In the midst of all the bad, don't forget the good


In the midst of all the bad, don't forget the good

By Michael Felger

Some pearls of wisdom for Patriots fans as they lick their wounds this morning.

Are you folks going to acknowledge the opponent here -- or just fixate on the Patriots? I raise the point because I think fans around here have woefully underestimated the strides made by the Jets the last few years. They've narrowed the gap in the AFC East, whether you want to acknowledge it or not.

Here are the unfortunate facts: The Jets have beaten the Pats in two of the three meetings under Rex Ryan. They've won three of five meetings since 2008. They finished 2009 (that includes the playoffs, people) as the better team and now have a leg up in the 2010 race. They have a much better defense, a more dependable running game and a quarterback who, for all his struggles, has had some of his best moments in big games.

I know you hate the Jets. I don't blame you. But the scoreboard is getting more and more unpleasant to look at.

Former Patriot Troy Brown was adamant on TV on Sunday night about how Bill Belichick and his staff lost the adjustment battle to Rex Ryan in the second half.

That analysis wouldn't be so concerning if it hadn't become such a recurring theme.

Did you know that five the Pats' six losses last year came after they had led or were tied at the half? Hard to believe, isn't it? But it's true. With the exception of the New Orleans blowout, the Pats were in control coming out of the tunnel for the second half of every other one of their losses. It seemed so aberrational that we all assumed it would correct itself in 2010.

But it didn't on Sunday. In fact, it turned into a carbon copy of a typical Pats' collapse from 2009.

What happened to the days when the Pats routinely got better as the game progressed? What happened to Belichick coming up with answers in the locker room and putting his players in the best position to succeed when the game was on the line? It's remarkable how such a strong facet of the Pats' repertoire has vanished.

Normally, this is the place where we would get on the coordinators for their bad play-calling. But there's only one problem: the Patriots don't have any.

I don't know. Could that be part of the problem?

Another thing you'd never see back in the Super Bowl-winning days: a delay-of-game penalty on a field-goal attempt because the coaches couldn't make up their minds or get the kicking unit on the field quickly enough. Yet that's what happened on Sunday on the Pats' first drive, as a 32-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski was wiped off the board because they couldn't get the snap off in time.

Gostkowski deserves blame for not bearing down and nailing the ensuing 37-yarder, but the penalty was purely a function of sideline operation. Again, this is on the staff (such as it is).

We all spent a lot of time last week talking about how much younger and faster the Pats defense looks to be this year. Unfortunately, lost in all that conversation was a more pertinent question: Is it any better?

Not yet. Giving up 18-second half points is one thing. But giving up that total to an offense that many thought to be one of the league's worst is another. Do you remember the things you were saying about Mark Sanchez and the Jets' passing game last week? Actually, you're better off not remembering.

This is all I know: When Sanchez said last week that the Jets offense was poised to breakout and that a 300-yard passing day was just around the corner, there was laughter across New England. We wanted a hit off of what Sanchez was smoking.

It's not so funny now. Sanchez didn't come close to 300 yards, but when you consider he didn't complete a pass in the first quarter while the Jets offense managed only three snaps that stanza, his 220 passing yards look scary. And his QB rating (124.3) and TD-interception ratio (3-0) are downright terrifying.

Darius Butler is obviously a major problem for the Pats. But that's not the worst part. The worst part is that they apparently have no one better.

In an effort to make sure Randy Moss remains happy and that he feels appreciated, I'm only going to mention his one-handed touchdown catch at the end of the first half.

Great catch, Randy.

I won't mention how he alligator-armed two catchable balls over the middle in the first half. I won't mention how he could only come up with two receptions on the day despite being thrown to 10 times. I won't mention how he was shut down not by Darrelle Revis, but by Antonio Cromartie. I won't mention how Tom Brady's two interceptions were the result of forcing balls in his direction. I won't mention that when the going got tough, he didn't exactly get going.

I won't get into any of that.

The report card comes your way Tuesday. Email Felger HERE and read the mailbag on Thursday. Listen to him on the radio weekdays, 2-6 p.m., on 98.5 The Sports Hub.

Friday Bag: What might the Patriots get for Garoppolo in a trade?


Friday Bag: What might the Patriots get for Garoppolo in a trade?

FOXBORO -- Every Friday we take your Patriots questions on Twitter and answer them as a joint mailbag -- or a Friday Bag, as we call it. Typically Tom E. Curran and Mike Giardi join me in this endeavor, but I'm flying solo as those two get ready to head down to Pittsburgh. 

If you ever have any questions for us, feel free to tweet at us using the hashtag #FridayBag, and we'll get to as many as we can. 

On to the Bag...

PP: Roberts has been kind of a revelation. It began with his performance against the Browns, when led the team in tackles, and it continued against the Bengals as he was a crucial piece in the Patriots' second-quarter goal-line stand. Not bad for a sixth-round pick who Bill Belichick hadn't even heard of until he popped in the tape of last year's Houston-Navy game and noticed the undersized linebacker making impact plays. I think his future usage will be based on 1) the health of Jamie Collins and Dont'a Hightower, and 2) the types of offenses the Patriots face moving forward. On Thursday, I wrote about just how infrequently the pair has been on the field. If that trend continues, the No. 3 linebacker in New England will essentially see starter snaps even though the team has moved to what is primarily a two-linebacker defense. Against run-heavy teams (like Cleveland, or probably Pittsburgh without Ben Roethlisberger), Roberts could see more time, whereas pass-happy clubs may get a heavier does of Barkevious Mingo. Roberts has been on the Patriots injury report this week with an ankle issue.

PP: It's an interesting question, John. For a couple of reasons, actually. The first -- and maybe you had this in mind -- is the fact that Stephen Gostkowski has become less-than-automatic this year. If the extra point isn't a given, why not go for two? At least I could see that being your logic. The second is that the Steelers are known to be a team that is as willing to run two-point plays as often as any other team. Bill Belichick said this week, that his team will prepare more for that play than they would normally, which in and of itself, other than the obvious scoring advantage, is an argument to run more two-point plays. If it makes your opponent's work week a little more difficult, go for it. The reason I think the Patriots have not tried more two-point plays under Belichick is twofold: They trust their kicker, and I don't think they'll shy away from using Gostkowski moving forward, despite his recent struggled; I also think they might like to hold onto the two-point plays they do have drawn up to save them for critical situations. 

PP: I do think there will be some kind of trade made, Miguel. The Patriots have obviously been willing to wheel and deal during what is otherwise a pretty monotonous trading deadline when compared to the other three major sports in this country. The position? That's tough. It will depend on the team's overall depth at that point in time, which will be based in large part on whatever injuries they incur between now and then. If I had to guess right now? I'd say tight end. Specifically a blocking tight end. They obviously love to stock up on that position, and it's one that isn't all that deep on the current roster. After Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett, there's AJ Derby and...that's it. The team recently placed tight end Greg Scruggs on injured reserve -- after choosing to keep him on the active roster over guard Jonathan Cooper, mind you -- and haven't filled his roster spot with another player at that position. 

PP: Thanks for the question, Paul. If you listen to what Devin McCourty has said on Quick Slants over the course of the last few weeks, he'll tell you that third down comes down to matchups. The Patriots are primarily a man-to-man team, and I think their defensive backs could do a better job of plastering to their receivers in those situations. But coverage and pass-rush are always linked, and the Patriots pass-rush has to come into focus when discussing third down because -- particularly in third-and-long situations -- that's when they should be creating havoc in opposing backfields. The Patriots have pressured less of late as they've gone up against athletic quarterbacks who are dangerous outside the pocket, but sooner or later they're going to need more from their front. Jabaal Sheard (24 total quarterback pressures this season) and Chris Long (20) have been consistent, but as a team the Patriots are tied for 19th in the league with 11.0 sacks.

PP: When considering a Patriots trade involving Jimmy Garoppolo, I think a good place to start might be the Sam Bradford deal executed between the Eagles and Vikings. Minnesota sent a 2017 first-rounder and a 2018 conditional fourth-rounder in order to pick up the former No. 1 overall pick. Garoppolo doesn't have near the game experience Bradford had at the time he was traded -- he had thrown for 14,790 yards, 78 touchdowns and 52 interceptions in 63 career starts -- but even in just six quarters of play, it was relatively apparent that Garoppolo could successfully run a complicated scheme. I would not be surprised if another team was willing to cough up a first and a third or better in order to acquire Garoppolo as their next franchise guy. Teams are that hungry. If it works out, and if a team finds someone it can trust for the next 10 years, that's a small price to pay. If the Patriots decide to deal Garoppolo, when they do so -- will it be with a year left on his deal, will it be with Garoppolo on the franchise tag, will it be mid-season? -- will impact the price. As far as Belichick's eventual retirement impacting the quarterback decision . . . I don't think it will. I think even after Belichick is gone, he'll want the franchise to be in good shape because he knows that will be a reflection on his work and therefore a part, however small, of his legacy. I don't see him selling out -- ie trading Garoppolo to get value now -- if he doesn't think that's the best decision for the team. 

PP: Given the offensive output the Patriots have posted over the course of the last two weeks, and given the players around him, I'd say James White has been more than enough. If the Patriots needed more from that position, having a healthy Lewis would be their best option. He can simply do things that neither White nor most other backs in the league can when he's at his best. But right now? With Gronkowski, Bennett, Julian Edelman and Chris Hogan around to see the bulk of the targets, Lewis would be more of a luxury than a necessity. For that reason, not only is White enough, but I'd imagine that the Patriots would be incredibly cautious about bringing Lewis back. He's been in and around the locker room of late, but the six-week window for Lewis to begin practicing only just opened, and I would not be surprised if the team wanted to use most of it to buy Lewis as much time as possible. Once he begins practicing, the Patriots will have three weeks to decide if they want to activate him, meaning it could be as late as Week 15 when he makes his return. If healthy, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better end-of-season addition. 

PP: I had a chance to speak with Jones at length earlier this week and he's a player who clearly understands that he needs to show the coaching staff more in order to re-gain a role. He said he didn't know if his ejection in Cleveland had anything to do with the decision to make him a healthy scratch, and so I don't know if it did, either. It couldn't have helped his chances at more playing time, though. Jones admitted he needed to be the bigger person in that scenario, even though Browns receiver Andrew Hawkins lunged at his legs. For Jones to come from Alabama, get to this level, and not contribute off the bat has been a bit of a surprise for Jones, I think. While he's frustrated he hasn't been able to do more, he understands he's not where he needs to be. From a locker-room standpoint, his teammates like him, and he's saying all the right things. I'm not sure that's enough to make him active for this week -- Eric Rowe played well in his debut, and Edelman and DJ Foster showed up as returners -- but it's a sign he's approaching his situation with a positive attitude and trying to do the right things. 

PP: Hey, David. Just based on recent history, and based on which team I think has the better defense right now, I'd have to say Denver. Mile High has been this team's own personal house of horrors for a long time. Players will tell you Buffalo is a little underrated in terms of how difficult it can be to play there, but I don't see the Patriots getting swept in the regular season by Rex Ryan's club.

PP: I think what we're seeing from Edelman is simply what should be expected from a player coming back off of multiple foot surgeries. He may not be quite as sharp getting in and out of breaks, but keep in mind he was doing that at an elite level before he went down last season. Even if he's negatively impacted by the procedures he's undergone, he's still been able to get open and make plays with the ball in his hands. He was highly-effective as a punt returner against the Bengals, returning a free kick 16 yards, and taking back three punts for an average of 16.3 yards. His receiving statistics over the last couple of weeks have looked a off (nine catches on 16 targets for 65 yards), but Brady has misfired to Edelman on a couple of notable occasions -- once over the middle last week, and once deep down the middle of the field in Cleveland -- when he was open. Connections on either of those plays could've made for bigger numbers and resulted in fewer concerned Patriots fans. Edelman's not exactly himself -- he was added to the injury report on Oct. 6 and has been limited in practices ever since -- but he's still a viable option in the passing game and an effective blocker. He's played in 117 of 144 snaps (81 percent) since landing on the injury report. 


Blount, Edelman, Gronkowski each fined $9,115 for actions in Bengals game


Blount, Edelman, Gronkowski each fined $9,115 for actions in Bengals game

Patriots LeGarrette Blount, Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski were each fined $9,115 by the NFL for their actions in the game against the Cincinnati Bengals, won by New England 35-17 on Sunday in Foxboro.

The fines were first reported by ESPN’s Mike Reiss. 

Earlier this week, Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict was fined $75,000 by the NFL for stomping on Blount after Blount’s touchdown late in the game. Gronkowski was given a 15-yard taunting penalty for his altercation with Burfict earlier in the game. 

Blount's fine was for unnecessary roughness and Edelman's was a result of a facemask penalty. 

Burfict was not fined for what appeared to be an intentional dive at the legs of Patriots tight end Martellus Bennett earlier in the game. 

Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick was earlier fined $9,115 by the league for his unnecessary roughness against the Patriots.