Julian Edelman looms large for Patriots

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – You are a New England Patriots follower and you are mostly disappointed by what you saw in Sunday’s 16-9 victory over the Oakland Raiders.

The offensive line regressed. Quarterback Tom Brady was battered. There aren’t enough viable pass-catchers outside of Julian Edelman who threaten the opposition. The offensive play-calling was puzzling at times. Time management was uncharacteristically poor. The defense, while ultimately coming up with the game-sealing interception and holding Oakland to nine points, struggled for stretches against a rookie quarterback making his third career start.

If the bottom-of-the-NFL-barrel Raiders weren’t on the opposite sideline, the result almost certainly would have been different, and so this one leaves a bad taste almost across the board and will obviously be analyzed, dissected and opined upon in the aftermath (we’re handing the ball off to ESPNBoston.com columnist Jackie MacMullan to break it down after this one).

The little bit of good news to pass along beside the bottom-line result?

It starts with receiver Julian Edelman, the six-year veteran who turned in his fourth career game with 10 or more receptions. On a day when little went right, Edelman shined, kind of like it used to be at times with former New England receiver Wes Welker.

In fact, that’s exactly how Raiders cornerback Carlos Rogers saw it.

“He reminds me of Welker,” Rogers said after watching Edelman be targeted 13 times and total 10 catches for 84 yards. “Tom looks to him the same way and that’s why Wes had 100 catches a year. [Edelman] is on his way [to 100] again – a lot of short stuff where he can move in space, keep the chains moving – and he can get in and out of his breaks very fast and he has some good speed on him.”

Edelman’s 22 catches through three games easily leads the Patriots and that’s also part of the problem. Little is clicking in the passing game outside of him, as quarterback Tom Brady was 10 of 11 when targeting Edelman and 14 of 26 to everyone else. Brady is completing 84.6 percent of his targets to Edelman through three games, and 51.1 percent otherwise.

What stood out to Raiders safety Charles Woodson was how the Patriots, with little else going for them, maximized Edelman on Sunday. A 17-year veteran, Woodson reflected to his early years in the NFL when coming up with a comparable match for the 5-foot-10, 200-pound Edelman.

“He reminds me of Wayne Chrebet a little bit,” he said of the former Jets slot receiver who played from 1995-2005. “A guy they keep on the move, a smaller guy who has a knack for getting open and making big catches, especially third-down situations. They put him in position to be successful and keep him moving him around and you’re not going to be able to get your hands on him as much if you are in a man-to-man situation with him.”

For his part, Edelman knows that at his size, he has to protect himself whenever possible. He was upset with himself for attempting to hurdle a defender in the second half and absorbing a big hit.

“I’ve got to play a little smarter,” he said. “I’ve got to protect myself a little better with the ball in my hands if I’m going to be there for 16 games.”

That’s a must for a Patriots offense, of course.

Because without Edelman, it wouldn’t be much of an offense at all.

Jim Basquil and Merril Hoge break down the Patriots' 16-9 win over the Raiders.

Patriots reporter Mike Reiss' game ball goes to Julian Edelman, who had his fourth career game with 10 or more receptions. Bill Williamson's game ball goes to Raiders rookie linebacker Khalil Mack.

Vince Wilfork makes play of the game

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Wilfork Island? Yes that’s right. Wilfork Island struck late in the game Sunday to secure a 16-9 victory for the New England Patriots over the Oakland Raiders.

We all know about Revis Island, but defensive tackle Vince Wilfork made the clutch defensive play for the Patriots in a tight game. Wilfork intercepted quarterback Derek Carr's pass to wide receiver Denarius Moore after it was deflected by cornerback Logan Ryan.

“Wilfork Island? He kind of called that he would get another one this year,” safety Devin McCourty said. “Hopefully we’ll slow him down and pick up our play. We don’t want him at the top of the leaderboard. He could have worked on his run after the catch, but I think he is so smart and he knows situational football that he just got down and let the offense come on and take a couple of knees.”

Wilfork, a 325-pound defensive tackle and one of the more unlikely players to intercept a pass, now has three career interceptions including two against the Raiders.

“We always try to tell people to stay in front of the quarterback and maybe you can get a tipped ball or bat a ball down or something like that,” Wilfork said. “I was more concerned not to get tied up so I hit the center and then I kind of came back and they started following me a little bit -- I thought it was going to be illegal men down the field.

“After that, I saw the quarterback release the ball and I just turned. I had some defenders there with me and the ball bobbled and luckily I just came up with the play. That was a great defensive play. I was just happening to catch it,” he said.

Defensive end Chandler Jones gave Wilfork a shout-out on Twitter for his game-ending interception.

Wilfork said it felt good to make an interception like this one, but deflected the credit to his teammates.

“The credit doesn’t go all to me; the credit goes to the defense,” Wilfork said. “Because without the coverage in the end zone, without the man-to-man coverage we were in, without the bobbled ball, without the two other guys on the line of scrimmage rushing with me, that play probably wouldn’t have happened, so that’s a great defensive play.”

Third-down stat interests Edelman

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the New England Patriots' 16-9 win over the Oakland Raiders:

Edelman -- first on the field and last to leave: Receiver Julian Edelman was the first player on the field before the game -- catching one-handed passes some three-plus hours before kickoff -- and he was also the last player to depart the locker room after the game. Talk about a long day of work. "Sometimes you've got to grind them out," Edelman said after flipping through an official gamebook while searching for the offense's third-down percentage (9-of-18). "A pretty loss is [worse] than an ugly win, you know how it goes."

Wilfork Island picks up momentum: With defensive tackle Vince Wilfork coming up with the big interception to seal the game, safety Devin McCourty had a little fun after the game. Asked to comment on the play, he cracked, "Wilfork Island?"

Ryan's interference penalty in focus: Patriots coach Bill Belichick seemed to give cornerback Logan Ryan a pass for his pass-interference penalty late in the fourth quarter that positioned the Raiders for a game-tying score, saying "I don't know about that one," and Ryan later discussed how he put the play behind him to help the defense close out the game. "I have a right to the ball also," he said, before saying he was interested to see the film on whether it was a penalty.

Rookie Stork delivers as late-game sub

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots’ offensive line took a major step back in Sunday’s 16-9 win over the Oakland Raiders, a performance that none of the players were thrilled about. The lone bright spot was rookie center Bryan Stork, who entered for the second straight week late in the game.

Stork, who stands 6-foot-4 and 310 pounds, was selected by the Patriots in the fourth round (105th overall) out of Florida State. Stork, a team captain for the Seminoles, won a national championship, anchoring Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jameis Winston’s offensive line. Stork also won the Rimington Award, given to college football’s top center and was a consensus All-American in his senior season.

Captain Dan Connolly likes the hard work that Stork has put in to reach this point in his young career.

“I think he has done a good job,” Connolly said. “He works hard and like last week, today he was called upon and did well. He was ready to go.”

Stork carries a no-nonsense, ready at a moment’s notice mentality. And that moment could come sooner rather than later.

For the second straight week, Stork entered the game in the fourth quarter (he had 12 snaps against Minnesota). But Sunday’s substitution against the Raiders was a little different.

Stork took over at center, with Connolly shifting to right guard to replace Jordan Devey, in a close game where the Patriots felt a switch was necessary.

“We just felt like we kind of needed to do it at that point,” coach Bill Belichick said of the move.

Devey let up a sack and had a holding penalty called on him on consecutive plays in the third quarter.

“When I’m in, I’m in. When I’m not, I’m not,” Devey said about being replaced. “Each of us has a role and if I am in, I know what my role is. If I’m out, I know what my role is. I was ready to go back in whenever they needed me.”

By the fourth quarter, it was Stork’s opportunity to help his team. Stork went on to play 15 snaps (including penalties, not including kneel-downs).

Left tackle Nate Solder praised Stork’s ability to jump into the game and have an impact.

“He’s awesome. He moved right in there, no problem making the calls and getting the ball snapped,” Solder said. “From my perspective, everything went smoothly.”

Stork missed a significant portion of training camp, which is difficult on a rookie, but he has made up the time. Before his injury during camp, Stork projected as a potential starting center.

With the offensive line’s struggles and the team’s confidence to put him into the game, Stork could be the center of the future, allowing the Patriots to play an offensive line (from left to right) of Solder, Marcus Cannon, Stork, Connolly and Sebastian Vollmer.

Tom Brady: Red zone offense a downer

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady credited the Oakland Raiders defense after Sunday's closer-than-anticipated 16-9 victory, but at the same time lamented missed opportunities for the offense.

"It was a tough win," Brady said after going 24-of-37 for 234 yards, with one touchdown and no interceptions. "That’s a good defensive group. They’ve got a lot of experienced players who have played a lot of football, won a lot of games and won championships, so it was going to be a dogfight. We need to do a better job getting the ball in the end zone. We settled for field goals down there on the 1-yard line and then another play at the half where we had opportunities. We just have to be able to ultimately score more points because if we don’t, we’re going to get beat. That’s what it came down to."

[+] EnlargeTom Brady
Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports"We left some chances on the field and certainly scoring opportunities," Tom Brady said. "Thatýs something we're going to have to obviously get a lot better at, so we'll keep working at it."
The Patriots scored one touchdown in four red zone trips.

"We left some chances on the field and certainly scoring opportunities," Brady said. "That’s something we’re going to have to obviously get a lot better at, so we’ll keep working at it."

A few other soundbites from Brady:

Vince Wilfork's game-sealing interception: "That was awesome. They scored and I thought we were going out there for a two-minute drill and they said ‘No, there was holding,’ and then on the next play, Vince -- he has three career interceptions, so he’s getting up there. That’s pretty cool. Great play."

The need for improvements: "I don’t think anything is perfect out there. There are some teams that are playing really well already. We’re not really doing that offensively yet. Defensively we played great but it’s a team sport. We’ve got to handle our business and do our job, whether it’s situationally, whether it’s scoring when we need to score. Not turning the ball over has been good -- I think we’ve done a good job of that. We’ve just got to score more points. Especially getting down to the red area and having opportunities to score and not being able to do it."

Pinpointing reasons for red zone struggles: "I think each play is different. We’re not really fair-catching them in the end zone. It’s tight throws, tight windows. We’ve got to throw it and make the play. It’s not going to be easy for us. I don’t think any team plays us and we get -- you know, we get their best. We’ve got to play a lot better and we’re capable of it, so we just have to go and practice and try to do it. It starts there."

Hope for better results in the future: "I think we’ve always gotten better as the season has gone on and as players, gained more experience in what we’re doing. We’ve got some new players. We’ve got different things that are happening. We’re all trying to get used to one another and used to the things we’re doing and trying to understand the things you’re good at. And then ultimately as the season goes, you work on the things that haven’t been going well and you try to stay real ahead of the things that you are doing really well at and then at the end of the year, you’re in a position to hopefully make the playoffs and do those types of things. Right now we’re building our team. We’re trying to make improvements. It hasn’t all gone right. It doesn’t go right when we have penalties or turnovers or negative runs. We’ve just got to do our assignment, do our job. We’ve got to do it better and then ultimately that’s going to lead to more scoring."

Belichick: A 'grind-it-out' win for Patriots

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick said the team has plenty of room for improvement following its 16-9 victory over the Oakland Raiders, but he'll obviously take the final result.

"That was kind of a grind-it-out game for us," he said. "I thought the players did a good job of making the plays we had to make here at the end of the game; good situational football, did a pretty good job of handling that. Defensively, any time you can keep a team out of the end zone, you have to feel good about that. We had some good plays in the kicking game. I thought [Matthew] Slater's kickoff return was really a heads-up play. They were trying to pin us down there on that mortar kick and had a couple good coverage plays. Offensively, we were able to score enough points. We missed some opportunities down in the red zone, which we have to convert more of those, but all in all, I thought it was a hard-fought game, like most of them are in this league. I think our players hung in there and kind of ground it out. Good to be 2-1."

A few other soundbites from Belichick:

On Vince Wilfork's game-sealing interception, the third of his career: "Second one against Oakland too, right? That was a huge play. We were in a three-man rush there and kind of trying to take away any shot play into the end zone and the play got batted around the middle. We all know the kind of athletic ability Vince has and hands. He's done that before; making one-handed grabs, so this was easy. He got two hands on it. But it was a huge play. It was a big turnover for us. Defensively we didn't get a lot of real good turnover opportunities in this game but that was one. We capitalized on it. That was the difference. Once again, to have the edge in turnovers is a big key to winning in this league. That was a big one."

On six accepted penalties for 59 yards: "It was one of the best things we did today. We had fewer penalties in all three phases of the game. That was certainly a positive. We need to play more that way. It wasn't perfect but that was an improvement in all three areas."

On the defensive pass interference call against Logan Ryan: "We'll have to take a look at that DPI call. I'm not sure about that one. But yeah, Logan competes hard. He's played well for us -- this year and last year when he's had the opportunity. He's tackled well, competes hard, tough kid. He made some big plays for us; he always does that. ... I had a good look at it. I'd just say I don't know about that one."

Ups and downs for the Patriots

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- At an initial glance, and without the benefit of film review, a look at which New England Patriots players are "up" and those who are at the opposite end of the spectrum in Sunday's game against the Raiders:

Patrick Chung -- Safety seemed to be utilized as a matchup option against fullback Marcel Reece and was effective in the role.

Julian Edelman -- Receiver was the most consistent option for quarterback Tom Brady once again.

Matthew Slater -- Special teams captain could put on a clinic when it comes to covering punts.

Offensive line -- From a low shotgun snap by center Dan Connolly to missed blocks by right guard Jordan Devey, right tackle Sebastian Vollmer, left tackle Nate Solder and left guard Marcus Cannon, this was a step back for a group that had bounced back last week.

Josh McDaniels, offensive play-calling and time management -- Three straight passes to open the game against the NFL's worst-rated run defense foreshadowed a day in which the Patriots seemed to outsmart themselves at times and also didn't execute well in situation-based football at the end of the first half.

Darrelle Revis -- Cornerback was excellent last week against Minnesota's Greg Jennings, but didn't seem to have the same blanket coverage this week, mostly against James Jones.

Rapid Reaction: New England Patriots

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- A few thoughts on the New England Patriots' 16-9 victory against the Oakland Raiders:

What it means: When it comes to style points, the Patriots don't get many for this one. It was ugly and produces more questions than answers about the team. But the end result is this: The Patriots are 2-1.

Offense sputters in a big way: Quarterback Tom Brady figures to be grumpy again after this one, as the offense continues to struggle. The problems are across the board, starting with poor protection from the offensive line, extending to questionable play-calling (three throws to open the game against the NFL's worst run defense), time management issues in the red zone at the end of the second quarter, and limited pass-catching options outside of Julian Edelman. We could go on, but the bottom line is that the offense is not in a good place right now. What are the solutions? That is the hot-button question.

Gronkowski not yet at full participation: Tight end Rob Gronkowski is still working his way to top form, as evidenced by his limited playing time. It took him five games last year upon returning from his forearm injury to be playing every snap, and this being his third game this year, it's no surprise he was on for 42 of a possible 73 snaps (including penalties but not kneel-downs).

Game ball: Julian Edelman. On a day in which the offense struggled, he was one of the few players who produced. It was reminiscent of how Wes Welker often delivered in situations like these. This was Edelman's fourth career game with 10 or more receptions.

Where's Dobson? Wide receiver Aaron Dobson, a 2013 second-round draft pick who is the team's best deep threat, was a healthy scratch in favor of Brandon LaFell, Kenbrell Thompkins and Danny Amendola. Dobson played in his first regular-season game last week in Minnesota (Thompkins was scratched) as the Patriots are playing some musical chairs at receiver, trying to find the right combinations. That Dobson wasn't part of the mix Sunday is a surprise.

Injuries to monitor. Starting defensive tackle Sealver Siliga left the game in the first quarter with a foot injury and did not return. Second-year player Chris Jones took his spot next to Vince Wilfork. This could lead the Patriots to consider a waiver claim on rookie defensive lineman Bruce Gaston, who was previously with the club but was waived by Miami on Saturday.

Stat of note: The Patriots are now 12-1 in home openers at Gillette Stadium, which opened in 2002.

What's next: The Patriots visit the Kansas City Chiefs on "Monday Night Football." It is their first trip to Arrowhead Stadium since the 2005 season. The Chiefs visit the Miami Dolphins during Sunday's late afternoon slate.

Fourth-quarter analysis from Mike Reiss

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21

Sharing Patriots halftime thoughts

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots sputtered through the first half against the Oakland Raiders in a disappointing 30 minutes. They are fortunate the Raiders aren't a very good team and haven't been able to capitalize on their sluggishness.

The sequence before the Patriots' first touchdown was notable, as the team didn't initially have tight end Rob Gronkowski on the field. Quarterback Tom Brady, for whatever the reason, called a timeout.

With that break in the action, the Patriots inserted Gronkowski into the game and he caught the touchdown pass out of a spread look.

Some other thoughts:

Amendola not a factor: Could this be the start of Danny Amendola being closer to inactive than a lock on the 46-man roster? That was one thought that came to mind as the Patriots have run some three-receiver sets with Brandon LaFell, Kenbrell Thompkins and Julian Edelman on the field. We counted Amendola with 12 offensive snaps in the first half.

Curious play-calling to open: The Raiders' defense entered the game having given up 400 rushing yards in two games. The Patriots, after re-establishing control of the line of scrimmage last week with a strong running performance, opened the game with three straight passes. A bit of a head-scratcher.

Brady's off the mark: It's always difficult to tell if a missed connection is on a quarterback or his pass-catcher, but it sure looked like it was Brady's mistake in overthrowing Gronkowski in the second quarter on a play that could have gone for big yardage. Brady, who was lighting into the sideline at one point during the half, wasn't on his game for most of the first 30 minutes.

Edelman the new Welker: Though the Patriots' offense was stagnant for most of the half, it wasn't because of the effort of Edelman. When Brady has a got-to-have-it throw, he's usually going to Edelman, just as he used to with Wes Welker.

Slow starts remain a concern: The Patriots have started slow in each of their first three games this season, which remains one of the concerns of the coaching staff.

Patriots' DT Sealver Siliga injures foot

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots starting defensive tackle Sealver Siliga left Sunday's game against the Oakland Raiders with a foot injury in the first quarter. Siliga walked to the locker room under his own power for further tests and has not returned to the sideline.

The 6-foot-2, 325-pound Siliga, whose big-bodied presence helped the Patriots play stronger inside against the run last week, was paired with Vince Wilfork in the middle for Sunday's game against Oakland.

In his absence, second-year player Chris Jones stepped in.

The Patriots have officially listed Siliga's return as questionable.

UPDATE: It has been announced that Siliga will not return.

Jonathan Kraft recalls tuck rule, Al Davis

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- We all remember the infamous 2001 AFC divisional playoff game between the New England Patriots and Oakland Raiders -- known as the “tuck rule” game -- that propelled New England to its first Super Bowl win in franchise history.

In Jonathan Kraft’s weekly pregame interview with 98.5 The Sports Hub, Kraft was asked about the late Raiders owner, Al Davis, which led to a discussion about the tuck rule.

“I think of roughing the passer and the Snow Bowl and even that divisional playoff game in ’86, which got us to the AFC Championship Game and then you have to think of Al [Davis],” Kraft said. “And this is the first time playing the Raiders since Al passed away.”

When asked about the “tuck rule game,” Kraft laughed and told a story about Davis’ son and current Raiders owner Mark Davis.

“Today it would be [a fumble] because the tuck rule doesn’t exist, but back then it wasn’t,” Kraft said.

“Mark Davis was up with us in the office beforehand and he looked at the Super Bowl XXXVI trophy and it’s up there and Mark said, ‘You know, that’s our trophy.’”

Kraft laughed about the story and said Mark was light-hearted about seeing the Vince Lombardi Trophy that slipped through his father’s hands back in 2001.

“Al wouldn’t have come up, Mark is a great guy,” Kraft said. “Al was a unique and special guy that I really feel privileged to have had the chance to know a little.”

Kraft also recalled a couple of Al Davis memories, calling Davis a special guy who was great for the football community.

“When I got married back in 1995, Al called me that week to congratulate me and asked where I was going on the honeymoon and I said, ‘We are going to Asia,’” Kraft said. “And he said, ‘Are you stopping over in L.A.’ -- they were still the L.A. Raiders -- he said, ‘How long is your layover?’”

“I said, ‘We have about six hours.’ He said, ‘I’m sending a driver to come pick you and your wife up, come have dinner with me in my office.’”

“So we drove -- a guy picked us up in a white Raiders jumpsuit and it wasn’t Al. Drove us in a white Cadillac. We had dinner in Al’s office. It was steak. That was it. There were no choices. It was classic Al. But it was a wonderful way to spend our first night as a married couple.”

Another memory was a game in Oakland after Kraft’s mother, Myra, passed away.

“We played out in Oakland after my mom had passed away and they were kind enough to have a moment of silence for her,” Kraft said. “Al was a special guy and if you love football and you had the privilege to know him, you feel fortunate.”