel. Michel and James White were a big part of the offense during the first half, as they were utilized to run the football constantly in an effort to burn the clock and keep the ball out of Patrick Mahomes’ hands. In the second half, Rex Burkhead was primarily used, and he definitely delivered, as he scored 2 touchdowns, including the eventual game winner.
The Pats will need another solid performance by their running backs if they want to have a good chance of winning Super Bowl LIII.
3. The offensive line was simply remarkable
I don’t believe that any unit in this game had more of an impact than the offensive line for the Patriots, as their brilliance was unmatched last night. Kansas City entered this game as the NFL’s top sacking defense, with superstars on the defensive line, including Dee Ford, Justin Houston, and Chris Jones. The Chiefs’ pass-rushing duo never got close to Brady during the game, as they were utterly and completely neutralized. The Chiefs had zero sacks and only hit Brady once.
They were also heavily efficient in the running game, as they were able to constantly produce gaping holes that enabled their running backs to run rampant through the Chiefs’ defense.
The Pats’ offensive line will need to maintain this performance for them to succeed in the Super Bowl.
4. The defense did enough to win
As I mentioned in my preview for this game, the Pats were not going to stop Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs, due to the immense talent permeating throughout their offense. However, they did succeed in slowing him down enough for the offense to grab an early lead, which allowed them to weather the second half explosion by Mahomes and the Chiefs. The Pats were able to get after Mahomes consistently, as they sacked him 4 times and hit him 10 times. Kyle Van Noy was extremely efficient in the first half, as he sacked Mahomes twice (including a strip sack that ended the half). The Pats had a great performance against Tyreek Hill (1 catch for 42 yards) and Travis Kelce (3 catches for 23 yards and 1 touchdown) who were virtually non-existent for the majority of this game. However, Sammy Watkins and Damien Williams caused problems for the Patriots, as they were essential in sparking Kansas City’s comeback.
I think that Bill Belichick and Brian Flores did a remarkable job in crafting the game plan, as they shut out the Chiefs for the first time at home during the Reid era. As mentioned by Tony Romo, Mahomes is a unique quarterback who is extremely hard to defend against. Hence, I don’t think that we can be too hard on the performance of Belichick’s defense.
For the second time this season, Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs scored 31 in the second half against the Patriots, but New England’s first half heroics ensured that they would emerge victorious.
In order to prevent the result of last year’s Super Bowl, the Pats’ defense will need to be at the top of their game.
Passing: Tom Brady – 30/46 for 348 yards, 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions
Rushing: Sony Michel – 29 carries for 113 yards and 2 touchdowns
Receiving: Julian Edelman – 7 receptions for 96 yards
Defensive: Kyle Van Noy – 10 tackles (including 2 sacks)
Passing: Patrick Mahomes – 16/31 for 295 yards and 3 touchdowns
Rushing: Damien Williams – 10 carries for 30 yards and 1 touchdown
Receiving: Sammy Watkins – 4 receptions for 114 yards
Daniel Sorenson – 14 tackles and 1 interception
What’s next?:The Pats head to Atlanta for Super Bowl LIII (on February 3rd at 6:30 EST on CBS), where they’ll take on the Los Angeles Rams (15-3) in a rematch of Super Bowl XXXVI. It’ll be interesting to see how the Pats match up against the likes of Aaron Donald and Todd Gurley, while coaching against the wunderkind Sean McVay.
The past few weeks have not been kind to the Patriots, as they have dropped two straight games due to a miracle play in Miami and an offensive clunker against Pittsburgh. These losses have brought them down to #3 in the AFC playoff standings, and a strong finish to end the season will help them fight for a first-round bye. The Pats face the Buffalo Bills (5-9) tomorrow in what promises to be a tough defensive battle.
Here are some things to consider entering tomorrow’s game.
1. Will the offense rebound?
Tom Brady and the offense did not have a great outing last week against Pittsburgh, as they barely produced any big plays (other than an early 63-yard touchdown to Chris Hogan), and struggled to move the ball for most of the games. One of the most troubling aspects of the game was Tom Brady’s decision-making, as he cost the Pats a good chance at winning by throwing an unacceptable red-zone interception, and by constantly sailing balls on the ultimately doomed final drive.
This week’s matchup against Buffalo will not be any easier, as the Bills feature a very physical defense. The last time these two teams met, the Bills held the Pats in check, as they didn’t cross 10 points until the 4th quarter. The passing game will definitely be impacted by Josh Gordon’s suspension, which will require players like Chris Hogan and Philip Dorsett to step up and help Brady out. James White also needs to get more touches if the Pats want the offense to thrive.
The offense needs a pick-me-up game to ensure that they have momentum entering the playoffs, and let’s hope that tomorrow is just what they need.
2. Can the defense stop the run?
The last time the Pats faced the Bills, they didn’t really have to worry about the passing game, as Buffalo’s QB at the time was the then recently-signed Derek Anderson, who did not have a great performance at all. Tomorrow will be different, as the Bills will have their starter back, as Josh Allen will be bringing his dynamic talents to Gillette Stadium. Allen is still a raw passer, but he has been unstoppable on the ground, which will definitely pose a challenge to a Pats defense that has struggled to stop the run in consecutive weeks.
If the Pats can bottle up Allen and LeSean McCoy, they will have a good chance of defeating the Bills.
Brandon King (knee) – Questionable
Ryan Lewis (concussion) – Out
Chris Ivory (shoulder) – Questionable
Here are my picks for the rest of the NFL’s Week 16 contests (excluding Saturday’s games)
This Sunday, the Patriots head down to Nashville to take on the Tennessee Titans (4-4) in a rematch of last year’s AFC divisional round game. The Pats enter this contest at 7-2, with hopes of keeping pace with the conference-leading Chiefs.
Here are some things to consider entering this Week 10 matchup.
1. The offense faces a tough matchup in Tennessee
The Patriots’ offense has really found its rhythm in recent weeks, as they’ve figured out a way to shuffle their personnel in order to make up for injuries (specifically Rob Gronkowski and Sony Michel). Tom Brady has been able to rely on the duo of Julian Edelman and Josh Gordon to move the ball down the field and the running back combination of James White and Cordarrelle Patterson has proven to be extremely potent for the team.
This week’s matchup will be challenging as they take on the NFL’s top scoring defense in the Titans, who have a swarming defensive line and a great group of linebackers. For the Pats to be successful, they will need to target the Titans’ susceptible secondary.
2. Will the Pats’ defense continue to succeed?
The Patriots’ defense appeared to turn a corner during last week’s victory against the Packers, as they got after Aaron Rodgers and limited Green Bay to 17 points. One of the key factors in the victory was the pass rush’s ability to keep Rodgers in the pocket, with Trey Flowers and Adrian Clayborn leading the way. That will be essential to replicate this week as they face off with the mobile Marcus Mariota, who is coming off a performance in Dallas where he was able to dissect the Cowboys’ defense with his ability to run for first downs. The Pats will also need to fortify the line of scrimmage to combat the efficient combination of Dion Lewis and Derrick Henry.
Stephon Gilmore and Jason McCourty have also been essential cogs in the secondary’s revitalization over the last few weeks, and if they continue to play well on Sunday, the Pats will have a good chance of emerging victorious in Nashville.
3. Facing off against ex-Patriots
The Pats will be taking on familiar faces this Sunday when they head to Tennessee. As mentioned earlier, Dion Lewis has become an essential part of the Titans’ offense, after 3 seasons with the Patriots. Lewis is not missed in New England, because James White has emerged into a true #1 back for Josh McDaniels’ offense.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Titans feature 2 ex-Patriot cornerbacks in Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan. Ryan left the Patriots following their victory in Super Bowl LI, while Butler left following the loss in Super Bowl LII. Ryan was a great contributor for the Pats, but was replaced during the 2017 off-season with the signing of Stephon Gilmore. Butler’s departure from New England was much more controversial due to him being benched during Super Bowl LII, which made several pundits question how the Pats’ secondary function without him. Bill Belichick’s decision to move on from Butler has appeared to be wise so far, as Butler has given up 7 touchdowns in 8 games.
The Titans are coached by Mike Vrabel who was a linebacker on the Patriots for 8 seasons, and won 3 Super Bowls with the team. This will be the first time Bill Belichick coaches against a former player.
Trent Brown (illness) – Questionable
*Rob Gronkowski (ankle/knee) – Out
Dont’a Hightower (knee) – Questionable
Jacob Hollister (hamstring) – Questionable
Shaq Mason (calf) – Questionable
**Sony Michel (knee) – Will play
Jack Conklin (concussion) – Out
Dane Cruikshank (knee) – Questionable
Taywan Taylor (foot) – Questionable
Derrick Morgan (shoulder) – Questionable
Tajae Sharpe (ankle) – Questionable
Bennie Logan (knee) – Questionable
Prediction: Patriots28, Titans17
Here are my picks for the rest of the NFL’s Week 10 contests (excluding Thursday Night Football)
Last week: 8-4
Saints at Bengals: Saints
Falcons at Browns: Falcons
Lions at Bears: Bears
Cardinals at Chiefs: Chiefs
Redskins at Buccaneers: Buccaneers
Bills at Jets: Jets
Jaguars at Colts: Colts
Chargers at Raiders: Chargers
Seahawks at Rams: Rams
Dolphins at Packers: Packers
Cowboys at Eagles: Eagles
Giants at 49ers: 49ers
* and ** – Updated on game day based on information released by the Patriots