The New England Patriots defeated the Houston Texans 34-31 Sunday afternoon.
New England started slow, but fought back in the second half. The Patriots had 453 yards of total offense and 27 first downs on the afternoon. The past four games, the Patriots have scored 143 points. Since 2001, the Pats are 46-6 in the month of December.
Here is my player of the game. --
Julian Edelman: With the exception of Tom Brady, it's hard to imagine what the Pats offense would look like without Edelman this season. Edelman, who leads the Patriots in receptions, has been consistent all year and that showed again Sunday.
The 27-year-old had a big game against the Texans, with 9 catches for 101 yards. While the numbers aren't staggering, the consistency of his play was a big boost for the offense.
Edelman has been Brady's security blanket this season, helping the transition away from former players Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez along with numerous injuries on the offense throughout the year. A free agent after this season, Edelman has earned a payday. Games like this Sunday against the Texans show his value.
Edelman, now with 70 receptions on the year, has reached the maximum reception-incentive in his contract worth $250,000. Icing on the cake for No. 11.
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In the end, the New England Patriots got what they wanted in Houston as they came away with their fourth win in five games, holding on to beat the Houston Texans 34-31.
The win boosted the Patriots on the season to 9-3 and kept their lead as the #2 seed in the AFC Playoff hunt over Indianapolis who also won on Sunday and went to 8-4 with a victory over the Titans. The team also kept a three game lead over the Dolphins who beat the Jets on Sunday in the race for the AFC East crown.
But once again the Patriots were weighed down by a poor first half performance that saw the (2-10) Texans jump out to a 17-7 halftime lead and put a lot of pressure on the offense. In the last four games the Pats are averaging only nine points per game in the first half.
The defense continues to get gashed, especially by the run, but the offense in the second half bailed them out again scoring 27 points, just enough to get them past a game Houston squad. Here are some observations from Sunday's game:
Stephen Gostkowski Is As Clutch As They Come: What a year #3 is having for the Patriots. As always his kickoffs travel deep into the endzone and he only allowed two to be returned on Sunday.
After suffering only his second FG miss of the season earlier on Sunday, Gostkowski nailed two 53 yard field goals in the fourth quarter to win the game in Houston. On the road in a close game with the cruddy Reliant Stadium turf makes the task even harder but Gostkowski came through on both kicks with flying colors.
Brady is Heating Up For The Stretch Run: Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is playing really sharp since getting all of weapons back in the offense, albeit one that was without Stevan Ridley and Aaron Dobson today.
Going against the #1 statistical defense against the pass, Brady shook off the team's lethargic first half to put 27 points on the board in the second, and more than double the amount of yards the Texans have been allowing on defense.
Houston entered allowing only 171.8 yards per game through the air, Brady on Sunday went a stellar 29 of 41 for 371 yards, 2 TDs and 1 INT for a QB rating of 104.8. This New England offense has shook off the early season struggles and is now the #6 scoring team in the NFL.
Gronkowski and Edelman Shine Again: The New England offense is so much more potent with a healthy Rob Gronkowski and Shane Vereen in the lineup. And against the Texans, Gronkowski and Julian Edelman both had big games again for the Pats.
Edelman hauled in nine passes for 101 yards and the Gronk caught six more for 127 yards and a touchdown. Gronkowski is rapidly rounding into shape and appears his normal, unstoppable self right now. Edelman has really stepped into his role this season and now has 70 catches for the year.
Rush Defense A Big Issue: Once again the Patriots run defense was gashed...to the tune of 121 yards by the Texans with 102 coming from Ben Tate. And this time, it wasn't scheme-related. Against Denver, they played a six man box and were conceding the run to stop the pass.
Sunday, they played a lot of 3-4 and the alignments no matter who was in there, Joe Vellano, Chris Jones, Sealver Siliga played for the most part; they were pushed around in the running game, were not shedding blocks and weren't finishing tackles.
Four more games remain and this has to be addressed as soon as possible.
Pats Go Zone and Don't Fare Well: All season it seems the Patriots have played man coverage and done a good job of jamming receivers at the line. Against the Texans on Sunday and one of the rare times in 2013, the Patriots played a lot of zone coverage and the results weren't entirely positive.
They gave up far too many big plays to a 2nd year QB who leads only a middling passing game. Case Keenum's final numbers weren't great, he finished with a 50 percent completion percentage and 67 QB rating, but he passed for 271 yards and had a very good 9.1 yard per pass attempt average.
While it is only one game and the team was due for an emotional letdown after two big prime time games back-to-back, they need to do a better job down the stretch.
Ridley Sits/Thompkins Latest Injured Player: Stevan Ridley was a healthy scratch on Sunday, as a result of his fumbling issues and was replaced by LaGarrette Blount. Blount responded with 12 carries for 44 yards and a touchdown. But overall the running game was inconsistent, averaging only 3.3 yards per carry and 88 yards overall.
Kenbrell Thompkins was starting over the injured Aaron Dobson and one catch before injuring his hip in the first quarter. He in turn was replaced by Josh Boyce who had one catch but did a nice job in the kick return game.
Both of these developments will bear watching as the team moves forward and the team returns home to face a tough Cleveland defense.
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There were plenty of doubts heading into Sunday night's match-up between New England at Denver, with the majority of the focus centered around the Patriots' banged up defense and how they would fare against an explosive Broncos offense.
Overall, they fared pretty well. In fact, save for two possessions they more or less completely dominated Denver, shutting down a Broncos offense that has had their way with nearly everyone this season.
It sounds funny to say but looking back, aside from when New England gave them the football in their own territory, Denver only passed midfield on their own unaided by a turnover twice during regulation in this game. Here's a look at each of their possessions, with the bold portion denoting when the Broncos passed midfield without a New England turnover, while the red indicates the drives that started after a Patriots turnover:
1st: They went from their own 20 to their own 39 before punting.
2nd: Got the ball at the Patriots 10 after the Tom Brady strip sack and later scored a TD.
3rd: Got the ball at the Patriots 44 after the LeGarrette Blount fumble and kicked a FG.
4th: Went from their own 20 to their own 42 before punting.
5th: Drove from their own 30 down to the Patriots 10 and scored a touchdown.
6th: Went from their own 30 to their own 47 before punting.
7th: Went from their own 19 to their own 48 before Montee Ball fumbled it away.
8th: Went from their own 15 to their own 34 before punting.
9th: Went from their own 15 again to their own 26, Manning was picked off by Logan Ryan.
10th: Went from their own 20 to their own 22 and punted.
11th: Went from their own 20 down to the Patriots' 11 and scored a touchdown.
12th: Went from their own 33 to their own 44.
13th: Went from their own 20 to their own 42 before punting. 14th: Went from their own 13 to the Patriots 42 before punting.
There were only twelve possessions that didn't start from a turnover, with just three where they passed midfield. That's beyond impressive given the circumstances.
Obviously Knowshon Moreno had a big night running the football, picking up 224 yards on 37 carries including a touchdown. Looking closer, 94 of his yards came on six plays, including three rushes of 18 yards that happened once with about six minutes left in regulation, and two in overtime. Aside from that, New England's defense did a good job of keeping him from breaking off any huge gains and putting the Broncos in long-yardage situations on third down.
Overall Denver finished 9-of-18 on third down last night, with eight of those eighteen being from 3rd-and-7 or longer while allowing just one conversion. These are numbers similar to what we've seen from New England in recent weeks, and for the Patriots defense to pull that off given their current personnel situations on that side of the football is just staggering. Granted they got a little help from Mother Nature last night, but the Broncos were obviously facing the same conditions.
"I thought we hung in there," said Belichick after the game. " I thought our guys competed well, and they’re a tough offense to play against. I mean, look, it’s hard to hold them down yardage-wise, hold them down point-wise, but I thought we hung in there and battled and I thought our corners, they deserve a ton of credit. [Aqib] Talib, [Kyle] Arrington, Alfonzo [Dennard], they’re all…I mean nobody’s 100% in that locker room. They’re all banged up, they fought through it, just wanted to go out there and compete. Devin [McCourty], Duron [Harmon], then we have Marquice [Cole] at the end jump in there, Logan Ryan, those guys, they just went up there and competed against a great group of receivers. They made some plays, but we made some too.”
That they did, and it's hard not to feel pretty good about what we witnessed. This is hopefully one of those games that could be considered a turning point in a season that should turn everyone in that locker room into a believer of what they can do when they band together and execute. Spotting a team that's favored to win it all 24 points and then coming all the way back to beat them like that was special, plain and simple.
It was a championship type of performance Sunday night, and one that should give fans a glimmer of hope that how this season ends will come down to whether or not they can continue to play like this over the final five games of the season.
If they can, it's tough not to believe anything is possible should New England be in the mix in January.
TAKING THE WIND WAS THE RIGHT MOVE:
Looking back at last night's game, it appeared that when the captains went to midfield to start overtime and the Patriots won the toss, even they seemed surprised when head coach Bill Belichick opted to take the wind instead of the football. Given how they had played, it also showed the type of confidence he had in his defense to help make sure Denver didn't get in the endzone.
In the end it ended up being the right move, as it put the wind in Manning's face and prevented the Broncos from having a shot at a long field goal after they reached the Patriots' 37 yard line in overtime on their second possession.
“It was a strong wind," Belichick explained when asked about his decision after the game. "We just had to keep them out of the end zone, obviously and I just felt like the wind would be an advantage if we could keep them out of the end zone on that first drive. We were able to do that. The wind was significant in the game. It was definitely significant.”
It ended up seemingly playing a part on the Patriots' punt on the ensuing drive, with the swirling wind clearly making Wes Welker indecisive enough to not make the call in time to get teammate Tony Carter away from the football, which bounced off of his leg and Patriots special teamer Nate Ebner pounced on the football.
"Bill's a genius," said Patriots safety Devin McCourty told Boston.com's Erik Frenz. "He's a genius. I mean, even the captains didn’t know. We [were] like, 'Defer? Take the wind?' And, it was obviously the best call, and it was a great call by him."
EDELMAN COMES UP BIG:
Wide receiver Julian Edelman continues to have a terrific season, finishing last night with over 100-yards receiving for the third time in his career while also finishing the night with three punt returns for 39 yards, two of which helped give the Patriots good field position which ended in a touchdown and a field goal.
“Julian did a great job," said Belichick. "First of all, he did a good job of handling the ball, especially in the 3rd and 4th quarter there. He made a couple of good runs with the ball in his hands, also got open, caught the ball. The under route he got there gave us the field position in the overtime, it was a big play."
Edelman was humble after the game, pointing out a muffed catch he had. But he was glad to have been able to contribute.
“Well, I fumbled a punt, after I muffed one, so that’s not that good," Edelman told reporters after the game. "Today, my number was called a few times and I was able to have a couple of opportunities and I just try to take advantage of them. A couple games back it was KT [Kenbrell Thompkins], AD [Aaron Dobson], Danny [Amendola], I mean, that’s our job. Our job is to go out there, get open and catch the football and I was able to do that a few times.”
He finished the night with 9 receptions for 110 yards including two touchdowns.
RIDLEY SAID PATRIOTS HAD 'NO OPTION' BUT TO TAKE HIM OUT:
Patriots running back Stevan Ridley was disgusted with himself after his first quarter fumble, telling ESPN Boston that he knew by putting the football on the ground that it gave Bill Belichick no other option but to sit him.
“For me, it’s almost disgusting, man,” he told the website. “Consecutive weeks. Personally, as a player, my team deserves better. I come in, I work, bust my a-- every day. To come in and have the same mistakes happen, there’s something I gotta do different, I gotta do better. As a competitor all I can do is come in here and keep working. ... I just gotta be there for the team when they call me.”
“When I put the ball on the ground, they have no option but they take me out. It’s sickening, man,” Ridley also said. “I’m frustrated, but it’s part of the game."
BRADY REACHES ADDITIONAL MILESTONES:
Tom Brady reached another milestone on Sunday night, with his third quarter touchdown pass to Rob Gronkowski marking his 350th career touchdown pass, making him just the fifth quarterback in NFL history to reach that milestone. He later also recorded his 56th career 300-yard game thanks to an 11-yard pass to Kenbrell Thompkins in the 4th quarter, which was also 5th all time.
Things seem to just be getting worse for Patriots running back Stevan Ridley.
Two weeks ago against Pittsburgh he was the victim of a frustrating third quarter fumble following a reception from Tom Brady, which lead to an ensuing touchdown by the Steelers and brought them back to within a one score game at 24-17. On that play it was a situation where Ridley was almost immediately hit after he caught it, and head coach Bill Belichick later credited the play of Steelers' safety Troy Polamalu and gave Ridley the benefit of the doubt, bringing him back on the ensuing drive and showing confidence in the young running back.
Normally putting the ball on the ground would have made Ridley a spectator, as had been the case previously this season when ball control troubles had plagued him and he had lost the football. Instead he saw it as more of a great play by Troy Polamalu than a bad one by his running back, and at the time gave him a vote of confidence.
"I thought Stevan did a good job. It was really a tremendous play by Polamalu," Belichick said. "Stevan caught his ball with his back to the defender. As he turned, Troy came in there and instead of making a tackle he was able to dislodge the ball. He anticipated Ridley turning up and Troy made a good play on it.
"I don't think Stevan really had much of a chance to do anything but turn. Sometimes turnovers are a result of real good defensive plays. Sometimes they're a result of sloppy plays offensively. I would, unfortunately, have to credit that one to Polamalu. He made a great play and that's one of those things you have to live with."
Last Monday night in Carolina, Ridley did something he hadn't done this season, and that was fumble down inside in the red zone. It was one of the more egregious mistakes a player can make and something that head coach Bill Belichick has zero tolerance from any player.
However, one more time, Belichick showed that he believed in his running back. He showed that he knows how important he is to New England's ground game and he showed that confidence by giving him another opportunity to come back and carry the football in that game.
But Sunday night against the Broncos, Ridley did the unthinkable and lost the football for the third straight week, this time fumbling the ball on a spin move where Denver Middle Linebacker Wesley Woodyard put his helmet perfectly on the ball, dislodging it at the Broncos' 40 yard line on New England's opening drive. To make matters worse, the Broncos picked up the football and took it back 60 yards for the touchdown, putting the Patriots in an immediate hole down 7-0 and putting Denver some serious momentum.
From there Ridley was seen on the sideline slamming his helmet down in frustration after he likely knew he had let Belichick down yet again. And Sunday night, there would be no second chances, as Ridley was forced to be nothing more than a spectator during what ended up being a crazy football game for his team.
The only saving grace for Ridley is his teammates were just as guilty after Tom Brady lost a fumble on the ensuing drive on a strip sack, and LeGarrette Blount lost one after that.
That was frustrating for Belichick, who talked about all the miscues after the game.
"Well, I thought we were moving the ball pretty well in the first half," said Belichick. "But we turned it over, we couldn't finish the drives and they ended up not only with the ball, but one time they ended up with the touchdown. So you can't move the ball when you're losing it and we've got to hang on to it."
That turnover was Ridley's 4th fumble of the season, tied for the highest single total by a non-quarterback in the NFL.
Fortunately Sunday night New England was able to recover from the turnovers, beating Peyton Manning and the Broncos 34-31 in overtime, but Ridley knows this can't continue going forward.
“When I put the ball on the ground, they have no option but they take me out. It’s sickening, man,” Ridley told ESPN Boston. “I’m frustrated, but it’s part of the game. I think that as a player, you’re going to have your ups and your downs, but the main thing is you have to stay focused and keep your eye on the prize at the end of the day. I’m not going to get too far down. I’m going to put more pressure on myself to go out there and practice and change up some things. I can't keep doing this.”
“Consecutive weeks. Personally, as a player, my team deserves better. I come in, I work, bust my a-- every day. To come in and have the same mistakes happen, there’s something I gotta do different, I gotta do better. As a competitor all I can do is come in here and keep working."
The only question now is whether or not he'll get another chance. He's a good player with a great attitude, who off the field does all the right things. Fans want to see the same player who rushed for over 1200 yards last season put up the same numbers and be that explosive ground threat they had been lacking before he got here. But up until recently the thought process had been the fact that his performance last season couldn't have just been by accident and the fumble troubles he's had were nothing more than an anomaly.
Now they're becoming a trend, which is troublesome as New England really is going to need him down the stretch. We'll have to wait and see now what happens next, but looking at it again it's hard not to give credit to Woodyard for making a great play after making what was essentially a perfect hit on the ball.
Hopefully, for Ridley's sake, Belichick ends up seeing it the same way he did with the Polamalu play and he'll get another opportunity.
Monday night's loss to the Panthers will likely be remembered for how it ended, but the Patriots will look back at this one and realize it was simply a game that they let get away from them long before that play even occurred.
Their 24-20 defeat to Carolina was a complete slugfest, with New England doing an impressive job of hanging with a football team that hit hard all night. They obviously knew coming in that they were going to have to show a lot of patience and persistence, with Tom Brady showing a methodical side to how he approached this one. They ran the ball quite a bit during the game, and when it came to throwing the football it was all about the short passing game. Brady took exactly what the defense gave him, and didn't attempt a pass of over 15 yards until the fourth quarter, and that wasn't until their final drive.
This was actually one of his best performances in terms of his accuracy, with Brady having missed just four passes on the night before New England was given less than a minute to try and move the football down the field. Prior to that possession he was 25-of-29, and seemed to be on top of his game.
Unfortunately this was a night where the Patriots overall needed to be perfect, because the Panthers put up a fairly flawless performance. They didn't turn the football over, ending the Patriots turnover streak at 36 games, and they were 8-of-11 (73%) on third down. The Patriots, on the other hand, were just 5-of-10 (50%) on third down, and one of the key plays of the night was the fumble by Stevan Ridley after New England had battled their way down to the Carolina 13 yard line in the second quarter on their second possession. They were moving the ball well to that point and appeared poised to potentially punch one in, but Ridley got caught by Kawann Short, who punched the ball out from behind and killed the drive. The play caused the fans who were on hand to erupt in what was a playoff-like atmosphere, and it sent Ridley to the bench for the rest of the first half.
Their next possession saw them cross midfield again, working their way down to the 26-yard line. But an unnecessary roughness penalty on Logan Mankins moved them back 15 yards and put them in 2nd-and-25, which stopped them from being able to move the chains and potentially score a touchdown. They eventually managed to kick a 42-yard field goal to get on the board, but it was miscues like that which ultimately ended up being the difference because the Panthers didn't make them.
Each team had just seven possessions all night, and despite five trips in the red zone New England managed just two touchdowns.
"We knew they were pretty good statistically in a lot of the categories," said Brady after the game. "We had opportunities to get down there, we moved the ball pretty well. We just couldn't punch it in and get enough points. We had plenty of chances, we just didn't get it done."
When Ridley went out the Patriots went to LeGarrette Blount, who methodically pounded the football against a tough Panthers defense, giving Brady the opportunity to run play-action and keep them off balance. We saw more of it during the second half, and he did a good job of recognizing what Carolina was trying to do and adjusting after they had some early success in putting pressure on him.
Nevertheless, the Panthers' defense came exactly as advertised. They were tough, they hit hard, and they made New England work for every single yard.
But in the end it came down to a lot of the same issues they've faced this season, which included injuries. By the Panthers final possession New England was without Aqib Talib, who had a rough night against receiver Steve Smith. Also ailing was Kyle Arrington, who was battling a knee injury that kept him from being able to make a critical play on Ted Ginn, who slipped past him for what ended up being a 25-yard game-winning touchdown with 1:09 to go in the game.
That lead to the controversial finish, but the opportunities before then will be the ones that should frustrate this team as they come home now to face another tough opponent in the Denver Broncos.
"We just didn't make enough plays," said Belichick after the game. "They made a couple more than we did. Game came down right to the wire on both ends of the field and we just couldn't make enough plays."
ROB NINKOVICH "ANGRY" AFTER THE GAME:
Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich had a busy night trying to keep Panthers QB Cam Newton contained, and he had his fair share of frustration against him. Newton overall finished as the leading rusher for Carolina, carrying the ball seven times for 62 yards and had four of their six rushing first downs. But it was a 3rd-and-7 play in which Newton eluded Ninkovich that likely frustrated the veteran linebacker.
The way it ended probably didn't help, and after the game Tom Curran of CSNNE was told by Ninkovich he was so mad he could go play another entire contest.
"I could go play another game right now," Ninkovich told him. "Go play 80 plays. That's how angry I feel."
AQIB TALIB vs STEVE SMITH ENDS BADLY:
Talib made his return last night, but it was Steve Smith who got the better of that match-up. It started on Carolina's opening drive when Smith beat Talib for a 42-yard gain and escalated from there, with Talib getting involved in a skirmish that caused Belichick to take him out of the game until he calmed down. Down the stretch it appeared that Talib re-aggravated his injury after ending up on the sideline at the end of the game, and Smith took a shot at him after it was over in the post game interview telling him to "ice up son". USA Today has some GIFs and the video of the interview if you haven't seen it.
THIRD DOWN DEFENSIVE ISSUES FRUSTRATING
Carolina's third down success last night is frustrating, especially considering New England's defense did a lot of good things to put themselves in position to prevent it. The Panthers were in 3rd-and-6 or more on 7 their 11 attempts last night, with four conversions. That's obviously a problem when they worked so hard to keep them from being in short yardage situations to give themselves a chance to end the drive. Carolina converted all of their short yardage attempts, converting a 3rd-and-1, a 3rd-and-2, a 3rd-and-3, and a 3rd-and-4 on the night.
ON TO THIS MORNING'S LINKS:
Patriots on wrong end of late non-call - Shalise Manza Young - Manza Young writes that for the second time this season, the officials became the story line at the end of a Patriots loss.
Ailing Patriots defense is showing its holes - Ben Volin - Volin has his "On Football" column this morning, and writes that injuries have finally caught up with the Patriots' defense.
Patriots' loss was very unexpected - Dan Shaughnessy - Shaughnessy gives his thoughts on last night, and writes that veteran referee Walt Coleman never would have let what happened last night occur under his watch.
5 takeaways from the Patriots-Panthers game - Zuri Berry - Berry has some thoughts on last night's game, and highlights broken containment and coverage as one of the bigger problems.
Panthers' win was a coming-out party - Tom Sorensen - Sorensen writes that if the Panthers had been a secret, quietly beating bottom-feeders before upsetting the 49ers in San Francisco, the Patriots were their coming-out party.
Cam Newton was Panthers' driving force - Seth Lakso - Lakso writes that for 18 seconds in the third quarter, Cam Newton was back on the playground.
Shane Vereen catches on quickly in return to action - Michael Whitmer - Whitmer files his notebook, which leads off with Vereen's return to action last night.
Examining what might have happened if pass interference stood - Jeff Howe - Howe ponders what might have happened had the penalty stood and New England got their final shot to win the game.
Best & Worst: Patriots vs. Panthers - Mark Daniels - Daniels has his "best & worst" from last night, including the fact last night was the worst way for Aqib Talib to increase his market value.
Temper tandem: Talib, Smith take their battle personally - Charles Chandler - Chandler looks at the battle between the two players last night and some of the comments from after the game..
Refs: Underthrow wiped out penalty - Field Yates - Yates has an article on last night's ending, with the referees determining that the underthrow by Brady negated the penalty.
Gronk: 'I can't do anything about' non-call - Field Yates -Yates has comments from Gronkowski and what happened on the final play of the game.
Breakdown of the final play of game - ESPN has a breakdown of the last play in the video on the page of this article.
Monday's loss shows Pats need to get offensive - Tom Curran - Curran gives his thoughts on last night's debacle, and writes for the Patriots to beat good teams they need to stop beating themselves.
Officials Defend Call at End of Patriots-Panthers Game to Pick Up - Doug Kyed - Kyed has notes from the pool reporter with quotes from the officials following the game.
Shane Vereen Had Tom Brady Playing Back to Old Form, Third-Down Back Was Missed More Than Rob Gronkowski - Doug Kyed - Kyed writes that Vereen's absence seems to have been a bigger one than Gronkowski being out.
Tom Brady, Receivers’ Limited Mistakes Among Five Takeaways From Patriots-Panthers - Doug Kyed - Kyed charts out the plays from last night, and has some additional stats from the game.
What we learned: Patriots victimized by Cam Newton, non-call in dramatic defeat - Christopher Price - Price has his thoughts from last night's game, including the fact Gronkowski proved he can contribute without putting up huge numbers.
Panthers WR Steve Smith coins the perfect postgame diss - Mike Foss - Foss has an entry with several .GIF's from last night's battle between Smith and Talib, with Smith telling Talib to "Ice up" after he failed to finish the game.
Jim Donaldson: A miracle finish, put on hold - Donaldson has his column for this morning, writing it was "oh-so-close" from being a miraculous Monday.
The holiday weekend is over as is the Patriots' bye week, and fans in New England will now get to see the team begin their preparations for the Carolina Panthers as they start getting set for Monday Night Football. Carolina is currently 6-3 and coming off of a big win over the San Francisco 49ers, beating them 10-9 on Sunday in their own stadium.
Their defense is tough, and the 49ers found themselves completely shut down on Sunday after the Panthers held them to just 151 yards of total offense, sacking quarterback Colin Kaepernick six times while also holding them to just 2-of-13 on third down. Prior to the Patriots' win over Pittsburgh a little over a week ago, those had been similar numbers that Tom Brady and the Patriots' offense had put up at times in recent weeks.
Fortunately, that wasn't the case during New England's last outing two weeks ago against the Steelers. In that game Brady and the Patriots put up 432 yards of total offense and finished 7-of-12 on 3rd down, showing signs that hopefully things are finally beginning to click. Hopefully they continue to take further steps forward against what should be a very tough NFC opponent.
Here are a few additional notes from this morning:
1) Brady looking forward to the Monday night stage - Tom Brady loves playing in big games, and coming off of a bye week he and the Patriots will resume their season on the national stage down in Carolina. The veteran appeared on WEEI on Tuesday morning, and said that while he enjoyed the week off, he's excited to get back to work.
"There's nothing better than playing on 'Monday Night Football' and playing against one of the best teams in the NFC," said Brady via Mike Riess of ESPN Boston. "That's what it's all about for me. It's time to get back to work. It's football season and it's time for us to go out and see what we're made of in the second half of the year."
Brady also said in the interview that he enjoyed the week off, but he felt like "a fish out of water" watching other teams play and not being out there himself.
"I was talking to my wife two days ago and said 'I just love football.' When it's Sunday and everyone else is playing and you're not, you're a fish out of water," said Brady. "You're watching [and] if I'm not around a TV I'm updating my phone every five minutes to see what's going on with every score. It's probably more anxious when you're not playing because you're watching games and thinking about the outcomes and watching how teams are doing. That's just the life of a football player."
2) Coming off of a bye, the Patriots' record is pretty good - When the Patriots have a week off they tend to play pretty well when they do get back to work, having amassed a 10-3 record during the Bill Belichick era. Their last loss was back in 2011 on the road against the Steelers where Ben Roethlisberger went out and had a monster game, finishing with 365 yards passing while completing passes to nine different receivers. Brady had a decent day, finishing 24-of-35 for 198 yards and two touchdowns, but it was a safety in the closing seconds of the game by the Patriots that sealed the game for Pittsburgh.
Field Yates of ESPN Boston points out that this is only the second time during the Belichick era that he's had 15 days to prepare for an opponent during the regular season, with the last time coming back in 2001 against, oddly enough, Carolina. In that game they went out and defeated the Panthers 38-6, so hopefully this year's contest yields similar results.
3) Things don't sound promising regarding DT Armstead - There has been a lot of intrigue surrounding defensive tackle Armond Armstead, and it's grown even further thanks to injuries up front that have claimed the likes of Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly this season. Armstead was thought to be a potential addition in the coming weeks after being placed on the reserve/non-football illness list after having surgery for an infection prior to the start of training camp. However, Bill Belichick didn't sound optimistic about Armstead's future, saying it's looking "less likely" that he'll be back by the week 11 deadline. That's bad news for a group that's dangerously thin at that position and could have used the depth, and considering he racked up six sacks and 43 tackles last season for the Toronto Argonauts, there were many who felt this could have been a great opportunity for him. Unfortunately unless something changes, it's starting to look like we may not find get to see him until next season.
4) Gronk being...well...Gronk - Unfortunately - Rob Gronkowski spent Sunday night with fans during a Q&A event at Bar Louie Restaurant, and unfortunately made some questionable comments after openly mocking an Asian fan, calling him "Leslie Chow" (the character from the Hangover movies) and joking about fried rice. TMZ has the video, and as harmless as he may have thought it was, it's unfortunately garnered some attention this morning from various media outlets. There's just something about him and the term "good judgement" that don't seem tend to collide in the same sentence, so add this to the list of ridiculous things he's done/said so far during his career.
5) McCourty Makes Impact off the Field - A great story this morning in the Providence Journal on Devin McCourty, who spent Monday night posing for pictures and signing autographs as the featured guest as part of the Veterans Day program, "Operation Holiday Cheer", designed to honor local soldiers. McCourty appreciates the sacrifices military personnel and their familes make, saying he's lived through it and knows what they go through.
"My older brother and my father both served, so it's something that's dear to my heart," McCourty said via the newspaper. "I think that it's great when you can do things to help those that are truly close to you. You can give your time and effort."
A lot of people may not be aware of this, but McCourty tends to be one of the more active players in the community off the field on the team's off days, with stories appearing periodically regarding charity events, etc. that he's involved in. Needless to say he's established himself as one of the better safeties in the league, and it's great to see the impact he's making in the lives of people here in New England with his efforts outside the gridiron.
SOME ADDITIONAL STATS & INFORMATION FOR THIS MORNING:
1) Tom Brady currently has 3,992 career completions, with just eight more to go before he becomes the sixth NFL Player to ever reach 4,000 completions.
2) Stephen Gostkowski currently has nine field goals of 40 or more yards so far this season, and needs just three more of that yardage or greater to set the team record for most 40-yard field goals in a single season. Adam Vinatieri had 11 from that distance in 2004 and 1998, and Gostkowski currently has amassed that total in 2013. He's also connected on 18 straight field goals, five shy of Vinatieri's team record streak of 23.
3) Rob Gronkowski currently has 39 career touchdowns and is tied with Randy moss for the most touchdown receptions from Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. Gronkowski's next scoring grab will give him 40, setting the new milestone. He's also accomplished that feat in just 46 career games, and he has the chance to become the fastest tight end to 40 TD receptions, a mark currently held by Antonio Gates who did it in 71 contests.
4) Stevan Ridley currently has 13 20-yard runs and needs one more to have the most for the Patriots since 2000. He's currently tied at 13 with Antowain Smith and Corey Dillon.
5) Chandler Jones currently leads the team with 8.5 sacks, and needs to register 1.5 more for to give the team their 15th 10-sack season.
ON TO THIS MORNING'S LINKS:
In early playoff picture, Patriots are in good shape - Shalise Manza Young - Manza Young has a good read this morning on the fact that at 7-2, the Patriots have put themselves in a good position at another potential playoff run.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick never stops evaluating - Shalise Manza Young - Manza Young files her notebook this morning, which leads off with some interesting comments from Belichick on some of the things the coaching staff evaluates over the bye week.
Patriots' 5 questions coming out of the bye - Jeff Howe - Howe has five questions coming off the bye week, and wonders what's in store for Shane Vereen as he's eligible to return this week against Carolina.
Sweet Carolina buzz for Panthers - Jeff Howe - Howe files his notebook for this morning which leads off with some thoughts from Belichick on this week's upcoming match-up against the Panthers.
Tom Brady: Nothing better than MNF - Mike Reiss - Reiss has notes from Brady's interview with WEEI, with the veteran quarterback looking forward to playing on Monday night football.
Patriots after bye under Belichick - Field Yates - Yates takes a look at New England's history coming off of a bye week under Bill Belichick and lists out their opponents and their records during that span.
Aqib Talib a singular talent - Mike Reiss - Reiss has quotes from Bill Belichick talking about Talib, who he equated to former Patriots cornerback Ty Law.
Bill Belichick goes deep on hazing talk - Mike Reiss - Reiss has a good entry with comments from Belichick regarding what's going on down in Miami in terms of the hazing issue between Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin.
Josh McDaniels on filling No. 4 WR void - Mike Reiss - After releasing Austin Collie last Tuesday following a knee injury, Reiss has comments from Josh McDaniels about how New England plans to fill that void.
Bye-week breakdown: Defensive backs - Christopher Price - Price has another positional breakdown this morning, this time looking at the defensive backs and feels Aqib Talib deserved to be put in the conversation for Defensive Player of the Year.
Outdoors: Affordable Remingtons get their shots at Matt Light Celebrity Shootout - Mark Blazis - Blazis has a column this morning on former Patriots offensive lineman Matt Light and the work he's doing for kids after raising $600,000 during his recent event.
Patriots Journal: On off day, McCourty goes the extra yard - Paul Kenyon - Kenyon has a good article this morning on Devin McCourty, who spent his off day on Monday making fans happy as a featured guest as part of the Veterans Day program, "Operation Holiday Cheer."
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