Stats & Info: Aaron Hernandez

Pats hope Amendola replaces Welker in slot

July, 29, 2013
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AP PhotosDanny Amendola, left, will likely be the top target for Tom Brady this season.
The 2013 New England Patriots have experienced a great deal of turnover from last season. Let's evaluate the top questions facing them as the new season approaches.

How significant are the personnel losses?
Including Rob Gronkowski, who is currently on the physically unable to perform list, the Patriots are likely without each of their top five receivers from last season to begin the season. Those five players (Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Danny Woodhead) represent more than 84 percent of Tom Brady’s completions last season.

Should Gronkowski miss Week 1, the Patriots would likely become the first team since the 1997 New Orleans Saints to start a season without their five leaders in receiving yards from the previous season, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Who will Brady rely on?
The Patriots will be relying on Danny Amendola to help offset the loss of Welker. Amendola’s 2012 season was strikingly similar to Welker’s in his first season prior to joining the Patriots, with Welker catching just four more passes and Amendola catching two more touchdowns.

Brady hopes to replicate the success he had with Welker with Amendola this season, particularly out of the slot. Although Welker is regarded as perhaps the league’s best slot receiver, Amendola ranked second last season in receptions per game out of the slot behind Welker.

New England is now especially thin at tight end, but Jake Ballard could be a potential solution after missing the entire 2012 season. In 2011, he emerged as Eli Manning’s favorite red zone target, leading the New York Giants with eight red zone receptions.

What's at stake for Brady?
Brady continues to climb in the record books, and this season he has a chance to gain some more headway on other legends.

Brady (136-39 career record) needs 11 wins to tie Dan Marino for the fourth-most wins by a starting quarterback in NFL history and 12 to tie John Elway for third-most.

In his sixth game of the season, Brady could tie Drew Brees’ NFL record for consecutive games with a passing touchdown (54).

Brady (334) could pass Fran Tarkenton (342) for the fourth-most passing touchdowns in league history.

More important than any statistic, Brady and the Patriots haven’t won a Super Bowl in nine years. Since winning his first 10 career playoff games, Brady is 7-7 in the postseason.

Do formations make Patriots predictable?

September, 21, 2012
9/21/12
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Jared Wickerham/Getty ImagesTom Brady walked off the field Sunday following a rare loss at home.
Is stopping Tom Brady as simple as seeing if he’s in the shotgun? That’s what Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton told Arizona Sports 620.

The Cardinals stifled the New England Patriots in a 20-18 win in Week 2. For Brady, it marked just his second loss at home in 37 regular-season games.

According to Horton, the Cardinals’ staff picked up on the Patriots' offensive tendencies, especially after Aaron Hernandez left the game with an injury. Specifically, Arizona looked at Brady’s positioning to determine if the Patriots would pass or run.

So, was Horton correct? After Hernandez was injured with 7:03 left in the first quarter, the Patriots called a pass play on 37 of 46 snaps (80.4 percent) with Brady in shotgun. When Brady was under center, the Patriots called a run on 18 of 29 snaps (62.1 percent).

While Horton may have exaggerated, the Patriots did have some clear tendencies after the Hernandez injury.

“Whenever Tom Brady was under the center they were gonna run the ball and whenever he was in shotgun they were gonna pass the ball,” Horton said. “So we told our players, ‘Hey, make the run check if Tom Brady is under center, if he’s in the gun, go to the pass check,’ and they handled it beautifully.”

However, looking at the Patriots’ total play-call percentage last season suggests an even closer correspondence. In 2011, New England was even more likely to pass in shotgun (85 percent) and run the ball from under center (65 percent).

Whether Horton was on point or not, the Cardinals did slow down the Patriots’ offense when they were more likely to pass or run.

The Patriots averaged fewer pass yards per play (-2.6 difference) with Brady in shotgun, and fewer rush yards per play (-2.6 difference) with Brady under center.

The Patriots may need to vary their tendencies on Sunday night against the Baltimore Ravens. Recent history suggests Baltimore is all over it.

Since the start of 2008, Brady is averaging 5.7 yards per attempt in shotgun against the Ravens (four games), tied for his third-lowest average against a single opponent.

No downfield game sends Packers downhill

September, 11, 2012
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AP Photo/Mike RoemerThings have not been looking up of late for Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.
Since winning 19 straight games (including playoffs), the Green Bay Packers have lost three of their last five.

In Week 1, Green Bay’s 13-game home win streak came to an end. Now they host the Chicago Bears on Thursday.

Green Bay has opened up the season with consecutive losses at home only twice in the Super Bowl era (1988, 2006).

Under the current playoff format since 1990, only 25 percent of teams that started 0-1 went on to make the playoffs. And, if history is any indication, then Thursday is a must-win situation for the Packers. Each of the five times the Packers have started 0-2 under the current playoff format they have missed the playoffs.

During the Packers’ 19-game win streak, Aaron Rodgers completed 55.5 percent of his throws 15 yards or more downfield. In his last four games, including last year’s playoff loss to the New York Giants, Rodgers has completed just 25.8 percent of such throws.

Rodgers’ counterpart, Jay Cutler, completed 7-of-13 (53.8 percent) of his throws 15 yards or more downfield in Week 1 against the Indianapolis Colts. Only Drew Brees completed more such throws. However, since joining the Bears, Cutler has thrown two touchdowns and nine interceptions on passes at least 15 yards downfield against the Packers.

Cardinals at Patriots
One of the four matchups in Week 2 between 1-0 teams. Tom Brady has never lost a home opener as the New England Patriots’ starting quarterback (9-0). He’s also 35-1 in his last 36 regular-season home starts. Both of Brady’s touchdown passes in Week 1 went to his tight ends, Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski.

Not including a kneel down, New England used at least two tight ends on all of its offensive plays against the Tennessee Titans, and Hernandez and Gronkowski each played 66 of a possible 67 offensive snaps. Wes Welker was on field for 42 of the Patriots’ 67 plays (62.7 percent). That was his lowest snap percentage since Week 3 of 2010. Last season, Welker was on field for 88.7 percent of the Patriots’ snaps.

Lions at 49ers
Can the 49ers slow down a second straight high-powered offense from the NFC North? San Francisco has won eight straight against Detroit -- the longest by either team in the history of the series.

Alex Smith was 15-of-16 for 152 yards and a touchdown when targeting his wide receivers in Week 1. Smith didn’t complete more than 13 passes to his wide receivers in a game last season, and was just 1-of-5 in the NFC Championship game.

The 49ers secondary will have to try to stop the Lions duo of Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson.

Stafford has thrown for at least at least 350 yards in four straight games, which is tied for longest streak in NFL history with Drew Brees. And Johnson has at least 100 receiving yards in four straight games. No Lions player has at least five straight 100-yard receiving games since Pat Studstill had six consecutive 100-yard games in 1966.

In their win last season at Detroit, the 49ers sent four or fewer rushers on 55 of Matthew Stafford’s 56 dropbacks. Since the start of 2008, no quarterback has had more dropbacks against such pressure in a single game.

What Rob Gronkowski means to Patriots

February, 1, 2012
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Al Bello/Getty ImagesTom Brady and the Patriots' effectiveness in the Super Bowl could ride on Rob Gronkowski's left ankle.

One of the key storylines leading up to the Super Bowl XLVI is the availability of New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski. He was without a walking boot on media day, but it has yet to be seen if he will be 100 percent against the New York Giants on Sunday.

If he isn’t, the Patriots offense might take on a new look.

The Patriots used two or more tight ends on 81 percent of their regular-season plays and have done so on 88 percent of their postseason plays (excluding spikes and kneel-downs). No other team has featured multiple tight ends on a higher percent of plays, and the Patriots don’t have a third tight end on their roster.

If Gronkowski is limited or doesn’t play, that would likely lead to more three-wide receiver sets. Outside of Wes Welker and Deion Branch, the Patriots haven’t had a consistent threat from a third wide receiver this season.

Tom Brady has thrown only 140 of his 681 passes this season with three wide receivers and just one tight end on the field. Although Brady is completing 71 percent of his passes with such personnel on field, he is also throwing an interception about once every 28 attempts, compared to once every 68 attempts with all other personnel groupings.

Less or no Gronkowski could also limit the versatility of Aaron Hernandez. Gronkowski has taken 61 percent of his snaps attached to the line of scrimmage. In contrast, Hernandez has taken 66 percent of his snaps and caught 52 of his 90 receptions when split out wide or in the slot. The Patriots may keep Hernandez in more often to compensate, which could lead to fewer mismatches.

If Gronkowski is able to play he may not be at 100 percent, which could limit his performance in areas he normally excels.

Gronkowski finished the regular season with the fourth-most yards after the catch (641), most among tight ends. The only tight end to average more yards after the catch per reception was Brent Celek (7.9 to 7.1).

Of course, the Patriots could opt to base Gronkowski’s playing time on the situation. Only Calvin Johnson has more red zone touchdowns than "Gronk" the past two seasons, and no Patriots receiver has been nearly as effective in the end zone.

What Patriots and Giants learned in Week 9

January, 26, 2012
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AP Photo/Winslow TownsonThe Giants and Patriots have already tangled once this season, a 24-20 Giants victory in Week 9. They'll meet again in Super Bowl XLVI, their second Super Bowl meeting in five seasons.
For all the hype about Tom Brady and Eli Manning leading potent offenses into Super Bowl XLVI next Sunday, their Week 9 matchup was a 10-3 advantage for the New York Giants entering the fourth quarter as Brady had pushed the New England Patriots into the red zone. The stage was set for a whirlwind 31-point finish that highlighted season-long trends for both teams.

What helped the Giants win, 24-20, ending New England’s 20-game regular-season home winning streak? And what can both teams take away from the game?

What Happened:
• On the second play of the fourth quarter, Brady hit Aaron Hernandez on a five-yard TD pass. No team targets tight ends like the Patriots, particularly in the red zone. Only the Detroit Lions’ tight ends had as many targets (37) as the Patriots had catches (36) in the red zone, and Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski accounted for 22 red zone touchdowns, twice as many as any other TE tandem.

Hakeem Nicks
Nicks
• After a Giants punt and a Patriots field goal, New York let the Patriots defense do the work on its next drive. On first down at his 25, Manning took a shot down the sideline and cornerback Kyle Arrington was flagged for interference. This season, New England was called for five interference penalties of at least 20 yards, tied for most in the league. That set up a 10-yard TD pass to Mario Manningham out of a three wide receiver set. The Giants were without Hakeem Nicks that day, a big void for one of the most productive three-plus WR offenses.

• The Patriots drove 64 yards and retook the lead on a pass to Gronkowski, and Manning got the ball back on his 20 with 1:36 to go. Nine plays later (including another deep interference penalty), Manning hit Jake Ballard in the end zone. The drive took 1:21. Quick strikes were a Giants hallmark. They had 17 touchdown drives this season that took less than two minutes.

What to take away:
• Both quarterbacks are effective against the blitz. In Week 9, both of Manning’s touchdowns came against at least six rushers. This season, defenses sent extra pressure at Manning more often than any other quarterback, and he excelled. His 18 touchdowns against five or more rushers led the league. As for Brady, no quarterback posted a better TD-Int differential than his +15 against extra rushers. Pressuring them is important, but both offensive lines ranked in the top eight in sack percentage.

• While the Giants will have to figure out a way to defend Hernandez and Gronkowski, who were held scoreless in only four games, the Patriots’ challenge will be in dealing with Nicks, Manningham and Victor Cruz. They have combined for 4,134 receiving yards, including in the playoffs, tops in the NFL. The Giants are at their best with three wide receivers, and the Patriots struggled with extra defensive backs on the field.

• Manning under or overthrew on nine throws, his second-highest total this season. Missing as many a second time around is unlikely, particularly with Nicks back in the lineup. Getting Nicks back will help Manning improve on his 7-of-20 performance in Week 9 with three or more WR on the field. Even in victory, there were plenty of opportunities left on the field for the Giants.

Beware the Pats' "Tiger" personnel

January, 25, 2012
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Getty Images/ESPN Stats & Information Roll over each player to see the variety of ways the Patriots utilize their key personnel.

Tom Brady
Brady
Tom Brady had a historically-good 2011 season, finishing in the top five in every major passing category, including yards, completions, completion percentage, yards per attempt and touchdowns. But as good as the New England Patriots' offense was, it was very predictable as to whom would be on the field, and for good reason.

The Patriots have utilized the same five-man skill-position player combination on 18.2 percent of their offensive snaps, a higher rate than any other playoff team. The personnel combo, consisting of receivers Wes Welker and Deion Branch, tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez and running back Danny Woodhead, presents an array of matchup issues for opposing defenses.

Dissecting this a bit further shows the Patriots had Welker, Branch, Gronkowski and Hernandez on the field at the same time for 45.2 percent of all of their offensive snaps this season.

Tom Brady thrives in two-receiver, two-tight end, one-back sets (nicknamed "Tiger" packages in the NFL), and the Patriots take advantage by throwing the ball more than any other team in such formations.

In the regular season Brady had 382 pass attempts out of two-WR, two-TE, one-RB sets; Philip Rivers had the second-most with 223. And due to the enormous number of opportunities, Brady dominated every major passing category.

Opposing defenses have countered New England's Tiger packages with five or more defensive backs 85.1 percent of the time, instead of using their base defenses to combat the heavier personnel.

Gronkowski and Hernandez present formidable receiving threats, so despite the extra pass coverage personnel, Brady posted a 77.7 QBR and 41.1 Points Above Average (the number of points the QB accounted for above how many the league's average QB would be expected to score). In a much smaller sample size (only 71 plays), when defenses kept their base 3-4 or 4-3 alignments on the field Brady's QBR was 12.6 points lower and he recorded only a 3.5 PAA.

This personnel matchup favors the Patriots (statistically), as the New York Giants allowed a league-worst 86.7 QBR to opposing quarterbacks in two-receiver, two-tight end, one-back sets this season. In the New York's Week 9 victory at Foxboro, the Giants held Tom Brady to a 56.3 QBR, his third-lowest mark of the season. But when Brady had his 2 WR, 2 TE, 1 RB personnel on the field, his QBR was 19.9 points higher.

Here we go again... what's changed?

January, 24, 2012
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US Presswire
Tom Brady (left) and Eli Manning (right) square off for the second time on the NFL's biggest stage.
For the second time in five seasons, the New England Patriots and New York Giants enter the Super Bowl following a familiar script.

The Patriots once again show up on the big stage boasting a historically proficient offense. While not quite the juggernaut of the 2007 team that set the NFL single-season scoring record, the 2011 version put up 513 points, tied with the 1984 Dolphins and 1961 Oilers for the 10th-most in NFL history (never mind that the ’61 Oilers did it in only 14 games).

For the Giants, the path to Indianapolis was paved much in the same way as its path to Glendale, AZ five seasons ago: winning on the road. Dating to 2007, the Giants have won six straight playoff games away from home which is the longest such streak in NFL history.

Although both teams reached the Super Bowl in similar fashions, what can we expect from the actual meeting itself? In other words: what's changed?

One key difference is how the Patriots deploy their personnel on offense, specifically with regards to Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. This past season the Patriots deployed two tight ends on 81 percent of their plays, easily the highest percentage of any team in the NFL.

In Super Bowl XLII, the Patriots used two tight ends on just a third of their 69 plays. Of their 75 offensive plays against the Giants in their Week 9 meeting this season, the Patriots used two tight ends on 84 percent and did not run a single play with no tight end (see chart).
Eli Manning
Manning
Another change to look for is how Bill Belichick goes after Eli Manning. Belichick was aggressive in Super Bowl XLII, sending five or more pass rushers on 18 of Manning’s 37 dropbacks (48.6 percent), including the game-winning touchdown to Plaxico Burress.

Since then there has been a stark change in philosophy, as the Patriots have used such pressure 30.0 percent of the time and have not exceeded 46.0 percent in any game over the last two seasons. The Patriots blitzed just 27.6 percent of the time when the teams met in Week 9.

Perhaps the lack of blitzing will pay off against Eli Manning, who has a plus-36 touchdown-to-interception differential since Super Bowl XLII against five or more pass rushers (plus-16 vs four or fewer).

While the Patriots have changed their approach to Manning, don’t expect the Giants to switch things up against Tom Brady. The Giants have been relying heavily on their four-man rush, using such pressure 82 percent of the time in the postseason. In his last two meetings against the Giants, Brady put up similar numbers against the standard rush.

Watch out for how the Patriots attack that four-man rush. When Brady was under center in 2007, the Patriots dropped back to pass (including sacks and scrambles) 61 percent of the time. This season, the Patriots called passes 60 percent of the time with Brady under center.

The Patriots were pass-heavy in both meetings against the Giants in 2007 and Week 9 this season despite the three games being decided by a combined 10 points. In their last three meetings, the Patriots ran most often in the Week 17 win in 2007. In Super Bowl XLII, the Patriots dropped back to pass 77 percent of the time, the third-highest rate with Brady since the start of 2007.

Ravens can stay tight with Pats tight ends

January, 18, 2012
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David Butler II/US Presswire
The Ravens may have the defense to handle the Patriots' two tight ends, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.

Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez combined for 2,237 receiving yards and 24 touchdown grabs this season, with Gronkowski setting the single-season touchdown record for tight ends (17).

The duo have transformed the New England Patriots offense, which in 2009 used multi-tight end formations on 38 percent of its offensive plays. Over the past two seasons, the Patriots have used such formations 72 percent of the time, the most in the NFL.

The Baltimore Ravens may be able to keep them in check by staying in their base 3-4 defense. This season, Patriots opponents have used five or more defensive backs 75 percent of the time when the Patriots go multi-tight end. When all other NFL teams go two tight ends, defenses go to nickel and dime sets just 15 percent of the time.

When teams do stick to the base, the Patriots have been far more likely to run and haven’t been as efficient.

The Ravens kept four or fewer defensive backs on field for 84.5 percent of plays with two tight ends on the field this season, allowing just three touchdowns (2 rushing, 1 passing) from those sets.

The Ravens can’t approach both tight ends the same way. Gronkowski is New England’s obvious red-zone threat; 24 of his 30 career touchdowns (including playoffs) have come inside the red zone.

Tom Brady has targeted Gronkowski 24 times in the end zone the past two seasons with just four of those passes falling incomplete. No other quarterback-receiver combo with at least 10 attempts has a higher completion percentage (83.3 percent) on such throws.

The Ravens have allowed only five red zone passing touchdowns this season, half as many as the next lowest team. They’ve also allowed just 25 percent of end-zone passes to be completed, fourth-best in the NFL.

With Hernandez, versatility should be the Ravens’ main concern.

Hernandez has lined up all over the field, taking snaps attached to the line like most tight ends, but also lining up like a wide receiver, fullback and a halfback. In the Divisional Playoffs, Hernandez even took handoffs.

The Ravens have allowed 667 receiving yards to tight ends this season, third-fewest in the NFL. They’ve been particularly stingy to tight ends lining up as wide receivers -- only 199 of the 677 yards allowed to tight ends came from players lining up out wide.

If the Ravens can continue their success against tight ends and keep Gronkowski and Hernandez out of the end zone, they may find themselves back in the Super Bowl.

AP Photo/Barry GutierrezTim Tebow runs against the Patriots in a Week 15 matchup, but is met by defensive back
Nate Jones. The Broncos led 16-7 early, but would go on to win 41-23.


After 15 minutes of play in Week 15 in Denver, the Denver Broncos were up 13-7 on the New England Patriots and looked poised to add more with the ball on the New England 15-yard line. Denver had gained 167 rushing yards, the highest single-quarter total of any Patriots opponent in the Belichick era.

After Denver kicked a field goal to make it 16-7, Tom Brady and the Patriots rattled off 27 straight points and finished with a 41-23 victory.

How did the Patriots turn it around, and what can the Broncos take away from that game that may help on Saturday?

What happened

• Denver stopped running. The Broncos ran 20 plays in the first quarter, 14 of which were designed runs (70 percent) with one scramble. Denver ran 38 plays over the last three quarters, 13 of which were designed runs (34.2 percent). Willis McGahee had five rushes for 59 yards in the first quarter, but had just two rushes for 11 yards the rest of the game.

• In that pivotal second quarter, two fumbles and a muffed punt led to 13 New England points, continuing two season-long trends. Only the Lions had more points off takeaways this season than the Patriots (119), and Denver ranked 23rd with 82 points allowed off giveaways.

Tom Brady
Brady
• Denver sent at least five pass rushers on 46.3 percent of dropbacks this season, the third-highest rate in the league. But when the Broncos tried to blitz Brady, he made them pay. Brady finished 10-of-12 for 171 yards and a touchdown against five or more rushers. He set season highs for a Denver opponent in yards per attempt (14.3) and completion percentage (83.3) against extra pressure.

• Denver made a concerted effort to take Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski out of the passing game, and they combined for just eight catches and 94 yards. However, Aaron Hernandez posted career highs in receptions (nine) and yards (129).

• In the second half, Tim Tebow and the Broncos couldn’t move the ball. He completed only six of his 14 passes in the second half, and the Patriots mixed their pressure well. Twelve of Tebow’s 21 dropbacks came against extra pressure, and the Patriots had four sacks in the second half.

What Denver can do

• Run the ball. The Patriots moved from an even-spaced front (offensive tackles and centers uncovered, a traditional 4-3 look) to an odd-spaced look similar to a 3-4 defense, and had success stopping the run. Anticipating both fronts from New England will be important in preparing their running game.

• Pressure Brady with a standard rush. New England was the only team with four 700-yard receivers (Gronkowski, Welker, Hernandez and Deion Branch), and committing extra defenders to the pass rush will make it easier for Brady to find one of them. The last three teams to beat Brady in the playoffs (2007 Giants, 2009 Ravens, 2010 Jets) all found ways to pressure Brady with four or fewer pass rushers.

• Stay in the pocket. Tebow was 9-for-14 against the Patriots inside the pocket in Week 15 for 152 yards, averaging 10.9 yards per attempt. New England had significant success when Tebow took off outside the pocket, especially against extra pressure. Tebow didn’t complete any of his five attempts outside the pocket when New England sent added pressure.

Patrick Smith/Getty ImagesTim Tebow had trouble when the Patriots sent heavy pressure at him on Sunday.
What Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos were able to do in the first quarter against the New England Patriots was something that was statistically difficult to maintain.

The Broncos inability to perform up to the level they played in the first 15 minutes allowed Tom Brady and the Patriots to surpass them in the stat that counts the most-- points.

Tebow’s issues against teams that send five or more pass rushers on a play came into play on Sunday. He was just 3-for-9 for 53 yards, 1-for-5 in the fourth quarter. The Broncos had won four straight games with fourth quarter comebacks, but they had no such magic on Sunday.

Conversely, Brady was 10-for-12 for 172 yards and a touchdown when the Broncos sent at least five rushers. The Patriots knew the Broncos would be blitzing frequently. Denver had blitzed the second-most frequently of any team since Week 9.

One of the biggest stories of this game wasn’t so much Tebow or Brady, but Aaron Hernandez, who had a career-high nine catches and 129 receiving yards, two more yards than he had in his previous two games combined.

Hernandez had five receptions on five targets, including a touchdown, for 96 yards when the Broncos sent extra pass rushers.

The Tebow magic, most evident in the fourth quarter the last few weeks, was present early in the game this week.

Denver had 15 rushes for 167 yards in the first quarter (according to Elias, the most in any quarter against a team that had Bill Belichick as its head coach), 123 of which came before being contacted by a Patriots defender (both single-quarter season highs).

Though they averaged 8.2 yards before contact per rush in the first quarter, the Broncos only attempted 16 designed rushes in the last three quarters, gaining 68 yards before contact (4.4 per rush) and 85 total yards.

Tebow, who completed 60 percent of his throws in the first quarter, completed just 42 percent in the last three.

The Broncos fell to 18-1 all-time in games in which they had at least 250 rushing yards.

Tebow’s 93 rushing yards were the second-most he’s had in a game in his career.

Lions set NFL record

The Detroit Lions late rally to beat the Oakland Raiders made NFL history.

The Lions became the first team in NFL history with four comebacks from 13 or more points down to win in a single season.

Matthew Stafford became the third quarterback in Lions history to surpass 4,000 passing yards in a season (Scott Mitchell and Jon Kitna, with Kitna doing it twice).

Calvin Johnson’s 214 receiving yards were the third-most in a game in Lions history, trailing Cloyce Box (302, 1950) and Richard Johnson (248, 1989)

Vick keeps Eagles alive

The Philadelphia Eagles remained barely alive for a playoff spot by beating the New York Jets handily.

Michael Vick had one of the best days he’s had as a passer in a long time. He was 10-for-14 for 251 yards on throws traveling more than ten yards downfield

The Jets entered the game allowing a league-low 37.7 completion percentage to opposing passers on throws of that distance.

LeSean McCoy also had a big day, setting team single-season records for rushing touchdowns (17) and total touchdowns (20), both marks previously set by Steve Van Buren in 1945.

The Eagles are 9-0 against the Jets, which according to Elias is the best unbeaten record for one team against another.

Highs and lows for Week 6 Total QBR

October, 17, 2011
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Week 6 was a week of extremes as six quarterbacks who have played in at least four games this year set season-highs in QBR while five set season-lows. Rookies Andy Dalton, Cam Newton and Blaine Gabbert set career-highs.

Ryan and Rodgers lead the pack

Matt Ryan:

• Season-high 92.5 Total QBR

• Major cause: Two defensive pass interference calls in the end zone setting up 1st and goals for the Falcons. Ryan contributed 4.4 clutch-weighted expected points to the Falcons on penalties, the most in a single game for any quarterback this season.

• Ryan was also 3-3 for 53 yards on third downs in the fourth quarter. All three went for first downs.

• Since 2008, Ryan has 12 games with a QBR of 90 or higher, second most in the league.

Aaron Rodgers:

• 91.9 Total QBR, second highest of the season

• Major cause: In the first half Rodgers was 11-15 for 234 yards and three touchdowns. Despite Rodgers being unable to lead the Packers to any second half points, his superb first half gave Green Bay a 24-0 cushion which was never threatened.

Manning and Newton with season-highs

Eli Manning:

• Season-high 91.4 Total QBR

• Major cause: Stayed away from negative plays. This was Manning’s first game since Week 12 of last season without a sack, interception or fumble.

Cam Newton:

• Season-high 80.6 Total QBR

• Major cause: Scrambling. Newton added 8.1 clutch-weighted expected points with his scrambling, the most in a single game since Vince Young in Week 11 of the 2009 season. A large chunk of this came on Newton’s rush TD on a 3rd and 5 from the Falcons 14 yard line with the Panthers trailing by four in the third quarter.

Romo and Brady both above average, but not much more

Tony Romo:

• 62.6 Total QBR

• Major cause: It was a mixed bag for Romo. His biggest play of the game came on a 17-yard scramble on a 2nd and 13 in the 4th quarter with the game tied. That drive ended with a Cowboys field goal to take a 16-13 lead. However, Romo struggled on third downs all day, completing only two first down passes with an INT on seven attempts.

Tom Brady:

• Season-low 56.8 Total QBR

• Major cause: Like Romo, it was a mixed bag for Brady. His touchdown to Aaron Hernandez is what most people will remember (and was his biggest play of the game); however, Brady did not complete a single pass that traveled more than 12 yards in the air. This is the first time Brady did not complete a pass of that length since Week 4 of last season.

• Entering the final drive Brady’s QBR was 30.6, so the fact he was able to bring it all the way up to 56.8 on one drive was impressive.

For more information about Total QBR, go to http://espn.go.com/nfl/story/_/id/6909058/nfl-total-qbr-faq
The Buffalo Bills are hosting the New England Patriots on Sunday afternoon in what has turned into an unlikely early-season battle for first place in the AFC East.

This will be the 103rd meeting between the Patriots and Bills, but according to the Elias Sports Bureau, it will be the first time both teams are unbeaten (excluding meetings in season openers).

The Patriots have dominated this divisional battle in recent years, with 15 consecutive wins since a Week 1 loss in 2003. That streak is tied for the fourth-longest win streak by one team over another in NFL history.

This game also features the two best quarterbacks in the NFL this season, according to ESPN’s Total Quarterback Rating. Total QBR measures all plays made by a QB (passes, rushes, sacks, fumbles, penalties, etc.) and accounts for when those plays are made in a game.

Tom Brady already holds the NFL record for most combined passing yards in the first two games of the season (940), and needs 282 yards Sunday to set the record for most pass yards in the first three games of a season.

However, he’ll be without one of his favorite receivers, tight end Aaron Hernandez, who is expected to miss the game with a sprained knee. Since the start of last season, the Patriots have a league-leading 40 targets and 22 touchdowns to tight ends in the red zone.

Ryan Fitzpatrick
Fitzpatrick
Ryan Fitzpatrick is tied for the NFL lead with seven TD passes this season. The only Bills QB to throw more touchdown passes in the team’s first two games was Jim Kelly, who had eight in 1991.

But the Bills are more than just a pass-happy offense, as the team also has the top-ranked ground game. Fred Jackson leads the NFL with four carries of at least 20 yards, while the team’s 165 yards after contact is the second-highest total in the league.

A Bills win would give them their first 3-0 start since starting 4-0 in 2008. They failed to maintain their momentum that season, however, as they lost nine of their final 12 games and missed the playoffs.

The Patriots are looking for their first 3-0 start since 2007. That year New England won 18 straight games before their perfect season ended with a 17-14 loss to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII.
For the second time in the last four seasons, Tom Brady was named the AP’s Offensive Player of the Year.

Tom Brady
Brady
He’s the sixth player since the award was first handed out in 1973 to win it multiple times. The five other players who have won the award more than once are: Earl Campbell and Marshall Faulk (three each) and Jerry Rice, Barry Sanders and Terrell Davis.

When New England drafted not one but two tight ends in the first four rounds of last year’s draft, no one could have imagined the impact that Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez would have on Brady and the Patriots’ offense. When Brady threw to Gronkowski, his passer rating was 143.3, the highest among any QB-receiver duo this season. His passer rating of 130.6 to Hernandez ranked fifth in the NFL.

Brady targeted his tight ends 127 times this season compared to just 58 times in 2009. The rookie tight ends made a big difference for Brady in the red zone. Brady targeted his tight ends 29 times in the red zone in 2010 and picked up 17 touchdowns. In 2009, Brady targeted his tight ends 10 times in the red zone with four touchdowns.

Brady ranked first this season in touchdown passes (36), passer rating (111.0) and threw the fewest interceptions (4). His ratio of touchdowns to interceptions (9.0) is the highest in NFL history.

He'll enter 2011 with an NFL-record streak of 335 pass attempts without an interception in the regular season. His last interception came on a Hail Mary on the final play of regulation in Week 6 against the Baltimore Ravens.

In 11 of the Patriots’ 16 games this season, Brady threw at least two touchdown passes without an interception. The 11 such games broke his own NFL record that he set in 2007, when Brady threw a record 50 touchdown passes.

Brady has to be considered one of the favorites to be named the league’s MVP on Sunday. He also happens to be the last player to win both awards in the same season (2007).

However, winning the Offensive MVP award recently has not translated to Super Bowl success. The last player to win the Super Bowl and Offensive MVP award in the same season? Marshall Faulk in 1999.
A statistical preview of Sunday’s Divisional playoff game between the New York Jets and the New England Patriots.

In the teams’ Week 2 matchup, Patriots QB Tom Brady was 10-for-18 with an interception when the Jets blitzed a member of the secondary, but in Week 13, Brady went 7-for-10 with two touchdowns. Brady completed 50 percent of his attempts in 2009 when the Jets rushed a member of the secondary with no touchdowns and one interception.

Pass pressure from the secondary will be the key Sunday. The Jets have sent a defensive back after the quarterback on 32.3 percent of opponents’ pass plays this season (including playoffs), the highest rate in the NFL and more than double the league average.

In their Week 2 win, the Jets sent a defensive back at the quarterback on 48.6 percent of New England’s pass plays, but in their Week 13 blowout loss, they used secondary pressure only 40.6 percent of the time.

Tom Brady
Brady
The Jets are coming off of their lowest DB-blitz total of the season, sending a member of the secondary on just 14.8 percent of Peyton Manning’s dropbacks. In the 2009 AFC Championship Game against the Colts, Ryan and the Jets blitzed a DB on 58.5 percent of Manning’s dropbacks.

Last week’s wild card game was only the third time this season and fifth time under Ryan that the Jets didn’t blitz a defensive back on 20 percent of an opponent’s dropbacks.

Brady has benefited greatly from his two rookie tight ends this season. When Brady throws to Rob Gronkowski, he has the highest passer rating in the league when targeting a single receiver (143.3), just ahead of Philip Rivers-to-Antonio Gates. His 130.6 passer rating when targeting Aaron Hernandez is fifth-highest (minimum 50 attempts).

Mark Sanchez is likely to see a lot of standard pass rush -- four or fewer pass rushers -- from the Patriots this week.

Sanchez went 13-for-16 with two touchdowns when New England rushed five or more this season, and in Week 13, Sanchez couldn’t navigate the Patriots’ standard rush the way he did in Week 2.

When the Jets run the ball, look for them to attack the Patriots’ defense to the right. Of LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene’s 49 rush attempts against the Patriots this season, 26 came up the middle.

LaDainian Tomlinson
Tomlinson
Both found moderate success there, but they picked up big chunks of yards to the right side. Tomlinson and Greene combined for five first downs on 14 rushes to the right against the Patriots, just as many firsts as they got up the middle.

Tomlinson averaged 12.6 yards per rush to the right against New England this season, more than three times better than in any other direction.
The Cleveland Browns have won back to back games for the first time this season after beating the New England Patriots 34-14 on Sunday. Peyton Hillis ran for a career-high 184 yards, the most rush yards by one player against the Patriots since Ricky Williams rushed for 185 yards on December 29, 2002. New England couldn’t stop Hillis even though he attacked the same way he has all season -- and attacked the Pats’ strength as well.

Peyton Hillis
Hillis
Hillis carried the ball six times for 59 yards (9.8 yds per carry) and a touchdown Sunday when the Patriots had eight or more defenders in the box. Entering Week 9, New England had allowed only 1.3 yards per carry with eight in the box, fourth-best in the NFL. Hillis also rushed for three first downs in those situations, half the total that the Patriots had allowed in their first seven games this season.

Of his 29 carries, Hillis ran the ball 21 times for 133 yards and a touchdown on attempts between the tackles (72.4 percent). Entering Week 9, only 49ers RB Frank Gore (69.5) had a higher percentage of his carries go up the middle than Hillis (65.4).

The Browns are one of a select group of teams to occasionally run the "Amoeba" defense, aptly nicknamed because of its shapeless, ever-changing appearance. The formation, consisting of at least five defensive players in the box with one or fewer down linemen, creates confusion for the quarterback in assigning protection and makes the defense more versatile in pass-coverage schemes. It was very effective in slowing down the Pats’ passing game Sunday.

New England turned the ball over three times after committing just six turnovers in their first seven games. On the bright side though, Aaron Hernandez had two TD receptions, the first Patriots rookie with two receiving TDs in a game since Clarence Weathers in 1983.

FROM THE ELIAS SPORTS BUREAU: The Patriots were the only NFL team to start the weekend with just one loss. Cleveland’s victory makes this the first season since 1959 in which every NFL team lost at least two of its first eight games. (There were only 12 NFL teams when this last happened.)

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