Brandon Spikes and Dont'a Hightower could very well find themselves playing together at the same time in 2012, but could Spikes' time be impacted by the rookie?
SEATTLE - Behind Thomas Rawls bouncing off and through tacklers and a big-play punch from Tyler Lockett, the Seattle Seahawks rediscovered their offensive star power on Sunday night.
It came at a significant cost to their defense.
Rawls ran for 103 yards and two touchdowns in the first half, Lockett took a reverse 75 yards for a score to open the second half and the Seahawks routed the Carolina Panthers 40-7 on Sunday night.
FOXBORO – So they did precisely what they were supposed to do. Poleaxed a bad team that had come cross-country to get its whipping and then return home.
It’s hard to downgrade the Patriots for that. Not this time. Even though they were facing a rookie quarterback making his third NFL start in Jared Goff, even though the Rams were without wide receiver Tavon Austin, the net the Patriots threw over the Rams offense was so stifling that those qualifiers don’t count.
The Rams went 1-for-9 on third down. They were 0-for-8 before the late conversion. They didn’t get over 100 total yards until their final drive of the game and that required a breakdown by Malcolm Butler on Kenny Britt. Britt, the Rams best offensive player this season, hadn’t had a catch before that.
PATRIOTS 26, RAMS 10
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So what if the Patriots used the Rams as their step stool to get to the next rung? So what if they were supposed to do exactly that? They’d had other matchups this season when they hadn’t choked out lesser opponents. This time they did.
And some of the players who figured prominently are precisely some of the players who’ve had their struggles.
Jabaal Sheard, benched two weeks ago, forced a pick and three passes defensed. Logan Ryan, who’s seen his role change and playing time dwindle, had a sack on a corner blitz and had two quarterback hits to go with five tackles. Kyle Van Noy, still fitting into the defense, had a pick, a pass defensed and four tackles. Alan Branch, who hasn’t struggled but had an NFL suspension hanging over his head until the league rescinded it Saturday, was his normal nuisance up front. Chris Long and Shea McClellin, both new to the team this year, had sacks.
“That happens around here,” explained Dont'a Hightower. “The next-man-up mentality has been here for a few years. Guys don’t play early then later in the season, they get right whatever it was that wasn’t right and they come back and we play well. It’s about us playing together.”
Hightower has steadily proclaimed that the defense has the talent and self-belief necessary to get where it needs to be on a consistent basis.
“I feel like every week should be like this regardless of who we’re playing,” he said. “We had a great week of practice. Everyone was all in the same mindset, the same focus. (Defensive coordinator Matty Patricia) again did a great job of calling the game, mixing it up. We just went out there and executed.”
As the Patriots head into the final four games of their schedule, the caliber of their competition will rise. The next opponent, Baltimore, has won four of five including a 38-6 demolition of the Dolphins on Sunday.
The Broncos are up after the Ravens and that game will be in Denver, never an easy spot for the Patriots to say the least.
The Patriots close at home with the always-annoying Jets and then have to go to South Florida to play Miami in the New Year’s Day finale.
“We’re just one week at a time,” said Ryan. “You can’t break this season off a couple weeks. Next week, we see what Baltimore [Ravens] just did, they’re a real good team. We know how that’s been in the past so it should be a nice game, a competitive game, competitive atmosphere. We’re just one week at a time, we’re happy we got this game and we’re on to the next one.”
It’s hard to point to this game and say, “All’s fixed.”
It was the outcome expected and there was no letdown. Part of the process.
“It’s December, time to play our best football,” said Devin McCourty. "We’ve been at it for a while now dating back to the beginning of training camp. Things we’ve talked about working on and things we’ve talked about improving, it’s time to start improving on those things and getting them done. Bill [Belichick] said it over and over that who we play each week is not going to matter if we don’t come and fix the things we need to fix and play the way we need to play. I think the whole team understands that and it starts with him, but [also] us echoing it as captains and as leaders. Today I think showed that when we do those things, we go out there and play well.”
The principals in this win – players like Sheard and Ryan – signaled that concerns over buy-in and locker room fissures appearing after playing time was shifted and personnel was shipped out were probably unfounded.
It’s a tough place to play because performance matters and there’s not a lot of, “That’s ok, you’ll get ‘em next time…” with this coaching staff.
It’s mentally challenging.
“That might be an understatement,” laughed Hightower. “But that’s part of the process, that’s part of the Patriot way and we try to adapt to it.”