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 Two Recap

Bill Belichick is no genius
Smug Bill – Guess he showed his critics this week

In week two, the Patriots punched Chicken Little square in the mouth, beating the Minnesota Vikings 30 – 7 on the Vike’s home turf.

Wild speculation about the demise of the New England Patriots ran amok last week after the team failed to show up for the last 30 minutes of football against the Dolphins. In week two the Patriots showed up for the last 50 minutes of football and regained most of their rightful respect as a top tier team in the AFC.

Still, one wonders where they were in the first ten minutes of the game. Things grew tense when Minnesota drew first blood. What made it worse is the manner in which they did so.

Every so often Bill Belichick likes to send Shane Vereen out of the backfield and up the sideline on a wheel route. I think the play has worked all of once for a .05% success rate. Then yesterday, the Vikings ran the same play with Matt Asiata. You’d think the defense would’ve recognized the play, but no, it went for a touchdown. Maybe the Patriots run that play so much because the D can’t stop it in practice, so they can only assume it’s the golden ticket to TD land. (Note to the coaching staff: it only works against the Patriot’s defense.)

The Patriots offense responded with a three and out.

Then the defense came to life with a pick (nearly six) by Devin McCourty. Stevan Ridley followed with a touchdown run from the one.

From that point forward, the Patriots controlled the game, forcing three more turnovers, as well as a FG blocked and returned for a touchdown, and the offense even managed a passing touchdown (Brady to Edelman). Gostkowski kicked three field goals, too. The Vikings never saw the end zone again.

Patriots Nation are now packing their bags for a trip to Arizona in February.

Not so fast, my friends. This is a Vikings team led by all world backup quarterback Matt Cassel. He showcased why he earned that label by providing four interceptions on some really poorly thrown balls. But he had to keep throwing because the Viking’s running game was completely destroyed when they decided to deactivate Adrian Peterson for the game. AP truly is all world and the Patriots were the beneficiaries of a real gift in his not playing. (I don’t take lightly the off-the-field situation surrounding Peterson, btw, but it’s a discussion for another time after all the facts – and videos – have been reviewed.)

If there’s anything to be learned from the week two performance, it’s that the defense isn’t dead in the water and they still have a knack for creating the turnover, especially with Chandler Jones on the edge and Revis Island covering a receiver older than he is. Special teams looked like they belonged as part of a professional organization. The offense is still very concerning, though.

Earlier this summer, Brady said he would quit playing when he started sucking. He’s walking a very fine line this year between being excused for having limited weapons and a bad O-line, and just plain not making the plays or throws that should be made…or put simply: sucking. However, it’s still too early to make any kind of judgment on his playing. Let’s revisit this after week five, when all the pieces have more time to gel and there’s a larger sample size.

Gronk is still clearly not close to being 100% and the receiving corps still look and play very small. Except you, Burger Tyme Edelman, you’re the man. But the passing attack can’t live on burgers alone.

Dobson, Amendola and LaFell need to pick up the level of play if the Patriots are going to sustain any drives and put the ball in the end zone.

Overall, I still see the Patriots as a .500 team at this point. They’ve shown they can let things go horribly wrong (Miami) and that they can put the screws to a team that is missing their MVP running back and has no quarterback so to speak (Minnesota). With Oakland coming to Gillette next weekend, there’s no real chance to show improvement. The Raiders are relying on a rookie QB who has even less weapons at his disposal than Brady.

But in regards to the Patriots keeping pace with the Red Sox in the cellar of the AFC East, the sky most certainly is not falling.

—Ryan Varney

New England Patriots 1st Quarter Review

The NFL season is officially 25% complete. New England has been 100% successful. With four wins and zero losses, this team has exceeded expectations – well, mine anyway. Games may have been ugly and low-scoring (by recent Patriots offensive standards), but a win is a win.

The team seems to be in a state of continuous transition on both sides of the ball. Players are being rotated in, out and around more than NASCAR tires in a pit stop.


2013 New England Patriots Offensive Carousel
Clockwise from top: Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman, Kenbrell Thompkins, Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce, Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, LeGarrette Blount, Brandon Bolden, Zach Sudfeld, Michael Hoomanawanui, Matthew Mulligan. Center: Tom Brady. Waiting to ride: Rob Gronkowski.

On the offensive side of the ball we’ve seen Welker out, Amendola in. Amendola out, Edelman in. Rookies Thompkins, Dobson and Boyce all in. The tight end position has featured Sudfeld, Hoomanawanui and Mulligan while waiting for the return of Gronk. And then there’s the running back carousel. Ridley, thought to be the feature back, has been supplanted by Vereen (now out for eight games), Blount and Bolden (returned after missing two games).

The defensive side of the ball has seen more consistency, but the Falcons game dealt the Pats a potentially huge blow with the loss of Vince Wilfork to an Achilles tear. Rookie Joe Vellano stepped up admirably, but it remains to be seen what level of play he can sustain.

I’ve been one of the few critical voices regarding Bill Belichick as a head coach due to the Pats lack of hardware, given all the talent he’s had over the past five seasons. Sure, they’ve been a great regular season team, but that has not translated in the big games. However, up to this point in the season, Bill Belichick should be in the running for coach of the year.

Getting back to a strong, consistent run game has given Brady more time to get his rookie receiving core up to speed and NFL standards, and Belichick’s finally found the right defensive personnel to execute pass coverage without having to loosen up on their tight run D. The linebackers have done an excellent job in pass coverage and the D line has been getting to the quarterback without resorting to all out blitzes. Cornerback play has stopped looking like it belongs in high school and safeties continue to play smart.

Perhaps the lack of superstar egos in the clubhouse has contributed to the team chemistry, but whatever’s going on in that locker room is clearly providing a true team atmosphere. Players are picking each other up and seem to be giving just a little more effort when the chips are down.
I’m starting to think Peter King’s Superbowl prediction may not be as ridiculous as I’ve deemed it. If the injury bug can be stilled for a few weeks, this roster has a real chance to gel into an exciting team on both sides of the ball. The receiving core has made vast improvements each week and the defense continues to make plays when they’re needed. Even the 23 points to Falcons wasn’t as bad as it looked. Twenty-three points to a team with a HOF tight end (still playing at an amazingly high level), two all-pro receivers, a sneaky-fast running back and a stud QB playing at their house is nothing to sneeze at. Especially considering the inability to recover a late onside kick and some truly exceptional catches by Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez – where the defense had the play covered perfectly. Plus they stopped the Falcons four consecutive downs twice, including the game-sealing series with a minute to go (something they haven’t been able to do against any team the last five years).

2nd Quarter Preview

The second quarter of the season has the Pats up against the Bengals in Cincinnati, the Saints at home, the Jets in New York and the Dolphins at home. With four wins already in the bag, the Patriots would do good to end the 2nd quarter with a 2 – 2 record. Ideally, the two wins would be against the division rivals, but I definitely see the Saints as being a little more than the Pats can handle at this point with their surprising defensive play so far.

The Bengals game poses a real problem. I will actually be in attendance at the game (strike one for NE), I’ll be wearing my jersey (strike two) and the Bengals are Jekyll and Hyde at the moment. If this game was in New England, I wouldn’t give the Bengals as much of a chance, but it’s in Cincinnati (strike three). My stupid superstitions aside (like I have any real effect on the game), the Patriots have a better than average shot at winning this game, which would go a long way toward easing the pressure of having to beat a surprisingly good Dolphins team.

If the Patriots stick to and execute their season gameplan on both sides of the ball, they could go into halftime with a 7 – 1 record (4 – 0 in the AFC East). This would be a remarkable feat. However, I suspect they’ll be 6 – 2 or even 5 – 3 at the break (3 – 1 in the division). Still, given the personnel carousel, this too would be pretty darn respectable and leaves them in a good position for making a playoff run.

One thing I’ll say for certain: this team is drilling away at my pessimistic foundation. Even I’m starting to believe in what this team can achieve.

—Ryan Varney