Game notes: Patriots vs. Bills

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Game notes: Patriots vs. Bills

A quick look at the information you need to know about tonight's Patriots-Bills game:

GAME TIME: 8:30 p.m. EST

TV NETWORK: ESPN

TV ANNOUNCERS: Mike Tirico, Jon Gruden and Lisa Salters

NATIONAL RADIO: Westwood One Sports

NATIONAL RADIO ANNOUNCERS: Kevin Harlan, Boomer Esiason and Steve Tasker

LOCAL RADIO NETWORK: Anchored by WBZ-FM (98.5 The Sports Hub)

LOCAL RADIO ANNOUNCERS: Bob Socci and Scott Zolak

ALL-TIME SERIES BETWEEN THE TEAMS: Patriots lead, 68-42-1

LAST MEETING: Patriots 40, Bills 32 on Sept. 20, 2015 at Ralph Wilson Stadium

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-- The Patriots are an NFL-best 42-15 in the month of November since 2001 (.737 winning percentage).

-- The Patriots are 70-19 (.787) in the regular season against AFC East opponents since 2001, the best intra-division record of any team in the NFL over that time span.

-- The Patriots are 3-0 in the AFC East in 2015.

-- The Patriots are looking for their 24th season-series sweep against Buffalo.

-- Bill Belichick is 27-5 as a head coach against the Bills, including 27-4 with the Patriots. Rex Ryan is 4-10 as a head coach against the Patriots, including 0-1 with the Bills.

-- This will be the third Monday Night Football matchup between the Patriots and Bills, all of which have been played in Foxboro. The Pats won the previous two: 27-14 on Oct. 23, 1995, and 25-24 on Sept. 14, 2009.

-- The Patriots and Bills have played regular-season and playoff games at eight venues, and the Pats have a winning record against Buffalo at six of them. In games at Buffalo, they were 7-6-1 at War Memorial Stadium and are 26-16 at Rich Stadium/Ralph Wilson Stadium. In New England, they were 2-1 at Nickerson Field, 3-3 at Fenway Park, 1-0 at Alumni Stadium, 0-1 at Harvard Stadium and 17-14 at Schaefer/Sullivan/Foxboro Stadium, and are 12-1 at Gillette Stadium.

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WHAT TO LOOK FOR

-- The Patriots are looking to start a season 10-0 for the second time in franchise history. The other was in 2007.

-- Rob Gronkowski (62) needs seven touchdowns to move past Stanley Morgan (68) and become the all-time leader in touchdowns for the Patriots.

-- Gronkowski (61) needs seven receiving touchdowns to move past Stanley Morgan (67) and become the all-time leader in receiving touchdowns for the Patriots.

Bill Belichick issues statement following Patriots kneeling

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Bill Belichick issues statement following Patriots kneeling

Bill Belichick issued the following statement on Monday, a day after 16 Patriots took a knee in protest of racial inequality and Donald Trump's comments against the NFL:

“I have immense respect and admiration for our players, for how they conduct themselves professionally as New England Patriots and for how they represent themselves, their families and community as men.  I have coached football for over four decades and one of the greatest things about being in this environment is the diversity of people, backgrounds, viewpoints and relationships we are fortunate to experience.  As with any large group of people, there is a variety of perspectives and opinions on many topics.  Discussions occur between myself, individual players, groups and the entire team on an ongoing basis.  They concern the team and other issues surrounding the team.  I am going to keep the specifics of those conversations private.  I will do what I feel is best for the team in my role as head coach and collectively, we will work together to find the best way to proceed.” 
 

Tom Brady on pace to dwarf deep-ball passing numbers from 2016

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Tom Brady on pace to dwarf deep-ball passing numbers from 2016

FOXBORO -- When the Patriots traded their first-round pick in the 2017 draft for Brandin Cooks, they gave Tom Brady one of the most productive deep-ball receivers in the NFL over the course of the last few seasons. 

The Cooks acquisition not only made the Patriots offense more versatile, it also may have signaled an acknowledgement that the team needed more pass-catchers who could produce down the field and outside the numbers.

In the playoffs last season, against Houston's and Atlanta's defenses -- both of which were effective at times in taking away the short-to-intermediate areas of the field -- the Patriots could have benefited from someone like Cooks. In both games, the Patriots were able to hit on throws deep and on the outside in critical moments with likes of Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell. 

Now after three weeks, and after having faced two defenses in Houston's and Kansas City's that were intent on packing the middle of the field with defenders, it's clear that the move to grab Cooks is paying dividends. 

In Sunday's win over the Texans, 36-33, Brady threw eight passes that traveled at least 20 yards in the air, and he completed five for 185 yards and three scores, according to Pro Football Focus. On the season, Brady leads the league with 22 attempts of 20 yards or more, per PFF. He's completed 11 of those for 368 yards and four touchdowns. His passer rating on deep attempts (135.4) is second in the league. 

Compare that to last season's totals for Brady on deep passes -- 23 completions for 834 yards and eight touchdowns -- and he's on pace to blow those numbers away. Whereas he only attempted deep passes on just over 11 percent of his throws last season, according to PFF, so far this year one in every five of his throws is traveling 20 yards or more.

The biggest beneficiary of the new approach? Cooks, of course, who Brady has dubbed "Cookie." 

PFF says Cooks is leading the league in deep-ball receiving through three weeks, with 187 yards on five deep catches. Three of those came on Sunday and they resulted in 111 yards and two scores. In Week 1, Cooks had three catches for 88 yards -- including a 54-yarder -- and he drew three penalties that resulted in an additional 38 yards. In Week 2, Cooks had two catches for 37 yards -- including a 22-yarder.

Last year? The leading receiver for the Patriots on passes that traveled 20 yards or more was Hogan (10 catches for 397 yards). 

One more indication that the Patriots offense has shifted with Cooks in and Edelman sidelined: Cooks leads the NFL in yards per catch through three games (25.6 yards per reception), while Danny Amendola (16.4 yards per reception, seventh) and Rob Gronkowski (14.9, 13th) are all found among the league leaders in that category.  

Opposing defenses may continue to play the Patriots as the Texans and Chiefs did this season: Flood the middle of the field and pressure Brady with just three or four linemen. They may be content with allowing Brady to attempt lower-percentage throws down the field as opposed to letting him slice them up with shorter tosses. 

It worked well enough for the Chiefs to win, and it nearly worked well enough for the Texans. Perhaps "the blueprint" is still the blueprint. But with the addition to Cooks, Brady and the Patriots have proven that they've evolved to more efficiently combat those schemes.

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