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Amendola, Wilfork, Special Teams Key Ugly Patriots 17-16 Win Over the Jets


Danny Amendola was the Patriots best weapon against the Jets on Sunday, gaining 214 combined yards in the win. (USA TODAY Images)

The New England Patriots special teams again played a big part of a victory when Vince Wilfork got a hand on a 52 yard field goal attempt late in the fourth quarter as the Pats held on for an ugly 17-16 win in Met Life Stadium in New York.

With the win, the Patriots secured a bye for the Wild Card weekend of the playoffs. Depending upon how Denver does on Monday Night Football in Cincinnati, will decide on whether the home field is sewn up for NE or they must beat the Buffalo Bills on the final weekend.

Twice this season, the Patriots have beaten the Jets on late FG blocks, in October it was Chris Jones, this time it was Wilfork who came up the A-gap against Nick Mangold’s replacement Dalton Freeman.

The Patriots special teams have been outstanding all season and on Sunday they were again. Wilfork had the block and Danny Amendola had a big punt return to set up the first New England touchdown of the game.

Other observations include:

Offensive Line a Huge Red Flag: Forget all the talk about “this is just what happens when NE plays Rex Ryan”, the Jets lined up ran stunts, blitzes and overload schemes and the New England offensive line couldn’t matchup.

Opponents in the future (see Buffalo next week) will be lining up to do the same thing and the Patriots can ill-afford another performance like this either in the regular season finale or in the playoffs. Because they won’t face a secondary as weak as the one they faced today again this season.

The offense finally made some adjustments late in the third quarter and went to an uptempo attack which caught the Jets unable to match up and the team began to move the ball well. But giving up four sacks in the first half is unacceptable…by any standards.

Where Was Shane Vereen?: In the first meeting against the Jets, Vereen was the Patriots leading receiver and it took advantage of the Jets subunits.  Very surprisingly, Vereen was only targeted twice and had one catch for 12 yards.

With Julian Edelman out with a concussion, the prevailing thought that was the onus of his production would have to be spread out between Vereen, Amendola and TE Tim Wright.

The decision to ignore Vereen in the passing game, who ignited a moribund Patriots running game has to go down as a head scratcher by the coaching staff. Tim Wright had only one target as well, a 12 yard catch. And the coaches had a few, which we’ll get to in a bit.

Player of the Game – Amendola: No brainer here… With Julian Edelman out, it was a given that Amendola would get a lot more snaps on offense, and he was productive, being the team’s leading receiver with eight catches for 63 yards making some tough catches in dangerous places on the day.

Amendola gave the team a huge spark with the 39 yard punt return that set up the Patriots first touchdown. He had a big game with 3 punt returns for 63 yards, as well as five kickoffs for 91 yards. A 217 yard total effort game from Amendola.

That…ladies and gents is called stepping up when you need to.

Honorable mention goes to Wilfork with the field goal block.

Curious Coaching Moves: As we mentioned before, the Patriots made adjustments with the offense, but they didn’t make them until there was less than six minutes to go in the third quarter. Very slow adjustments by Josh McDaniels.

Perhaps the bigger head scratcher was the decision to go passive on Geno Smith until the fourth quarter. Even with Nick Mangold out at center, the Patriots waited until the fourth quarter to bring A-gap pressure on Smith. As a result, Smith was very comfortable in the pocket and was able to make plays down the field, finding his secondary receivers.

It seemed that the coaches were too afraid of Smith making plays with his feet and allowed him too much respect, instead of forcing the issue and making him turn the ball over as he’s done for much of the past two seasons.

Once they did bring pressure from the A-gap, Dont’a Hightower sacked Smith on a huge third down play which resulted in a 52 yard field goal attempt instead of another chip shot. Wilfork came up the A-gap (surprise, surprise) and got a hand on the field goal and the team was able to run out the clock.

We’re On To Buffalo: Despite an ugly performance for the most part, the Patriots were once again able to win and improved on the season to 12-3, another 12 season for Bill Belichick who moved past Curly Lambeau with 230 victories in his career.

The defense again stepped up when they had to, and held the Jets to just six second half points and haven’t allowed a second half touchdown in the past five games. Going back ten weeks, the thought that the team would be 12-3 after starting 2-2 would have been a stretch.

The rush defense was much better this time against the Jets, in the first meeting they gave up 218 yards. This time they gave up 116 and the Jets as a team averaged only 3.6 yards per carry.

So now the team will have to prepare to play a Buffalo team whose defense has been on fire lately and still has an outside shot at the playoffs. Buffalo, like the Jets will be hungry but unlike New York, will actually have something to play for. Kickoff is slated for 1 p.m.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at stevebpatsfans@gmail.com

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You Can Go Home Again…Chung Proves A Valuable Addition to the Patriots Defense


Pat Chung has been a very solid addition to the Patriots defense in 2014. (USA TODAY Images)

When Pat Chung left the New England Patriots not many people were surprised. It seemed he had peaked as a player and after a tough 2012 season, he left for greener pastures signing with the Philadelphia Eagles.

A 2nd round draft pick in 2009, Chung had his moments in New England but never played up to expectations and signed with his former college coach Chip Kelly who had taken over the Eagles.

But there were more than a few raised eyebrows when Chung re-signed with the New England Patriots after being released by the Eagles after just one year. Most people (this writer included) thought that he was signed as veteran depth and for his special team’s experience.

Few people thought Chung would carve out a roster spot, let alone a starting strong safety position when training camp opened in late July. But that is exactly what he did. And it began with he and Bill Belichick sitting down and discussing what went wrong and where the team was planning on using him differently this time around.

Chalk it up to experience, maturity, or being asked to do things more toward his strength rather than his weaknesses this time, but Chung has been much better utilized by Belichick and Defensive Coordinator Matt Patricia in 2014. Chung came to camp already familiar with the Patriots system, picked up the pace quickly and outperformed 2nd year safety Duron Harmon thought to be the favorite, as well as Tavon Wilson and others and won the starting role.

“I think some of the circumstance of the ’12 season didn’t work out as well as we all hoped, for a combination of reasons. Pat and I talked about that last year after he was released from Philadelphia” Belichick told the media in a conference call. “Pat and I talked about that. We had a long conversation about a lot of things. I don’t think it was anybody’s fault. It was just one of those things that didn’t work out.”

Few, if any, players that leave the Belichick stable are ever welcomed back again. Deion Branch is one notable exception, and now Chung is making the most out of  his second chance with the Patriots. Chung has been among the Patriots most pleasant surprises of 2014. Playing mostly an in-the-box role, which is contrast to the two-deep safety position he played in his first four seasons, Chung has been very solid in all phases of the game.

He’s been used to cover tight ends and running backs and for the majority of this season the results have been much better than expected. Always strong against the run, he knows in a Belichick system, versatility is the key and by being much better in coverage this time around has resulted in much better production for the veteran.

“I’d say Patrick has always been a pretty good coverage player,” Belichick said in an interview with ESPN Boston. “That’s one of his strengths. There were times where we actually used him as the nickelback instead of a third corner. Pat works hard at that.”

The Patriots’ big moves in the free agency period were the additions of cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner. Chung’s signing barely registered with the media or the fanbase, but all of those moves working in conjunction with each other have proved to be a key reason for the success of the team in 2014.

PFF (Pro Football Focus) has both Patriots safeties Devin McCourty and Chung rated as the #4 and #5 top safeties in the NFL thus far in 2014. Revis is ranked as the #2 cornerback. Factor in that Donta Hightower and Jamie Collins are rated as the #1 and #3 linebackers in the league, it is no surprise that this Patriots defense has been much better than in years past. After facing a gauntlet of potent offenses during the second half of the season, the defense has passed their test and is now ready for a deep post-season run.

Chung got his first interception of the season last week against the Dolphins and his play was once again solid in holding RB Lamar Miller to just a 2.9 yard per carry average on the day. He and McCourty have been outstanding at communication, providing nearly flawless calls depending upon the situation.

This week’s game is a Chung-type of matchup. The Jets love to ground and pound the ball with running backs Chris Johnson and Chris Ivory. Look for Chung to be up in the box and trying to disrupt both the running game and passes out of the backfield. He should be a major factor in how the team performs on Sunday in the Meadowlands.

It seems you can go home again.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at stevebpatsfans@gmail.com

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

Patriots – Jets, Who Has the Razor’s Edge? Key Matchups

Pats Jets

The New England Patriots travel for their final regular season road game of 2014 as take on the New York Jets at Met Life Stadium in the New Jersey Meadowlands. The game will be televised by CBS who will have the announcing crew of Spero Dedes and Solomon Wilcots on the call. Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m.

The Patriots (11-3) shook off a slow start to blow out the Miami Dolphins 41-13, as Tom Brady ignited the Patriots with a big 17 yard run on a third and 11 during the team’s first drive in the second half. The defense shut out Miami in the second half as well, during the past four weeks, the Patriots have allowed only six second half points.

The Jets (3-11) beat the Tennessee Titans 16-11 which actually hurt their draft position for the 2015 NFL Draft where many believe the Jets will be looking for a new franchise QB. The game was marked by an ugly brawl when QB Geno Smith was punched after engaging in some trash talk during an official timeout.

Series History:
The Patriots and Jets will meet for the 112th time in their heated rivalry with the Jets that stretches back to 1960. The Patriots hold a 57-53-1 edge overall including the playoffs. The Jets however hold sway at home holding a 28-26 edge including a 30-27 OT win last season. In the October meeting at Foxboro, the Patriots held on with a 27-25 win as Chris Jones blocked a last minute FG attempt.

Here is a look at some of the PatsFans.com key matchups and who holds the Razor’s Edge.

Patriots RBs vs Jets Front Seven- Razor’s Edge-Jets
One area that the Patriots have struggled in, has been in consistently running the football. There have been times when they’ve really gotten it going with LaGarrette Blount ,Jonas Gray backed up by Shane Vereen and others when the offensive line hasn’t gotten any push at the line of scrimmage.

The Jets rush defense has been a bright spot for the team allowing only 87.4 yards per game good for 5th in the NFL and 3.5 yards per rush. It starts with a stout front seven, Sheldon Richardson and Muhammad Wilkerson anchor the defensive line and the LBs inside David Harris and Demario Davis are always a tough matchup for the Patriots running game which only managed 63 yards in the first meeting.

It will be interesting to see if the duo of Blount who wasn’t on the roster in the earlier meeting and Gray will be able to keep the balance the Patriots need for the offense and produce a better running game this time around.

Patriots WRs vs Jets Secondary-Razor’s Edge Patriots
The Jets secondary has struggled for nearly all of 2014, especially on third down despite having a pass rush that can get after the quarterback. Injuries and lackluster play at the CB position has been an issue as well as covering tight ends. In Ryan’s scheme, putting the corners out on an island while overload blitzes pressure the QB has been difficult when the corners struggle to cover.

QB Tom Brady hasn’t had quite the numbers he was enjoying the past few games but providing his protection holds up here, should find plenty of room to target downfield. This should be a game where they attack the seams of the defense with Rob Gronkowski. Look for Brady to target Brandon LaFell more in this game working the intermediate areas of the secondary.  Julian Edelman may not play, suffering from a concussion, so Danny Amendola who had a big touchdown in the first matchup will get more snaps this week.

Expect to see Shane Vereen who led all receivers in the October meeting to once again be a factor out of the backfield in the passing game. Brady’s numbers in the Meadowlands against Rex Ryan’s defenses haven’t been great (57.8 percent completion rate) but the Patriots have too many weapons for the Jets to defend. It will all come down to protection and production.

Jets RBs vs NE Front Seven- Razor’s Edge Jets
Despite being behind in nearly every game this season, Rex Ryan loves to ground and pound the football. The Jets are averaging nearly 150 yards per game, (2nd in the NFL) and with an impressive 4.7 yards per carry.

Featuring mainly a two-headed tandem of Chris Ivory and Chris Johnson the Jets ran for over 200 yards in the first meeting with those two gaining 168 yards between them. The Jets ran right up the middle and then were able to bounce plays to the outside when the containment failed.

Since that game, the run defense of the Patriots has improved; the team has signed Allen Branch and got back Sealver Siliga providing a much bigger, stouter front for the defense. Linebackers Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins likewise have been an active, penetrating duo who’ve been able to disrupt plays in the backfield

The key here will be setting the edge, DEs Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich struggled at times with their containment especially with QB Geno Smith and they’ll have to play much better this time around.

Jets WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge Patriots
After facing some of the NFL’s best passing games during the recent stretch of tough games, this is a matchup the New England secondary should win easily. Not that the Jets don’t have some talented receivers, Eric Decker, Percy Harvin and Jeremy Kerley in the slot have the ability to be productive and with tight ends Jeff Cumberland and Jace Amaro, they have plenty of targets to throw to, but the problem has been the delivery.

Simply put the play of Geno Smith and Mike Vick has been abysmal. Smith has had the lowest QB rating in the NFL the past two years and the Jets passing game is ranked dead last in the NFL. With changes coming in Jersey after this season, Smith will be playing for his future on Sunday. He has only nine TD passes against 12 interceptions this season.

The Patriots secondary led by Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner has been playing extremely well and expect to see this duo matched up with Harvin and Decker with Kyle Arrington in the slot (if he’s recovered from his injury) to match up with Kerley. Obviously the key here is to force the game into Smith’s hands and make him beat you with throws down the field.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge Patriots
The Patriots ST units have been consistently making big plays all season. Last week against Miami they blocked their fourth FG of the season and Kyle Arrington returned it for a touchdown. The coverage units have been solid and the tandem of Stephen Gostkowski and Ryan Allen continue outstanding seasons.

The Jets are getting solid seasons from the kicking game of P Ryan Quigley and K Nick Folk who is always nearly automatic. Folk was dealing with an injury but is now back to full health. Harvin has given a boost to the team in the return game but their coverage units haven’t been great lately. Given the Pats production across the board, they get the nod here.

Prediction:
Given how the Jets typically give the Patriots fits in these tough divisional games, expect this one to be much of the same. This one will be the swan song for Ryan at home and against Belichick and the Patriots, look for the Jets to empty out the playbook and throw everything at New England…this is their Super Bowl and they’d like nothing better than to knock off their hated rivals and be the cause of the Patriots to lose the #1 seed in the NFL playoffs.

The keys from a NE perspective are to start fast, stop the run and win the turnover battle. They don’t want the Jets hanging around late in the game with a chance to win. This is a team with double-digit losses, get up quickly and put the hammer down. They are not built to play from behind.

The Jets are a running team, if you slow the run and force them into third and long situations, the ball and the onus will be placed on Smith to win the game. And that is a winning proposition for NE.

Turnover differentials are a polar opposite, the Patriots are +11 and the Jets are -11. They’ve only forced five interceptions on defense and they have turned it over a lot on offense. Revis and Co. will be looking to ball-hawk the Jets in this one.

It will be close for awhile, but the Patriots will pull away down the stretch. Ryan’s last home game with the Jets won’t end pretty. New England 34-13

Patriots Player to Watch-  Darrelle Revis
Revis made it clear, his first choice was to return to the Jets when he was released by Tampa Bay this spring. And he’d like nothing better than to return to his former home and put on a show for the Jets faithful.

If Smith was smart, he’d be very careful about treading on Revis Island on Sunday. Revis loves these type of situations and will be at his ball-hawking best this week.


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

Patriots 2014 Opponents, 5 First Impressions of the Jets Pt. 2

The Patriots run defense will be tested again by the Jets on Sunday (USA Today photo)

The New England Patriots travel to the New Jersey Meadowlands for their second game against the New York Jets in 2014. New England prevailed in a close game 27-25 earlier this season in Foxboro.This will also mark the Patriots final away game of the 2014 regular season. The game will be broadcast by CBS. Kickoff is slated for 1 p.m.

The Patriots (11-3) clinched the AFC East for the sixth straight year and their 12th in the past 14 years with a 41-13 win over the Miami Dolphins. Tom Brady and the offense shook off a lackluster first half to explode for 24 points in the third quarter. The defense held Miami scoreless in the second half, sacking QB Ryan Tannehill four times and intercepting him twice in the game.

The Jets (3-11) came back to beat the Tennessee Titans 16-11 on Sunday. The game was marked by an ugly brawl during an official timeout when the Titans Jurrell Casey punched Jets QB Geno Smith after each engaged in some trash talking. The brawl ignited the Jets who scored twice to win the game.

Series History: The two teams will meet for 112th time on Sunday. The teams split their meetings in 2013 with each holding serve at home. The Patriots won a narrow victory at home in October although the Jets dominated in time of possession and overall yardage.

The series has been remarkably close since 1960 with the Patriots holding a slim 57-53-1 advantage all time. The Jets hold a 28-27 edge at home over the Patriots and since Bill Belichick took over in 2000, the Patriots hold a 21-10 edge overall.

Here are Five First Impressions of the Jets:

Rex Ryan Watch Has Started: What started off as a firestorm around New York will likely come to an end in Miami in just two weeks as Rex Ryan will most probably be let go as the coach of the Jets. He said all the right things to inflame the rivalry with New England when he took over, stating he wasn’t “here to kiss Bill Belichick’s rings” and his shtick played well with the NY media. And the Jets played some outstanding football along the way going to two straight AFC Championship games.

But he was undermined by a GM who never wanted him as a head coach, saddled with two high draft pick QBs that didn’t pan out with the latest who probably won’t ever be even a middle of the road talent. But as entertaining as he was with the media, the shine comes off when the wins stop and Ryan’s Jets will be known to have missed the playoffs more than they made them.

Sunday will probably be his last home game as the Jets coach, rumors have it they will chase Jim Harbaugh closely when and if he’s released by the 49ers. Forget about the “Suck for the Duck” talk, Ryan will want to go out a winner and beating Belichick and the Pats will be a big point of pride for him. One thing even his biggest detractors will agree upon is that Ryan has always been a stand-up guy. He won’t roll over in his final home game and his players have always loved playing for him. The Jets Super Bowl is Sunday.

Stopping the Running Game is Key: The Jets offense has been stuck in neutral all season but a bright spot has been the running game. New York currently has the #2 rushing attack in the NFL. The Jets average 147.1 yards per game and a very impressive 4.7 yards per rushing attempt.

In the first meeting between the Patriots and Jets in October, the Jets rushed for 218 yards on 43 attempts and controlled the ball for an incredible 40:19 in the game. They feature Chris Ivory and Chris Johnson who have combined for over 1350 yards and seven touchdowns between them.

New England will also have to be aware of Smith scrambling (37 yards in the previous matchup), as well as WR Percy Harvin who is a threat to run as well as receive. Harvin wasn’t with the Jets in the first meeting.

Decker, Harvin, Amaro Nice Building Blocks For Future: The Jets passing game is mired in 32nd, dead last in the NFL in terms of yardage. They’ve only passed for 2365 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2014. But much of that has to do with the QB position (Geno Smith, Mike Vick) and as their confidence has wavered, so has the coaches’. The Jets seemed to be afraid to throw the ball against Miami and the trickle-down effect has to be tough for the skill positional players.

Their skill position players have been upgraded with the additions of Eric Decker during free agency, TE Jace Amaro during the draft and Percy Harvin mid-season. This has given the team a good nucleus moving forward to whoever is the QB in 2015.

Decker leads the Jets with 62 receptions for 720 yards and four touchdowns while the ever dangerous Harvin has 25 catches for 306 yards and one touchdown. Amaro, considered one of the premiere “move” TEs in the 2014 NFL Draft was a frequent guess as a possible Patriots target has chipped in with 35 catches, 311 yards and two TDs.

While they don’t compare with some of the offenses that New England has faced in recent weeks, they can be effective when the running game is going (see Wk 7) and when the quarterback play is on. Which leads us to…

Smith Playing For 2015 or Just Out the String?: Over the past two years, Geno Smith is just 9-17 as a starter and has been the NFL’s lowest rated QB. He was benched for three games in 2014 and rightfully so is being questioned as to whether he has the tools to succeed in the NFL.

Smith, like his predecessor Mark Sanchez has found out that the bright lights of New York can be a very unforgiving place when things aren’t going well. But one thing Smith doesn’t lack is confidence, stating last week that he’s “Flashed signs of being a Pro-Bowl QB” which prompted Ryan to deadpan in response, “and then sometimes he hasn’t…”

Smith’s numbers are hardly Pro-Bowl-esque 182-315 57.8 percent, 1957 yards only nine touchdowns and 12 interceptions with a QB rating very low at 69.8. Most pundits look for the Jets to find a replacement sooner rather than later in the 2015 draft.

But the win at Tennessee may push the Jets out of the prime position to draft one of the better QBs in the 2015 draft (read Mariota) and Smith may find himself again battling for a job in 2015. One thing is for sure; these next two games will factor deeply in determining his future, if any with the Jets moving forward.

Jets Pass Rush Key on Sunday: The key for the Jets to have a chance at upsetting the Patriots on Sunday will rest with the very stout front four and the pressure they’ll bring on Tom Brady. The Jets front four led by Sheldon Richardson,Muhammad Wilkerson, Quentin Coples and Calvin Pace is outstanding against the run and can get after the QB.

In the first meeting, they limited the Patriots to only 63 yards rushing but Brady was still able to find holes to throw into against the secondary. In the past Ryan was able to rush only three or four and flood the secondary with blanket coverage…No more. The Jets are dead last at covering TEs and Rob Gronkowski, now operating at peak proficiency will be a tough matchup.

It will be up to the pass rush to disrupt QB Tom Brady or he’ll have a big game against an overmatched secondary. The Jets won the first matchup. They’ll need an even bigger effort from the front four on Sunday.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at stevebpatsfans@gmail.com

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

Brady, Patriots Use 3rd Quarter Explosion To Rout Dolphins 41-13

NFL: Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots

The Patriots got a bit of redemption on Sunday afternoon as they used a tremendous burst to open the second half to beat the Miami Dolphins 41-13 at Gillette Stadium.

The Patriots outscored Miami 27-0 in the second half after playing a listless first half and limped in with a 14-13 lead although being outplayed by a wide margin. The win secured the Patriots with the AFC East Championship for the 6th year in a row and their 12th in the past 14 years.

It was the “Hat and T-shirt” game for the Patriots and many of the players were seen sporting both in pictures in a happy locker room afterward. For many of the younger players and a few veterans who came in this season from less successful teams, it was their first chance to wear a Division Champs shirt and they were basking in the moment. For the record, two more hat and t-shirt games remain, but those are still far down the road.

Other observations from Sunday include:

Brady Run Awakens Slumbering Patriots Offense: Miami had outplayed New England in the first half but thanks to two big plays on special teams and the defense, were down only a point. The lackluster play drew the ire of Tom Brady, who early in the third quarter rallied the troops by scrambling for 17 yards on a third and 11.

Normally Brady rallies the team with his arm but he was in the position to scramble for a big first down on the team’s first drive of the third quarter and he did so. But once he got the first down, Brady didn’t opt to slide or run out of bounds. He was looking for contact and he and DB Walt Aikens had a big collision at the sideline that Brady got the worse of. It made little difference, Brady was fired up and so were the Patriots.

The play ignited the team and it awoke in a big way. Miami entered the game with the biggest point differential in their favor in the third quarter. But a 24 point explosion (team record) ensued and this one was over by the beginning of the fourth quarter.

Defense Steps Up Again: After spotting the Dolphins a big touchdown at the end of the first half to narrow the lead to 14-13, the Patriots defense rallied and Miami was white washed in the second half. It also brought up an interesting stat, that in the past four games, New England’s defense has allowed just six points total after half-time. That speaks very well of adjustments being made by Bill Belichick and Defensive Coordinator Matt Patricia.

The defense was buoyed by the return of DE Chandler Jones and LB Dont’a Hightower on Sunday. Hightower missed the San Diego game with a shoulder injury and Jones missed the last eight weeks with a hip injury. Jones played more than expected on Sunday and seemed to have his normal burst off the edge and chipped in 1.5 sacks.

Darrelle Revis was once again outstanding shadowing  first Jarvis Landry then in the second half covering Mike Wallace who abused rookie Malcolm Butler on the first snap from scrimmage for a 50 yard pass play and then on a spectacular one-handed grab in the end zone at the end of the first half for a touchdown.

Brandon Browner provided physical coverage opposite Revis but was flagged twice, once deserved but the other was simply a brutal “reputation-type” call. Browner however got the last laugh, when he popped the receiver on Pat Chung’s interception, forcing the ball into the air. Chung returned it to the Miami 27 where it took Brady just five seconds to put the game away with a 27 yard strike to Gronkowski down the seam.

The Patriots run defense, gashed in the opener in Miami also got a bit of payback in this one, limiting the Dolphins to only 76 yards on 23 carries good for a 3.1 yard average. Lamar Miller was able to only generate 47 yards on 16 carries. Miami was only 3 of 16 on third downs….mission accomplished.

Late First Half Sequence Hurts Team: One area that the Patriots always take pride in since Bill Belichick took over the reins as head coach is situational football.  Which is why, the sequence with just 40 seconds left in the first half was so uncharacteristically poor from a production standpoint.

New England got the ball at their 15 yard line and was attempting to run out the clock with Shane Vereen who was stuffed on all three downs where the Dolphins used all three timeouts and forced a punt from the 17 after the Patriots used all of just 15 seconds on the clock.

Then the special teams, which have been solid, allowed a 32 yard return to the Patriots 32 yard line where QB Ryan Tannehill completed a deep touchdown pass to Wallace. Initially ruled incomplete, the replay officials correctly ruled it a catch and touchdown. A rare failure for the coaching staff in getting beat at situational football.

Another Big Milestone Day For the Patriots: The Dolphins game was a day of team and personal milestones for the Patriots. As we mentioned above, the 24 points in the third quarter was a team record as they blew open a close game with a dominant second half effort. But some of the personal ones include:

Bill Belichick win (regular season and playoffs) as Head Coach ties him with the great Curly Lambeau at 229 career victories. The two are now tied for fourth place in NFL history and for a student of the game like Belichick, he has to be quietly pleased today.

Stephen Gostkowski’s 35 yard field goal moved him past the great Adam Vinatieri as the Patriots all-time points leader. Passing Vinatieri’s 1158 points, Gostkowski has been an extremely solid kicker in his career in New England.

Rob Gronkowski’s catch at the beginning of the third quarter pushed him over the 1000 yard mark. It is Gronkowski’s second 1000 yard season, and he is the only Patriots tight end to accomplish the feat twice.

Rob Ninkovich’s sack of Ryan Tannehill late in the fourth quarter marked his eighth of the season and his third straight season of at least eight sacks tying the mark of Patriots great Andre Tippett.

Jamie Collins Continues to Impress: The Patriots second year linebacker continues to get better every week and Sunday was no exception. During the buildup to the Dolphins game this week, he was lauded by Bill Belichick for his uber-athleticism and his football smarts. He was able to put both on display on Sunday to great effect.

On the Dolphins first drive of the game, they hit a big pass to Mike Wallace that set them up inside the Patriots 30 yard line. After the defense rallied, Miami lined up for a FG attempt. Collins was able to get his hand up to block the kick and CB Kyle Arrington scooped it up and ran it back 62 yards for a Patriots touchdown. It was an amazing turn of events that Collins was able turn what was looking like a scoring opportunity for Miami into seven points for New England.

He was also able to provide solid coverage and was a factor in the running game, recognizing a play to Miller and stuffing the running back in the backfield. Collins, now with the defense starting to get healthy may be allowed to blitz a bit more as the season winds down and with his speed, could be a big factor.

62 Shades of Gray: It seems that Jonas Gray is finally out of Bill Belichick’s doghouse and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Gray gave a boost to the Patriots offense in the second half carrying the ball 11 times for 62 yards (5.6 ypc) and added a pass reception for 7 yards.

On a day where the offensive line couldn’t get LaGarrette Blount to the second level and he was largely ineffective in the running game, Gray responded with a nice effort and produced most of the Patriots 108 rushing yards on the day.

Gray helped get the offense going in the second half and was a key part of the team’s 24 point explosion in the third quarter. And against his former team to boot, Gray spent 2012 on the Dolphins practice squad.

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Patriots – Dolphins, Who Has the Razor’s Edge? Key Matchups


LaGarrette Blount should be a big part of the Patriots game plan this week as Miami has struggled recently defending the run. (USA TODAY Images)

The New England Patriots return home from a two game road trip to take on the Miami Dolphins in Gillette Stadium on Sunday. Kickoff is scheduled for 1:00 p.m. and will be televised on CBS. The announcing crew of Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts and former NESN reporter Jenny Dell will be on the call.

The Patriots (10-3) rebounded from the loss at Green Bay with a come-from-behind 24-13 victory at San Diego. The offense struggled for large parts of the game but was able to put 21 unanswered points on the board including 10 in the fourth quarter to seal it.

The defense was very impressive allowing only 7 points to the Chargers offense. The pass rush kept QB Philip Rivers off-balance all evening registering four sacks and holding SD to just 216 total yards.

Sunday will be a “Hat and T-Shirt” game for the Patriots. If they beat Miami on Sunday, they will be AFC East Champions for the 12th time in 14 years and the players will find a corresponding hat and shirt in their lockers at the end of the game.

The Dolphins (7-6) lost a prime opportunity to solidify a playoff position and dropped a pivotal home game to the Baltimore Ravens 28-13. Miami led 10-0 and was outscored 28-3 after the first quarter. The loss dropped the Dolphins back to 9th in the AFC playoff race.

Now with injuries across the board, the Dolphins and Joe Philbin must look to run the table and finish at 10-6 to have a realistic shot at making the playoffs. No easy task as their consistency has been one of their problem areas.

Series History:
The Patriots and Dolphins will meet for the 99th time in their 47 year history including three playoff games. Miami holds a 52-46 lead overall in these contests. New England holds the advantage at home, besting the Dolphins 31-17. Miami has won the last two games including a 33-20 opening day win.

One interesting footnote, Tom Brady against Miami at home is 11-1 all-time with the only loss coming in the 2005 finale where he was pulled at the end of the 1st quarter.

Here is a look at some of the PatsFans.com  key matchups and who holds the “Razor’s Edge” in this week’s game.

Patriots RBs vs Dolphins Front Seven- Razor’s Edge Patriots
With the injuries on defense Miami has shown cracks on defense in the running game. In the past three weeks, Miami has allowed 661 yards on the ground. Denver ran for 201, the Jets for 277 and Baltimore for 183 in last week’s game.

This is where New England will target to get the offense going. Pounding the ball against the depleted linebacker core with LaGarrette Blount and Jonas Gray, the Patriots will try to wear down the defense and open up play action passing. Look for some of those extra OL alignments as they attempt to control the clock and slow down the Miami pass rush.

Patriots WRs vs Dolphins Secondary-Razor’s Edge Patriots
The success of the running game will have a great bearing on this matchup. If the Patriots can run the ball well, it sets up play-action passing and will open up the middle of the field with TE Rob Gronkowski. It also slows down the Miami pass rush which in the 2nd half of the opener, dominated the Patriots OL.

This time around though with Brandon LaFell now an integrated member of the offense, he provides a big target opposite of Julian Edelman and has been the guy that Tom Brady likes to go to set things up.

The Patriots have three big red-zone targets in Gronkowski, LaFell and TE Tim Wright which should give Brady plenty of options as long as the protection holds up. Cameron Wake, Olivier Vernon and Jared Odrick will have to be accounted for in protection.

Dolphins RBs vs NE Front Seven- Razor’s Edge Dolphins
Lamar Miller has had a very good 2014 for Miami averaging 4.8 yards per carry and being the featured running back since Knowshon Moreno went down with an injury two months ago. Miami controlled the line of scrimmage in the first matchup and a good running game will open things up for the offense.

The Patriots defense has improved against the run. New-comer Alan Branch has teamed up with Vince Wilfork to give them a good tandem of big bodies that can penetrate and disrupt things in the backfield. Last week they got Sealver Siliga back from IR-Return and he made his presence felt immediately against the Chargers.

Miller will be a big focus of the defense this week. New England will want to make the Dolphins one-dimensional and then force the issue with getting after QB Ryan Tannehill.

Dolphins WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge Patriots
Miami has nice weapons for Tannehill to throw to-, Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline, TE Charles Clay as well as rookie WR Jarvis Landry who leads Miami with 63 catches and has become Tannehill’s go-to guy the past few weeks.

The question is who the Patriots will matchup with each. Darrelle Revis who has been outstanding, drew Wallace in the opener, may again cover him or be slid over against the rookie Landry. Brandon Browner who missed the opener facing a suspension would then draw Wallace with over the top help or possibly slide over to cover Clay. It should be an interesting chess match. Miami hasn’t been a throw down the field team, keeping the passing game short, so that will have some bearing on the coverages as well.

Another big matchup here is Tannehill’s protection which has been shoddy as of late. Tannehill has been sacked 34 times this season. RT Dallas Thomas gave up four of the six sacks last week and may be replaced by veteran Jason Fox. The Patriots will attempt to take advantage there with Rob Ninkovich providing pressure from the edge. If that isn’t enough, they’ll show some more of the Double A-Gap pressure with Jamie Collins and Jonathan Casillas that was successful last week.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge Patriots
The Patriots should have a slight advantage in the kicking game as Stephen Gostkowski has been very solid this season hitting on 29 of 31 field goals and AFC STs Player of the Week Ryan Allen is having a very good season with a 46.0 average on his punts.

Miami’s Caleb Sturgis has been somewhat inconsistent missing five of 31 field goal attempts. Brandon Fields has been very solid with a 46.9 punting average but the Dolphins coverage units haven’t been great. With Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola providing good returns lately, the Patriots get the edge. New England’s coverage units have been solid and should get a boost with ST player Chris White returning this week.

Prediction:
This is a tale of two different teams than the pair that met Week 1 in Miami; the Dolphins are a beat-up bunch and have been inconsistent which shows in the 7-6 record. The Patriots started slowly, but have been playing excellent football over the past two+ months.

The running game will be key here for both teams. Both need it to keep the pressure off of their OLs and QB. Here is where the Patriots should be able to assert themselves offensively. Running behind Blount, will open up play-action to Gronkowski and LaFell and the defense which has been stellar will slow down Miami’s passing game. It will be close into the second half, but New England pulls away with a score in the fourth quarter. Patriots 31-17

 

Patriots Player to Watch-  LaGarrette Blount
This is a game tailor made for Blount, facing a team that has been struggling against the run and with a beat-up group of linebackers and secondary. Blount should have a big game this week which will open up the passing game for Brady & Co.

More importantly, it will slow down the Miami pass rush which dominated the game in the second half in Miami back in September. When Blount gets thru the line at the point of attack with a head of steam, he’s very hard to bring down. He’s the player to watch this week from a New England perspective. Since coming back to New England, he’s been a big part of the offense. He’ll be even a bigger part this week.


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Patriots 2014 Opponents, 5 Impressions of the Dolphins Pt.2

NFL: New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins

The New England Patriots return home to face the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro. Game time is slotted for 1 p.m. and will be televised locally on CBS. Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts will be on the call providing play-by-play and expert analysis.

The Patriots (10-3) beat the San Diego Chargers on the road Sunday night 24-13 as the defense rose to the occasion and allowed only seven points, the other seven being recorded on a fumble recovery.

The offense struggled for long periods but Tom Brady got them going in the fourth quarter and engineered two scoring drives to put them over the top. Brady passed for more than 300 yards and 2 touchdowns in the win.

The Dolphins (7-6) lost to Baltimore 28-13 at home, dealing their playoff hopes a huge blow as they dropped out of the top six teams in the AFC with the loss.

As part of our PatsFans.com lead-up to the game, Sunday, we’ll have a detailed breakdown of the matchups later in the week, but here is our Five First Impressions of the Dolphins Pt.2:

Last Week’s Loss Stings: Miami entered December much like last season, with the opportunity to be in control of its own playoff destiny. And so far like 2013, they dropped the ball in a big chance to distance themselves from the opposition, losing at home 28-13 to the Baltimore Ravens.

This one stung as the Fins were at home and facing an opponent who is also fighting for their playoff lives. Miami played well in the first half and led 10-7 at the break, but as happens to teams that are close to .500 they didn’t play a full sixty minutes and the Ravens dominated the second half, outscoring Miami 21-3 to leapfrog them in the conference.

Miami has had issues with playing a full sixty minutes and a troubling sign could be the sideline blowup between Jared Odrick and coach Joe Philbin during the fourth quarter of the Ravens loss. Some are already calling for Philbin’s head in South Beach and a loss to the Patriots on Sunday won’t bode well for his team that was thought to be ready to push New England in the division.

The Dolphins Rush Defense Has Been Getting Gashed: The past three weeks (2 losses and one close win) the Miami defense has given up a startling 661 yards on the ground. The Broncos ran the ball 35 times for 201 yards, the Jets then ran for 277 yards last week before Baltimore added another 183 on Sunday.

If opponents are consistently grinding up yards on the ground, it makes life difficult for the pass rushers that the Dolphins have. They have to respect the run and can’t pin their ears back. It also makes the linebackers susceptible to play action passing, something that Brady and the Patriots offense thrive in.

This will be a big area to monitor this week, if the Dolphins are able to slow down the running game, it will free up the likes of Odrick and Cameron Wake to tee off. We saw how effectively they can be in the second half of Week 1.

The Delmas Injury, Latest in Hits to the Dolphins: The Miami defense suffered a big blow on Sunday when Safety Louis Delmas suffered a torn ACL and was lost for the season. Delmas is the latest of a series of injuries for the Dolphins in 2014. He was an emotional fiery leader of the secondary and was always flying around the field making plays.

With CBs Courtland Finnegan and Jamar Taylor banged up as well as LBs Jonathan Freeny, Chris McCain, Jelani Jenkins and Koa Misi all hobbled to some extent the team signed former Eagle LBer Jake Knott to the active roster. He played the past two years in Philly.

With both starting tackles from Week 1 out due to injury, the Fins played Dallas Thomas at right tackle against Baltimore. Thomas had a rough go of it, allowing four of the Ravens six sacks on the day. Will they stick with him or make another move to veteran Jason Fox this week?

Tannehill Hearing the Boo Birds: We wrote here in the build-up to Week 1, that Tannehill will ultimately decide how far Miami goes. The team surrounded him with weapons, improved a ghastly offensive line and had the pieces in the running game to make them a well balanced attack. He then had a five week stretch where he was completing 70 percent of his passes…..oh how fickle the NFL fan bases are.

Now after dropping two of three and falling down to ninth in the AFC, much of Miami fans’ and media collective chagrin is being tossed in Tannehill’s direction. Despite on pace for career highs in completion percentage (66.5%), Quarterback rating (92.4) and touchdown passes (26) as well as rushing yardage (365), he’s being questioned as a legitimate leader for the offense.

Never mind that injuries have ravaged the roster and his protection in the pocket has not been up to par. Or that the work ethic for WR Mike Wallace has again been called into question. One has to wonder how this affects his psyche going forward.

We saw a similar situation unfold here early in the season and how Tom Brady and the team around him reacted to it. Not to say that Tannehill is on equal footing with Brady…he’s not. But with another December starting to slip away, as the leader it will be up to him to show the way. And on a cold December afternoon in Foxboro, it won’t be an easy challenge. Will the rest of the team follow or will this be another disappointing finish for Miami?

Playoff Hopes Hang On Running the Table: The Dolphins lost a prime opportunity to secure a playoff spot in their loss to the Ravens on Sunday. They’re not out, they are still mathematically very much alive but 9-7 undoubtedly won’t cut it. They will have to run the table and take their chances at 10-6.

The first step will be defeating the Patriots on the road and then they go back home for games against Minnesota and the Jets. But to do so, they’ll have to find that extra something that Coach Joe Philbin will have to install inside the team to win out. It is that extra gear that Bill Belichick has always put in the Patriots that make them a perennial 10+ win team.

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Browner Hit, Penalty Underscores Need For Coaches To Challenge

Browner hit

With all of the tools available to NFL officials and coaches in 2014, why is there no provision in the NFL rulebook for officials or coaches to challenge penalties? Since every scoring play or change in possession is now looked at, once a penalty is called on such a play, it is then a non-challenge situation. It is time for that to change.

In what was a pivotal play in the  Patriots –  Chargers game on Sunday night, New England cornerback Brandon Browner was penalized 15 yards for laying out a big hit on the Chargers Ladarius Green as he bobbled a pass near midfield.

The play happened midway thru the third quarter with the Bolts holding a narrow 14-13 lead, Green ran across the middle and bobbled the pass from quarterback Philip Rivers. Browner came flying up from his corner position and leveled Green with a thunderous but legal hit with his shoulder to Green’s shoulder. The ball popped straight up and safety Devin McCourty intercepted it and ran it back 56 yards for what would have been a go-ahead Patriots touchdown.

Instead, a flag was thrown on Browner for a helmet-to-helmet hit that wiped out the New England touchdown. The flag was thrown as much for the way Green hit the ground as for the hit itself, something Al Michaels on the play-by-play for NBC alluded to during the broadcast. Green hit the ground hard and suffered a concussion on the play. Just five plays later, the Patriots Akeem Ayers intercepted a Rivers pass that ended the drive and the Patriots scored 10 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to wrest the victory. But it was a play that could have had far reaching implications.

Had the Chargers gone on to score on that drive, the fourth quarter could have had a noticeable change in momentum in San Diego’s favor and they may have won the game. With playoff seedings on the line, the play could have affected not just New England and SD but others as well. Referee Bill Leavy and his crew should have had the benefit to take another look at the play and review it.

Browner said in interviews that he was just trying to dislodge the ball and lead with his shoulder. He added, “That’s just a part of the game nowadays,” he said. “I think if you make a big hit nowadays, they tend to call a penalty. I felt it was pretty clean, though. I hit him, my shoulder to his chest. That’s just the nature of the game nowadays.” He offered this on his Twitter account.

Browner hit tweet

 

Bill Belichick has long advocated to the league for coaches to be able to challenge penalties, but for now at least, they cannot. Belichick and the Patriots players on the bench were livid on the sideline during the game, stating that Browner made a shoulder-to-shoulder hit. But on Monday he added his thoughts on the play.

“We coach it exactly the way that’s written in the rule book,” Belichick said. “What we’re allowed to do and what we’re not allowed to do, and that’s exactly the way we coach it. It was a close play. You should probably talk to the crew that called it. We coach whatever the rules are; we coach within the rules. That’s how we coach it.

“You can’t lead with your head, can’t him them above the shoulders. We coach what you’re allowed to do, what you’re not allowed to do. I think that’s the way the players play it. Sometimes it doesn’t always turn out that way, but that’s what we try to do.”

The live feed from NBC (via NFL Game Rewind) shows how devastating the shot was on Green but that in itself is not an illegal act. Could Browner have been flagged for hitting a defenseless receiver? Possibly. But that wasn’t the call. It could also be that Browner’s reputation for big hits as a member of the “Legion of Boom” prior to coming to New England may have had some hand in it as well.

Browner hit on Green

 

With the far reaching implications of the game, the opportunities for either coach to challenge a penalty should be there for the taking. Imagine a playoff game or Super Bowl being turned on a controversial call such as this one. This is a subject that the NFL Rules Committee should look at fixing this off-season.

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Collins,Patriots Defense Rises To Shut Down Chargers in 23-14 Win

Bolts Collins

The New England Patriots used a dominant defensive effort to shut down the San Diego Chargers on the road, coming back in the 4th quarter to defeat the Bolts 23-14.

On a night where the Patriots offense sputtered, especially in the red zone, it was the defense and special teams led by Jamie Collins, Darrelle Revis and Brandon Bolden who kept the Patriots in range until Tom Brady and the offense were able to put together a comeback.

With the win, the Patriots improved to 10-3 and remain the top seed in the AFC. They also improved their divisional record as Miami lost and the Patriots now have a three-game lead over the Dolphins with three to play. Miami visits Foxboro next weekend.

Other observations from Sunday’s game include:

Collins Steps Up Huge: On a night where the Patriots defense was missing LB Dont’a Hightower due to injury, much of the onus was placed on 2nd year LB Jamie Collins. And he came thru the game with high marks.

Collins wore the green dot communication device as the quarterback of the defense in Hightower’s absence, never an easy transition. Collins was easily the best player on the field for the defense, notching nine tackles, two sacks and providing a physical, athletic spark for the defense that hounded QB Philip Rivers all night long.

As we pointed out in our pre-game write up, the opportunity for “A-Gap” pressure would be there and Collins and fellow LB Jonathan Casillas who filled in for Hightower were immense as they disrupted the Chargers passing game time and again. Collins was flying around the field making plays and had arguably his best game in a Patriots uniform.

Milestone Night For Gronkowski: During the second quarter, Rob Gronkowski made a bit of NFL history when he hauled in a 14 yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady that narrowed the score to 14-13. With the TD, Gronkowski became the first tight end in NFL history to record 10 or more touchdowns in a season four times.

Gronkowski and Chargers TE Antonio Gates entered the game with nine touchdowns and each with three seasons of double-digit touchdown seasons. But the Patriots kept Gates out of the end zone and the record, for now, remains strictly a Gronkowski one.

Gronkowski had another solid evening with 8 catches for 87 yards including the one touchdown and it was impressive considering the attention heaped on him by the Bolts defense.

New Players Play Key Roles: As noted above, the Patriots defense was the key factor in this win and two of the players who stood out weren’t even on the team six weeks ago. At the time of acquiring both Akeem Ayers and Jonathan Casillas much of the reaction to their arrival was greeted with a mixture of indifference and the old stand-by used by Bill Belichick denigrators, “Bargain Basement Shopping”.

As it turns out, it was the Patriots who got the bargain. Ayers continued his very solid play since coming over from Tennessee providing a good pass rush and last night dropping into coverage and picking off a Rivers pass.

Casillas pressed into starting duties in Hightower’s absence, was solid at linebacker. Coverage is his strong suit, but with the play of the front seven, held the Chargers to only 53 yards on 17 attempts on Sunday night.

Revis, Ninkovich Big Contributors: Among the many standouts on the Patriots defense Sunday night were Rob Ninkovich and Darrelle Revis who again provided outstanding play in the win over San Diego.

Revis’ name was scarcely mentioned all night and that is because Rivers and Chargers pretty much ignored his side of the field all night long. Revis provided blanket coverage on the Chargers Keenan Allen for the entire game and Allen became the latest victim of the “milk carton” blues of WRs going against Revis this season.

Allen came in on Sunday as SD’s leading receiver with 72 catches for 762 yards and 4 touchdowns. On Sunday Allen was a total non-factor catching two passes for three yards. Against Revis, he had one catch for three yards. Against Baltimore the week before, Allen caught 11 passes for 121 yards and 2 TDs. That is the kind of production Revis brings to the table every week.

Rob Ninkovich continues to play “Iron-Man” for the Patriots defense, playing in over 96 percent of the defensive snaps for the season, tops in the NFL. Ninkovich put together another solid outing with good QB pressure, (1 QB sack) as well as solid positioning setting the edge.

The Patriots defense after struggling on third down last week in GB responded. San Diego was only 4 of 13 on third down and registered only one third down conversion after scoring a touchdown early in the second quarter.

Philip Rivers was hounded by the pass rush and the coverage was excellent. Rivers was just 2-10 on passes going more than five yards downfield, in a telling stat from Mike Reiss from ESPN Boston.

Offensive Line Struggles Again: In a somewhat troubling development, the offensive line struggled for the second week in a row. The Patriots running game, after a nice start on the first drive, failed to provide much of the push needed to keep that balance the team is looking for each week.

Tom Brady’s pass protection wasn’t great either, San Diego while registering only one sack, pressured Brady numerous times and forced him into errant throws. The Patriots were only 1-4 in the red zone and failed to take advantage of favorable field position for much of the game.

In a somewhat misleading stat, Brady threw for over 300 yards and two touchdowns completing 27 of 44 passes but this game didn’t have the feeling as one where the offense was firing on all cylinders. He also threw an ugly interception at the end of the first half as Gronkowski was open in the end zone and Brady floated a pass that was well short and picked off by Manti Te’o at the three yard line.

The offensive line will have to get back to the level of play that it was enjoying prior to last week’s game if the team is going to enjoy success in January. Credit the San Diego defense for playing well, but the OL has failed in two straight games to control the line of scrimmage.

Bolden With Key Blocked Punt Sets Up Offense: Running back Brandon Bolden, a special teams stand-out, provided a key play to set the Patriots up with a short field that ultimately ended up as the Gronkowski touchdown.

With the Chargers punting from deep in their own zone, Bolden flew off the left edge and easily blocked Mike Scifries punt. The resulting collision spun Scifries around dumping him on his head and neck which forced him to leave the game with what was reported as a shoulder injury.

But more importantly for New England, it set them up at the SD 25 and was there that Brady found Gronkowski for the Patriots first touchdown.

Browner Victimized For Clean Hit: A pivotal play occurred in the second half that ultimately cost the Patriots a touchdown. Ladarius Green was hit by Rivers on a crossing route that he juggled as he tried to haul in.

The Patriots defense was playing thirds in the secondary and CB Brandon Browner flew across Green’s bow and leveled him with a clean hit with his shoulder to that of Green’s causing the ball to fly into the air where it was picked off by S Devin McCourty. (pic NFL Game Rewind)

Browner hit

McCourty returned the pass 56 yards for a touchdown but the score was wiped out when the officials ruled that Browner’s hit was a helmet-to-helmet blow and not only cost the Patriots seven points but gave the Chargers a first down.

Perhaps it is time to allow officials to review these calls after the fact as this may have cost New England the game had San Diego gone on to score. Patriots players talked about this play after the game, stating it galvanized them at a critical juncture. One thing that can’t be denied is that Browner has definitely brought an edge to this season’s defense.

Player of the Game – Offense: Julian Edelman
Nursing a sore thigh and not 100 percent, Edelman never missed a beat. Brady’s favorite target continues to go in dangerous places and do the dirty work to move the chains. Edelman is on pace for another 100 catch season in 2014.

Edelman caught eight passes for 141 yards and a big, big touchdown that put the game away in the fourth quarter. Taking over at their 31 yard line, the Patriots showed run with LaGarrette Blount and on the ensuing play-action, the Chargers linebackers bit leaving a big hole across the middle. Brady’s pass to Edelman was on the money and breaking a tackle, he was off to the races, going 69 yards to put the game away.

Player of the Game – Defense: Jamie Collins
Collins was the best player on the field for the Patriots defense Sunday Night. He made plays all over the field and provided veteran leadership in calling the signals for the defense that belies the fact that he’s only in his second season.

Is there still anyone out there that is down on the trade the Patriots made with Minnesota that netted the team, Collins, Logan Ryan and Josh Boyce for Corradelle Patterson in the 2013 draft?

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Patriots – Chargers, Who Has the Razor’s Edge? Key Matchups

Tom Brady fires a TD pass against the Chargers  from a game in 2011. The teams will meet on Sunday Night Football this week (SBalestrieri photo)

The New England Patriots take on the San Diego Chargers this week on Sunday Night Football. The game will be televised by NBC and their announcing crew of Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth will be on the call. Kickoff is scheduled for 8:30 p.m.

The Patriots (9-3) had their seven game winning streak snapped in Green Bay last week 26-21. The defense had troubles stopping QB Aaron Rodgers, especially on third down and the offense got off to a slow start in each half.

The Patriots flew directly to California after the game to work out in the San Diego area and cut down on the travel time this week which will cut down on jet lag and give extra time to prepare for the game.

The Chargers (8-4) used a late drive to defeat Baltimore 34-33 on Sunday. After dropping three in a row, the Chargers have rebounded and now won three straight.

QB Philip Rivers had a big game on Sunday in Baltimore passing for 376 yards and leading the team on a late touchdown drive to come from behind and beat the Ravens.

Series History:
The Patriots and Chargers have met a total of 39 times in their history with the Patriots holding a 22-15-2 edge overall in the series. New England also has a slim 10-7-1 lead in games played on the road. The Patriots have won the last two contests, the latest an early season 35-21 win in Foxboro back in 2011.

Here is a look at some of the PatsFans.com  key matchups and who holds the Razor’s Edge.

Patriots RBs vs Chargers Front Seven- Razor’s Edge Patriots
The Patriots have the pieces in place with LaGarrette Blount and Jonas Gray to utilize the power running game and control the tempo and open up play action passing. Last week they got away from the running game a little bit, some say too early against the Packers when they fell into an early hole.

The Chargers are 15th against the run this season, Eric Weddle has been very active in run support coming up to support the front seven. They need to stick with the running game more this week and use their two big backs to wear down the Bolts defense. Perhaps see more of Gray who has been amongst the missing since his big game in Indianapolis.

Patriots WRs vs Chargers Secondary-Razor’s Edge Patriots
The Patriots passing offense which has been on fire for the past two months had a bit of a hiccup against the Packers last week. This week with Julian Edelman banged up a bit, the onus will move to Rob Gronkowski and Brandon LaFell. LaFell will be matched up with Brandon Flowers. Many expect the Patriots to go away from the tough Flowers this week, but I think this is a matchup the big, physical LaFell can win. Look for more two TE looks this week as the team tries to limit Edelman’s snaps. Tim Wright should see more action and more passes thrown his way, other than just when the team gets in the red zone.

The Chargers have been good against the pass, allowing only 221.3 yards per game (6th in the NFL), they have a good secondary although they’re missing rookie Jason Verrett due to injury. They don’t have a lot of sacks (18) but former Colts DE Dwight Freeney, Corey Liuget and Jerry Attaochu can get after the passer.

The key here is running the ball successfully, getting Weddle to come up in support and freeze him with play action. The tight ends and LaFell will find some room to maneuver in the middle of the field if they can do that.

Chargers RBs vs NE Front Seven- Razor’s Edge Patriots
The Bolts had what they thought was a three-headed monster in the running game this summer with Ryan Matthews, Danny Woodhead and Donald Brown. But Matthews has been dinged up all year, and Woodhead was lost to IR with a broken leg.

Brandon Oliver had big games in back-to-back weeks but running the ball has been an issue for San Diego. They did have signs of life with two good games in a row before struggling a bit against the Ravens.

The Patriots have improved against the run recently, Vince Wilfork and Alan Branch have been solid and Dont’a Hightower as well as Pat Chung have been excellent in run support. Look for the Patriots to try to make the Chargers a one-dimensional team by trying to take away Matthews and the running game early in this one.

Chargers WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge Patriots
Philip Rivers is having an excellent season completing 69.1 percent of his passes for more than 3200 yards and 25 touchdown passes. He has a talented and deep receiving core led by 2nd year WR Keenan Allen, Malcolm Floyd, Eddie Royal and TE Antonio Gates. They like to spread the ball around and when hot, can light it up with anyone.

The Patriots counter with the tandem of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner who have been very solid this season. Jamie Collins has been somewhat under the radar at LB and pickup Akeem Ayers seems to make a big play every week.

The key here will be the pass rush, Rivers has been sacked 24 times this season and the Bolts are on their fifth center as injuries have ravaged the position. Look for some A-gap pressure by Hightower. The Patriots could really use a healthy Dominique Easley this week providing interior pressure as well. Easley has been hampered all year from his off-season knee surgery and hasn’t even scratched the surface on his potential yet.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge Chargers
San Diego has two excellent special teams’ pieces in kicker Nick Novak and punter Mike Scifries. Novak has missed only one field goal all season and Scifries is averaging 45.7 yards per punt.

The Patriots tandem of Ryan Allen and Stephen Gostkowski has been solid this season although the normally very reliable Gostkowski missed a 47 yarder in GB last week.  The Patriots return units have been hot lately but with Julian Edelman dinged up, may take a back seat in this one.

Last week the Chargers used the curious habit of squibbing their kicks in Baltimore rather than trust their coverage units and it really cost them in terms of field position. I wouldn’t expect a similar blunder this week.

Prediction:
As talented as the Chargers are on offense with Rivers and his supporting cast, one thing that sticks out is that their offense has scored 99 points less than New England’s. One reason for that is the lack of consistency in their running game.

The Chargers for the most part have been one-dimensional and it costs them once they hit the red-zone. That will be a point of emphasis again this week for the Patriots defense. Rivers and Co. will get their yards but the key will be stopping them on 3rd down and in the red zone.

Look for the Patriots to return to a balanced attack on Sunday night. They’re at their best when they run the ball effectively as it opens up play action. Josh McDaniels will have to mix things up and keep SD guessing. Patriots pull away with a late score, win a tough road game 28-17.

Patriots Player to Watch-  Brandon LaFell
LaFell has really come on since the summer and the first two games of the season when he had zero catches. He’s become a big part of the offense and being a bigger, more physical wide receiver, he allows Brady to throw the ball in places he couldn’t before. LaFell already has reached career highs in catches, yards and touchdowns after 12 games in 2014.

With Julian Edelman hurting, he’ll have to pick up more of the offense this week along with Rob Gronkowski and with his confidence soaring right now, look for him to be a big part of the game plan.


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