'O,' yes!


'O,' yes!

By Michael Felger

Whether it encouraged you or not, whether you were more frustrated or entertained, Thursday's 45-24 Thanksgiving Day victory in Detroit is just the way it's going to have to be for the Patriots.

Just about all the pressure is on Tom Brady and the offense. It's not fair, because it's the Patriots defense that deserves the scrutiny. It's that side of the ball that deserves to be criticized and held to the fire.

Unfortunately, I don't know if you can expect much more out of it than what we're currently getting, which is the occasional turnover and not much else. Make no mistake, we'll take those turnovers. They were the difference last week against Indianapolis and they were plays that really turned the tide Thursday in Detroit. Those takeaways are accutally signs of progress.

But let's face facts. The Patriots defense isn't very good right now. The Pats can't stop anybody. They can't get off the field on third down and they simply can't cover the middle. It doesn't matter if it's Peyton Manning or Shaun Hill, you can throw on the Patriots. And there are times you can run on them, too.

The Lions did both to the Pats on Thursday. They had their way with New England, just as the Colts did for long stretches last Sunday. Just as you should expect any halfway decent offense in any halfway decent conditions to do from this point forward.

That's why it's all on Brady. That's why it's all on Deion Branch and Wes Welker and the rookie tight ends. That's why it's all on BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Danny Woodhead and the offensive line.

It was the failure of those offensive players that nearly led to another devestating Colts comeback against the Pats last week.

And it was the success of those offensive players that delivered Thursday's wild victory.

It wasn't just about the numbers, although there were certainly some impressive ones. Brady had four touchdowns and a perfect quarterback rating (158.3). Branch and Welker each had a pair of touchdowns. Green-Ellis averaged nearly five yards a carry and also scored twice.

No, it wasn't just about those fantasy stats. It was about how the offense delivered situationally.

They got the ball on a late possession in the second quarter, trailing 14-3, and they scored a touchdown.

They got the ball early in the third quarter after Devin McCourty's first interception, trailing by seven, and they scored a touchdown.

They got the ball late in the third, again trailing by seven, and they scored a touchdown.

Then they scored touchdowns the last four times they got the ball (not including the kneeldown).

Forty-five points on the board. You kids on defense can check back in with us later.

Can the Patriots make it to the Super Bowl this way? I think the answer is obvious:

Sure. Why not? The Pats have now beaten Baltimore, San Diego on the road, Pittsburgh on the road and Indianapolis. Who in the AFC are they going to face tougher than those teams? Maybe the Jets are that squad. I guess we'll find out next Monday night.

The point is that this is a different era in the NFL. Defense no longer wins championships. You can get by with simply having an opportunisitic one, just like the one the Saints had last season. And just like the one the Pats believe they have right now.

But that formula only works if your offense closes games when it gets the chance. That didn't happen last week against Indianapolis, and the Pats were fortunate to win that one.

But it did Thursday in Detroit, and the Pats got what they deserved.

Read Felger's report card on Saturday. E-mail him here and read the mailbag on Thursdays. Listen to him on the radio weekdays, 2-6 p.m, on 98.5 5 the Sports Hub.

THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Titans roll to 36-22 victory over Jaguars


THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Titans roll to 36-22 victory over Jaguars

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - There's nothing like a visit from the Jacksonville Jaguars to make the Tennessee Titans remember how to protect their home field.

Marcus Mariota threw for 270 yards and two touchdowns to end his home struggles and the Titans had their highest point total of the season in a 36-22 victory over the Jaguars on Thursday night.

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Develin stays on top of tight end techniques in case he's next man up


Develin stays on top of tight end techniques in case he's next man up

FOXBORO -- Once the Patriots traded AJ Derby to the Broncos for a fifth-round pick earlier this week, they were left with just two tight ends on their roster. While those two tight ends -- Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett -- have played as two of the best tight ends in football this season, it's a position group that has been considerably thinned. 

Until coach Bill Belichick adds another player at that spot, James Develin would be the logical "next man up." A position group unto himself as the team's lone active fullback -- the other fullback in the locker room is practice-squad player Glenn Gronkowski -- Develin meets with Patriots tight ends and coach Brian Daboll on a daily basis because the fullback and tight-end responsibilities in the Patriots offense are similar, particularly in the run game.

As much time as he spends with that group, Develin tries to absorb what he can when it comes to the nuances of the position. 

"I always kind of try to prepare, obviously, for my fullback role, but then in any other role that I might be called upon for," Develin said on Thursday. "A couple years ago, we had a bunch of injuries during the offseason program, during OTAs, and I filled in a little bit at tight end. I try to keep myself familiar with all those techniques and that tight end role so if the day were to come where I needed to go out there and do it, I'd be able to go out there and do it."

When the Patriots began the season relying more on the run, Develin was called upon to play a relatively significant role in the offense. He averaged 21.3 snaps per game through the first three games of the season, but that number has fallen to 13.6 since Tom Brady's return from a four-game suspension. Still, his role can be a critical one. 

The Patriots' running game faltered last season after both Blount and Dion Lewis went down with season-ending injuries. Having Develin in the mix as an extra blocker would not have guaranteed a more efficient attack, but it may have helped the team's running-game woes late in the year. 

Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels now has the luxury of bringing Develin onto the field when he wants some added muscle for his blocking schemes, and should the Patriots need a tight end in a pinch, Develin could do that too.

"A lot of times, especially in the blocking game, really the only difference [between fullback and tight end] is that I'm five yards off the ball in the backfield and they're up on the line," Develin said. "The angles are a little bit different. But a lot of times the assignment is typcially the same thing. It's just the technique of getting there and the angles that you take.

"Then in the passing game, as a tight end, there's just a lot more routes and stuff like that. I try to work on that to help me as a fullback to be a little bit better in space . . . It's a sybiotic relationship." 

As it is, Develin will line up occasionally outside. Though not a threat as a receiver in that spot in the same way that Gronkowski or Bennett would be, he understands some of the different looks tight ends have to be comfortable with.

If an emergency arose and he was asked to fill that role, he wouldn't hesitate.

"There's a little bit of carry-over depending on what we're doing or whatever play we have called where I'll line up on the line," he said. "But that's kind of what a fullback has to do. You kind of have to be able to be thrown into whatever position on the field that you gotta do and you gotta just do your job."