AFC East: New England Patriots

Bills at Patriots preview

December, 25, 2014
Dec 25
video When: 1 p.m., Sunday Where: Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Massachusetts TV: CBS

The New England Patriots are locked into the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs, while the Buffalo Bills' long shot playoff hopes were dashed last Sunday when they lost in Oakland. So from that standpoint, nothing can be gained when the teams meet up Sunday at Gillette Stadium.

But don't tell that to coaches Bill Belichick and Doug Marrone.

Each in his own way, they have stressed this week that there are no meaningless games in the NFL.

ESPN Nation reporters Mike Reiss (Patriots) and Mike Rodak (Bills) preview the matchup with some bigger-picture thoughts:

Reiss: Mike, with the Bills having been eliminated from the playoffs, it’s time to look to the future. What do you think the team needs to threaten the Patriots for the top spot in the division?

Rodak: The Bills have put a lot of pieces in place, but quarterback isn’t one of them. Taking EJ Manuel in the first round of the 2013 draft was a whiff that put the Bills back three years at that position. Without a first-round pick next May, it’s going to be a challenge for the Bills to find the right quarterback for next season. The reality is that whoever they decide will be their starter -- whether it’s Orton, Manuel, a second-day draft pick, a free agent or a trade acquisition -- will be flawed in some way, and the Bills will still have to make up for it elsewhere on their roster. Jay Cutler and Robert Griffin III have both been the subject of media-based speculation, and at least from this perspective, the Bills should consider taking a shot at both if they’re available on the trade market.

Mike, the Patriots won by the skin of their teeth in the Meadowlands last weekend. Was it an anomaly or true cause for concern for the playoffs?

Reiss: More of the former, but that doesn’t mean some of the issues that cropped up should just be swept under the locker room rug. They have to protect quarterback Tom Brady better, establish more of a running game early and generate more of a consistent pass rush. The Jets often play the Patriots tough, and they won more one-on-one matchups on defense; that's a credit to them. In that sense, it had a little bit of a feel of the past two Super Bowl losses for the Patriots, where struggles up front paralyze the rest of the offense for stretches. The Patriots are searching for some answers and more consistency on offense right now, and the return of injured left guard Dan Connolly (knee) and receiver Julian Edelman (concussion) in the playoffs should help them find them.

Specific to the Bills, things seemed to come together pretty nicely for them on defense this year. What contributed most to that?

Rodak: It starts up front with the defensive line, which just sent three players to the 2015 Pro Bowl this week: Kyle Williams, Mario Williams, and Marcell Dareus. Along with Jerry Hughes, that line has been able to produce all sorts of pressure on quarterbacks this season. When you do that, it takes a tremendous burden off the linebackers and secondary. While there are good players in the Bills’ back seven -- Stephon Gilmore (first) and Aaron Williams (second) are both former high-round picks -- the success of the group as a whole is a result of the talent up front. They set the tone. To Marrone’s credit, he has brought in accomplished coaches from the outside as his defensive coordinators -- Mike Pettine last season and Jim Schwartz this season -- who have done well at maximizing the unit’s strengths.

If the Bills are playing for anything in this game, it’s a chance to win at Gillette Stadium for the first time in that building’s history. Given that the Patriots have now locked up the top seed in the AFC playoffs, do you expect them to take the foot off the gas at all?

Reiss: Yes, I view this game as being similar to a fourth preseason contest when the third preseason game doesn’t go as well as planned. I could envision a scenario where the Patriots want to develop a little momentum on offense, and if that comes early, they start making some personnel changes such as Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski taking a seat. On defense, key players such as cornerback Darrelle Revis and linebackers Jamie Collins and Dont'a Hightower, among others, figure to be "protected" as well. The team also has the luxury of allowing some of its injured players extra time to recover, which I’d expect them to do. So their approach preparation-wise won’t change, but I do believe their personnel-related approach will be different than the norm. How significant, and if Brady and Co. play at all, is obviously something we'll be watching closely.

The Bills don’t have a first-round draft pick in 2015 after trading it to move up five spots for receiver Sammy Watkins. Good trade? Bad trade?

Rodak: Bad trade. General manager Doug Whaley’s reasoning was clear when he swung the deal back in May, but the truth is that it hasn’t panned out. Here’s what Whaley said about the deal right after making it: “The high costs not making the playoffs is something we weighed in and we thought this guy was going to get us to the playoffs.” The Bills, of course, did not make the playoffs this season. Here’s what else Whaley said: “This game is about making plays and surrounding our quarterback with playmakers. He’s automatically going to make our quarterback better and us better as a team.” The Bills benched their quarterback at the time, Manuel, after four games this season, so it’s hard to argue that Watkins made him better. From both of those angles, the trade was a failure that left the organization behind the 8-ball in the 2015 draft.

Let’s look ahead to the playoffs. The Patriots lost to the Denver Broncos and Baltimore Ravens in the past two AFC championship games. If there’s a team in the AFC that could knock them out this year, who do you think it would be?

Reiss: I’ll pick the Patriots, because I believe if they play up to their capabilities, the only team that can beat them is themselves. We spend a lot of time around these parts worrying about “teams you’d like to avoid” or “problem areas that could sink the season,” and part of that is the talk-radio mentality that often sets the agenda. I play along with it at times, too, but I truly think it’s all about the Patriots this year. If forced to pick one team, I’d still go with Denver.

» Pro Bowl analysis: AFC | NFC » Complete roster


Tom Brady, QB, 10th Pro Bowl selection: This was a no-brainer, and Brady's 10 Pro Bowl berths are a New England Patriots record. Pro Football Hall of Famer John Hannah had nine selections.

Whom he beat out: With six quarterbacks selected to the game -- Brady, Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger and Tony Romo -- there wasn't much question about Brady having to beat anyone out. He's obviously a top-six quarterback. From this outside perspective, here's a question: Does Seattle's Russell Wilson deserve a spot? I think so.

Stephen Gostkowski, K, Third Pro Bowl selection: This is the second straight season in which the nine-year veteran has earned the nod. His powerful leg is a weapon on field-goal attempts (32-of-34 for 94.1 percent ranks second in the NFL) and kickoffs. Good timing, too, as he's scheduled for free agency.

Whom he beat out: With Gostkowski and Adam Vinatieri the lone Pro Bowlers, that speaks highly of the Patriots' personnel acumen when it comes to evaluating kickers. I don't see anyone else with a strong enough candidacy to beat either of them. And it's really not close.

Rob Gronkowski, TE, Third Pro Bowl selection: He became the first tight end in NFL history with four seasons of 10 or more touchdowns in four seasons, and Packers defensive lineman Mike Daniels dubbed him "The Terminator." Need more be said?

Whom he beat out: With four tight ends selected to the Pro Bowl -- Jimmy Graham, Greg Olsen and Julius Thomas -- it would have been a shock if Gronkowski weren't on the list. What stands out here is that Gronkowski is the only pure, combination-type tight end of the group. I view the other three more as big receivers.

Darrelle Revis, CB, Sixth Pro Bowl selection: It's hard to quantify what Revis has meant to the Patriots' defense, but he's basically served as the queen piece that helps negate the opponent's top receiving threat. The Patriots rank eighth in the NFL in fewest points allowed, and Revis is a main reason for that.

Whom he beat out: There are eight cornerbacks in the game -- Revis, Vontae Davis, Brent Grimes, Joe Haden, Chris Harris, Aqib Talib, Patrick Peterson and Richard Sherman -- so it only makes sense Revis is part of the group. He's obviously one of the NFL's eight best. The more interesting question is if he's No. 1. I'd vote yes.

Matthew Slater, ST, Fourth Pro Bowl selection: He leads the Patriots with 14 special-teams tackles, and the words of Jets coach Rex Ryan from last year still resonate: "That Slater kid is a heck of a football player." The respect opponents show him with double-team blocks says it all.

Whom he beat out: I was impressed with San Diego's Darrell Stuckey from a Week 14 game, but I still think Slater is a cut above.


Devin McCourty, S: I could make a case for him over Cleveland's Tashaun Gipson (six interceptions) and Detroit's Glover Quin (seven interceptions), but his low interception total (two) hurts him, especially when he had one returned for a touchdown that was called back because of a penalty. Safety is a tough position to evaluate because the player could do his job well and the ball would never come his way, which is why interception totals can be deceiving.

Bill Belichick not happy with offense

December, 22, 2014
Dec 22
The New England Patriots escaped with a 17-16 win against the New York Jets on Sunday, but coach Bill Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels were not happy with how the team played on offense.

"We just didn't execute very well in any part of the [offensive] game," Belichick said during a conference call with reporters Monday. "All of the players and all of the coaches were involved. We just didn't execute very well. We had multiple mistakes everywhere. You could point to any spot and find some [mistakes] because they were everywhere.

[+] EnlargeTom Brady
AP Photo/Bill KostrounTom Brady and the Patriots felt lots of pressure from the Jets during their Week 16 matchup on Sunday.
"We didn't execute the passing game very well, the running game, blocking, passing, catching. None of it was very good."

The Patriots were without wide receiver Julian Edelman, running back LeGarrette Blount and starting left guard Dan Connolly. Reserve offensive lineman Josh Kline started in place of Connolly, but was benched at halftime. Quarterback Tom Brady was under pressure throughout most of the game and the offensive line gave up four sacks in the first half.

"Fifty yards of offense in the first half, that's not going to win many games," Belichick said. "We were lucky to even be in the game."

McDaniels shared the blame for the offense's woes.

"We didn't have our best [game] total on offense," McDaniels said. "I don't think anybody played or executed or coached particularly well, starting with me.

Belichick gave credit to the Jets for playing a tough game.

"I didn't think it was our best game by any stretch," Belichick said. "I won't take anything away from the Jets. But, we have and will need to play a lot better than we played yesterday.

"I don't want to take anything away from them. They came out there. They competed well," Belichick said. "In the end we kind of made the plays we needed to make in the fourth quarter to win. But, I didn't think we played particularly well, particularly on offense."

The Patriots have another AFC East divisional matchup to close out the season against the Buffalo Bills, who have one of the NFL's top defenses.

"Every team is tough in the National Football League," Belichick said. "You can just look at the score in yesterday's game and any game in the NFL on any weekend. We don't play Division I football and have a bunch of Division III teams on the schedule. They don't exist. Every week is tough."

Ups and downs for Patriots

December, 21, 2014
Dec 21
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- At an initial glance, and without the benefit of film review, a look at which New England Patriots were "up" and which were at the opposite end of the spectrum in Sunday's 17-16 win over the New York Jets:


Danny Amendola -- Receiver saw the most notable increase in playing time in the absence of Julian Edelman (concussion) and provided a spark at times on offense and also in the return game (39-yard return early in the second quarter set up the Patriots' first touchdown drive).

Brandon Bolden -- A 17-yard run around the right end sealed the win.

Tom Brady's legs -- For the third week in a row, he made plays with his feet that set up touchdowns.

Jamie Collins -- Linebacker's ability to pursue from sideline to sideline showed up at times, and he also had a third-quarter interception on an underthrown Geno Smith pass.

Chandler Jones against the run -- While the Patriots needed more of a pass-rush boost across the board, Jones seemed especially solid setting the edge and showing patience at key times in the running game. He also provided the most consistent pass rush of the group.

Vince Wilfork -- Defensive tackle played strong in the middle and appeared to get his hand on a 52-yard field goal attempt by the Jets in the fourth quarter.


Malcolm Butler -- Rookie cornerback was penalized for unnecessary roughness for running into punt returner Jeremy Kerley, who had called for a fair catch early in the third quarter. A boneheaded play.

Patrick Chung -- Safety bit on a play-action fake and was a step behind on Jets tight end Jeff Cumberland's 20-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter. Chung looked like he was hurt at times in the game.

Josh Kline -- Second-year left guard, who started in place of injured Dan Connolly, was benched at halftime. He wasn't the only player who struggled up front, but the coaching staff obviously felt like he was a significant part of the problem.

Logan Ryan -- Cornerback had a few plays made on him in coverage, specifically by Kerley, and also had a costly illegal contact penalty in the second quarter.

Sharing Patriots halftime thoughts

December, 21, 2014
Dec 21
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Some thoughts at halftime as the New England Patriots trail the New York Jets 10-7:

Uninspiring opening half as protection issues mount. The Patriots played down to the level of competition. Protection struggles, both from a physical and mental perspective, have hurt them in the opening 30 minutes. The offense has little rhythm, its one touchdown drive coming when the coaching staff seemed to make an in-game adjustment to get the ball out of Tom Brady's hands quicker because of the protection issues. If the protection doesn't improve, however, the Patriots are in trouble.

Just 24 snaps on offense. After totaling just 28 snaps on offense in the first half against the Dolphins last week, the Patriots have just 24 in this game (final kneel down not included). While Bill Belichick often stresses playing a 60-minute game, the Patriots need a good 30 to win this one. They are fortunate, in a sense, that the Jets are offensively challenged.

Need more from the pass rush. While part of the plan might be to keep Jets quarterback Geno Smith in the pocket, the Patriots aren't consistently generating pressure out of the standard four-man rush. In coverage, safety Patrick Chung bit on play-action on tight end Jeff Cumberland's touchdown catch. Overall, the Patriots are playing the run well enough out of their base defense. They're using a lot of a heavy package that included three big defensive tackles in Vince Wilfork, Alan Branch and Sealver Siliga.

Amendola sees increase in playing time. With Julian Edelman out with a concussion, Danny Amendola has seen his playing time rise. After playing just 12 offensive snaps last week against Miami, he played 16 of 24 snaps in the first half Sunday.

Running back snaps. Almost an even workload as Jonas Gray has 12 snaps, followed by Shane Vereen's 11. Brandon Bolden had one.

Jets playing hard. As one would expect, the Jets are playing hard for coach Rex Ryan. That hasn't been an issue. At 3-11, they don't have anything to play for postseason-wise, but a win over the Patriots would make their season. They're playing like it.

Patriots get the ball. After winning the opening toss and deferring, the Patriots get the ball to open the third quarter.

Rob Gronkowski: 'I grew up a lot'

December, 18, 2014
Dec 18
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – When New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski arrived at his locker Thursday, he playfully took a few items and put them behind where he’d be standing. He joked that it was for “product placement” as the cameras pointed in his direction.

It was a brief glimpse of “Gronk the Businessman.”

Soon enough, he was asked about “Gronk the Maturing Football Player.”

Gronkowski’s maturity has been noted by quarterback Tom Brady in recent weeks, as the 2010 second-round draft choice has a different perspective after almost five full seasons in the NFL.

“I grew up a lot [smiling],” Gronkowski said when asked about how different he is now compared to his rookie year.

“Just being in the league a few years, you see the ins and outs -- how older guys do everything, how they last; and how you see some guys come in and leave right away and see what they did. And see guys like Tom and Rob Ninkovich, Revis, older guys like that, and see what they do and how they practice. It leads [by] example.”

Injuries have also added to Gronkowski’s perspective.

“Oh yeah, no doubt. It can be taken away any time,” he said. “Don’t take anything for granted.”

Two other sound bites from Gronkowski:

On Darrelle Revis: “He’s a great player, with ball skills, and so relaxed out there that you don’t even think he’s trying. That’s how he good he is, When you see a player like that, you say, ‘Is he trying?’ Because he’s right at the ball every time. That means he has a lot of skills, he’s quick on his feet, and the way he reacts to the ball is unbelievable.”

Preparing to face the Jets. “It doesn’t make a difference in records at all. The Jets are always a tough team, always physical, and always ready to play. It’s always a big game against them.”

Patriots' injury report: Julian Edelman, 11 others limited

December, 17, 2014
Dec 17
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots are dealing with a long list of injuries as they enter the final two weeks of the NFL regular season.

Wide receiver Julian Edelman, who was previously listed with a thigh injury, is now also listed with a concussion. He was a limited participant at Wednesday’s practice.

Another new addition to the injury report is cornerback Kyle Arrington (hamstring). He injured his hamstring against the Dolphins and did not play the rest of the game.

Starting left guard Dan Connolly (neck/ankle) also missed the remainder of the game against the Dolphins after injuring his neck. He was previously dealing with the ankle injury.

Running back LeGarrette Blount (shoulder) and long snapper Danny Aiken (finger) are also new additions to the injury report.

Arrington, Connolly, Blount and Aiken were all limited at Wednesday’s practice.

Defensive end Chandler Jones (hip), rookie offensive lineman Cameron Fleming (ankle), linebacker Dont'a Hightower (shoulder), wide receiver Brandon LaFell (shoulder), defensive end Rob Ninkovich (heel), running back Shane Vereen (ankle) and linebacker Chris White (ankle) all continued to be limited participants, too.

Quarterback Tom Brady (ankle) remains a full participant at practice.

Steve Maneri, Garrett Gilbert join Patriots

December, 17, 2014
Dec 17
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – There were two new faces in the Patriots’ locker room on Wednesday – tight end Steve Maneri and quarterback Garrett Gilbert.

Maneri, a 6-foot-7, 280-pound former offensive tackle, spent a portion of training camp with the Patriots. Considering his background at a tackle, he is primarily a blocking tight end. Maneri said he does not have practice-squad eligibility, which would indicate that he was signed to the team’s 53-man active roster.

Gilbert, the Rams’ sixth-round pick (214th overall) in the 2014 draft, was released from St. Louis’ practice squad in October. Gilbert has practice-squad eligibility, and it's likely he'll land on the Patriots' practice squad as he practiced with the team Wednesday.

Gilbert played in college at Texas before transferring to SMU, where he had considerably more success than his time with Texas. The addition of Gilbert comes after the the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune reported that the Patriots were trying to sign rookie quarterback David Fales off the Bears’ practice squad, but the Bears promoted Fales to their active roster.

The Patriots have yet to officially announce the roster moves.

Patriots-based thoughts from Rex Ryan

December, 17, 2014
Dec 17
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Few coaches, if any, draw as large of a crowd for a conference call as Rex Ryan of the New York Jets. With about 20 reporters gathered around the speakerphone here at Gillette Stadium, Ryan called in for the standard weekly opponent call at 10:45 a.m. ET.

Here are some of the notable topics related to the New England Patriots:

Patriots' defense has changed since Oct. 16. Ryan made the point that the Patriots look different defensively from when the teams met Oct. 16. He touched on the Patriots bringing in a "couple big guys" since that point (presumably referring to defensive tackle Alan Branch and defensive end Akeem Ayers) while also pointing out "a lot of different coverages that they haven't played in the past that they're playing now." Asked later about those coverages, Ryan said there are different things a team can do in man coverage and that's what he was referring to.

Thoughts on the Patriots-Jets rivalry. Asked his place in the New England-New York rivalry, Ryan said he had no idea. Then he re-directed, saying, "We all know what's getting ready to happen in this game. We know that both teams give their maximum effort against each other. I don't think each team particularly likes each other. It's on. Regardless of what the record is. We could be playing for first place or whatever, it's the same effort always. It's usually a close game and it's usually a physical game."

More on the Patriots. While Ryan and the Jets don't like the Patriots, there is respect. "They always have it -- six years in a row that they've won the division. You're a little envious, I guess. It's what it is -- they're the ones you chase. We respect them a great deal -- they're led by a Hall of Fame quarterback and a Hall of Fame coach. So they're hard to beat and we recognize that, but that doesn't mean that we'll take our rightful place underneath them. That's not going to happen. We're here to beat them. That's our mentality every time we play them. They're going to get our best shot and we're going to get theirs; we understand that about each other."

Not going to gush about Revis. The opening question of the conference call was on cornerback Darrelle Revis, with Ryan asked to speak about what he's seen from Revis this season. "No," Ryan answered, before pausing and adding, "I'm just going to go with 'yes' and 'no' answers the whole time. Just kidding." While Ryan lauded Revis, when asked if he was worthy of MVP consideration, Ryan also stopped short of saying too much while citing the possibility of being charged with tampering. "If I comment on him, then I'll get in trouble [for] commenting on somebody else's players. I'll just say he's an excellent player and let the experts figure out where he belongs in the discussion."

How tough this season has been on him. When Ryan was asked how tough the season has been on him given "some of the things swirling about what's going on inside the team," he responded, "Anything that's swirling around inside our team, I'm proud of this team. We've got nothing (in terms of issues). Some guys' reports are probably as far off as any I've ever seen. This team is tight. Our record is the only thing that stinks. We have a great group of guys that care, that prepare, practice hard. It's obviously unfortunate that our record is what it is. But it has nothing to do with the type of character in this room."

Thoughts on competing against Bill Belichick twice a year the last six seasons. Asked how much he's relished matching X's and O's and wits with Belichick, Ryan said, "I don't know how I've fared that way with him, but as a competitor, you like facing the best. That's what he is. Obviously I like doing that, just like any competitor would. I obviously wish I had more success against him, but they do a tremendous job in all phases of the game. They're a really well-coached football team, and his assistant coaches are outstanding as well, and they've been around a long time with him. Obviously, it's a huge challenge. As a competitor, absolutely I enjoy the preparation and the battles against him."

Belichick: Getting ready for Jets' best shot

December, 17, 2014
Dec 17
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Even though the New York Jets are in the cellar of the AFC East with a 3-11 record, New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick knows how tough Rex Ryan's teams play against New England.

"It seems like quite a while since we've played the Jets," Belichick said during his news conference on Wednesday. "Jets are playing well, they're a very competitive football team. They're in every game, they've been in a lot of tight games.

[+] EnlargeNew England Patriots and New York Jets
AP Images/Elise AmendolaIn their first meeting this season on Oct. 16, the Patriots slipped past the Jets, 27-25.
"Seems like every game comes down to the last possession kind of like it did with us, like a lot of our games with them have in four of the last five times we've played them."

Flashback to Week 7, when the Patriots beat the Jets by just two points -- a 27-25 victory sealed by defensive lineman Chris Jones' blocked field goal as time expired.

The previous four meetings between these two teams have been decided by three points or less, with two of those games being decided in overtime. The last time a team won by more than three points was on Nov. 22, 2012, when the Patriots beat the Jets, 49-19.

"We'll see how it goes against the Jets," Belichick said. "We've played other teams and different matchups and all that. The Jets are pretty healthy, they had one change on their offensive line but the rest of those guys have all started 14 games. They've had pretty good consistency at tight end. The running backs are very good. The quarterback's a good runner. We'll see whether we can improve against the Jets in the running game. That's what we need to do."

In addition to a strong run game (they rank second in the NFL in rushing yards per game at 147.1), the Jets also stop the run better than most NFL teams as they rank fourth in opponents' rushing yards per game (87.5).

"Defensively strong front, good at stopping the run," Belichick said. "Physical pass rush team, those front seven guys don't come off the field too much. They're used in a lot less nickel and dime than we've ever seen. They try to keep those guys on the field as much as possible so they're a pretty disruptive group."

The Patriots may have locked up the AFC East, but these final two games against the Jets and Bills have major implications as the Patriots are vying for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Considering the history of Ryan's Jets playing the Patriots tightly, Belichick needs his team to play better than in the past.

"This will be a big week for us and I think we need to play better than we did the last time we played them," Belichick said. "I think that will be good enough. Barely was good enough last time but it'd be good enough this time."

Report card: New England Patriots

December, 14, 2014
Dec 14
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Here are the grades from the New England Patriots' 41-13 win against the Miami Dolphins in Week 15:

Quarterback: It's customary to talk about Tom Brady's arm, which was less than stellar at times on Sunday. But it was all about Brady's feet on his 17-yard scamper, a major turning point in the game. He was a man on a mission on the run that set up a LeGarrette Blount touchdown early in the second half. Brady's grade is lowered for missing a few throws and getting multiple passes swatted down at the line of scrimmage, including his one interception. Grade: B+

Running back: After weeks of limited action, Jonas Gray reemerged as a viable backfield option with his good vision, underrated speed and power running. His 62 yards led the way on a day when the Patriots didn't commit to the run. Blount struggled other than his touchdown run. While Shane Vereen finished with a lowly six carries for five yards, his three-yard touchdown run was impressive as he stayed on his feet and powered through a tackle into the end zone. Grade: B

Wide receiver: Per usual, it's the Julian Edelman-and-Brandon LaFell show for the wide receivers. Edelman had a bad drop where he turned to go upfield before hauling in the pass and he was lucky to not lose a fumble. But he did make some big catches, especially early on, and had a nice grab down the sideline. LaFell had a quiet six catches for 66 yards. Shout out to Brian Tyms for a great vertical route. Too bad Brady overthrew him by a hair. Grade: B+

[+] EnlargeKyle Arrington
Jared Wickerham/Getty ImagesKyle Arrington's scoop and score on Jamie Collins' blocked field goal was a special teams standout.
Tight end: Rob Gronkowski delivered when the Patriots needed him. Brady had him a few more times, and the QB is at fault for missing throws, including a deep ball where he underthrew his big tight end. But in the end, Gronk is Gronk and dominates all of the competition. Give some credit to Michael Hoomanawanui for some solid blocks on Dolphins' pass-rusher Cameron Wake. Grade: A

Offensive line: In the Week 1 battle between these teams, the offensive line was a mess. It's amazing what some continuity can do for a team. The O-line played a good game, especially in the second half. The pass protection was solid all game; credit the Dolphins' athleticism on the swatted passes. The run-blocking was poor early on, but improved in the second half. Sebastian Vollmer did a great job of containing Wake. Grade: B+

Defensive line/linebacker: Welcome back, Chandler Jones. Jones, who missed the last six games with a hip injury, made a triumphant return with seven total tackles, including 1.5 sacks. Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins continue to be a brutal linebacker tandem for opposing teams to deal with. Vince Wilfork provided solid interior pressure and was a presence in the run game, as he needs to be. Rob Ninkovich also played a strong game with a sack and a nice pass breakup on a dropback. After getting gashed in Round 1 against the Dolphins, the Patriots' defensive front dominated the rematch. Grade: A+

Defensive back: Darrelle Revis was lights out in coverage. He deserves credit for an assist on Duron Harmon's interception. Devin McCourty had a key pass breakup on Charles Clay in the end zone. Brandon Browner had penalties called against him, as has become customary, though one was a poor call. He also got away with an early hit as he assisted on Patrick Chung's interception, but Browner made some big plays in the secondary. Outside of Malcolm Butler getting torched by Mike Wallace on the Dolphins' opening snap, the secondary had a solid performance. Grade: A

Special teams: Collins' athleticism on his field goal block was truly exceptional. Kyle Arrington did a great job of sticking with the play to scoop and score off of the block. Ryan Allen picked up where he left off last week with a pair of booming punts in the first half. And congratulations to Mr. Consistent, Stephen Gostkowski, for surpassing Adam Vinatieri as the Patriots' all-time leading scorer (1,165 points). Grade: A

Coaching: The decision to run on three plays at the end of the half when the Dolphins had three timeouts was not a good call as Miami scored a touchdown. Also, some of the defensive matchups early on were less than ideal. But Bill Belichick and his staff clearly prevailed. Moments of note were using Nate Solder as an extra tight end and the quick-snap punt on fourth-and-one. What stood out most were adjustments as the Patriots scored a third-quarter franchise record 24 points after the offensive woes in the first half. Grade: A

Chandler Jones gets emotional in return

December, 14, 2014
Dec 14
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- As members of the media surrounded New England Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones at his locker after Sunday’s 41-13 victory over the Miami Dolphins, the voice of another Patriots player bellowed out from the back end of the locker room with an announcement for all to hear.

“Sack Man is back, Chandler Jones!” the player yelled.

Jones laughed at the statement before bringing to the media’s attention that fellow defensive end Rob Ninkovich’s sack on the day gave him three straight seasons with eight sacks. There wasn’t much more for Jones to say about himself. He had let his game do the talking in his return.

[+] EnlargeChandler Jones
Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesChandler Jones, who had 1.5 sacks in his first game in nearly two months, celebrates with Tavon Wilson.
In his first game back since a hip injury forced him to miss six games, Jones recorded 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble as the Patriots defense stifled the Dolphins for the majority of the afternoon. Jones played in 55 of the team’s 81 defensive snaps (including penalties) and looked explosive in his time on the field.

“I feel like when you’re on the field and when you’re in between those lines, there’s no 70 or 80 percent; you have to go 110 every time,” Jones said. “I feel like if I didn’t have the ability to go 110 percent, I shouldn’t have been out there. I always go 110 percent every play.”

It had been a long time coming for Jones to make his return. Initially expected to miss four to six weeks after injuring his hip in an Oct. 16 victory over the New York Jets, Jones was out just over eight weeks. There had even been reports shortly after his injury that he could miss the rest of the regular season. But instead, he kept working to get back, nearly returning last week and looking strong during practice this wee, showing coach Bill Belichick that he belonged on the field.

“This week he was able to take a lot of reps and certainly looked like he was ready to go from a practice standpoint, a conditioning standpoint,” Belichick said. “It was good to get him back out there.”

And it was good for Jones to get back out there. All week, Jones had been told it would be a day-to-day thing as he remained a limited participant in practice. So to be deemed active for a game that the team not only won, but used to clinch their division? Jones couldn’t help but take it to heart.

“Just a few months ago I was on crutches, so for me to be out there running with my team, I got a little emotional,” he said. “It felt good to be out there; it did.

“Just going through that whole routine and process of a pregame again kind of felt a little emotional like, ‘This is happening. I’m back out here.’ You’ve just got to enjoy it, every day and every second that you have the opportunity to play at this level, you’ve just got to enjoy it and that’s what I try to do every day.”

Jones’ teammates certainly enjoyed having him back as well.

“It makes our job a lot easier in the secondary, trust me,” cornerback Darrelle Revis said. “Chan is one of our best defensive linemen at rushing the quarterback and he made some plays today. It was great.”

“He’s played great football all year and it was killing him being sidelined,” defensive captain Devin McCourty said. “It was really good for him to get back out there. He made plays like he has done all year when he’s been out there. Another key guy on our defense and having him back healthy is huge.”

In addition to getting Jones back, linebacker Dont’a Hightower also played after missing last Sunday's game at San Diego with a shoulder injury. Meanwhile, defensive lineman Sealver Siliga returned last week after missing nine games with an injury. The Patriots’ defense is getting healthy at the right time, and it has defensive captain Vince Wilfork pleased.

“Getting [Jones] back this week, getting Sealver back last week and Hightower back this week, we’ve got all our dogs back,” Wilfork said. “That’s where we want to be. We want to be healthy going into December these next games ... so we can be at full speed moving forward.”

The Sack Man is back, along with the rest of the dogs. And the Patriots are prepared to make a full push heading toward the postseason again.

Darrelle Revis to Dolphins: 'You might need to watch what you say'

December, 14, 2014
Dec 14
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – New England Patriots players were shown multiple quotes from Miami Dolphins players on the screens inside their facility leading up to Sunday’s 41-13 victory over Miami, ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter reported Sunday morning. The quotes were about the Dolphins’ 33-20 season-opening victory over New England, meant to serve as motivation to Patriots players this week.

Patriots cornerback Darrelle Revis addressed the topic after Sunday’s game.

“There was a lot of talk … those guys were chirping. The Miami Dolphins were chirping this week about [how] they should have beaten us by 50 and all of those type of things the first game,” he said. “If that's what they want to do, then that's what they want to do. The one thing you have to understand is you get a second stab at it because we're in the same [division]. You might need to watch what you say.”

Added safety Devin McCourty, “We lost to them in Week 1 and they had a lot to say.”

Patriots enjoy championship gear

December, 14, 2014
Dec 14
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the New England Patriots' 41-13 win over the Miami Dolphins:
  • Players enjoy championship gear. When defensive lineman Zach Moore was asked whether a picture could be taken of his AFC East championship hat, and Moore obliged, teammates Akeem Ayers and Darius Fleming were nearby and asked to join in. That, in some ways, reflects some of the chemistry that has developed with this team. Several players were fired up to wear their championship gear.
  • Belichick flattered to be mentioned with Lambeau. With his 229th career victory (including postseason), Bill Belichick moved into a tie with Curly Lambeau for fourth place on the all-time list. Belichick thanked a questioner who asked what it meant to be mentioned in the same sentence as Lambeau. "It’s flattering, very flattering," he said. "Curly was one of the great founders, really, of the National Football League. [He] spent the year at Notre Dame, brought the Notre Dame offense into the NFL, ran the box, had championships in Green Bay. [He] really kind of started the passing game with [Don] Hutson and Cecil [Isbell]. He was certainly one of the innovators in the league in his time. [It’s] very flattering to be put in his category, in any sentence, really."
  • Family feeling in the room. Some players had their children in the locker room after the game, including quarterback Tom Brady and receiver Brandon LaFell. The environment, as one would expect based on the accomplishment, was upbeat. "We have big goals every year for our team, so this is the one that is the first one to get," Brady said after hugging his son en route to his postgame news conference. "It's great to win. That's why we play. I've been very fortunate to be a part of an organization where that's what matters the most and to be able to play with some really great players over the years. I think winning and experiencing it with players and coaches and Mr. Kraft and Jonathan and his family, it's pretty awesome."
  • Bledsoe draws a crowd. Patriots Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Bledsoe was in town for business, and he was here for the game. At one point in the postgame locker room, a bunch of reporters surrounded Bledsoe to ask him questions, which was a blast from the past. Bledsoe joked that Brady's 17-yard run felt like it was in slow motion, which led him to crack about how many often said he moved as a glacierlike pace during his own playing days. The Patriots tweeted out a photo of him, Brady and Robert Kraft after the game.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- As part of ESPN's "NFL Countdown" program, NFL Insider Adam Schefter reported the following Sunday morning:

"The Patriots are raring to go against a Dolphins team that has beaten them two straight games. On the screens inside the Patriots training facility, New England displayed multiple quotes from Miami players after they beat the Patriots in the regular-season opener, about how the Patriots players quit, about how they took it to them, and each Patriot was able to repeatedly walk past and read the multitude of quotes the Miami players said about them after the opener. Someone wanted New England to remember."