Hightower confident about Sunday's game


Hightower confident about Sunday's game

FOXBORO -- A win over the Dolphins this weekend would award New England its ninth AFC East title in 10 seasons.

And it's hard not to see it happening.

This 5-6 Miami team might still be in the playoff hunt, but most of the numbers in this matchup favor the Patriots.

The Dolphins are ranked 26 in points scored per game with 19.2. New England sits at No. 1 with an even 37.

The gap narrows significantly on the other side of the ball, with Miami surrendering a relatively stingy 20.5 points on average (No. 8) and New England giving up 22.2 (No. 13).

Perhaps that's why rookie linebacker Dont'a Hightower didn't sound too worried on Friday.

"They've been playing pretty good. I know quarterback Ryan Tannehill and we talked during the draft and he's been playing really good," he said.

"But all-in-all, I just think we need to go out and execute our game plan, know everything that head coach Bill Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia have put out there, and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels as well. So I feel like if we go out and execute like we're supposed to, we'll be all right."

Another spot where the Patriots have a leg up is turnovers.

New England's plus-24 giveawaytakeaway ratio is head and shoulders, and maybe knees, above Miami's minus-10. Having 32 takeaways (14 interceptions, 18 fumbles) will do that.

Hightower was asked if the team's success is simply a credit to practice.

"I really feel like it's something we do emphasize during the week, but it's also about playing style -- that's how everybody plays. We play for the big hit and the big turnover to change the face of the game. Everybody wants to make a play and everybody's going to do their job. Whenever the opportunity comes, everybody's ready to strike fast," he explained.

"I believe this season we've all been doing a really good job. Maybe some times we've started off slow, but I definitely feel like we've come out in the last couple of games and done a good job there."

Tannehill: Beware.

Miami's 22-year old signal caller has just two touchdowns to six interceptions over his last three games. Three of those picks were thrown in Buffalo two weeks ago.

It just so happens the Patriots defense leads the AFC in that category (14).

So what if Miami tries to make gains on the ground?

Several scouting compliments this week have been dished out to Reggie Bush. The running back is an integral part of Miami's ground game (662 yards, five touchdowns on 150 carries) and has gashed teams more than a few times on the outside.

And you can't forget about Daniel Thomas. Though his numbers are more modest (306 yards, four touchdowns on 83 carries), he's effective in grinding out key yards inside.

Hightower complimented both backs.

"Thomas a really good back. He comes in on third down and does a really great job. Even when he comes in on first and second down to run the ball he's done a really good job. I feel like they're trying to split the carries with those guys, as well. But it's a really good tandem with Bush and Thomas; they have a similar running style. Those are two really good backs who are coming up, so you've got to be prepared for them."

True, the Dolphins are always a tough test in Miami -- especially for New England. But if the Patriots can keep up the pace, it sounds like they could be comfortably crowned on Sunday.

Injury report: Amendola out for Ravens game, Bennett questionable

Injury report: Amendola out for Ravens game, Bennett questionable

Wide receiver Danny Amendola was officially listed as out on the injury report for the Patriots' Monday night home game against the Baltimore Ravens.

Amendola injured his ankle on a punt return against the Los Angeles Rams last Sunday. It will be the first game he's missed this season. The Patriots signed veteran wide receiver and kick returner Griff Whalen during the week.

Tight end Martellus Bennett (ankle, shoulder) is among the Pats listed as questionable, along with special teams ace Matt Slater (foot), who missed the Rams game, safety Jordan Richards (knee), linebacker Elandon Roberts (hamstring) and cornerback Eric Rowe (hamstring).

Whalen, part of Colts' infamous fake punt play, settles in with Patriots

Whalen, part of Colts' infamous fake punt play, settles in with Patriots

FOXBORO – Griff Whalen was at the epicenter of one of the stupidest, funniest, most “did that just happen?!” plays in NFL history.

So indescribable it never even really earned a name, it was the fourth-down gadget play the Colts tried to run against the Patriots on Sunday Night Football in the first meeting between the teams after Indy ran to the principal’s office to start Deflategate. 

Whalen was the center on that play (I tried to call it “Fourth-and-Wrong” but it didn’t take) and the millisecond between him snapping the ball and the three players processing that the ball had indeed been snapped is perhaps my favorite moment of the past several seasons. 

Whalen is a Patriot now, brought in this week in the wake of Danny Amendola’s knee injury presumably to fill Amendola’s role as a punt returner and wideout. The Colts released him last January, the Dolphins picked him up and cut him at the end of training camp and the Chargers had him on their roster from mid-September until releasing him last month after eight games, two catches and 22 yards. He returned kickoffs for San Diego but no punts since 2015.

The primary area of need for the Patriots is on punt returns. Rookie Cyrus Jones’ transition to appearing comfortable remains glacially slow. It was Jones’ muff last week that brought on Amendola in relief. When Amendola hurt his ankle on a late-game return, the Patriots were forced to decide between Jones, wideout Julian Edelman (who doesn’t need extra work) and making a move.

Whalen is a move they made.

The slight and baby-faced Whalen indicated he had fielded some punts in practice, saying it went, “Fine.” Punt returns are something he’s done “since I was a kid.”

His first impression of the team was, "A lot of what I expected to see. A lot of detail. A lot of effort in practice. Good coaching all-around. I am excited to be here. I was excited to come into a good team that I’d gone against a few times. Hopefully come in and help out the team with whatever I can.”

I asked Whalen if he saw much of the commentary or creativity last year’s failed play spawned.

“I wasn’t paying too much attention,” he said. “When it’s during the season guys are pretty locked in on what they’re doing inside the building. But I heard more about it later on afterwards.”

Asked if he’d heard anything about the play since being here, Whalen replied, “I haven’t. Kinda was [expecting it].”

The Patriots will be hoping Whalen remains as productive for them on fourth down this year as he was in 2015.