From the moment the failed hail mary hit the turf of the U.S. Bank Stadium, the controversy began. The airwaves of Boston were filled with premonitions of doom. Belichick was refusing to address the benching of his top cornerback in a Super Bowl loss that saw Nick Foles throw 373 yards and 3 TDs. Brady was apparently no longer speaking to Belichick over disagreements about TB12 trainer Alex Guerrero. Talk about a Super Bowl hangover.
Then there were the departures. Folk hero (and aforementioned benched Super Bowl CB) Malcolm Butler left for the Titans, bringing leading rusher Dion Lewis with him. Playoff hero Danny Amendola left for the Dolphins. Stalwart left tackle Nate Solder defected to the Giants. And Brandin Cooks was traded to the Rams.
As if that wasn't enough, Brady's security blanket Julian Edelman (who was due back from an ACL injury) was suspended for the first 4 games. Oh, and their first round Offensive Lineman (their first pick from the Cooks trade) ended up on IR before week one even started.
This was what the
Cliff Max Kellermans, Rob Parkers and Scott Kacsmars of the world had been waiting for -- the end of the Patriots dynasty. And after three weeks that cliff seemed to have come. New England stumbled out of the gates looking like they were still playing an extended preseason. They cycled through a buffet of wide receivers like Andy Reid at a Cracker Barrel. In a fit of desperation they...
Well, they fleeced the Browns. Gone was a fifth round draft pick. In return the Pats received a seventh rounder and one of the most talented (but troubled) WRs in recent memory. Would this be another Randy Moss situation? Or would it be more like the Chad Ochocinco experiment? In all honestly, it was probably somewhere in between.
But with the acquisition of Flash Gordon and the return of Minitron, the offense stabilized. The Patriots went on their patented mid-season winning streak, winning the next 6 games. Included in those wins were victories over three eventual playoff teams: the previously undefeated Chiefs, the Colts and the Bears. Closing out the streak was a victory over the Packers in the QB Bowl. Things were looking good.
And then Week 2 happened all over again. The Patriots were again exposed by a motivated team looking for retribution, and got their doors blown off by the Titans. It still seemed like nothing but a blip as the Pats won their next two against the Jets and Vikings. And then Week 2 happened... again.
Maybe it's the heat. Maybe it's the turf. But whatever it is, playing in Miami has always been less than pleasant. But the end of this game was a downright nightmare. Since this is my Patriots write up, I'm not gonna link the play -- you can find that in the Dolphins recap. It was bad. Even worse, it was un-Patriot-like. Boston sports radio was bordering on orgasm rehashing how Belichick had finally outsmarted himself. Losing to the Steelers the following week just made it worse. After these two games, the general consensus was that this Patriots team was not a Super Bowl caliber team. Especially once Josh Gordon got re-suspended.
With two divisional games left in the season, the team found themselves needing to win out to even have a chance at a first round bye. So they did, but with a different style than they had shown earlier in the season; now relying on a power running game and Brady's mastery of play action to move the ball. They beat the Bills behind a whopping 273 rushing yards and then finished off the uninterested Jets to round out the regular season.
With help from the Texans, the Patriots managed to snag the number 2 seed in the AFC, even though they finished the regular season with the most losses since they went 10-6 in 2009. This would be good enough for at least one home playoff game, but it would have to be against a strong
San DiegoLA Chargers team that some were calling the Team of Destiny.
Nothing seemed to bother the Chargers team, just like a Cover 3 zone doesn't bother Tom Brady. Which the Chargers found out the hard way as Brady carved them to pieces. On the other side of the ball, the Patriots defense gave a faithful recreation of the pressure-heavy Ravens defense that had stifled Philip Rivers the week before. The result? An easy 41-28 win that wasn't even as close as the score portrayed.
The divisional round win meant that the Patriots had the honor of playing in the
Tom Brady invitational AFC Conference Championship game for the 8th straight time. This one was different though, as the Patriots were road underdogs for the first time since facing the Manning-led Broncos at Mile High in 2013. Their foe was one that they had eked out a win earlier in the season in a barn burner. The Chiefs, led by league MVP Patrick Mahomes, were the third highest scoring offense in NFL history. Behind the 2007 Patriots... and the 2013 Broncos.
This time history failed to repeat itself -- for the Patriots. Their aggressive defensive game plan, coupled with their new look "ground and pound" offense kept the Chiefs to 0 points in the first half, and the Tom Brady who had underperformed for the season turned into Playoff Brady in overtime. Tom Terrific converted 3 straight 3rd and 10s on the opening drive of the extra period, and Rex Burkhead finished off the game. The Pats were headed back to the Super Bowl.
Which many people derided as a dud. A flop. A fitting end to another season where the Patriots were still atop the league built specifically to prevent these sorts of dynasties. For fans all over New England it couldn't have been more appropriate, either. This game, like many this season, was won on the backs of the defense. Unlike last year's track meet with the Eagles, the Patriots had answers to everything the Rams offense presented. And Tom Brady was Tom Brady when it mattered most, leading the team on the game's only touchdown drive late in the 4th quarter to seal it.
Non-Patriot fans (of whom there are surely vast numbers) won't want to hear it, but this was retribution. This was to silence the noise that followed the previous Super Bowl. This was to bookmark the second Patriots Dynasty; a task that would be remarkable for two teams, never mind being performed by one team over 18 years. Like all good things (for us fans of this, anyway) this will come to an end. But not today.
The fact that the offense performed as well as it did this year is a testament to both the coaching and the players. This year was an offense in flux, from the depleted receiving corps (Edelman suspended for the first 4 games, injured Gronk, the Josh Gordon experiment) to the rotation in the backfield (remember Jeremy Hill?). It's not that the offense was bad, it just seemed to underperform compared to the usual Brady-led offenses of recent years.
However, there was one spot where the offense improved: the run game. The team jumped from 20th in the league last year to 5th, thanks to the 2 (and eventually 3) headed monster that included first round pick Sony Michel as well as James White and Rex Burkhead.
|3rd Down Conversion %||40.8%||---||13|
|4th Down Conversion %||50.0%||---||20|
|Red Zone %||59.6%||---||15|
When you talk about the Patriots offense, you have to talk about Tom Brady. The offense runs through him, and how he goes the offense goes.
This was not Tom Brady's best year. That's not to say it was bad, but he didn't finish in the top 5 in any category. His 2.2 TD-to-INT ratio was his lowest since the 2013 season in which he dragged an offense that featured Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins and Austin Collie to the AFC Championship game. Much of this had to do with how "in flux" the roster was to start the season; the list of WRs that came and went included Eric Decker, Jordan Matthews, Kenny Britt, and Corey Coleman. Whew.
The defense, on the other hand, improved greatly. New defensive coordinator Brian Flores brought a more aggressive approach. This didn't necessarily show up on the stat sheet, but it made this defense tough for opposing QBs. The team brought back the "Amorphous" defense that featured zero down linemen which, when done correctly, made it extremely difficult for quarterbacks to determine pass rushers and coverages.
Other moments of brilliance included their morphing into the Baltimore defense when playing the Chargers in the playoffs (the same defense that had given Philip Rivers fits the week before), as well as having 2 separate play calls for every play of the Super Bowl (thus rendering the Rams' late playcalling moot).
Whether this was due to Brian Flores or Bill Belichick, it can be said that this defense has been one of the better ones in the recent Patriots era.
Special Teams Statistics
Bill Belichick has always stressed the importance of special teams, so it would be remiss to not include them here. From his own words:
"Being a special teams coach is the best training I ever had to being a head coach. Certainly, being a coordinator is a great experience. Being a special teams coach, you work with every player on the team, with the exception of the quarterbacks. Those relationships, and understanding how to deal with different positions, different types of players, all the players at different levels - young players, developmental players, core players, players whose primary role was the kicking game, players whose secondary role was the kicking game. You put all that together, that was a tremendous experience." Chicago Tribune 1/30/19
The addition of Cordarrelle Patterson was the biggest difference maker on special teams. His kick returns often gave the Patriots great starting position, and it shows in the statistics. The defensive special teams (the punt and kickoff units) performed below their usual average when it came to covering kicks, as their opposition often started drives around their own 30 yard line (compared to inside their own 25 last year).
|Punt Return Yards||7.7||18|
|Kick Return Yards||27.0||2|
|PR Yards Allowed||10.2||26|
|KR Yards Allowed||24.6||26|
|Field Goal %||84.4%||18|
|Average Starting Field Position||Own 29.9||8|
|Opp Average Starting Field Position||Own 29.1||28|
Reddit darling/memefodder Josh "Flash" Gordon finally made it back on the field after years of drug-related troubles in Cleveland, promptly to be traded to New England. The Pats gave up a 5th round pick, and got Gordon and a 7th in return. Fans all around New England were salivating at the thought of having an all star WR for Brady to throw to for the first time since the days of Randy Moss.
While Brady didn't throw for 50 TDs this season, the addition of Gordon helped the offense stabilize at just the right time. In the 11 games he played in, Flash had 40 catches for 720 yards and 3 TDs (including Brady's 500th). At times it felt like Brady was forcing the ball to Gordon to the detriment of the offense as a whole, especially since it seemed that Josh was still recovering from an injury he suffered before coming to New England.
But that still didn't take the edge off when news broke that Gordon would be "stepping away from the game" after the loss in Pittsburgh. Shortly after, he was suspended indefinitely by the league, and not much has been heard from him since. Gordon is a restricted free agent this year, but it depends on what the league decides to mete out as a punishment before any contract talks can start.
The Patriots traded for the gigantic offensive lineman Trent Brown on draft day; sending a 3rd round pick to San Fransisco (who had just drafted his replacement) for the man. Brown didn't play left tackle for the 49ers (and with the Patriots drafting a left tackle of their own in the first round) it didn't seem likely that it would be a landing spot for the behemoth. But when Isaiah Wynn went on IR after a preseason injury, TB77 stepped in and solidified the left side of the line.
Whether this was a product of OL whisperer Dante Scarnecchia, or if a change of scenery is all the big man needed is debatable. But down the stretch the Patriots were quite happy to run behind the duo of Brown (6' 8", 359 lbs) and Gronk (6' 6", 265 lbs) on the left hand side, which at times looked almost unfair.
With Wynn's injury still a question mark I think many in New England would like to see Brown return, but we all saw what happened to the Patriot's last LT in free agency.
The last time the Patriots traded for an underperforming Raiders WR, records were set. Patterson didn't have quite that impact, but he definitely made his presence known. At 6'2" 220 lbs CPatt still ran a 4.42 40 coming out of college. That combination of size and speed made him a first round pick back in 2013, but he's since struggled due to sub-par hands and route running.
Josh McDaniels don't give a damn bout that, though. The Pats offensive coordinator found plenty of ways to get the ball in the hands of his newest playmaker. Patterson returned kickoffs in addition to making an impact in the short (and occasionally long) passing game.
And that's not all! When rookie RB Sony Michel went down with an injury midway through the season, Patterson stepped into the backfield and ran it like a GROWN ASS MAN.
With this sort of versatility it allows the McOffense to be flexible with their schemes, which is valued highly (see Burkhead, Rex). I can see Patterson coming back for another year as a solid contributor.
The Patriots acquired Devin McCourty's twin brother Jason from the Cleveland Browns. Jason had spent most of his NFL career on non-playoff teams (Browns and Titans) before coming to New England. And it didn't look like he'd actually make the team heading into the beginning of the regular season; it was rumored that he was on the bubble.
Most Patriots fans will remember Clayborn as a member of the Falcons defense that Brady torched in Super Bowl LI. Which isn't truly fair to Clayborn, as he was on IR for the game.
His name wasn't mentioned much, finishing the season with 13 QB hits and 2.5 sacks. He provided some depth to the defensive line, and is still under contract for this coming year, but I wouldn't expect him to feature prominently.
Hill was added to what was once a crowded RB corps, but suffered a season-ending ACL injury early in the season opener. Which was a disappointment considering he looked good in preseason in the running game, passing game, and blocking game. Hopefully he can return to his pre-injury self, but with the emergence of rookie Sony Michel as the primary back it wouldn't surprise me to see the Patriots move on from Hill.
Shelton was acquired for draft picks in a trade with the Browns (yes, another trade with the Browns). My guess is that he was supposed to bolster the run defense, but he didn't see much time on the field. In fact, the only highlight I can find of his is this one.
Long term left tackle Nate Solder left for New York, signing a massive four-year contract worth $62 million with $34.9 million guaranteed -- $15.5 million per season with the Giants; much more than the Patriots were willing to offer. Replacing your starting last tackle for the last 7 years should have been a worry, but the acquisition of Trent Brown from the 49ers (combined with the genius of OL coach Dante Scarnecchia) the offensive line barely missed a beat.
In another case of players no longer willing to take the hometown discount to continue their career with the Patriots, playoff workhorse WR Danny Amendola took his talents to South Beach, signing with the Miami Dolphins on a two year contract worth $12 million with $8.25 million in guarantees. Amendola led the Dolphins in both catches (59) and yards (575) this past season, but there's already talk of the Dolphins parting ways with him.
Along with Amendola, Bolden also went to Miami when he signed a 1 year, $850,000 contract with the Dolphins. The longtime special teams player saved his best performance for his matchup against his old team where he ran for 60 yards and 2 TDs... on 2 carries.
New Titans head coach (and former Patriot LB/TE) Mike Vrabel, and immediately set to work signing Patriots skill players. Starting RB Dion Lewis signed with Tennessee in the offseason with a four-year, $23 million deal that includes $11.5 million guaranteed. While the Patriots had a stable of RBs going into the offseason it was relatively surprising to see their leading rusher leave in free agency, but the Patriots don't have a history of spending big money on this position.
On the same day as the Dion Lewis signing, Super Bowl XLIX star and starting CB Malcolm Butler also signed with the Titans on a five-year, $61 million deal that includes $30 million guaranteed. This was not a huge surprise, as the Patriots had signed Stephon Gilmore to a large contract the previous year. Also, there was that whole "benching in the Super Bowl" incident. Early in the season it looked like Belichick had made the right decision to move on from the young CB, but Butler rebounded in the second half of the season.
In what was a surprise to some, the Pats traded WR Brandin Cooks to the LA Rams in exchange for their first round (23rd overall) pick in the 2018 draft. This after trading for Cooks with a first round pick of their own only a year before. Funnily enough, both teams involved in this trade would meet later in the season... in the Super Bowl.
2018 Draft & UDFA
In the 2017 draft, the Patriots selected only four players, opting to trade most of their picks for proven veterans. The 2018 draft went in a complete different direction. The Pats made nine selections and eight draft trades. Here is a visual showing all of the trades.
Most notably, you will see the trade for Trent Brown here. Not to be overshadowed by the big man, three of these trades ended up with future picks. The Patriots accumulated a 2nd, 3rd, and 7th in the 2019 draft during their many trade downs. So while the team started the draft with five picks in the top 100 they ended up only making three selections in the first two days of the draft. Let's look at how those picks play out.
|6||178||Christian Sam||ILB||Arizona St|
|6||210||Braxton Berrios||WR||Miami (FL)|
|7||243||Keion Crossen||CB||Western Carolina|
|7||250||Ryan Izzo||TE||Florida St|
Rd. 1, No. 23: Isaiah Wynn, T - Wynn tore his Achilles in the second preseason game and was placed on injured reserve on September 1st. I consider him a big question mark right now. Achilles injuries are scary, especially so for linemen. Of course, his recovery is of great interest to all Patriots fans, as it seems likely that Trent Brown leaves in free agency.
Rd. 1, No. 31: Sony Michel, RB - Ah yes. I get to rant about Sony Michel now. I have to admit that I was in the camp that thought Sony was just a bit of a reach at 31. I thought a high 2nd would have been more appropriate for him. I was also looking at other positions like LB and CB as bigger needs and all the guys I liked that were still on the board when this pick was made. Once again, as the season progressed, I got to learn how wrong I was. You think I would know better by now but here we are.
Despite my misgivings on the value of the pick, I thought at the time that Michel was a good scheme fit. I still think that and believe he has already proven his worth. However, I also think he has a lot of room to grow and the opportunity to do more in the offense. Nevertheless, it is hard to get targets in the receiving game when you have the amazing James White ahead of you.
Over the course of 13 games in the regular season, Sony received the 2nd most snaps on the team at the running back position with 320. Below are his stats from those 13 games.
And in the three playoff games:
I would be remiss if I did not mention how well the offensive line played. Couple with that the fact that Gronk and Allen are amazing blockers as well. Oh, and James Develin is a boss.
Rd. 2, No. 56: Duke Dawson, CB - On September 6th Dawson was placed on injured reserve with a hamstring injury. On November 13th, the team activated him. However, Duke played 0 snaps throughout the season. Many fans and sports writers are hopeful for his future with the team. Right now I think the 2nd round DB curse that the Patriots seem to have going on is winning this battle.
Rd. 5, No. 143: Ja'Whaun Bentley, ILB - After trading back a ton the Patriots finally took a linebacker here at the top of the 5th round. At 6'2" 255~ Bentley is just the big bruising type of linebacker the Patriots love. During the preseason, he earned some green dot responsibilities while playing with the first-team defense. At this time he was getting a fair amount of praise in the media. In one article former Patriot Willie McGinest was quoted saying:
“You’re like, ‘He’s one of those guys.’ I think he’s going to be a playmaker. He’s explosive. He’s strong. He hustles his ass off.""
Bentley played in three games this season, starting in two and garnering significant snaps on defense and special teams. In week three, he had the 2nd most snaps of any Patriot with 73. Unfortunately, he tore his bicep late in that game. Three days later, on September 26th he was placed on injured reserve. It was a sad day for Pats nation as not only was Ja'Whaun playing a lot of snaps but he was also one of the few bright spots during a two game losing streak.
Despite only playing in three games, he was the sixth ranked LB by PFF through the first five weeks of the season. Below are his stats on the year.
I am all aboard the hype train here. Bentley had a great performance week 1 against the Texans. PFF had him as the top graded Patriot's defender that week. He didn't start week 2 against the Jags and only saw 42% of the snaps on defense. However, he did come back strong in the week 3 game against the Lions. He started and played in 78% of the defense snaps. His interception of Stafford was a thing of beauty. He has strength, size, speed, and football IQ. With his combination of that strength and size inside paired with his potential in coverage it really beckons to a bright future.
Rd. 6, No. 178: Christian Sam, ILB - Placed on injured reserve on September 1st with an undisclosed injury. He was on the outside looking in throughout the preseason. I would say his future is uncertain at this point.
Rd. 6, No. 210: Braxton Berrios, WR - Also placed on injured reserve on September 1st with an undisclosed injury. One article I saw said Julian Edelman nicknamed him "Honey Nut Berrios". That is about the highlight of his season though. He is a 5'9" white WR so the internet loves his chances with the Pats.
Rd. 7, No. 219: Danny Etling, QB - On September 1st Etling was waived and then signed to the practice squad the next day. He holds the record for the longest quarterback run in Patriots preseason history though. Which is nice.
Rd. 7, No. 243: Keion Crossen, CB - Crossen is a bit undersized at 5'9" 175~ but he is also one of those small school prospects who posted insane numbers at his pro day. He played in 11 games this year starting zero. He had 39 snaps on defense and 113 on special teams. Those numbers do not include playoffs but he was used similarly in all three playoff games. That is to say, he saw most of his snaps throughout the year as a gunner. Here he is right behind 5-time All-Pro Matthew Slater making a play in the Super Bowl.
Rd. 7, No. 250: Ryan Izzo, TE - Yet another player on the roster bubble come September that was placed on injured reserve. He played a bunch snaps in the preseason though. I guess we will see if he sticks around next year.
- JC Jackson, CB, Maryland:
Choo Choo! All Aboard!
There were 10 undrafted free agents signed by the New England Patriots in 2018. Only one of them made the 53-man roster and saw any playtime. And JC Jackson did more than just make the team. He played in 13 games, starting 5 of them in the regular season. During the playoffs, Jackson played in all but four defensive snaps against the Charges for a 94% rate. Then against the Chiefs he missed just one defensive snap. He played a more limited role in the Super Bowl though with just 45% of the defensive snaps.
Below are Jackson's stats from the 16 games he played in this year, including playoffs.
PFF ranked him at number 46 for CBs in the regular season. They also had him with a 42 passer rating allowed which is the 2nd lowest passer rating allowed by a rookie corner since PFF starting recording it in 2006.
This hype train has left the station. Not to worry, there will be plenty of chances to get on board between now and September.
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single team in possession of good fortunes, must be in want of their starters sit out most of the preseason and instead use the games to determine who will fill out the back end of the 53-man roster.
In contrast, struggling teams often use preseason games as a starter competition. This tends to result in a peculiar reversal; good teams lose in the preseason and bad teams win. I suspect, however, that Belichick does not accept that. He expects everyone to do their jobs and do them correctly, regardless as to whether you're TB12 or the first roster cut. The Patriots went 3-1 in the preseason and scored more than 44 points.
There were two points of interest this preseason. First was a seemingly large number of injuries to potential starters. Leaving the game for Washington were 2nd-round pick Derrius Guice and two others, Nick Foles and six others for Philly, and almost Cam Newton (he was okay) but also their fourth injured O-lineman Jeremiah Serles from Carolina.
The second point of interest was that SUPER BOWL MVP BIG DICK NICK finally got his well-deserved handshake from Tom Brady.
Those are the relevant parts of the preseason.
Weekly Game Recaps
2018 Week 1 | Houston Texans at New England Patriots
New England Patriots
This season couldn’t start quickly enough for Patriots fans. After an entire off-season of Real Housewives of Foxboro-esque drama (“Does Bill not like Brady!?” “Is Gronk going to retire/get traded/party himself to death!?” “DID THE PATRIOTS REALLY DRAFT A RUNNINGBACK IN THE FIRST ROUND!?!?!”) it was finally time for some football.
The season also started with question marks at WR. Gone was playoff hero Danny Amendola, off to Miami. Gone was deep threat Brandin Cooks to the LA Rams. Julian Edelman had been recently suspended for the first 4 games. How would Brady and the Patriots manage without their top 3 receiving threats from the year before?
Just fine, apparently. Brady threw for 277 yards and 3 TDs to the likes of Phillip Dorsett (his first Brady TD) and James White. Rob Gronkowski looked like his old self, pulling down 7 catches for 123 yards and a TD of his own. But in true Patriots fashion, there were some early-season yips.
Brady was intercepted once, and Gronk lost a fumble that kept the game closer than it should have been. But the defense held strong against a potent Texans offense, keeping them out of the endzone for most of the first 3 quarters.
Deshaun Watson, the Texans electric young QB, looked a little rusty in his first game back from last year’s season ending injury and the Patriots defense capitalized, recovering a fumble on the first play of the game and then intercepting a deep throw late in the second quarter. The Texans offense started to get into a groove late in the game to keep it close, but by that time it was too late. The Pats moved to 1-0 on the season after a tumultuous off-season.
2018 Week 2 | New England Patriots at Jacksonville Jaguars
New England Patriots
There’s something about playing in the Florida heat that doesn’t mesh well with the Patriots. They’ve lost 5 of their last 7 games in the Retirement State when the temperature is above 80 degrees. The Jaguars had also been thinking about this game ever since losing the AFC Championship game the season before. It seemed the Patriots had not.
New England looked like a team full of strangers who were playing their first game together. Brady was constantly under pressure and the defense looked like it had all last season: making mediocre QBs (sorry Blake Bortles) look like Vintage Peyton Manning. The offensive game plan felt more conservative than an Alabama election, and the defensive game plan was no better.
But there were still flashes. First round pick Sony Michel showed nice burst and toughness running between the tackles against a formidable Jaguars defense. Super Bowl LI hero James White looked like his elusive self. And the defense created turnovers in the second half to keep the Patriots within striking distance.
Unfortunately, the offense couldn’t finish enough drives on the turnovers, and the defense kept giving up big plays to the BOAT. The Patriots were lucky to only lose by 11, but with a game against the Lions next week it wasn’t yet time to hit the panic button. The Pats fall to 1-1.
2018 Week 3 | New England Patriots at Detroit Lions
New England Patriots
On paper this game had all the right ingredients for a Patriots bounce-back game. The Lions were led by former Pats defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, whose last appearance for the Pats resulted in giving up 500+ yards to a backup QB in a Super Bowl loss. The Lions had also been blown out by the Jets on opening weekend and couldn’t stop a stiff breeze. The Patriots had shored up their beleaguered receiving corps by fleecing the Browns for troubled superstar WR Josh Gordon. And yet…
The Patriots gave one of their worst performances in the Brady/Belichick era. The offense started with three consecutive 3 & outs, something they had never done under Belichick. The defensive line was pushed around by an offense that hadn’t had a 100-yard rusher in SEVENTY games to the tune of 159 yards. Including 101 to rookie RB Kerryon Johnson. Defensive leader Dont’a Hightower (and the rest of the defense) looked slow; almost as if the speed of the new spread offense NFL had passed them by.
But even with all of this, the Patriots only found themselves down 10-13 with 10 minutes left in the 3rd quarter. Rookie LB Ja’Whaun Bentley intercepted Matt Stafford, and Brady found James White for the only Patriots TD of the game.
Unfortunately, that was all that New England could muster, and the Lions finished the game with 13 unanswered points. The Patriots drop to 1-2 for the first time since 2012, and all of New England could only hope that this was their Kansas City blowout (“We’re on to Cincinnati”) that led to another Super Bowl victory. But with the 3-0 Dolphins coming to town, things needed to change. And quickly.
2018 Week 4 | Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots
New England Patriots
This was it. The moment the NFL had been waiting for since the early 2000s. There would be a new team to take the crown of the AFC East off of the hated Patriots.
The Dolphins came to town with an undefeated record and one of the top defenses of the young season. The Patriots were limping into the matchup having lost 2 in a row and looking as bad as their 1-2 record portrayed. A new dawn was upon us. Until it wasn't.
Early in the second quarter Brady hooked up with CPatt on a 55 yard TD pass to give the Patriots a 10-0 lead. Two drives later, the Patriots recovered a botched snap and turned that into 7 points on the ensuing play. The rout was on. New England added another TD just before halftime thanks to some acrobatics by Philip Dorsett.
Coming out of the locker rooms leading by 24 meant the second half was a formality. The defense kept the Dolphins shut down, and the offense scored two more TDs: one on a dirty lob from Brady to James White, and the last one on rookie RB Sony Michel's first NFL TD.
Miami scored a garbage time TD to prevent the shutout, but the Patriots were back baby.
2018 Week 5 | Indianapolis Colts at New England Patriots
New England Patriots
The Patriots had beaten the Dolphins in Foxboro, and all was right in the world. The 2-2 New England Patriots sat atop the East, ahead of the 3-1 Dolphins and 1-3 Jets/Bills. Edelman would return from suspension this week. New England could move on to Indy, and Miami could move back to Stockholm. The Colts, meanwhile, were still reeling from a poor 4th-down decision against the Texans in OT; a game they lost. In addition, the Colts had roughly 90% of their roster out with an injury and a short week to prepare before this Thursday game.
In spite of this, or more accurately because this, a small number of folks were worried about this being a ‘trap game’. It wasn’t. The Patriots went up 24-3 at halftime.
In the second half, the game got interesting. The Colts got great field position and Luck threw a sweet touchdown pass to Ebron. Next was some sloppy football. BB and Tom wanted to ice the game, and ice (metaphorically, mind you. It was mid-60s at game time) is what they got. In the midst of a drive down to the Colts 30-yard line, Hogan’s hands turned to ice and the ball slipped right through into the arms of a Colts defender. Not to be outdone, Colts RB Jordan Wilkins’ hands also turned to ice and allowed Devin McCourty to slide the ball out for a fumble.
The Patriots had the ball back, but there’s no party that Gronk is willing to miss. This ice-hands party was no exception. Halting another near-certain Patriots score, the ball went flying out of Gronk’s hands for another interception. The Colts got their shit together and drove 80 yards making it a one score game. Fortunately, this was the end of the craziness as the Pats started playing well again and secured the game, but for a moment it seemed like Belichick might have a heart attack.
Oh, some 6th-round pick called Tom Brady threw his 500th career TD pass in the regular season. That’s pretty good, right? On the play, he had approximately 30 years of time in the pocket and 2 Colts defenders not turning around to find the ball while Josh Gordon, the 71st person Brady has thrown a TD pass to, was right between them.
It’s hard to make a clear takeaway from this game. Ultimately, this game was messy. Both teams made plenty of mistakes, but stop me if you’ve heard this one: the Patriots walk away with the win. The Colts continue to slide and lose the next week to the Jets, falling to 1-5. Hopefully, an extra long week of practice would get the Patriots in top form for the AFC-leading Chiefs coming into town.
2018 Week 6 | Kansas City Chiefs at New England Patriots
New England Patriots
Kansas City Chiefs
Holy shit this game was exciting.
Kansas City made some serious waves during the offseason when they traded QB Alex Smith away, publicly declaring their commitment to the Frog. Many Chiefs fans hoped that Patrick Mahomes would be “at least as good as Smith, and improve over the year”. Unfortunately, he didn’t improve over the year. Did I say unfortunately? Unfortunate for everyone else, because Mahomes started the year at an MVP level and sustained it through the entire year. Coming into this game, KC was 5-0 and had beaten some pretty good teams; Chargers, Steelers (before their collapse), and Jaguars (before their collapse). Here was Week 6 against New England, Pat against the Pats in Foxboro.
At the beginning of the game, the Chiefs fell victim to “Oh shit, we’re against the Patriots and we’ve forgotten how to play football” syndrome. Not their defense, mind you, they performed no better or worse than the rest of the year. But Mahomes and the KC offense struggled in the first half. He missed several open receivers and got picked off twice.
For the second half, the team supported by the NFL’s best tailgate decided losing wasn’t for them and popped off for 5 TDs and a FG. Hill, Hunt, and Tremon Smith all had massive plays and frequently left Patriots players in the dust (Maybe a metaphor? you could kick up those ground tire bits). KC roared back from a 15-point halftime defecit and tied the game at 40 with another bonkers big play by Hunt.
Alas, this was accidentally another mistake of the Andy Reid clock management. With the exception of one strip-sack surrendered by NE, the KC defense was as bad as the KC offense was good. Tom Brady, the clutchest QB in the NFL, was going to add yet another 4th-quarter game-winning drive to his resume. He had 3 minutes to do so, and everyone knew it was going to happen. And he did. Gostkowski secured the game as time expired. The Pats defeated Pat. Brady isn’t willingly passing the torch to anyone. Get wrekt old age.
This game was one of the most hyped matchups during the season and it sure as death and taxes delivered. We’re not on to Cincinnati! YOU’RE on to Cincinnati! Literally. The Chiefs played Cincy the next week. It’s worth reiterating that this was a home game for the Patriots, had an extra 3 days rest, and only barely beat KC. They were now 4-0 at home, and 0-2 on the road. Some folks declared it to be the AFCC preview. If the potential AFCC were at Arrowhead (which it was), this game could easily flip the other way. Up next though was a road test against the resurgent Chicago Bears.
2018 Week 7 | New England Patriots at Chicago Bears
New England Patriots
The world was optimistic about, but not yet convinced by this Chicago Bears team. Khalil Mack is an absolute monster and probably worth the 2 first-round picks, first-year coach Matt Nagy looked good, and Titties Trubisky seemed to be improving each year. However, their game record was mixed. They had lost a heartbreaker to Green Bay, won against Seattle, barely beat the woeful Cardinals, beat Fitztragic, and lost to a Brock Lobster sunburn in Miami. That last one is forgivable; there is no shame in losing to a meme quarterback, nor is there shame in losing in Miami. Please agree with me, I beg you. The Chicago Bears were returning home to meet the Patriots.
For much of the first half, the Bears soundly outplayed the Patriots. Chicago forced a pair of fumbles on consecutive New England possessions and scored a touchdown off both of them. But Chicaboat sprung a leak (Pretty sure this isn’t a metaphor), letting Cordarrelle Patterson take the kickoff to the house and redeeming his earlier fumble. This sudden shift in momentum continued through the third quarter when the Patriots put together another special teams touchdown, this time returning a blocked punt. Despite their quality play, the Bears were down 14. They brought it back to 7 points and had enough timeouts to get the ball back with just enough time for a hail mary.
The Bears had 24 seconds and no timeouts to go 80 yards and they made it 79. Patriots legend Kyle “yet another player the Patriots spent peanuts to acquire and plays incredibly well” Van Noy got in Trubisky’s face and forced a marginally underthrown ball which, while caught by the Bears, was stopped at the 1-yard line. A ridiculous ending to a ridiculous game.
This is absolutely a game that Chicago fans want back. Two special teams touchdowns for New England and two interceptions by Trubisky sunk what was otherwise a game-winning effort. The Patriots, especially on the road, continued to look beatable. But stop me if you’ve heard this one: Th-oh, you have heard it? Two games ago? Okay, my bad. On to Buffalo.
2018 Week 8 | New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills
New England Patriots
The Bills were a trendy pick to be the worst team in the NFL. They followed up a flukey 9-7 playoff berth (Thanks Cincy!) with an offense that looked good in shorts, and kept a pretty similar and actually pretty good defense, but that’s about it. They were rebuilding. They did overperform expectations, but that’s not really saying much. Instead of top tier play, the Bills blessed us with one of the better Twitter burns I’ve seen. Even though the Bills beat the Fargo Vikings, nobody really expected the Bills to compete with Belichick and the Patriots. Two McCourtys are better than one, but one Bill is better than 53.
I did say that the Bills looked good in shorts, but that wasn’t quite true this game. Josh Allen was injured and Buffalo finally recognized that maybe Peterman wasn’t an NFL-caliber quarterback. They started Derek Anderson instead, who was okay. There’s really not much to say about this game. Both Patriots and Bills defenses looked pretty good, but the Bills managed to have worse WR options than the Patriots who had around 30 signed free-agent receivers retire during training camp; the Bills had a worse O-line, and definitely worse QB play. Nobody expected Buffalo to win this game, and their defeat was met with a big ‘meh’ by fans.
The Pats improved to 2-2 on the road, but one win was the Bills, and the other easily could have been a loss to Chicago. The real takeaway from this week was how overly excited everyone was for next week’s game against Green Bay.
2018 Week 9 | Green Bay Packers at New England Patriots
New England Patriots
Green Bay Packers
Billed as the battle of the GOATs, Brady (the actual GOAT) struck first with a 10-play lightning-quick no-huddle drive that left Collinsworth fawning. The Packers answered with a 14 play, 57-yard drive of their, only to stall out and settle for a field goal, as the Patriots defense tightened in the redzone. Following a Patriots punt, the Packers made into the NE 44, before again stalling out and punting. New England then drove 73 yards to the Green Bay 10 aided by a 29 yard pass to Josh Gordon and a 33 yard pass to Edelman. The Patriots redzone offense sputtered, however, and after 3 plays failed to gain any yards, the Patriots settled for a FG and a 10-3 lead.
Following a pair of three-and-outs, the Packers strung-together a 13 play 74-yard drive capped with a Rodgers to Adams TD pass on 3rd and goal to net the game at 10. The Patriots immediately answered with a smash-mouth drive of their own, going 69 yards in 7 plays to retake the lead 17-10. The drive notably featured a heavy dose of Cordarrelle Patterson who carried the ball 4 times for 55 yards, including the 5-yard TD plunge – suffice to say he was AMPED-UP after. Leading 17-10 with under 2 minutes to go in the half, I fully expected Rodgers to strike back; however, in a sign of things to come, the Patriots defense stifled the Packers and preserved the lead going into half time.
The Packers received the 2nd half kickoff and immediately drove 86 yards in 7 plays, aided by a 51-yard bomb from Rodgers to Marquez Valdes-Scantling. Rodgers capped off the drive with a 15-yard TD pass to Jimmy Graham, and the game was knotted at 17. The seemed headed for a close finish. The Patriots answered with a 12 play, 66-yard drive of their own, making it all the way the GB 1. On 2nd and goal, Patterson seemingly scored his second TD of the game, only to be reversed on replay. The Patriots then failed to score on 3rd or 4th down, and suddenly the Packers had the ball and the momentum. Following a pair of 3-and-outs, Rodgers took over on his own 7 and drove 64-yards in 5 plays, highlighted by a pair of passes to Valdes-Scantling for 50 yard.
Just when the Packers looked poised to seize the lead, however, Lawrence Guy forced an Aaron Jones fumble at the NE 29, and Stephon Gilmore recovered. Patriots ball! Seizing the momentum, the Patriots marched 76-yards in 10 plays to again reach the GB 1. Unlike their earlier failed drive, however, James White hammered the ball in this time to retake the lead 24-17. Rodgers and the Packers were stifled thereafter, losing 6 yards in a 3-and-out and punting the ball back to the Patriots, who took over on their own 28. Two plays later, Brady found Josh Gordon open 20 yards downfield, who broke a tackle and raced the remaining distance for a 55-yard TD score. 31-17 Patriots.
Rodgers would get one more drive, but turned the ball over on downs after gaining only 22 yards. The Patriots never gave the ball back, reaching the GB 21 before kneeling the game away. The Patriots improved to 7-2, while the Packers fell to 3-4-1 and continued their downward spiral.
2018 Week 10 | New England Patriots at Tennessee Titans
New England Patriots
Mike Vrabel, Logan Ryan, Malcolm Butler, and Dion Lewis showed up their old boss Billy B In one of the more baffling regular season losses I’ve ever seen (up there with the loss to the Browns in 2010). The Patriots were simply manhandled on the road by a more physical, hungrier team The Titans set the tone from the opening kick-off, which was returned by Darius Jennings 58 yards to the Patriots 40. A 24 yard pass to Corey Davis got the Titans into the redzone and six plays later Marcus Mariota hit Jonnu Smith for a 4-yard TD and the lead.
On the ensuing drive, Brady threw a 44-yard dime to Josh Gordon on 3rd and 13, but the Patriots would gain only two more yards and settled for a 52-yard FG. The Titans then marched 77-yards in 9 plays, powered by strong running from Dion Lewis and Derrick Henry. The Titans never faced a 3rd down, and Corey Davis capped the drive off by beating Stephon Gilmore for a 23-yard touchdown (despite DPI on the play). 14-3 Titans, only midway through the first quarter…what on earth was going on?!?!
On the next drive, the Patriots lost 9 yards on 3 plays and immediately punted the ball back, and Adoree’ returned the ball to the NE49. Mariota threw a 29-yard pass on the next play, and while Gilmore forced a fumble, the ball harmlessly went out of bounds at the NE15. The Patriots defense finally stiffened, however, and the Titans gained only 5 more yards before they settled for a chip shot FG, and a 17-3 lead. Brady finally got into a rhythm on the next drive, hitting Edelman for 29 yards and Josh Gordon for 14 to get the Patriots into the redzone. 3 plays later, and facing a 4th and 2 from the 12, Brady converted with an 11-yard pass to James White. James Develin capped-off the 10 play, 75-yard drive with a one yard touchdown, and the Patriots cut the deficit to 17-10.
Sensing shifting momentum the Patriots defense stepped-up and forced a 3-and-out. Then on the first play of the next drive, Brady hit Edelman for 30 yards to get the Patriots to the TEN40. But this was not the Patriots day – the drive stalled after 3 plays netted 6 yards, and Gostkowski missed the 52-yard FG. The Titans gained only 13 yards and were forced to punt, but they pinned the Patriots on the NE9. Following a quick 3-and-out, good punt return, and tacked-on penalty, the Titans were setup at the NE37. Despite an Elandon Roberts sack on 1st down, Mariota found Davis for 20 yards on 3rd and 14. After Mariota converted again on 3rd down, with an 11-yard pass to Anthony Firkser, Henry capped off the 8 play 37-yard drive with a 1-yard TD run. The Patriots got the ball back with 1:09 in the half, but only reached the TEN43 before running out of time in the half. 24-10 Titans at the break.
The Patriots received the second half kick-off, but immediately went 3-and-out after losing 4 yards. The Titans fared no better, punting the ball right back. The Patriots then began driving, aided by a 23-yard strike from Brady to Gordon, but stalled after reaching the TEN41 and were forced to punt. Despite pinning the Titans at their own 9, the Titans answered with a 10 play, 88-yard drive featuring the best of Mariota’s throwing and scrambling. The Titans eventually stalled at the NE13, but the ensuing field goal gave them a 27-10 second half lead. The Patriots continued to sputter and punted after only gaining one first down, although their defense managed to get them the ball back after Gilmore sacked Mariota on 3rd down. Trailing by 17 in the 4th quarter on the road, the Patriots dug into their bag of tricks.
After reaching the TEN43, and facing 3rd and 7, the Patriots tried a redux of the unsuccessful WR-to-Brady pass from SB52. Brady managed to catch the pass (from Edelman) this time around, but tripped over his laces and fell down one-yard short of the first down. Making matters even worse, Brady (reportedly) sprained his MCL on the play, which would noticeably affect his play in the following few weeks. In a microcosm of the day, Marcus Cannon subsequently false-started, turning the 4th and 1 into a 4th and 6, and Brady’s pass to Edelman fells incomplete. Titans ball. Vrabel, seeing a chance to stick-it to his old coach, ran a WR-to-Mariota pass (thrown by Jennings). The Titans version worked better – Mariota gained 21 yards on the catch-and-run. Henry took it the rest of the way, gaining the final 37-yards on 5 rushes, the last of which was a 10-yard direct, snap touchdown. 34-10 Titans and the rout was on.
The Patriots, acknowledging defeat, pulled Brady with the teams alternating punts and runs until the clock read 0:00. The shellacking abruptly ended the Patriots 6-game winning streak, and left a sour-taste heading into the bye week. The Titans ex-Pats, and particularly Dion Lewis, took pride in roughing up their old team with some outspoken / jubilatory quotes post-game. The Patriots road-woes also continued, as they fell to 2-3 away from Gillette.
2018 Week 12 | New England Patriots at New York Jets
New York Jets
New England Patriots
Following a much needed bye, the Patriots journeyed to the Meadowlands for our annual matchup with the hated Jets. Played on a lovely fall day, with yours truly in attendance, the Jets fans had subdued expectations from the start, as veteran journeyman Josh McCown filled in for the injured Sam Darnold. Of course, the Patriots have been known to struggle with backup QBs (see: super Bowl 52) and the Jets always play us feisty at home, so nothing was assured….
The Jets received the opening kick-off and immediately started driving, as McCown found a wide open Jermaine Kearse who made an impressive grab for 17 yards on 3rd and 7. The Jets would make it just shy of midfield before an untimely holding penalty disrupted their drive. The Patriots opening drive showed promise, with Brady finding Edelman for 36-yards to the NYJ40, before failing to gain another yard and stalling out.
Starting on their own 20, the Jets drove the length of the field in 9 plays, with McCown completing 3 passes for 18+ yards and getting a further boost from a roughing-the-passer penalty on Deatrich Wise. Elijah McGuire capped the drive with an 8 yard touchdown run, and the hometown fans were feeling obviously boisterous. Mercifully, Brady would soon shut them up.
The Patriots marched 85-yards in 5 plays, with Brady finding Josh Gordon and Chris Hogan for gains of 23 and 20 yards, respectively. After the Patriots reached the NYJ24, the Jets managed to force an incompletion on 3rd and 2, but Julian Edelman was flagged for OPI. The Jets, sensing an imminent 4th down attempt, elected to accept the penalty, which backfired spectacularly. Brady lobbed a beautiful pass down the middle to Gronk, who went up in double coverage to grab the 34-yard touchdown and knot the game at 7-7.
The Jets would continue to move the ball well on their next drive, as McCown was zipping the ball with abandon early, but the Patriots defense eventually stiffened across midfield, and the Jets were forced to punt from the NE42. Taking over, the Patriots continued to move the ball well gaining 47-yards on their drive featuring a well-balanced run/pass attack. Unfortunately, the Patriots waylaid themselves with a series of offensive penalties, the crux of which was a 15-yard chop block on David Andrews that proved too much to overcome.
The defense stepped up, however, and forced the Jets into a quick 3-and-out. The Patriots finally managed some more points on the board on their next drive, using their balanced attach to reach the NYJ16 before settling for 3. Following the Patriots’ score, McCown’s first pass to Quincy Enunwa went for 41 yards to the NE41, but Stephon Gilmore ended the scoring threat when he intercepted McCown’s next pass at the NE2. Pinned deep with under 2 minutes to go in the half, the Patriots only gained 8-yards and were forced to give the ball back with 51 seconds in the half. McCown capitalized finding Kearse for 16-yards to the NE37, and Jason Myers hit a 55-yard field to tie the game at 10 going in to the half. Backup QB or not, the Jets were proving feisty as ever.
The Patriots received the second-half kick-off and marched 76-yards in 15 plays, even as the offense continued to shoot itself in the foot with penalties. Sony Michel featured on the drive, busting a 31-yard run on the first play, and even hauling in a rare 8 yard reception. The Patriots continued to miss opportunities, however, with the drive stalling at the NYJ9 leading to a Gostkowski field goal and a 13-10 lead.
The Jets countered with a 12 play, 50-yard drive of their own, twice converting on 3rd down including a 10 yard McCown scramble on 3rd and 10. The Jets were unable to get any closer than the NE20, however, and Myers’ field goal re-evened the game at 13, with just over 4 minutes remaining in the 3rd.
Brady and the Patriots were done playing, and finally hit stride on the next drive. First Brady hit Hogan for 27 yards deep over the middle. Then James White scampered off right tackle for 27 more yards. Finally Brady hit Edelman wide open in the flat, who spun around, made a cut, and dove for the 21-yard touchdown. 4 plays, 75-yards, and just like that, the Patriots led 20-13. The Jets fans sighed, sensing the inevitable defeat.
Not content to go quietly, McCown immediately go the Jets back into Patriots territory with a 21-yard strike to Chris Herndon bringing the ball to the NE42. An untimely holding penalty sent the Jets back to their side of the field, and Wise ended the Jets drive when he further pummeledMcCown for a sack on 3rd and long.
Following a touchback on the punt, the Patriots iced the game with a drive going the length of the field. Sony Michel had been running hard all day, and the dam finally burst. He gained 33 yards on the drive’s first play to get the Patriots into Jets territory. Following a pair of Brady passes to Gordon and Edelman for 17 and 18 yards, respectively Michel capped the 9-play drive off with a 1-yard touchdown run. Psych! After review, Sony Michel’s touchdown was narrowly overturned. On 3rd and goal from the 1, Sony Michel capped the 10-play drive off with a 1-yard touchdown run. Double Pysch!?!? Not quite – after another extensive review this touchdown stood, and the Patriots led 27-13. The Jets fans immediately headed for the exits, having lost all hope. A glorious sight indeed!
Well about half the fourth quarter still remained, so the resigned fans were definitely bailing early, but can you really blame them? McCown and the offense went 3-and-out, and the Jets were forced to punt. Belichick called off the dogs thereafter, with the Patriots conservatively went 3-and-out, but the game was already over, The Jets would string together one final hurrah, going 57-yards in 12 plays and reaching the NE4. But with less than 2 minutes remaining, McCown’s 4th down pass to Kearse fell hopelessly incomplete. One 24-yard James White run later and the Patriots were in victory formation and improved to 8-3.
Sony Michel’s return from injury powered the Patriots run game, in a sign of things to come, while Brady, Gordon, Gronk, and Edelman all had solid days in the air. Brady (79,280) passed Manning (79,279) for the most passing yards all time. The best part of the day was taking the train back to Manhattan afterwards, with all the salty Jets fans forced to languish in defeat.
2018 Week 13 | Minnesota Vikings at New England Patriots
New England Patriots
Coming off a road win against the Jets, the Patriots found themselves facing a desperate Vikings team fighting for playoff survival.
The Patriots got off to an ideal start forcing a quick 3-and-out after the Vikings received the opening kickoff. Then, Brady came out of the gates slinging it, completing passes of 13, 18, 24, and 15 yards to move the Patriots into the redzone. After an Edelman end-around got the ball to the MIN1, James Devlin capped the 8 play 86-yard drive with a one-yard touchdown run.
The Vikings found a groove on their next possession, moving the ball to the NE23 after Dalvin Cook busted a 32 yard run off right guard. Adam Butler subsequently sacked Kirk Cousins, however, and Dan Bailey ended up shanking the ensuing 48-yard field goal. The Patriots took over in prime field position and wasted no time in achieving their goals.
No, not – scoring, the drive ended in a punt after gaining only 16 yards – I’m talking about TB12 hitting 1K rushing yards on his career!! Thanks to a 5 yard scamper on 3rd and 3, Brady at long last achieved this historic threshold and proved all his combine doubters wrong. Or something like that. Anyhow, the Vikings next drive didn’t fare much better gaining 18 yards before punting right back.
Moving into the second quarter, New England marched on a 15 play drive starring Rex Burkhead and James White. Unfortunately once inside the 10, Edelman could only get down to the MIN1, Brady’s next pass was incomplete, and the Patriots frustratingly settled for 3 points and a 10-0 lead.
The Vikings offense continued to sputter, gaining one first down on a Cook run before being forced to punt. The Patriots were unable to capitalize, however, going 3-and-out after a Gronk first reception was overturned and ruled one yard short. With the first half winding down, the Vikings finally put it all together as they went into a no-huddle attack. A pair of 24 and 23 yard passes from Cousins moved the ball from the MIN26 to the NE27. Four plays later the Vikings had 1st and goal on the NE5, when Cousins find Adam Thielen, who had an otherwise quiet game, for the touchdown with only 19 seconds remaining in the half.
The Patriots used a nifty lateral on the squib kick to get to the NE40, and one play brought the ball to the NE47 with one second left in the half. Rather than attempt a Hail Mary, Brady threw a check down to James White who raced 42 yards to the MIN11 before getting tackled. Cheeky little boost for fantasy stats, but the end result was still a 10-7 ballgame at the half.
The Patriots would receive the ball after the break, but went 3-and-out. In a day largely dominated by the defenses, however, the Vikings did the exact same thing and were forced to kick the ball right back after a 3 play drive.
The Patriots then began marching on a 12 play, 71-yard drive. Bolstered by a 29 yard pass to Cordarrelle Patterson, strong running/receiving from James White, and a 4th down conversion to Chris Hogan, the Patriots drove to the MIN25. An untimely holding penalty pushed the Patriots back, however, and Gostkowski’s resulting 48 yard field goal ended up sailing wide right. The Vikings still trailed only 10-7 in a game that didn’t feel nearly as close.
Taking advantage of the good field position, the Vikings drove 51-yards in 12 plays, as Aldrick Robinson and Dalvin Cook continued to feature. In classic bend-don’t-break fashion, however, the Patriots defense stiffened around the redzone, and the Vikings were forced to settle for a field goal and a 10-10 tie.
The Patriots quickly reasserted themselves. Brady needed only 4 plays to go 75 yards, finding Josh Gordon twice for 24 yards, the second of which went for a touchdown and a 17-10 lead. Notably, this was Brady’s 508th regular season touchdown pass, tying him with Brett Favre for 3rd all time, and his 579th touchdown pass including the postseason, tying him with Peyton Manning for most all time. GOAT train full-steam ahead!
The Vikings responded by going 3-and-out after Trey Flowers sacked Cousins on 3rd down, and Edelman hustled for a 23-yard punt return setting up the Patriots at midfield. A 20-yard DPI penalty on a pass intended for Gordon moved the ball to the MIN30. From there the Patriots methodically moved the remaining distance, and when Josh Gordon came up 2 yard short of the endzone on a slant, Develin happily punched the ball in for his second TD of the game, and a 24-10 lead.
Most of the 4th quarter remained, so the game was far from over, but the Patriots defense had no intentions of letting the Vikings back into the game. After 3 plays, Minnesota faced a 4th-and-1 on their own 38. Murray ran up the middle and was just barely given the yard, which the Patriots unsuccessfully challenged. After gaining another first down and reaching Patriots territory, however, the Vikings again stalled, and soon faced 4th-and-11 from the NE48. The Vikings would not convert this time; Cousins pass to Laquon Treadwell gained only 4 yards before Stephon Gilmore tackled him well short of the first down.
Looking for a drive to seal the game, Brady was instead uncharacteristically intercepted by Eric Kendricks on a short pass intended for Edelman. Cousins, sensing momentum for a comeback, moved the Vikings to the NE42 with two passes, and then took his shot deep… which turned out to be a big mistake. JC Jackson and Duron Harmon were all over Robinson and Harmon came up with the ball after briefly juggling it.
In a preview of the Super bowl, the Patriots then iced the game with an 11-play, 60 yard drive featuring nothing but runs. The Patriots eventually punted the ball back to the Vikings after stalling at the MIN35, but only 48 seconds remained. Cousins’ final drive last two plays before his desperation heave for Thielen was picked off by Jonathan Jones. Humorously, Brady made sure he didn’t lose a yard on the final kneel-down, to ensure TB1K stayed that way. The Patriots kept pace in the AFC improving to 9-3 with the win, while the Vikings season continued to come off the rails as they dropped to 6-5-1.
2018 Week 14 | New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins
New England Patriots
Oh brother. This game was just nail-biting for fans of both teams.
Everything was moving relatively smoothly compared to previous @ Miami games. Pats weren’t trailing by much nor for too long while they did trail. It was a back and forth affair, each team answering scores in a timely fashion.
One play that likely screwed the Patriots was a DPI call on Minkah Fitzpatrick that set the Patriots up at the Miami 7 yard line with 1:56 remaining in the 4th. At that point the Pats were up 30-28. Had they declined the penalty, it would’ve been 3rd and 10 at the Miami 48.
Now hindsight is 20/20, the Patriots probably should have declined just to give them enough room to run the clock but Belichick went for it all and accepted, with the hopes they could score a TD and go up 37-28 and thus clinching the win but instead had to settle for a FG and going up 33-28. Ultimately, that’s what I believe screwed the Pats in the end, was accepting that penalty.
Dolphins get the ball at their own 31 yard line. Chances of a lateral play are HIGHLY unlikely, but desperation plays always have that SMALL chance of working, and it worked.
2018 Week 15 | New England Patriots at Pittsburgh Steelers
New England Patriots
Coming off that heartbreaking last-second loss to the Dolphins, the Patriots traveled to Pittsburgh. They previously faced the Steelers in Pittsburgh last year which was one of the best regular season games in recent memory in most football fans opinion.
However, that was not the case then year. Brady went 25-36 for 279 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT. Michel was held to just 59 yards. Certainly not a good game offensively.
The Pats were 1-5 on 3rd down in the 1st half. The Steelers win the 1st half 14-7 by playing keep-away but they still gave the Pats chances to go down and score with a Boswell missed kick, and 2 Roethlisberger interceptions.
Even though Big Ben threw 2 picks, neither of them amount to the level of “ARE YOU KIDDING ME?” that Brady’s lone INT of the night had.
Pats had a chance to tie the game with 2:10 remaining and 75 yards to go. Brady hits Edelman for 31 yards, then dinks-and-dunks their way to the 11 yard line with 37 seconds to go. Then on 4th & 15 with 20 seconds left, Brady’s pass comes up incomplete and the Patriots fall to the Steelers 10-17.
Overall, a very bad game offensively for the Pats and that’s ultimately what led to their 5th and final loss of the season. This game was the SECOND time this season alone the Pats lost back to back games.
2018 Week 16 | Buffalo Bills at New England Patriots
New England Patriots
The Patriots clinch their record-setting 10th AFC East crown in a row on the back of 273 team rushing yards.
And back in Gillette for the final two games of the season, the Pats coming off a miserable loss to the Steelers face the 5-10 Buffalo Bills.
Gillette, 1pm game, against a sub 500 team, already faced them once this season in a thorough game both offensively and defensively.
However, that was Week 8 and we are in Week 16 so a couple of things have changed but the most important part is they aren’t on the road so they have a very very good chance of winning this game.
The Pats stalled on their first drive after 3 straight incompletions so they started running the ball on their second and that seemed to do it, the Bills couldn’t stop the backfield of Michel, Patterson, White and Burkhead.
Defensively, the Pats stopped Josh Allen, who is a mobile QB and the Pats have a problem against those. Allen went 20-41 for 217 yards, 1 TD and 2 INTs and 30 yards rushing. Keith Ford was held to just 33 rushing yards and LeSean McCoy was held to a resounding 9 yards on 5 attempts.
Overall a good game by both sides. Brady not having his best game but doing just enough not to lose them the game. Run game looked solid, and the defense stepped up.
2018 Week 17 | New York Jets at New England Patriots
New England Patriots
New York Jets
The final game of the season, and it’s against the J-E-T-S at Gillette.
The Pats previously made quick work of the Jets at their Week 12 matchup in East Rutherford. It’s the New England Patriots and the New York Jets so a beatdown was expected again this time around with the Pats being 14.5 point favorites.
Brady was back to his usual form, going 24-33 for 250 yards and 4 TDs. The Jets front 7 held Michel to just 50 yards on 14 attempts. White, Edelman, Dorsett and Burkhead all got TDs this game, good job spreading the ball out.
Defense ate this game. 3 fumble recoveries and a scoop and score by Kyle Van Noy. A standout star the season on both special teams and defense that showed up this game was Albert McClellan, the in-season signing coming over from the Ravens. Someone to keep an eye on in the playoffs.
2018 Division | Los Angeles Chargers at New England Patriots
New England Patriots
Los Angeles Chargers
This was the finally the year for the SanLos AngelesDiego Chargers. Philip Rivers and company rolled into Foxboro fresh off a convincing 23-17 win over Baltimore in front of 30,000 Ravens fans in LA’s famed Dignity Health Sports Park (formerly the StubHub Center). Despite being a Wild Card team, the Chargers had finished the regular season with more wins (12) than the Patriots (11) and boasted an NFL high seven pro bowlers. Rivers was a legitimate MVP candidate. Melvin Gordon was a threat on the ground and in the air. The rookie, Derwin James, was a difference maker at safety. Top 10 offense. Top 10 defense. Undefeated outside of LA county. And to top it all off, the Chargers were catching the Patriots who had uncharacteristically stumbled down the stretch….and had looked old doing it. This was finally the Charger’s year.
Then the game kicked off. The Patriots won the toss, elected to received, saddled up the beefcakes and rolled the opening drive to the tune of 83 yards on 14 plays in 7+ mins, capped by a Sony Michel 1 yard TD run. A Rivers to Keenan Allen TD briefly gave LA hope, but the remainder of the half was a complete dismantling by the Patriots players and coaching staff. The Patriots scored touchdowns on 5 of their 7 first-half drives and dominated every conceivable statistic to lead 35-7 halftime.
Brady and the offense finished the FIRST HALF with 347 yards (LA: 128), 24 first downs (LA: 6), and 20:11 time of possession (LA: 9:49). Sony Michel finished the FIRST HALF with 105 rushing yards and 3 TDs. Brady was 23/29 for 233. Edelman had 7 for 107. The Patriots had accumulated a game’s worth of stats before Tony Romo even had a chance to get his football erection to half-mast.
As it turns out this was not the Chargers year. 21 second half points from LA made the final score slightly more respectable but a lack of running game (Melvin Gordon: 9 carries for 15 yards) and a complete absence of defensive scheme spelled the end of the season for the Chargers. Philip Rivers handled the frustrating loss with his trademark composure and aplomb, while verbally harassing any teammate/referee/coach/cheerleader within whining distance. Fortunately for LA, all seven of their pro bowl selections would have the opportunity to play in this year’s exhibition game.
Belichick, Brady and the Patriots, on the other hand, were heading to their 13th conference championship game of the Brady-Belichick era. This would be their 8th consecutive AFCCG breaking the previous record of 7, held by the Patriots.
2018 Conference | New England Patriots at Kansas City Chiefs
Kansas City Chiefs
New England Patriots
The question going into the AFC Championship Game was how would this game live up to the standard set by the 43-40 classic in Week 6 between these two teams. Amazingly, the rematch might have surpassed the original as the 2018 Patriots game of the year.
Both teams came into Arrowhead with a jock strap full of confidence. League MVP and wunderkind Patrick Mahomes was at the helm of the NFL’s top scoring offense with veteran coach Andy Reid calling the shots. Brady and Belichick returned to the AFCCG with Deflate-Gate firmly in their rear view mirror, although owner Robert Kraft arrived in KC with a set of freshly drained balls (allegedly).
The Patriots game plan to slow down the high-powered KC offense became abundantly clear in the first quarter. Run the ball, control the clock and keep Mahomes off the field. Similar to the divisional round the Patriots opened the game with a run-heavy, 15 play, 80 yard, 8+min drive ending in a Sony Michel 1 yard TD plunge. If not for a Brady interception on the KC goal line the score could have quickly become lopsided, but the Chiefs hung around despite being soundly outplayed in the first half. A 30 yard TD pass from Brady to Philip Dorsett with 30 seconds left in the half put the Patriots up 14-0 going into the break. The Patriots’ game plan had worked to perfection with the Chiefs only running 16 offensive plays for a total of 37 yards in the entire first half.
The third quarter remained a somewhat cagey affair with KC trading a 12 TD pass from Mahomes to Kelce for a Stephen Gostowski 47 yard field goal; however, the tide appeared to be turning as the Patriots offense was stalling and the Chiefs offense was finding a rhythm. The fourth quarter began with the Patriots leading 17-7 but the last 15 min session was quite possibly the most entertaining quarter of football of the 2018 NFL season.
- 14:51: The Chiefs offense caps off a 75 yard drive with a Damien Williams 1 yard TD rush to make it a one score game (17-14).
- 9:38: After driving to the KC 25 yard line, the Patriots go for it on 4th and 1 and Rex Burkhead is STONED by noted white LB Daniel Sorensen.
- 8:47: Chiefs are forced to punt after a 3-and-out but Julian Edelman appears to muff the kick leading to a KC recovery. Video replay seemingly exonerates Edelman as the ball scoots past his arm by the width of your sister’s pubic hair. NFL Twitter loses its collective mind.
- 8:06: Ball don’t lie? Brady is intercepted by noted white LB Daniel Sorensen and Edelman is decapitated for good measure. Chiefs ball at the NE 30 yard line.
- 7:52: Andy Reid baits the aggressive Patriots defense and Damien Williams takes a misdirection screen pass 23 yards for a TD (17-21). Chiefs have their first lead of the game.
- 3:35: Jesus in Cleats (Tom Brady) responds as he always does, helped by a phantom roughing the passer call and a failed KC challenge on a Chris Hogan 3rd down SNAG. Patriots again risk it on 4th and 1 and Michel walks in from the ten. (24-21). Pats back in front.
- 2:06: A Sammy Watkins reception sets up the Chiefs up at the Patriots 2 and Damien Williams hammers it home for his third TD of the quarter (24-28). Somewhere, Kareem Hunt hangs his head in shame. Chiefs back in front.
- 1:01: With the Patriots driving into KC territory, Brady’s pass deflects off Gronkowski’s hands and is intercepted by Charvarius Ward. Game over…..flag…..Dee Ford offsides….fresh set of downs.
- 0:49: Two plays later (including a retro Gronk back-shoulder catch) and Burkhead has flipped the score yet again (31-38). Pats back in front.
- 0:11: Welcome to the NFL in 2018 where 49 seconds is “leaving too much time” for the opposing QB. Mahomes documents his scrotum size and sets up Harrison Butker for a 39 game-tying field goal (31-31).
Before we get to the OT, take a moment and appreciate that 4th quarter. I don’t care if you are a Patriots fan, a Chiefs fan, an NFL fan or an AAF fan; that is why you watch football. Fifteen minutes of pure butthole-clenching drama with the highest of stakes. Tony Romo was officially at full mast and there was still more football to play.
The overtime period played out like a movie we have all seen before (my favorite movie). It had a feeling of inevitability. It was so familiar that Romo was calling out the plays before they even happened. Patriots win the coin toss. Brady third-and-10 to Edelman. Brady third-and-10 to Edelman. Brady third-and-ten to Gronkowski. Rex Burkhead power run. Game winning touchdown. In the words of NE legend Scott Zolak “We’re going back, baby! And there ain’t nothing you can do about it! America’s worst nightmare is BACK!"
2018 Week Superbowl | New England Patriots at Los Angeles Rams
Los Angeles Rams
New England Patriots
Just when you thought your Patriots spank-bank couldn’t get any fuller, they go and do something like this. Patriots fans have already had their share of football pornography in the last two decades; the 14 point upset (SB36), the last second game winners (SB38, SB49) and the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history (SB51). But, to be fair, the championship drought in Boston had lasted an entire three months and even the casual sports fan would admit that the people of Boston deserved to celebrate for once.
The chatter of media day in Atlanta circled not around the Patriots, but rather around the controversy surrounding the NFC Championship Game between the New Orleans Saints and LA Rams. A blatant pass interference penalty on Rams CB Nickell Roby-Coleman went inexplicably uncalled, and for all intents and purposes, won the game the Rams. Sports media had a meltdown of hot takes, the Saints were sent packing and the Los Angeles Rams, in only their 3rd season in LA, were heading to the Super Bowl. And to think, they were only two years removed from the Jeff Fisher era.
The matchup storyline between the Patriots and Rams focused around youth versus experience. The young gun-slinger Jared Goff versus the wily veteran Tom Brady. The hottest young coach in the game Sean McVay versus the old hand Bill Belichick. Would America be witnessing the passing of the torch or another chapter in the NFL’s greatest dynasty?
No matter what you predicted, you didn’t predict the first half unfolding the way it did. The game kicked off with the Vegas over/under line listed at 56.5. A grand total of 3 points were scored in the first 30 mins of the football game. The 3rd and 4th ranked scoring offenses from the regular season could only manage a field goal between them. The Rams offense was notably inept, accumulating a total of only 57 yards and 2 first downs in the entire first half. Kyle Van Noy and Dont’a Hightower did the bulk of the heavy lifting for the Patriots defense while forcing Jared Goff into confused looks that can only be described as Manning-esque. The Patriots offense didn’t fare much better though, book-ending the half with a Brady INT and a failed 4th down conversion attempt. Julian Edelman was the only consistent offensive player on the field accounting for 7 catches and 75 yards at the half. A Stephen Gostowski FG was the difference at half, putting the Patriots ahead 3-0 heading into the locker room. Only 54 points from hitting the over.
The start to the second half trended much in the same way the first half had with both defenses remaining staunch. The most memorable defensive play came from
Devin Jason McCourty as he tracked Brandin Cooks from off-the-entire-TV-screen to break up a sure touchdown in the end zone. The vaunted Rams special teams shined in the 3rd quarter accounting for the Super Bowl’s longest punt (Hekker – 65 yards) and the second longest FG (Greg the Leg – 53 yards) to tie the game 3-3 at the end of 3 quarters. Only 51 points from hitting the over.
It was half way through the 4th quarter until we got what we all came to see. Tom Brady with the ball with less than 10 minutes left in a tied Super Bowl. Anyone that had watched the AFCCG or any Patriots game in the last two decades knew exactly what was coming. The Patriots finally found the look they wanted and ran the same exact formation four plays straight, culminating in a 29 yard, Brady-to-Gronk reception to the Rams 1 yard line. Sony Michel hammered it home on the next play and the game’s first TD came with only 7:03 left on the clock.
The Rams responded by driving to the edge of the Patriots red zone until Brian Flores dialed up the zero blitz and Jared Goff floated one up into the awaiting arms of Stephon Gilmore. The Patriots proceeded to kill 3 minutes of clock time with good old fashioned power football, riding the backs of Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead and the hogs up front. Stephen Gostowski ripped a 41 yard field goal to essentially put the nail in the coffin, making it a two score game (13-3) with a minute left. A desperation Rams drive followed by a missed FG and that was all she wrote.
Edelman with his typical big-game performance (10 for 141) brought home the MVP. Belichick and Flores had crafted a gem of a game plan. Gilmore, Hightower and Van Noy had dominated. Thuney, Brown, Mason, Cannon and Andrews with 100% offensive snaps. Vintage Gronk. Classic 4th quarter Brady. Championship number SIX. Ring number SIX. Parade number SIX. A defensive masterpiece to add to your Patriots spank-bank.
Coaching Staff Review
Skywal Rivers. I have been expecting you. Your friends are entering a trap. Now witness the firepower of this fully armed and operational battle station!
Like Lebron James not winning the Most Valuable Player for Basketball or Patrice Bergeron not winning the Patrice Bergeron Trophy for hockey, Bill Belichick is continuously the best coach in the NFL but regularly gets passed over for COTY. Not that he cares. He'll always pass the praise on to the players for executing on the game plan. The only football trophy Belichick really wants to hold is called Lombardi.
You know who Bill Belichick is. You know what he's accomplished.
We're on to Indianapolis.
McDaniels was the hot young offensive genius (i.e. Sean McVay) coaching hire before Sean McVay. They even share that Mc. Unlike McVay, McDaniels screwed it up in Denver. Returning to New England as OC, McDaniels spent another half-decade gaining experience and maturity. This resulted in teams like Indianapolis willing to give him another shot; they wanted their own Sean McVay type to help develop Andrew Luck and move on from Pagano.
McDaniels gave a verbal agreement to be head coach for the Colts but after the Super Bowl against Philly, he reneged. It is believed that Robert Kraft convinced him to stay, and speculated that Kraft promised he would be the Patriots coach after BB retired. Speculation, not a statement of fact. The Colts were left scrambling, McDaniels turned into Kevin Durant overnight, and "The rivalry was back on".
Back for another year, we saw yet another shift in the Patriots offensive identity. Once again, the Patriots were ahead of the defensive curve. Many teams, both in college and NFL, were increasing their quarterback usage due to increased QB protections in the rules and stats analysis. Teams adjusted by fielding smaller, more agile linebackers who could drop back into coverage against RBs, TEs, and WRs. The Patriots saw these tiny little linebackers and said, "Develin? Clear a path. Run them over".
It'll probably be another few years before another team takes a chance on hiring McDaniels, but you never know. You could certainly do a whole lot worse than McDaniels as your head coach.
A major debate of the Brady-Belichick era is how much credit the defensive coordinator should get, especially considering the "defensive mastermind" Bill Belichick running the team. For many years, the Patriots defense was hampered by lost draft picks and salary cap (you know, the things that are supposed to force a team to regress to medoicre). The departure of Patricia to coach Detroit led to the promotion of Flores to defensive play-caller. With a new not-coordinator, we saw a substantial change in identity. It might be Belichick's team (and I think Belichick did a great job putting the defensive roster together), but it was Flores' defense, and Flores designed an aggressive scheme to challenge any QB.
Flores had a top tier secondary to work with in the likes of Gilmore and the McCourty twins. Flores had strong pass-rushers in the likes of Kyle van Noy and Trey Flowers. These combined to allow Flores to regularly call for pressure on the QB with confidence the secondary could keep their assignments.
We saw these changes starting in the first game against Houston. It took some time for the defense to get it together, but they did in the second half of the year and, with few exceptions, dominated. Following the Bears game (Week 7), the Patriots held opponents to an average of 16.2 points per game. The defensive success continued all the way through the Super Bowl, allowing a COMBINED TOTAL of 7 points in the first halves of the playoff games and completely stonewalling the Rams.
Flores regularly called for man coverage in the secondary (the highest rate in the league) and constantly made use of an amoeba defense on third downs starting in Week 13. This defensive style, while not unique to the Patriots, uses constant pre-snap motion to disguise who is involved in the pass rush. It runs the risk of defenders being a step behind their assignments, miscommunications, or even entirely blown coverages. When executed correctly (and New England is a team that executes at a high level), it left opposing offenses baffled and scrambling to keep up.
Even when not using an amoeba defense, Flores liked to bring the pressure. Consider, for example, this modified cover-0 forcing an interception in the Super Bowl. It's a simple improvement to the standard cover-0; The Patriots rushed 7 against 6 blockers. In the video, the left guard shows he will block KVN. Van Noy then drops back into shallow coverage to prevent crossing routes, the left guard blocks nobody, and the pressure from an unblocked Duron Harmon panicks Goff into throwing a 50/50 ball that Cooks was not ready for.
Brian Flores is the story of the New England coaches this year. He was interviewed for the Arizona job that Steve Wilks got last year, and this year has been hired as head coach for the Miami Dolphins. Miami wants to improve their locker room culture. I'm confident that Flores is a great choice on this front. He's not going to take stupid bullshit from anyone, and will not give bullshit either. He basically grew up dodging gang violence; there's very little in the NFL that will phase him. I have no doubt that he will earn the respect of every player in the Miami locker room.
Flores will join 3 other hired Patriots coaches in Miami: CB Coach Josh Boyer, QB Coach Jerry Schuplinski, and WR Coach Chad O'Shea. O'Shea will be the offensive coordinator for Miami, while the other two will retain their roles.
This guy as been with the Patriots for all but a couple years since 1982. Belichick even dragged him out of retirement because he's that good. This year was another masterclass in offensive line work.
In a time when quality Offensive Linesmen are in high demand and coming at a premium price, Scarnecchia had a line bottom quarter in terms of player salary. He started the year with the departure of Nate Solder as a free agent, then first-round pick Isaiah Wynn went down with an injury.
In spite of that, the Patriots line was top quarter in performance. Helped by a great run game, great blocking by TEs and FB, and the legendarily quick release and pocket presence of Tom Brady, most teams couldn't get pressure on Brady. In the three playoff games, Brady took only a single sack and was infrequently pressured. Only the Rams managed to get any real pressure, and even they couldn't finish the job. To paraphrase Aaron Donald in the Super Bowl, "I need to win these 1-on-1s, and I'm not doing so".
Fears has also been with the Patriots for longer than Belichick has been head coach. It's hard to assess his impact separate from that of Brady, Dante, and the wide roster of anti-Le'Veon Bells. His role is less public and I don't follow closely enough to have knowledge of his style. I must assume, however, that he is doing a fantastic job as a coach. New England constantly has a wide array of running backs changing every year, yet are usually very effective. The common thread through all of them are BB, Dante, and Ivan Fears.
The Defensive line got to do some work in Flores' scheme. Both run defense and pass rush were strong this year. For next year, Daly will be taking his talents to Kansas City as the new Chiefs defensive line coach. He has personal ties to the KC area (or so I've heard), making it a fairly easy decision for him.
Schiano is near-certain to be the next defensive coordinator for New England. He was the Rutgers head coach for a decade and coached Devin and Jason McCourty, Duron Harmon, and Belichick's son, Steven. His NFL experience is less impressive, spending 3 years as a defensive assistant for Chicago and 2 years as head coach of Tampa Bay, and not being particularly successful in any of those 5 seasons. Regardless, Belichick calls Schiano a brilliant football mind. I think that, after 2 decades, we can trust his assessment. Schiano is also credited with the idea to replace kickoffs with a 4th-and-15 that teams can go for it (better odds than an onside kick) or punt it (approximately the same as a kickoff).
With no further analysis, I'll instead leave you with some Piano Man. Well, almost.
The Patriots website officially lists (as of this writing) 6 other coaches. TE coach Nick Caley, Safeties coach Steve Belichick, Special Teams coaches Joe Judge and Cameron Achord, and Strength & Conditioning coaches Moses Cabrera and Deron Mayo. Of note, Mayo is the younger brother of former Patriots' first-round pick Jerod Mayo.
This is in addition to the 3 coaches mentioned previously heading to Miami with Flores.
Roster Review: Offense
There’s really nothing more to say about Tom Brady that hasn’t already been said, so instead I’ll just leave some statistics that sound fake but aren’t.
- Tom Brady has now beaten four #1 seeds on the road including: 2001 Steelers (13-3), 2004 Steelers (15-1), 2006 Chargers (14-2), 2018 Chiefs (12-4). Joe Montana did this once – the 1988 Bears (12-4). Peyton Manning never did.
- Brady is 11-8 in the playoffs when his defenses allow more than 20 points. Kurt Warner is 5-3. No one else is over .500 (Peyton is 3-10 and Eli is 0-4).
- The record of NFL QBs throwing 50 or more passes in a game are Tom Brady (19-9), Drew Brees (4-15), Peyton Manning (4-13), and Dan Marino (5-11). Brady has won six postseason games when throwing 50 or more passes. No other quarterback in NFL history has won more than one.
- Tom Brady is 19-16 (.543) in the regular season and playoffs combined (13-14 regular season; 6-2 playoffs) when the Patriots rush for 60 or fewer yards. All other teams since 2001 are 272-997-2 (.214).
- Tom Brady (18) has lost less regular season home games in his career than Derek Carr (20) and Blake Bortles (20). Both Carr and Bortles were drafted in 2014.
And if that's not enough to convince you that Brady's playing on another level, what if I told you he's now calling audibles during the play? No, seriously.
Hoyer’s main purpose this year (outside of holding a clipboard on gamedays) was to lead the scout team offense against the Patriots defensive starters to prepare them for the next opponent. In this role, he’s second to none and it paid off in the Super Bowl. Nobody expects Hoyer to step in and lead the team to another Super Bowl if Brady isn’t around, but his role is an important one on this team.
Covered in the 2018 Draft & UDFA section.
James White could be considered the unsung hero of this 2018 team. When the offense was in turmoil at the beginning of the season, the one constant that Brady could rely on was Jimmy Dubs. And when the Patriots decided to run the ball on third down three times to open the AFC Championship, it was Sweetfeet that they trusted to carry the rock. And he delivered all three times. White seems to show up big when the team needs him most.
Burkhead’s second season with the Patriots was a quiet one. After being put on IR in week 3 for a “neck injury”, he returned for the week 13 matchup against the Vikings. Burkhead is a Jack of All Trades at the RB position, which makes him valuable in the Josh McDaniels offense. He’s comfortable running the ball up the middle, but also being lined up on the outside as a WR. He’s not as good a runner as Michel or as good a pass catcher as White, which led to the feeling that he was being shoehorned into the game plan at certain times this season. But his running at the end of the AFC Championship (he scored the winning TD in overtime) and the Super Bowl (his 26 yard run in the 4th quarter all but sealed the game) were invaluable.
Teams rarely carry a fullback in this current version of the pass-happy NFL. But the Patriots have often been at their best when they’ve had a good fullback to lead the way for their running backs. Of course, even the FB in McDaniel’s offense needs to be versatile. To go along with his 6 carries for 8 yards and 4 TDs, Develin also racked up 12 catches on 17 targets for 61 yards.But the life of a fullback rarely shows up on the stat sheet.
Julian Edelman is the linchpin of the New England offensive machine, and has been for a long time. While not always the flashiest of players, Jules is the player Brady looks to when in need of an important conversion. Whether it’s the go-ahead TD in Super Bowl XLIX or a 3rd and 10 in this year’s AFC Championship, Brady is looking for Edelman. There’s nothing more fitting than a season ending with a Super Bowl MVP award for the squirrely college QB after missing all of last year with a knee injury and the first 4 games of this year with a suspension.
The former first round pick of the Colts joined the Pats last year. He didn’t make much of an impact last year as he spent most of the time in the shadow of Brandin Cooks. With Cooks being traded to the Rams, Dorsett stepped in admirably (32 catches up from 12 last season) including his first TD from Tom Brady. It’s hard to say that Dorsett has lived up to his draft position, but he was instrumental in the playoff run.
Covered in the Key Additions section.
Once the “will he retire” offseason drama subsided, Gronk was back on the field. However, he didn’t look like his normal self early in the season. It looked like the beating his body had taken over the years had finally caught up to him. But thanks to the TB12 Method he started to look like the Gronk of old. Especially in his blocking ability, as the team transformed into a run first offense down the stretch. But when it came down to it, Brady still looked to his favorite target in crunch time, especially in the playoffs. So it was fitting that the only TD of Super Bowl LIII was set up by a throwback Gronk catch. (@Brady you can Paypal me for that TB12 ad – no biggie).
Update: Gronk has retired. Crap.
From last year’s review, since it still stands: “When Allen was signed by the Patriots, it was known that he was not going to be some crazy receiving tight end. His role was expected to be a run blocking tight end, and that is what it was. While he only had ten receptions on the year, some people say that the signing was a failure. However, his blocking was better than expected and I think his contract was fair.” As a blocking TE he’s great, but for a player whose only receiving highlight is this one his contract might be more than the Patriots are willing to spend this year.
Update: Allen has signed with the Dolphins.
Covered in the Key Additions section.
When Bill Belicheck speaks about you by saying “He’s one of our best players," Belichick said. "One of our most consistent players.”, chances are you’re a high-quality player. And in the biggest game of the season, Thuney was responsible for holding the Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald to his worst game of the season by doing things like this.
Andrews is the leader of what could be considered the best offensive line of the 2018 playoffs. Not too shabby for an undrafted free agent. Since joining the team in 2015 he’s started 57 of a possible 64 regular season games… and committed a total of 13 penalties in that time.
Mason was the highest ranked lineman on a Patriots offensive line that led the playoffs in ratings. Like David Andrews, Mason also joined the Pats back in 2015 (via a 4th round pick). And while Andrews’ 13 penalties over 57 games are impressive, Mason has him beat: he’s only been called for 7 total penalties in 55 total games.
The longest-tenured starter on the offensive line, Cannon was a 5th round draft pick way back in the 2011 days. He’s mostly been a spot starter for the team, having never started 16 games in a season (his closest was 15 starts in 2016). With the Patriots drafting tackle Isaiah Wynn in the first round this past year it looked like Cannon would be relegated again. However, when Wynn ended up on IR after a preseason injury Cannon stepped in and performed admirably.
Roster Review: Defense
Wise had a relatively quiet year, playing in all 16 regular season games but only starting 5 of them. He also missed both playoff games due to injury and tactics, but was available for the Super Bowl and made his mark early. That’s a grown-ass man in CJ Anderson getting armed tackled. He’s an athletic DE who can get to the QB, but it seemed that he struggled to keep the edge at times, especially against mobile QBs.
The defensive line isn’t filled with big names, mainly because they don’t wrack up sacks like other units do. This is by design as Belichick has said “I think if you look at the overall passing game, the statistic that stands out the most in terms of correlation is pressure. So pressure on the quarterback leads to more bad plays than sacks do, in terms of turnovers unless you have strip sacks, obviously. That’s the No. 1. After that, pressures cause bad throws and potentially turnovers.”. With that in mind, Guy’s 11 QB pressures this year allowed the Patriots defense to post some of its best stats in a while.
Another “no-name” on this defensive line is former first rounder Malcom Brown. While his numbers haven’t lived up to his draft position he has been a solid contributor, starting 51 of a possible 64 regular season games since being drafted in 2015. And he’s a typical Belichick player in that he doesn’t give up on a play, which could keep him around for a while.
Update: not staying around for a while. Brown signed with the Saints.
Flowers was the best defensive lineman on the year. Strong in defending the run, getting to the passer, and even pass coverage. With free agency looming it will be interesting to see if the Patriots bring Flowers back or if another team will offer more than what the Pats are looking to spend at this position.
Update: the Lions offered plenty for Flowers.
Early in the season, when the defense was struggling, there was much ado about how slow and overmatched Hightower looked. It was hard to know whether it was him recovering from an undisclosed injury or just getting up to speed with the new gameplan (yeah, pun intended – fight me). But once he turned the corner he looked like his old self again, even contributing on special teams. You can feel Belichick’s joy from here, can’t you? And in true Hightower fashion, he saved his best game for the SuperBowl.
Van Noy had himself a SEASON this year. Whenever a play was made on defense, Van Noy’s name seemed to always come up. And of course the lasting impression of this most recent Super Bowl (in this writer’s eyes at least), was Van Noy running down Goff and sending the QB to his knees.
When the Patriots chose to sign Gilmore away from the Buffalo Bills to a giant contract instead of re-signing local hero Malcolm Butler, the critics were many. Possibly due to how much success the Pats had had against Gilmore’s defense in the past. And while last season started out kind of rough, Gilmore eventually settled down and started playing up to his contract. This season was a continuation of peak Gilmore. He did whatever he was asked to do, and did it well – especially in the playoffs. Fitting, then, that Gilmore would have the game sealing interception that clinched the Super Bowl for New England. Luckily the team has this lock down corner locked up for the next 3 seasons.
Since returning from his short foray with the Eagles, Chung has become one of the main leaders of this defense. Not just a cover safety, Chung enjoys mixing it up around the line of scrimmage and has made a name for himself with his tackling ability. Unfortunately, Chung exited the Super Bowl early after breaking his arm, but he should be back in time for next season.
The other safety is Devin McCourty, who has been with the Pats since 2010 making him one of the longest-tenured players on the team. Since moving from CB to safety back in 2013, McCourty has blossomed into an integral part of this defensive backfield. Even though he’s 31 years old, he managed to become the fastest recorded player on a football field this season on his pick six against the Bills.
Devin’s twin brother Jason had spent his career in Tennessee playing for a middling Titans team with no history of success. After a sluggish preseason performance he was rumored to be on the chopping block. Which made it extra sweet for both brothers to become the first twins to play in (and win!) a Super Bowl. The fact that JMac was responsible for breaking up a sure TD to preserve the lead made it even sweeter.
Roster Review: Special Teams
Belichick has always had a thing for left-footed punters and Ryan Allen is the latest in that list. His punting this season was some of his best, and the combination of Allen’s punts and Matthew Slater’s coverage is a thing of beauty. The numbers don't paint a great picture of the punt game, however. Allen finished in the bottom half of the league in net average (24th) and percent of punts inside the 20 (22nd). Incidentally, some of that may have been due to the injuries of superstar gunner Matthew Slater, as the punting game definitely got better at the end of the season and into the playoffs once Slater returned to his healthy form.
As noted above, Slater’s biggest contributions to the team come on special teams (which is why he’s listed here instead of in the WR section). Nobody covers a punt like Matthew Slater, and he and punter Ryan Allen have taken it to another level. Yes that’s right, Slater is the one to catch the punt. And when he’s not outright catching them, Slater always seems to be the first player downfield to down the football.
2019 Free Agency & Draft Needs
2019 Draft Picks
Here are the Patriots upcoming draft picks (barring any punishment from above thanks to Mr. Kraft's visits to Florida). The fact that Belichick has just won the Super Bowl and still manages to have 6 picks in the first 101 feels a bit like cheating. Put an asterisk next to it, we don't care. We're used to em.
2019 Free Agents
Unrestricted Free Agents
Loosely in order of importance/size of the hole they'd leave. This was also written before Free Agency started. I've updated things where they've changed.
Trey Flowers (DE) Flowers is probably the highest profile player on this list. He blossomed (pun intended, fight me) in the Patriots scheme and had his best season this year under new DC Brian Flores. He's expected to command top dollar on the open market, so I wouldn't expect to see Flowers in a Patriots uniform next season. Especially since both of his previous defensive coordinators are now head coaches and could be potential suitors (Lions & Dolphins).
Update: signed with the Lions.
Trent Brown (LT) Left tackles are a precious commodity in the NFL, and Trent Brown played the best season of his career this past year. Will a team in dire need of a solid cornerstone put their trust in this behemoth after one good season? Or will the Pats be able to re-sign him to a more team-friendly deal due to Brown's success being a product of OL guru Dante Scarnecchia?
Update: signed with the Raiders.
Stephen Gostkowski (K) Gostkowski gets a lot of hate from Pats fans for some reason, even though he's one of the most reliable kickers late in games (see chart below). Granted, he's usually due for a missed field goal at random times in the year, but he's reliable with the game on the line. The thing many fans often forget is how well Gostkowski is at kickoffs; able to put the ball out of the back of the end zone when called to, while also being able to kick towering kickoffs that land right around the goal line if the coaches have decided to allow returns. While my knowledge of available kickers in this upcoming draft is limited (I'm a nerd, but not that much of a nerd), the only way I see Ghost being replaced is if the Pats draft a kicker to replace him. But after watching the Bears playoff exit, I have a hard time seeing Belichick part ways with a quality kicker.
Ryan Allen (P) I get a feeling that recent Pats fans forget the days before Ryan Allen became the quality punter on this team. Here's a list of punters under the Belichick Patriots: Zoltan Mesko, Chris Hanson, Josh Miller, Ken Walter, Todd Sauerbrun, Brooks Barnard. My point: those were dark times. It feels like the punter position had solidified under Allen, but apparently my eyes decieved me. Allen finished in the bottom half of the league in net average (24th) and percent of punts inside the 20 (22nd). However, some of that may have been due to the injuries of superstar gunner Matthew Slater, as the punting game definitely got better at the end of the season and into the playoffs. Personally, I say re-sign the lefty and let him (and Matthew Slater) keep pinning teams deep.
Cordarrelle Patterson (WR) Almost the entire WR corps are free agents this year. I don't see the team bringing back all of them, but my guess is that Patterson is most likely to return. Especially with his production on kick returns, and his flexibility to play both WR and RB over the course of this past season. CPatt seems like the prototypical player for the offensive system.
Update: signed with the Bears.
Phillip Dorsett (WR) Dorsett seemed to have gained more trust from Brady this season, but he still felt like a budget version of Brandin Cooks. I could see Belichick bringing Dorsett back on short money, but it also wouldn't surprise me to find out that he's considered replaceable by [insert veteran receiver here].
Update: re-signed with the Patriots.
Chris Hogan (WR) I think the same could be said for Hogan as was said for Dorsett. He provided value to this offense this year, but it wouldn't surprise me if he was replaced by another veteran that costs slightly less money.
Jason McCourty (CB) McCourty has already stated that he wants to come back to New England to play with his brother this year, which is probably a good sign for him returning on a team-friendly deal. Hopefully he does return, as he definitely found his place on this defense towards the end of the year.
Update: re-signed with the Patriots.
Danny Shelton/Malcom Brown (DT) I would expect the Patriots to keep at least one of these interior linemen on a cheap money deal. Unless of course Belichick drafts nothing but defensive linemen with all of his draft picks.
Update: Brown signed with the Saints.
Eric Rowe (CB) Wait, he's still on the team? I don't see Rowe coming back, unless it's as a depth signing for small money.
Update: signed with the Dolphins.
Restricted Free Agents
Josh Gordon (WR) With his indefinite suspension still in effect it's anybody's guess what happens with Gordon. New England seems to be a good spot for him, and he's been saying all the right things. Of course, having said that he still did whatever it was that got him suspended, so at this point he may just be beyond help.
Jonathan Jones (CB) The third-year CB seems to be trending in the right direction in this defense, and made a decent amount of plays this year. It sounds like the Patriots might value the young player enough to place a 2nd round tender on him.
2019 Needs by /u/MrFace1
Despite winning Super Bowl LIII, the New England Patriots of 2018 were not without flaws. These flaws manifested most notably in away games throughout the regular season. The receiving corps struggled with consistency and, aside from Edelman, appeared to struggle to be on the same page with Tom Brady. Rob Gronkowski looked less like a superstar and more like a slightly above average tight end. The defense was porous, especially in the linebacking corps.
These visible flaws last year, along with the advancing age of Patriot stalwarts such as free safety Devin McCourty and strong safety Pat Chung, and a number of players reaching free agency, creates a number of obvious positions of need as we come up to the 2019 draft. Fortunately, the Patriots are flush with draft picks and this appears to be a relatively deep draft at tight end, wide receiver, and on the defensive side of the ball in general. I fully expect the team to target these positions in the upcoming draft.
Whether or not the Patriots will be able to re-sign defensive end Trey Flowers is up in the air. Patriots beat reporter Mike Reiss has predicted that the team will re-sign Trey, but that is simply a prediction. If we fail to re-sign him and don’t find a suitable replacement in free agency, players such as Anfernee Jennings out of Alabama and Joe Jackson out of Miami could be targets. They’re both significantly smaller than Flowers, though, and would thus need to fill a different role as more pure EDGE players.
It’s no secret that Rob Gronkowski is getting older. The Patriots would do well to target a tight end that can both catch well and block to fill that spot. This is obviously significantly easier said than done. T.J. Hockensen, Noah Fant, and Irv Smith Jr. are the consensus top three tight ends. You can practically scratch Hockensen out of the running now, he’ll likely be drafted very early. Noah Fant might lack the blocking ability the Patriots need due to his size and relative lack of aggression. That leaves Irv Smith Jr., who has shown to be a good lead blocker at Alabama and has good in-line blocking ability. His downsides are his lack of size (he stands 6’2” and weighed in at 242 pounds) and that he isn’t a natural hands catcher, which could lead to drops.
There are only two options I really like for New England at wide receiver. I’ll start with my less-favorite. Kelvin Harmon put up 81 catches, 1,186 yards, and seven TDs in 12 starts last season at NC State. He’s shown impressive physicality and football intelligence which makes up for his relative lack of speed and agility at the wide receiver position. Everyone knows the Patriots generally draft more for intelligence and “football players” than raw athleticism so Harmon is a good fit in my opinion. Ohio State’s Parris Campbell is far and away my favorite first round prospect for the Patriots. He’s an elite combination of quick and fast and showed remarkable hands catching improvement last season. He can play well in short, intermediate, and deep situations and he’s exhibited excellent RAC ability as he can both run through initial tacklers and run around them. I would be very excited to see the Patriots draft him.
I’ll get the obligatory “Brady’s potential successor” talk out of the way now. The Patriots could draft a guy like Jarrett Stidham but I see Duke QB Daniel Jones as a much more plausible fit for the organization. Jones doesn’t have elite arm talent, so he has to make up for this deficiency in other ways. He’s a very accurate quarterback, able to fit balls into small areas and drop passes into the bucket on sideline fades. Jones is quick through his progressions and has shown to be intelligent at the quarterback position. The Duke QB lacked very good talent in the receiving corps which largely lends to his 59.9% career completion percentage but I think he’s shown enough to be a good NFL quarterback.
It’s very difficult to predict Bill Belichick, but there is one prospect above all that I think most fits with his draft style. Miami safety Jaquan Johnson. He wasn’t exactly exciting in the combine but his tape shows excellent open field tackling ability and good pop. He’s also a known leader in the Miami locker room and is a very quick learner. The buzzword for Jaquan is “intangibles”. He’s all about intangibles.
Of course, what I think the Patriots could do and what they will do are likely completely and totally separate things. The Patriots, above all others, are extraordinarily unpredictable in the draft.
We've seen that this game can turn on single moments: both conference championships had them this year. And for the past 18 years the Patriots have managed to make the most of these moments.
This write up could have had a completely different tone if their moment had gone differently. If Dee Ford isn't lined up offsides, we're talking about the Patriots losing again against the new up-and-comers of the league. About how Gronk and Brady look too old.
Why the Patriots will win the Super Bowl again next February
- Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are still in the league. These two have been to 8 straight AFC Championship games. Until they're gone, it's hard to see that changing.
- A young RB and solid offensive line (read: Dante Scarnecchia-led OL) takes the pressure off of Brady having to play at such a high level during the regular season as the offense transforms into a run-first, ground and pound team. The Patriots save Brady for the playoffs when he's at his best.
OR The Patriots draft nothing but WRs/TEs in the upcoming draft and we have a repeat of 2007 or 2011.
- The defensive performance wasn't due to since-departed DC Brian Flores, and they pick up where they left off. Pressure on the QB is huge in this league, and the Patriots defense is massively better when they get pressure.
Why the Patriots won't win the Super Bowl again next February
- The exodus that takes place every year finally catches up to this team. New coaches and new players are always a risk, even if the system is strong.
- Injuries to key players. The difference in this offense without Edelman was blindingly obvious at the begining of this season. The depth doesn't seem to be as good as it used to now that Belichick disciples (Flores, Vrabel, Patricia, etc) are competing for the same pool of players.
- Brady decides that he's finally too old and retires. Or he actually becomes too old and starts to show signs of his decline, ie. Peyton Manning.
- Roger Goodell prevents the Patriots from playing any postseason games in 2019 as retribution for Robert Kraft's "conduct detrimental to the league".
Before I get to the specific thank yous I just want to recognize all of the other writers who have contributed to this. Before doing this myself I didn't realize just how much work actually goes into these things. I had a lot of help from a bunch of people, and this still took up so much more of my time than I ever expected. To those of you who do this, this Bud's for you. Readers, hug your team's writer(s). They're worth their weight in (digital) gold.
Big thanks to...
- /u/skepticismissurvival for creating this whole thing.
- /u/therealDoctorKay, for coordinating all of us writers this year. I can only imagine it was like herding cats.
- All the writers who wrote much better content for this than I did:
- /u/timnog for tirelessly giffing every game for the past few years. Here's a link to all the gifs for the 2018 season.
- The Academy
- My incredible wife for her patience as I put this all together. She's a saint.