Patriots Week 8 Recap

Patriots destroy Bears
One look sums up Belichick’s opinion of da Bears

Last week, the Patriots barely survived the New York Jets, blocking a potential game-winning field goal in the closing seconds to sneak away with a win. This is the same Jets team that was blown away by Buffalo 43 – 23 and saw Geno Smith throw three picks in eight minutes. Smith was benched and back-up vet Mike Vick promptly turned over the ball another three times. How many turnovers did the Jets commit the previous week against the Patriots? Zero.

I called the Pats win over the Jets last week Pyrrhic. Perhaps I was wrong.

This week, New England feasted on Bear, tenderizing the tasty meat to the tune of 51 points. Jay Cutlet, er, Cutler only produced in garbage time, round about the time Brandon Marshall found it acceptable to show up, too. Only Matt Forte looked like he belonged on the field.

Tom Brady was terrific with five TD passes and no picks, giving him 14 passing TDs and 0 picks since the KC debacle. He hooked up with TEs Rob Gronkowski and Tim Wright for four scores and Brandon LaFell for another.

Speaking of Gronk, the big man had his best game in years. The Chicago D had to turn to an empty Gatorade bottle to stop him. Seriously. Gronk had to leave the game after suffering from dehydration.

And with all the fretting about Ridley going down, Jonas Gray filled in admirably, rushing for 86 yards on 17 carries. The NFL is littered with former Notre Dame backs these days and Gray may be the most surprising.

The New England D really stepped up its game, too. Despite losing Mayo and Chandler Jones, the rest of the guys pulled it together and played as a unit. Even newcomer Akeem Ayers registered a sack on his second snap. They’ll need a repeat performance next week as the Peyton Manning show comes to town.

It certainly was a great day for football in Foxborough, but the party’s over now. Denver is a real team, with a real quarterback and a stable of stable receivers. And the 2014 version of the Broncos can play some D, too.

For all the happiness and ensuing hype, Patriots fans should exhibit some very cautious optimism heading into week nine.

I know, I know. Peyton Manning is historically underwhelming at Gillette. But the old Manning is far better than the young Manning, and his Denver weapons are far superior to his Indy cache. Even if Browner and Revis shut down Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, what about Wes Welker? Can any of the Patriot linebackers cover Julius Thomas? Plus the Broncos running game actually improved when Montee Ball got hurt.

This could be Welker’s breakout game (like Sanders last week) and Ronnie Hillman could go for 120 and a TD.

The latest incarnation of the O line played amazing against the Bears, but can they hold up against DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller? I doubt Brady will be able to breeze through this game with the same efficiency as the past few weeks. Still, LaFell and Wright are improving by leaps and bounds each week and it’s really opening up the field for the receiving corps to finally get some separation and get open. The running game will have to play even better this week as time of possession is always a factor when playing against Manning. Look for Shane Vereen to be more involved in the screen game.

If the Patriots bring their A game, this could be an epic battle like so many Brady – Manning games of yesterday. But if they slip up at all, it could be curtains early.

With the Buffalo Bills nipping at their heels, the Patriots don’t have the luxury of writing this game off as a tough loss to a great team. They need the win, so let’s hope they play to the gravity of the situation.

On a side note, if anyone spots a mushroom cloud exploding just south of Cincinnati in the late afternoon this coming Sunday, it’s probably just this Pats fan going nuclear. Nothing to see here.

Carry on.

—Ryan Varney

Patriots Weeks Six & Seven Recap

Patriots get Pyrrhic victory over Jets
Smug Bill thinks a win is a win

Over the past two weeks, the Patriots have basted the Bills and shot down the Jets. Neither win was very convincing, though the Bills are a team on the rise. Add in season-ending injuries to Stevan Ridley and Jerod Mayo, and at least a month out for Chandler Jones, and the end of October and all of November just got a little bleaker.

What We Learned

The Patriots offense is improving and Tom Brady is playing back to normal. The loss of Ridley hurts, but the committee of Shane Vereen, Brandon Bolden and Jonas Gray should prove capable enough. Julian Edelman and Brandon LaFell are still the main go-to receivers, but Danny Amendola finally got in on the action and his stock is rising. Gronk is still the featured tight end and he’s playing better every week, but Tim Wright needs to remain involved in the passing game if this offense wants to stay clicking. The offensive line is also finding some stability, giving Brady enough time to go through all his reads while also creating room for him to either step up or roll right – something he didn’t do in September very well.

The Pats D is in some serious trouble, though. Revis Island has been solid, but not shutdown. The rest of the secondary continues to get burned by marginal receiving talent. The linebackers can’t cover a tight end and the D-line can barely stop the run. With the loss of Mayo and Chandler, the Patriots have brought in Akeem Ayers and Alan Branch. These additions should help, but will they have prep time to actually contribute?

Unless opponents are one-dimensional on offense, or refuse to adjust to what the Patriots are trying to stop, New England could end up having to put up no less than 30 points per game over the next several weeks.

What’s Ahead

Lions and horses and bears, oh my.

The Bears come to Foxborough this week and no one is quite sure what to make of Cutler’s Crew. Da Bears only seem to be able to win on the road, so this week bodes well for them. With offensive talent at every position, there’s virtually no way the Pats D will be able to prevent stops. Expect somewhere in the neighborhood of 425 total yards of offense. The only hope is that bad Jay Cutler shows and gets careless with the pigskin. Given that he has fewer turnovers on the road than at Soldier Field, this doesn’t seem likely. Fortunately the Bears D are no longer Monsters of the Midway. Brady should be able to find the end zone at least three times.

Back to back games with the Broncos and Colts follow and both of those are looking like guaranteed losses. Again, just too much offense for the Pats D to handle. With no pass rush, Peyton Manning will carve up the secondary (probably Revis Island, too), even if Ronnie Hillman isn’t DeMarco Murray. Andrew Luck is simply killing it and unless the injury bug strikes, I don’t see Indianapolis slowing down. With both the Broncos and Colts D playing beyond expectations, it’s likely the Patriots are outscored 80 – 40 combined.

Then it’s the Lions. Their D is tough (best in the league as of right now), but will that continue to hold by the time they come to town? Stafford isn’t having his best year, so the Patriots may be able to force a turnover in a key moment to win this game. I expect this game to be much lower scoring than the previous three weeks.

If the Patriots come out of this stretch 2 – 2, Pats fans should be happy. That would still keep them on pace to win the AFC East, but probably put a bye out of reach.

Honestly, this Pats fan would be fine if they went 1 – 3, as long as the W was over Denver.

—Ryan Varney

Patriots Week Five Recap

Bill Belichick is onto Buffalo
Smug Bill is already past Cincinnati

Six days.

Sunday night, America watched a football team transform itself in six days.

After being completely dominated and embarrassed on Monday Night Football, in every aspect of the game, the New England Patriots put on a clinic in how to win a football game against a 3-0 Cincinnati Bengals team coming off their bye week.

They also proved me wrong in the process. (See my sky-is-falling Week Four recap.)

But…

We still don’t know who the Patriots are at this point, but we’ve now seen the worst and the best they have to offer. Will they resemble this latest incarnation the rest of the season or was this just a blip of intensity that will fade as the season wears on?

The coaching staff finally came up with a game plan that made sense, exploiting opposition weakness and playing to their own strengths. The run game sizzled and opened up some opportunities for Brady to return to form. Revis Island was allowed to be Revis Island – but a hamstring injury will really cramp this still sketchy secondary, especially with Devin McCourty getting hurt, too. With those guys out of the lineup, Andy Dalton made the Patriots D look as inept as they did against the Chiefs.

We also saw the emergence of Tim Wright and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Wearing number 81, Wright looked a lot like Gronk’s former TE mate, explosive and athletic. Before the season, I made a prediction that fantasy owners should stash this guy away. I was getting a little concerned after the first four weeks came and went without a Wright sighting. But he looks like he knows the playbook now.

Belichick couldn’t say it enough, “We’re on to Cincinnati.” Looks like he wasn’t lying. Bengals fans have to wonder what Marvin Lewis & Co. were on to the past few weeks. You have two weeks to prepare for a team coming off a short week and that’s the best you can come up with? Yikes. It’s like getting a delay of game penalty coming out of a timeout.

For personal reasons, I’m extra happy the Pats cruised to a resounding win as it makes my work week much easier to bear. Living in Cincinnati with another Bengal win over the Pats might’ve been too much for me to stomach. For all my Bengal-fan friends, I’d be as worried about your team as I am about mine. The Patriots are a middling team right now and you just got whooped. But at least you have serious, serious talent all over that team. As long as the playoffs aren’t played in Prime Time, the Bengals should do fine.

With a visit to Ralph Wilson stadium on the horizon, let’s hope Belichick and the Patriots are on to Buffalo. The Bills, in spite of EJ Manuel’s failed development, have played well and are tied with the Patriots for first in the AFC East. Kyle Orton is serviceable and Fred Jackson routinely blitzes the Patriots. This game may come down to who keeps the momentum and intensity churning.

On final thought: Maybe Rex Ryan should spend less time jabbing Belichick and more time getting the Jets heads out of their collective sphincters. Actually, keep talking Rex. Karm-atically speaking, it only makes the road to AFC East title easier for the Pats (or Bills).

—Ryan Varney