September 29, 2016

Why This Game Is Important – Patriots/Vikings

By Bruce Allen, Patriots Daily Staff

I’m thinking of making this a weekly feature, but we’ll have to see if all future games really ARE important first.

It Might Be Halloween, But Sunday Is No Holiday For The Patriots

Though there is an NFC opponent on the schedule this week, here are several reasons why it is very important that the Patriots win this game:

As the Minnesota Vikings come to Gillette on Halloween, the Patriots sit at an unexpected 5-1, tied with the New York Jets in the AFC East, and also tied with the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Jets for the best record in the AFC and in the NFL.

They need a win to keep pace with those two teams, with the Jets playing the Green Bay Packers at home, and the Steelers heading to New Orleans to face the Saints. The Jets and Steelers could easily win those games.

The Patriots need to beat the Vikings because the Jets have already beaten the Vikings. Should the Patriots and Jets finish in a tie for the AFC East, one of the tiebreakers (after head-to-head and divisional records, I believe) is common opponents. If you believe the Patriots will beat the Jets at home in December, the two teams could well end up tied in head-to-head and divisional records. It may come to common opponents. The Jets one loss thus far is to the Ravens, whom the Patriots have beaten. Thus they need to keep beating the teams that the Jets have beaten in order to preserve that tiebreaker.

In the AFC, there are two teams at 5-2 – the Baltimore Ravens and the Tennessee Titans. The Indianapolis Colts, Houston Texans (who play each other) and the Kansas City Chiefs are all 4-2. The Patriots need to avoid getting that second loss this week to keep themselves ahead of these teams.

The Patriots need a win at home to extend Tom Brady’s regular season home winning streak (23 games), as well as their own, (12 games). The Patriots have not lost at home during the regular season since losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers at Gillette on November 30th, 2008.

The Miami Dolphins are playing at Cincinnati this weekend, and it would be nice for the Patriots to put some further space between themselves and Miami, which has been a strong-finishing team in recent seasons.

The Patriots need to win this one to shove it up Brad Childress’ keister for bring up the specter of Spygate.

The Patriots need a win to keep confounding and silencing the likes of Michael Felger, Tony Massarotti, Bob Neumeier, Ron Borges, and Albert Breer.

Patriots/Vikings Prices Down 39% In Two Weeks

This has been a much-hyped an anticipated game on the schedule, even more so since Randy Moss was traded to the Vikings just a few weeks ago.

Prices, however have been falling in the last two weeks, as you can see in the chart below. Click on the image for ticket options.

51 eTickets still available for Sunday’s game, many under $200.

College Scout – Cornerbacks

By Greg Doyle, Patriots Daily Staff

Today College Scout looks at the cornerbacks who we rate the highest around the college football landscape. The Patriots found a gem in the first round last year in Devin McCourty. But after a promising rookie year, so far another young corner of theirs, Darius Butler, is having a disappointing second season. They’re starting young corner Kyle Arrington, but probably will be looking to select at least one, maybe two, fairly high next draft. Lets see this year’s prospects.

LSU Cornerback Patrick Peterson

1.) Patrick Peterson (#7), Cornerback: Its not often a cornerback is a Heisman Trophy candidate. And while Peterson won’t win, the fact he is even mentioned tells you how good he is. Only a junior, there is a decent chance he’ll come out as he is a sure-fire Top 10 pick, maybe top 5. He’ll be 20 years old at the time of the draft. At 6’1″ 212 he is much bigger than most corners. Don’t make the mistake thinking he is not fast though, he is and is an electrifying kick returner as well. He is very athletic and can jump very high as well. A perfect “outside” corner who can match up with big, fast, stretch-the-field receivers. His only weakness is occasional mental mistakes, but he plays hard and is tough and works at it, so that should improve. He is a great run defender. NFL players Santana and Sinorce Moss as well as Bryant McFadden are his cousins. The Patriots found one great corner prospect in the draft this year in Devin McCourty. If they could get their hands on another like Peterson, that would make their young defense look to be on the verge of dominance. Watch Peterson and LSU when rival Alabama visits on November 7th at 3:30 PM on CBS.

2.) Prince Amukamara (#21), Nebraska: A very good, smooth cover corner who can lock down a receiver and is quick enough to play inside in the slot. Has very good size at 6’1″ 205 and not afraid to make plays against the running game. Amukara is considered a leader for the excellent Nebraska defense and reportedly is well-regarded by all involved with the Nebraska program. He is mature beyond his years and of very good character. Also loves football and works at it. The Patriots will be interested. Watch him and Nebraska try to deal with undefeated Missouri at 3:30 PM EST on ESPN.

3.) Rashad Carmichael (#21), Virginia Tech: A 5’11” 186 lb. ball hawk who has picked off 9 passes between this year and last. And of course there is still quite a few games left this year for him to get more. Reminds somewhat of Asante Samuel the way he jumps routes. Knows his position and is a smart kid who is well respected on the Hokies team. Could be a bit more physical in run support and doesn’t measure up to the top 2 corners on this list in that regard. Reportedly runs a 4.44/40. Would definitely be another guy the Patriots would consider. Watch him next Thursday, November 4th, at 7:30 PM on ESPN when Georgia Tech visits.

4.) Ras-I Dowling (#19), Virginia: Only a junior, Dowling was already second team All-ACC and was projected to be second team All-American headed into this season. He is another big corner, which seems to populate most of this list, at 6’2″ 210. Of course Dowling was recruited by and played for head coach Al Groh at Virginia before this season, when Groh was let go. Groh has ties to Patriots coach Bill Belichick and has been a source of information on his players before. Dowling had 8 interceptions coming into this season, but has frustratingly been very limited by a knee injury and then a hamstring injury. He sat out the first two games, came back, got reinjured and has played sparingly the last two weeks. So, with that spotty record of playing this year its unlikely he’d come out in the draft. He will probably stay another year unless he gets healthy quick and can show what he can do before this season is out. But when he does, the Patriots would like this player.

5.) Brandon Harris (#1), Miami: Miami has a history of producing highly drafted corners and Harris will likely add to that list. Harris is another junior who has been starting since midway thru his freshman year. Last year as a sophomore he ranked second nationally with 1.31 passes defended per game. Came into this season with 3 career interceptions and he’s added 1 this year but ball skills is an area he could improve. He is 5’11” 195 and very quick and fast and is physical versus the run.Harris is versatile to play in the slot or outside. He should probably stay in school another season and become one of the top corners in next year’s draft. But if he comes out he’ll still go high as teams project him to improve with his great natural talent.

6.) Curtis Brown (#3) Texas: Brown is a smaller, quicker corner who would be an ideal slot corner. One thing the Patriots will love about him is he’s been a starting corner (starting 23 of the last 26 Longhorn games) but remains on every single one of their return and coverage special teams units. Not only does he play on those units, he excels even this year when he came into the season as one of the top corners in the country. That shows a good attitude and that he doesn’t feel he’s above the game. On the downside, his ball skills need to be evaluated as he has only picked off two passes in his career (one of which he returned 79 yards for a TD though). Has blocked a few kicks in his career. Brown could develop into a starting NFL corner and I see him as a second round pick, but he’ll certainly be versatile and valuable in many different ways for whatever team gets him.

7.) Emmanuel Davis (#38) East Carolina: A 5’11” 190 lb. Junior, Davis has really come on as a prospect this year. He is a redshirt junior, so a senior academically. Another corner who is a good special teams player. A willing run defender, he will stick running backs and receivers with everything he has. Reportedly runs a 4.5/40. Possibly a late first or early second round pick he’d be a good pick up for the Patriots and should eventually be a NFL starter.

8.) Janoris Jenkins (#1), Florida: Another junior, but he is a bit old as he’ll turn 23 during next NFL season. Probably doesn’t want tro wait until 2012 to come out because of that. He’ll also have two full seasons of starting experience when this season is over. We know Patriots coach Belichick has shown a fondness for Florida players due to his relationship with Urban Meyer and looks like he struck gold in this year’s draft with three of them. It seems likely he’ll go back to that well this draft and Jenkins would be a prime target. He’s not overly big at 5’11” 188 but he may be the most athletically gifted corner on this list. Fast, quick, shifty in his change of direction and compact but solidly built, he could develop into a top-flight NFL corner but will probably take a little more time. Came into this season with 5 career interceptions and added one this year.

9.) Kendric Burney (#16) North Carolina: Burney is the shortest corner on this list at 5’9″. He weighs a stout 190 however. He came into this season with 9 career interceptions and known as a hard working, tough, physical corner who despite his size won’t back down to anyone. Started all three seasons coming into 2010. This year, he’s yet to play as he was suspended by the NCAA for receiving benefits from agents in past year. However, he was cleared this past Tuesday and will make his debut versus William and Mary today. He really is a terrific prospect and not a bad kid who made a mistake. Watch him play in a bigger game next week versus Miami on ABC time to be determined.

10.) Kenny Okoro (#6) Wake Forest: Okoro is a redshirt sophomore who could come out if he wanted as he is a junior academically. A supremely talented kid who is now in his second year of starting he checks in at 6’0″ 195. Could probably add a bit of muscle to his frame, but he is strong already versus the run and in playing physically with receivers. Looks very smooth in his movements for a kid who is 6 feet tall and has unusual quickness for that size. Has average to decent straight away speed, but his quickness is the key to his game. The son of Nigerian immigrants, Okoro is a smart kid, disciplined and with a wide variety of interests. This year, teams have avoided him and he only has 1 interception and 4 passes broken up. He likely will stay in school, but if he did come out he would be an outstanding mid-round selection as he has a ton of upside. Watch Wake Forest and Okoro visit Maryland today at 3:30 PM on ESPNU.

Tonight On Patriots All Access

Tonight on Patriots All Access, airing on WBZ-TV at 7 p.m., and immediately following on Patriots.com:

  • Dan Roche recaps a wild and wacky win in San Diego, including a trip inside the winning locker room. Find out who broke the team down after the victory.
  • Steve Burton sits down with 2010 first-round pick Devin McCourty, who will likely match-up with former teammate Randy Moss on Sunday.
  • Lyndsay Petruny follows the Patriots in the community, as Robert and Myra Kraft, Tom Brady, Vince Wilfork and their Patriots teammates helped build a playground in Waltham on Tuesday with UnitedHealthcare.
  • Scott Zolak discusses Moss, Brett Favre and favorite Halloween costumes with Head Coach Bill Belichick. Belichick also highlights the explosive Vikings offense on The Belestrator.
  • Christian Fauria and Zolak demonstrate ways the Patriots might defend Moss in the TURF segment.
  • Patriots Football Weekly‘s Paul Perillo and ESPNBoston’s Mike Reiss share their opinions on the Halloween matchup between the Patriots and Vikings.

Video preview:

Patriots Buffet Table – Minnesota Vikings

by Patriots Daily Kitchen Staff

This will be the final Patriots Daily Buffet Table as I’m retiring. Wait, I’m not. I’m not sure. Maybe. Maybe I’ll call Peter King for advice.

No that’s stupid, Peter King is an idiot. I’m definitely not not un-retiring, but maybe I’m not retiring in the first place.

I know, I’m not retiring but I will throw game winning beers to JetsDaily and then pretend I have tendinitis.

Tendinitis caused by just acting like a kid out there with the excessive text messaging and taking photos from odd positions.

What to Eat?

Halloween must be Favre’s favorite holiday. When else could a two-faced huckster who likes to pretend he’s a good ol’ boy feel more comfortable than when everyone else is wearing masks?

We’ll be making a Minnesota favorite. A burger with a surprise packed inside. Not to worry, unlike a text message from St. Brett this burger is only packed with cheese. Also unlike Brett, this burger won’t get any coaches fired.

It is called the Jucy Lucy, or some will say Juicy Lucy, and then they’ll argue about who made it first. Honestly who cares. Going by the recent history in Minnesota, I’m going to assume it was first made in Green Bay but then stolen by Minnesota.

We’ll avoid the spelling issue by renaming them.

St. Brett’s Sterger Burgers (serves 4)

  • 24 ounces ground beef, 80% fat
  • 8 slices American Cheese to be traditional
  • Seasoning/spices: salt and pepper, and it’s not traditional but a little onion powder, garlic powder or dry mustard is always a nice addition to burger meat

Mix the burger and seasoning and form into 8 equal patties of around 3 ounces each. You want these patties to be flatter and thinner than normal because you’ll be doubling them up.

Now lay out 4 of the burgers, and top each with 2 slices of the cheese. You may have to break the cheese into smaller pieces to make it fit. You don’t want it to hang over the sides of the burger. Keep the cheese a good 1/4″ inch from the sides.

Top with the other 4 burgers, and pinch around the sides to seal the 2 halves together.

Cooking is the same as with a regular burger. Over high heat. Cook 3 to 4 minutes, give a quarter turn, cook an  additional minute to 2, flip, cook 2 to 3 minutes, give a quarter turn, cook an additional minute or 2. Done.

The FDA recommends cooking for 6 minutes per side, but cooking for 4 to 5 on the first side, and then 3 to 4 on the second is going to make a juicier burger.

So it’s just a cheeseburger right? Not entirely, the cheese seems to block some of the heat from transferring through the burger, so you can get a nice char on the outside, but keep the middle so it doesn’t go past medium.

Also, the process lends itself to all sorts of ingredients. Especially those that can be hard to keep on top of a burger. For example, why not try one or more of jalapeno slices, cooked bacon, roasted red peppers, or crumbled blue  cheese.

It will be a surprise tucked inside, like a BrettFavre pick to end the game.

What to Drink?

In the spirit of Halloween we’ll go trick or treating. Macro beers dressed up pretending to be Craft.

If you’re a dedicated Bud, Miller, Coors drinker then think of these as treats. Easy gateway beers made by a favorite manufacturer.

If you’re a dedicated Bud, Miller, Coors hater, well you can think of these as tricks. That you’ll now know to avoid if you didn’t already know.

If you fall somewhere in the middle, these are beers you might recognize as the best available choices at restaurants, stadiums, airports and small liquor stores.

AB InBev puts most of theirs under the Michelob label with a few pushed out to their own labels.

There are a few solo projects:

Budweiser American Ale is the only one that falls under the Budweiser label. It’s a fairly good amber ale. If I was in a restaurant where the only choices were Bud/Miller/Coors Lite and Bud American Ale, it would be an easy choice.

Wild Blue Blueberry Lager is an odd 8% ABV blueberry beer. Like the bastard child of Four Loko and Purple Drank. I don’t know why anyone would drink this. It is likely popular amoung sportswriters who get together to watch Jersey Shore.

Organic Wild Hop Lager is the attempt to capitalize on the whole organic craze. Expect it to taste like most organic products, half the taste for twice the price.

Redbridge is a rider on the Gluten Free bandwagon. So yaay gluten free. Does ‘gluten’ mean ‘taste’? I think it might.

That brings us to the Michelob branded products. They’re not bad representatives of their respective styles.

There are probably about a dozen styles in total. These all run right around 5% ABV.

First the seasonals:
Jack’s Pumpkin Spice Ale is the fall seasonal, and it’s one of those pumpkin spiced amber ales that are all too common. Surprisingly it’s not as over the top as most.

Winter’s Bourbon Cask Ale is the winter seasonal, and it’s full of vanilla flavor. Lots and lots of vanilla flavor. If you like vanilla ice cream added to cream soda, and topped with vanilla icing, then covered with a vanilla fondant and then drizzled with a vanilla sauce you’d probably say Winter’s Bourbon Cask Ale is ok, but they need to cut down on the Vanilla.

Michelob Amber Bock is a sweet dark beer. Don’t expect a true Bock, the name here is a reference to the ‘Bock’ style most American mega brewers made up to the 1960’s.

Michelob Bavarian Style Wheat is a passable hefeweizen. Like most hefeweizens you’ll probably end up drinking this because they sneak it into every mix pack. See, just like the craft brewers!

Michelob Black & Tan, porter and lager … premixed?? Next thing you’ll be telling me cats and dogs can be friends. Unlike the doomed nature of a feline/canine truce, Michelob Black & Tan actually works.

Michelob Irish Red is a true Irish style Red Ale, and not a reddish lager with an “Oirish” name.

Michelob Marzen, better known as the Octoberfest style. A fairly malty lager, this is one of the best Michelob products.

Michelob Pale Ale it’s no Sierra Nevada Pale Ale or Deschutes Mirror Pond, but it’s a drinkable pale ale.

Michelob Porter darker and tastier than anything you’d expect Budweiser to make. I’m surprised their Belgian overlords haven’t ordered it’s termination.

Michelob Rye P.A. might be the best of the bunch. An American Style Pale Ale (hoppy) with Rye added. Rye adds a touch of spiciness.

Miller/Coors can be mostly found under the Blue Moon label (Coors) and Leinenkugel label (Miller).

First, the standalone:

Killian’s Oirish Red, made with commercials showing an Oirish bartender smashing someone’s watch. And “slow roasted caramelized malts”. It’s a lager, slightly fuller than the standard Coors product, and it is darker from the use of some crystal malt. Just don’t expect a real Irish Red Ale, or anything as good as the Michelob Irish Red. Yes there was a George Killian (Lett) but his family’s brewery was purchased and closed down about 60 years ago.

Now the Blue Moons: These all run within a few tenths of 5.5% ABV.

Blue Moon Belgian White is the standard product. It’s in the style of a Belgian White Beer. Made with wheat, orange peel and coriander. Blue Moon is now available in cans.

Harvest Moon Pumpkin Ale is the fall seasonal. It’s another pumpkin and spice beer. I liked the Jack’s Pumpkin Spice better for what it’s worth.

Full Moon Winter Ale is broadly in the style of a Belgian Dubbel. This is a tough style for a macro brewer to try. Most breweries producing Dubbels and other Abbey style beers are making good products. The use of American ingredients in a Belgian Abbey style beer results in a lackluster example that just can’t stand up to the best Dubbels on the market. Full Moon certainly isn’t as good as Blue Moon and I’d put the Harvest Moon slightly ahead as well.

Finally we have Leinenkugel, Leinenkugel was an independent family brewery years ago. However it was purchased by Miller, and has served as a partially independent craft beer line ever since.

These all run within a few tenths of 5% ABV. They may seem stronger, but they’re right in line with the full strength versions of Bud/Miller/Coors.

1888 Bock is very similar to the Michelob Amber Bock. Again, think Darker, sweeter American lager, not a German Bock.

Creamy Dark is another dark lager, but this one is based more along the lines of a German Dunkel than a Bock.

Sunset Wheat is a lot like Blue Moon, but it has blueberry flavor added instead of orange.

Classic Amber is like a lighter, not as tasty Sam Adams Boston Lager.

Red is broadly in the style of a Vienna lager. Closer to the Mexican versions of the style than the craft beer versions.

Fireside Nut Brown is the winter seasonal. It’s a brown ale with hazelnut flavoring added. To me the flavoring is too much.

There are more than just these six, but most of the rest are various versions of flavored wheat beers (honey, berry etc..).

So there you go, Bud American Ale and most of the Michelob products – treats. Most of the rest – tricks. With the Leiny products somewhere in neutral territory.

Around The League – Week 8

By Jeremy Gottlieb, Patriots Daily Staff

Lost in the pile of fraudulence in this year’s NFL sit the Chicago Bears, winners of their first three games, losers of three out of their last four and looking as though not winning another game all year wouldn’t necessarily fall too far out of the realm of possibility.

Cutler And The Bears Should Be Hanging Their Heads

In last week’s home loss to the Redskins, their second defeat in as many weeks at Soldier Field, the Bears were given no chance by their quarterback, Jay Cutler. This has become routine over the last season and a half as Cutler, owner of a golden arm, a sour face and head full of rocks, simply can’t – or won’t – take care of the ball. Against Washington, he committed five turnovers, four of them interceptions by the same Redskins defensive back, DeAngelo Hall. If that wasn’t bad enough, Cutler then proved that not even nearly single-handedly losing a game for his team can cure him of his petulant thick-headedness when he made a point in his post-game press conference of saying that if the game had gone on longer, or if the Bears were to play the Skins again, he would keep throwing it in Hall’s direction. I’m sure the folks in the Bears front office who cut his game checks got a hearty chuckle out of that one.

In 22 games started for the Bears since the beginning of last season, Cutler has thrown 34 TD passes and 33 INTs. The Bears are 10-12 in those games. He’s fumbled six times this year and lost three of them. And he’s already taken 27 sacks in 2010, just eight fewer than he took last year. In the interest of at least sort of giving him the benefit of the doubt, his offensive line has been an abomination this year (he was sacked nine times in the first half of Chicago’s Week 4 loss to the Giants). But his penchant for holding the ball far too long as opposed to getting rid of it when things are falling apart around him plays a huge role as well. Which brings us to the Bears other major problem.
This past off-season they hired Mike Martz to be their offensive coordinator. The same Mike Martz who presided over the Rams Greatest Show on Turf spectacle that won St. Louis Super Bowl XXXIV and got them as far as Super Bowl XXXVI. Martz’s offense is predicated on intermediate to deep passing and in order to complete intermediate to deep passes, a quarterback has to have time to throw. It’s not Martz’s fault the Bears O-line can’t block anyone. But it is his fault that he can’t adjust to it. In these two losses, the Bears have run 82 pass plays and 33 running plays despite having a former Pro Bowler at tailback in Matt Forte. They barely even try to run. I’ve never coached an team to the Super Bowl, but I think if you run the ball every once in a while, not only does it eliminate the possibility of your QB throwing a pick, fumbling or getting sacked, it may even keep the opposing defense guessing as to what you may do next as opposed to allowing it to pin it’s ears back and run over your linemen en route to crushing Cutler while he waits for his receivers to complete their routes 20-30 yards downfield.

Martz is notorious for being as hard-headed as Cutler if not more, and he hasn’t led anyone anywhere since his 2001 Rams were upset by the Pats in that Super Bowl. But that’s another discussion. The Bears and their soon-to-be ex head coach Lovie Smith haven’t even made the playoffs since advancing all the way to Super Bowl XLI following the 2006 season. They may still be in first place in the NFC North thanks to the injuries of the Packers, the massive underachievement of the Vikings and the steep learning curve of the Lions. Regardless, unless Cutler or Martz or both of them somehow adjust the way they do things, it’ll be another January spent watching football on TV instead of playing it.

This Week’s Five Best Teams

1. Pittsburgh: It’s important to note that the Steelers are unquestionably the best team in the league right now. It’s also important to note that they were as lucky to win in Miami last week, if not more so, that the Pats were to win in San Diego. If turning the ball over twice inside their own 20 in the first two minutes of the game and only allowing six points (a testament to their outstanding defense as well as two lucky breaks) in a game they won by a single point wasn’t enough, the goal line call that took a clear fumble in the end zone away from the Dolphins and resulted in a game-winning, chip shot field goal definitely should be. And what’s with crybaby James Harrison? I thought he was supposed to be so tough, not such a whiny little you-know-what? “That was my least productive game of the year,” he told Inside the NFL. “We can still play the game, but it’s not the same.” Dude, shut up already. We get it, the NFL is persecuting you for trying to keep you from spearing guys with your helmet. Now get over yourself.

2. New York Jets: Wasn’t it pleasant not to be forced to hear anyone associated with the Jets tell anyone who might be listening how good they are? Love those bye weeks. Be prepared for the onslaught to restart leading up to, during and after their game with Packers this weekend, a matchup the Jets and their defense should handle with relative ease. Hope someone out there is planning on being Rex Ryan for Halloween. There are a bunch of Priuses on my street if you’re looking.

3. New England: One week after The Great Escape (or Escape From San Diego, or any other applicable movie title), the Pats get Randy: The Return in their plastic jack-o-lanterns. It should be interesting to see what kind of game the Vikings get out of him on Sunday. It will be more interesting to see if the Pats defense, vastly improved the past two weeks, can keep up the good work and if the offense can show Randy it doesn’t miss him at all.

4. New York Giants: Something must have clicked for the Giants following their embarrassing home loss to Tennessee in Week 3. Since then, they’ve won four in a row to take control of the NFC East with multiple guys (Eli Manning, Osi Umenyiora, Hakeem Nicks, Ahmad Bradshaw, and more) providing MVP-caliber performances on a weekly basis. Following a bye this week, they get Seattle on the road, the Cowboys at home (likely a challenge no matter how bad Dallas is) and Philly on the road. That stretch should tell us all we need to know – if they win at least two of those three my money’s on a division title and a first round bye.

5. Tennessee: How about the Titans? With Vince Young on the bench, 64-year old Kerry Collins leads them to a huge win over the red hot Eagles, scoring 27 unanswered points in the process. Receiver Kenny Britt proved that when he’s not getting into bar fights, he’s kind of a stud, as his seven catches for 225 yards and three TDs (16, 20 and 80 yards) will attest. With the way they’re playing on both sides right now along with the Colts injuries and the Texans inexperience, the Titans look like the faves in the AFC South.

This Week’s Five Worst Teams

1. Buffalo: Hard to do much more than the Bills did last week and still not win. 505 yards at Baltimore, 373 yards and four TDs by Ryan Fitzpatrick (now, jaw-droppingly, the second-highest rated QB in the league) and a 10-point, fourth quarter comeback weren’t enough. After all, this is the Bills we’re talking about, which is why turning a 14-point lead into a 10-point deficit in just over a quarter’s worth of time and allowing yet another huge rushing total outweighed the positives and kept them winless.

2. San Francisco: Only the Niners could come off their first win of the year, go into Charlotte, give up 382 yards and hand the Panthers their first win of the year, then have their coach come out afterward and say he still thinks his team will make the playoffs. Obviously, Mike Singletary isn’t going to say they have no chance. But maybe he might think about oh, I don’t know, not saying anything at all on the topic. Anyway, when they play the Broncos in London on Sunday, a whole other country will get the chance to see how much they suck.

3. Carolina: Good for the Panthers, who finally, after five miserable games, got a quarterback to actually look like a quarterback. Initial starter Matt Moore reclaimed his role and was 28-of-41 for 308 yards and two TDs in a rousing, come-from-behind win. The Panthers got 216 yards and two TDs out of rookie receivers David Gettis and Brandon LaFell and set season high marks in several offensive areas. Of course, the win came against the woebegone 49ers, so take it with a great, big grain of salt.

4. Dallas: It was likely already over the sad sack Cowboys even before they got smoked at home by the Giants on Monday Night Football. But with Tony Romo, overrated as he is, now out for the balance of the season thanks to the shoulder injury he suffered in that loss, we can finally dismiss Dallas once and for all. About the only thing worth paying attention to with this team for the rest of the season is which comes first – Jerry Jones names himself coach or gets another facelift.

5. Denver: Playing the Raiders at home, the Broncos allowed 59 points, 38 of them in the first half and 52 in the first 40+ minutes. They also allowed five rushing TDs and three Raider scores within a six-play span before they even ran their third play of the game. Remember when Josh McDaniels started out his first season last year at 6-0? He’s 4-13 since. He’s also soon to be out of a job.

What’s Trendy

- Steven Jackson, Rams: With his 110 yards on 22 carries in last week’s loss to the Bucs, Jackson reached 7,324 for his career and became St. Louis/L.A.’s all-time leading rusher. It’s really no small feat, not just because the Rams have been so bad for the majority of Jackson’s career, but also because he surpassed guys like Marshall Faulk and the magnificent Eric Dickerson in achieving it.

- Darren McFadden, Raiders: Lost in a haze of injuries and the lingering woe that envelops the Raiders franchise, McFadden, the fifth overall pick in the 2008 draft, carried 16 times for 165 yards (10.3 YPA) and three TDs in Oakland’s rout of Denver, and added two catches for 31 yards and another score. With 557 yards in just five games, McFadden has already set a career high for a season with more than half the year still left to play.

- Josh Freeman – Bucs: Tampa’s second-year QB may not have the flashiest stats or play in the biggest market, but he sure seems to know how to win. Freeman led the Bucs from a 17-6 halftime deficit against the Rams to an 18-17 victory, throwing the game-winning TD pass with just 17 seconds left. It was the fifth fourth quarter comeback and win in just 15 games as well as the second in three games for Freeman, not bad percentages at all.

What’s Not

- Drew Brees, Saints: It has to at least have something to do with not having either of his top two running backs since Weeks 2 and 3. But Brees is as much a puzzle as anyone on the oddly underachieving Saints right now. Last year’s Super Bowl MVP threw four INTs in New Orleans shocking, 30-17 home loss to Cleveland (yes, Cleveland??!!??) last week. Three were in the first half and two were returned for TDs. Brees, who threw 11 picks all of last season, has already tossed 10 in seven games for the 4-3 Saints.

- The Ravens Defense: Baltimore certainly hasn’t looked like Super Bowl material the past two weeks. Not after lazily blowing a nice lead against the Pats in Week 6 and especially not after squeaking out an OT win at home against the Bills in which they gave up over 500 total yards and blew a 10-point, fourth quarter lead. The biggest myth regarding the Ravens is their defense thanks to its past exploits. News flash: it’s not that good anymore.

- Cris Collinsworth, NBC: I’ve always thought I liked Collinsworth as game analyst, though my memories of his spot near the head of the line of finger-pointing at the Pats regarding Spygate leave a bad taste. Anyway, he nearly pitched all his credibility out the broadcast booth window while covering the Vikings/Packers game last week, placing himself firmly at the forefront of the Favresucker movement. Collinsworth wouldn’t criticize his binky at all despite three crushing INTs, one of which was a pick 6 that cost Minnesota the game. On each one, he meticulously explained why it was someone/something else’s fault, while mercilessly ripping Packers QB Aaron Rodgers all night long for a few inaccurate passes (note: Rodgers’ team won the game, BrettFavre’s didn’t). BrettFavre could have started tossing sticks of dynamite into the press box and Collinsworth (as well as his partner Al Michaels, who was also rather insufferable with the Favresucking) would have found a way to suck him some more anyway. Painful, painful stuff from a guy who is supposed to be one of the best in the TV business.

And finally…

Perhaps lost in all the hemming and hawing over the NFL’s new stance on what it insists on referring to as “devastating hits,” is the fact that now, defenses are at an even greater disadvantage than they already were in a league that more and more often resembles Arena football. Take the Falcons/Bengals game for example, which featured 71 total points and 921 cumulative yards of total offense. The Bengals, who are allowing 23.5 PPG and 340 YPG, fell behind 24-3 before scoring 22 straight points which preceded them getting outscored 15-0 before putting up a garbagey score in the end that made the score look closer than the game actually was. It was the Bengals second straight loss as well as the second consecutive game in which they allowed more than 390 total yards. This is a team that won it’s division last year and claimed it had title aspirations this season. Sure, QB Carson Palmer threw for over 400 yards and had two receivers rack up over 100 with a third finishing with 88. But it didn’t matter thanks to their defense being shredded. The Falcons are 5-2 and arguably the top team in the NFC. They’re so good that they have allowed 469 and 474 total yards, respectively, in their last two games. With guys like Matt Ryan at QB, Michael Turner at running back and the amazing Roddy White (11 catches, 201 yards, two TDs against the Bengals) on your offense, maybe it’s not such a big deal that defense looks to be on the road to obsolescence in some places. But as the 2007 Pats – among many other teams – will tell you, a great D will at least slow down, if not stop, a great O. Defenses already can’t hit quarterbacks anywhere but between the thighs and the shoulders and now, they are being asked to change the way they hit everyone else or potentially be suspended, on the fly. All of this makes some of the week’s top teams – the Steelers, the Jets, the Titans – look that much more impressive given the way they play without the ball.

Ticket Watch – Vikings at Patriots

It should be a wild scene in Foxborough Sunday afternoon, with the later start meaning more imbibing time for some, the return of Randy Moss, and that whole Halloween thing.

Do you want to be there? There are still seats available, ranging quite widely in price.

Need tickets for Sunday’s game fast? 86 eTickets still available, check them out with our new eTicket filter.

Worry Wart – Game Seven vs. Vikings

by Chris Warner, Patriots Daily Staff

After watching San Diego score 17 points in the fourth quarter Sunday, we assume the New England region suffered an acute shortage of antacids. The visitors still managed to win, returning home with a 5-1 record only the heartiest (really, hahtiest) optimists could have predicted.

Randy, What Have You Told Them????

This week, Minnesota brings their bag of tricks (and treats) to Foxboro, including a quarterback who can’t stay out of the headlines and a receiver who’s proven he’s pretty comfortable playing at Gillette.

Lots to discuss this week, with a few more issues than usual on our minds…

I Just Called To Say I Love You Looking At Photos Of My Junk: Oh, Brett Favre. We’ll say as little about your “sexting” scandal as we can, but suffice it to say that the only thing to detract from that story has been fracturing your ankle in two places. Too tough to call at this point how much you will play: it could be a photo phallus.

Wait, what did I just say?

Action Jackson: The severity of Favre’s injury means the Pats have to prepare to face two totally different QBs. The Vikes’ backup is former starter Tarvaris Jackson (Not to be confused with disco group Tavares – which is how I spelled his name before Google asked me what the hell I was doing). As Greg Doyle pointed out so well in his column, Jackson runs the ball and throws with some efficiency, making him something of an anti-Favre. Between readying for Favre’s passing and the running of Adrian Peterson and possibly Jackson, the Patriot defense will have its hands full.

No Offense. Seriously: In the first half, New England’s offense gained less than 40 yards. Total. It has probably taken you longer to read this paragraph than it does to run that distance. Tom Brady led a solid scoring drive in the second half but failed to finish off the contest in the fourth quarter (note to BenJarvus Green Ellis? Cut up the field). This game looks just like a good milkshake: the key is consistency.

Nothing You Could Say Could Tear Me Away From My Guyton: We still love him, but linebacker Gary Guyton covered tight end Antonio Gates about as effectively as a cheap hotel towel. Although he ended up with eight tackles at San Diego, Guyton missed one or two in the open field that could have helped put an end to the home team’s comeback.

Speaking of open field dangers…

Hold Onto Your Percy: If Minnesota receiver/returner/nightmare Percy Harvin gets loose, look out. As good a job as rookies like safety Sergio Brown and linebacker Dane Fletcher did with open field tackling, Harvin makes eels seem like they have handles. Lest we worry too much about that, let’s alter our focus to his receiving teammate.

No Moss, No Moss: Knowing that the Vikings would visit Foxboro only a few weeks after trading Randy Moss to them for about two bucks and a snow cone, how desperate were the Pats to ditch him? What the heck was that conversation like? Will Patrick “For The Love Of God, Stop Calling Me Eugene” Chung be able to play at full speed? Can this young crew of defensive backs step up, or will they get too hyped up?

My, what a perfect segue…

Length, Width, Hype: With everything going on surrounding this game, how will this developing group handle it? Can the offense mesh and stay on the field when they have to? Will the neophyte defense continue to improve, or will they get overwhelmed?

Here’s hoping on Halloween night, the Pats can dress up as a 6-1 team and keep that look all week.

Email Chris Warner at [email protected]

First Impressions – Minnesota Vikings

By Greg Doyle, Patriots Daily Staff

It is Halloween night and into Foxborough come the Minnesota Vikings and their cast of unique characters which includes Head Coach Brad Childress, Quarterback Brett Favre and former Patriots receiver Randy Moss. The struggling Vikings, who many experts had as a Super Bowl contender, may of course be without Favre as he is in danger of his first missed start in many, many years.

Childress and Moss will be there, however, along with a lot of other talented Vikings players. There is no doubt this team has many quality NFL players. They are better than their 2-4 record. And they are very dangerous to the Patriots. Any loss, even to an NFC team, could be the difference in the Patriots division as its likely to be very, very close between them and the Jets the rest of the way in the AFC East.

It is Halloween night. Moss returns. Favre’s a question. You have one of the best running backs in the NFL to contend with. Head coach Childress made suggestive comments about the Patriots and there has never been any love lost between him and Patriots coach Bill Belichick anyway. And the Patriots, despite a win last week, need to right their ship on offense after a very down week for them. It should be a compelling game.

The Patriots Should Be Prepared For The Running Ability of Jackson.

Tarvaris Jackson (#7), Quarterback: Jackson was selected in the 2nd round in 2006 to be the quarterback of the future for the Vikings. At the time, there were wildly differing opinions on Jackson, who is known to his teammates as “T-Jack.” Some felt he had a lot of talent, excellent arm, good size and mobility and could be developed into an excellent NFL quarterback despite playing at a low level of college ball. But the majority seemed to feel he lacked the necessary ingredients to be a top QB and that the Vikings severely reached in taking him in the second round.

While they may have thought they were getting the next Daunte Culpepper/Randall Cunningham, most seemed to feel he wasn’t and never would be in their league talent-wise. Brad Childress, then in his first season, was particularly interested in Jackson and thought to be largely behind the selection. Early in his rookie year, Jackson took over late in a blowout loss for a struggling starter Brad Johnson, who had thrown four interceptions that day. After the game, Jackson was asked if he was ready to take over as starter to which Jackson replied “Not really. We still have a chance at the playoffs.” This created a minor stir in Minnesota about Jackson’s competitiveness. In 2007, his second season, Jackson did start 12 games and led the team to an 8-4 record in those games. But his 70.8 passer rating suggested the team won despite him that year and the team missed the playoffs. Two games into the 2008 season, Childress benched Jackson in favor of veteran Gus Frerotte. After Frerotte was again injured late in the year, Jackson came in again as the starter and played well, even earning NFC Player of the Week Honors one game. But with Frerotte still out, Jackson starter the Vikings wildcard playoff game and again was back to playing terribly in a loss at home.

Since the beginning of the 2009 season, Jackson has served as Brett Favre’s backup. Jackson at times has played well. He never seemed to get a full opportunity to grow as a starter in the NFL before being benched. He did put up pretty good numbers in the games he played in 2008, playoff performance not withstanding. Now having sat for essentially two years, he may get a chance to start this week or at least play depending on Brett Favre’s injured ankle. It seems probable Jackson will play and unlikely Favre could get thru a whole game. This could present problems for the Patriots. Jackson is mobile, has a good arm, played well at times and has had a chance to learn from the sidelines for quite awhile now. Sometimes when a player comes in after a layoff like that, it takes some adjustment time for opponents to learn his game again. It would almost seem with Favre struggling anyway, and now hurt, it would actually improve the Patriots prospects for Sunday if he played instead of Jackson.

Adrian Peterson (#28), Running Back: Peterson is, of course, the Vikings best player and an elite running back. He has to be considered among the two best at the position in the entire NFL, along with the Titans’ Chris Johnson. He has it all; speed, power, size, hands out of the backfield – everything. He has had a tendency to fumble in past years, but so far this year he has improved and it hasn’t been a problem. The Patriots have done a pretty good job against the run this season, but this will be their biggest test. In addition to the run game, Peterson really can break some long plays on swings and screens out of the backfield. The Patriots have used rookie linebacker Dane Fletcher in coverage a lot in the past few weeks and he has done a good job. But this will be a huge test for him and you can be sure the Vikings will want to exploit any matchup of their All-Pro running back being covered by an undrafted rookie linebacker.

Randy Moss (#84), Wide Receiver: Moss, who was just traded weeks ago, returns to Foxborough to play against the team he put up one of the greatest statistical years for a receiver in NFL history just a few short years ago. He’ll know the spotlight is on him and he also knows the Patriots defensive backs very well. He spent the entire summer practicing against them, or in some cases several years. Patriots coach Bill Belichick always said Moss was amongst the smarter players he’s coached, so the knowledge he’s gathered of the Patriots defense through the years, I’m sure he will use to his advantage. It is Halloween and it should be a wild scene with Moss masks and costumes populating the crowd. The Vikings have a lot of weapons and the Patriots defensive backs are still young and a bit banged up. If they hope to avoid a very scary scene, they’ll need to find a way of dealing with Moss while not ignoring all the other Viking options. Perhaps the best hope would be a solid amount of pressure and seeing if Devin McCourty can be competitive on his own and without too much help with Moss in the early drives.

Jared Allen (#69), Defensive End: The Patriots struggled with some speed rushers last week and this has been a periodic problem for Patriots left tackle Matt Light. Light has generally done an extraordinary job for now into his 10th year protecting Tom Brady’s blind side. In many ways, he’s a completely underrated player. But, one area of problem for him is the occasional speed rusher who is so quick, Light can’t use his trademark strength and technique to get properly engaged quickly enough all the time. The now-retired former Buffalo Bill Aaron Schobel was one guy like that who gave Light fits. Some speed rushers Light has done well with, such as Dwight Freeney. While Freeney is quick, I think he’s not quite as fast as guys like Schobel, Jason Taylor and Allen. He just has a variety of moves and some strength. So he is different. But Allen could cause problems as he fits the mold of the type Light struggles with. And you won’t find a more productive defensive end as Allen has been voted All-Pro three seasons running now. Going back and looking at Allen’s matchups versus the Patriots, he’s faced them only two times. As a rookie in 2004 with Kansas City he had 4 tackles and 1 sack. In 2005 with KC he had 1 tackle an 1 sack in a Kansas City win during which Tom Brady was under a lot of pressure. Two sacks in two games is a bit worrisome given the Patriots struggles last week. One thing to watch for, however, is that Allen is off to a very slow start for him. He only has 1 sack thru 6 games after racking up 45.5 over the last 46 games he’d played going into this season. Still, slowed or not, the Patriots better give Light some help or it could be a very long day for Tom Brady.

Chris Cook (#31), Cornerback: The rookie Cook was the Vikings second round pick this year and reportedly the Patriots showed some interest in him pre-draft. He is a big kid who played for Al Groh in college. He also tested quite well athletically at the combine and has good speed and strength. At times this year, Cook has been the nickel back for the Vikings and has really struggled. With the Vikings losing one of their better corners for the year recently in Cedric Griffin, finding guys back here has been a problem. The way the Patriots like to spread out the field, particularly against the Vikings who typically play tough run defense, their could be a lot of matchups for Tom Brady to exploit if he gets the time. Cook was abused repeatedly by the Packers last week and ended up benched for part of the game, but the Vikings don’t have a ton of alternate options. One of their better remaining veteran corners after Antoine Winfield, Lito Sheppard, has a broken hand and didn’t play last week. Its a question whether he can go this week, but should be limited even if he does. So the Vikes are going to have to rely on young corners such as Cook and the Patriots will likely be able to make some plays on them.

From The506.com – Where Patriots/Vikings Will Be Shown

This week’s broadcast involves an NFC team, which means FOX gets a chance to show the Patriots to their national audience. It is the network’s top broadcast this week, and they send their number one announcing team to the game, minus Joe Buck, who is calling the World Series for the network.

Thom Brennaman will fill in for Buck, alongside Troy Aikman and Pam Oliver on the sideline.

Here is the coverage map for this game:

As you can see,most of the country will be able to watch this game, with the exception of the Tampa, Arizona, Oakland and Seattle markets.

Making The Grades – Patriots at Chargers

By Jeremy Gottlieb, Patriots Daily Staff

Man, does it smell something nasty in here. I can barely type without having to stop and hold my nose for fear of suffocating. That’s the lasting impression from the Pats fasten-your-seatbelts, 23-20 win over the Chargers on Sunday in San Diego. It’s pretty rare to see a team try as hard to give away a game as the Chargers did and even rarer to see the other team seem as unwilling to accept the gift as the Pats were. Four first half turnovers by San Diego should have equaled at least 21 Pats points; instead those miscues turned into just 10. The Pats kept getting the ball given back to them again and again, yet only managed to chalk up 38 total yards in the first half, good for just 1.2 yards per play and their fewest amount in a half since 2003. There was one total yard in the second quarter. But there the Pats were, up 10 at the break, 17 after three quarters and three when it mattered most, at the final gun, following the cherry on top of the San Diego suckberry sundae, a false start penalty that turned a potential 45-yard, game-tying field goal attempt into a 50-yard try. Naturally for the woeful Chargers, the kick drifted just right and hit the post, allowing the Pats to escape and laugh their way all the way back to the east coast. There were a multitude of issues for the visitors, from a miserable day for the offense (179 total yards) to some lousy coaching (running the same play already called twice in similar situations into a stacked defensive front on fourth-and-1 with the game on the line) to a few inexplicable moments on special teams. But a win is a win and you are what your record says and for the Pats, that’s 5-1, tied for not just the AFC East lead but the best record in the NFL. They’ll surely take it and as smelly as it is, so should we. So with that, let’s spray some Febreze all over the place and wade into this week’s report card.

OFFENSE: Overall Grade: D+

Let’s see if the following information breaks it down fundamentally enough: In the first half, the Pats had the ball seven times. Those seven drives lasted four, three, four, three, four, three and eight plays, with the eight-play drive totalling six yards. Only their second half opening march, which lasted 17 plays, traveled 79 yards, took 8:35 off the clock and ended in a one-yard TD run by BenJarvis Green-Ellis, and the next possession, a nine-play, 59-yard move that netted them Stephen Gostkowski’s third field goal of the day (which turned out to be the game-winning points) saved the offense from a straight F, a point I doubt would be argued by many. When Tom Brady was asked to discuss the team’s offense in his postgame press conference, he responded with a question of his own, “What offense?” Good answer, Tom.

Quarterbacks: C-

Maybe it was a bit of a letdown from last week’s big win over the Ravens. Maybe he’s still getting used to the offense without Randy Moss. Maybe, as with his increasingly bizarre looking haircut, Gisele was the reason. Regardless, Brady was bad on Sunday, as bad as he’s been all year, give or take the second half of the Jets game in Week 2. He finished the day a pedestrian 19-of-32 for 159 yards (a rather unattractive 5 yards per attempt) and a score, good for a ho-hum 82.7 passer rating. But the first half was so dreadful it must be rehashed, if only briefly. He was 6-for-16 for 35 yards. The Pats failed to convert a single third down in six tries. Decisions were questionable, throws ranged from flat, to wobbly to air mailed and even the TD pass, a perfectly executed play fake at the 1, required a twisting, acrobatic grab by Rob Gronkowski as the ball was off target and slightly overthrown. Brady was done no favors by his offensive line (more on them later) and the San Diego defense certainly came to play, confounding the Pats all day at nearly every turn. Like in the Baltimore game, the offense improved as the game wore on, with Deion Branch, Danny Woodhead and Wes Welker not doing anything impactful until after halftime. Brady did complete 10 straight passes at one point in the second half and led two massively important scoring marches when it mattered most. In the end, his direction of those two drives, which resulted in 10 points, was the difference in the game. Still, Sunday marked his second consecutive mediocre first half in a row. If that keeps happening and occurs against a competent team, something the Chargers most decidedly are not, there may be reason to worry.

Running Backs: C

BJGE wasnt HOF Sunday

No dice for the future Hall of Fame tandem of Green-Ellis and Woodhead this week. The good feelings engendered by the Pats running game the past three weeks disappeared with the rest of the offense on Sunday, marked by a dismal stat line of 22 rushes for 51 yards (2.3 YPA). Yes, the Law Firm scored from a yard out to cap that stellar third quarter drive and converted important one fourth-and-1 (though not the REALLY important one). But he looked shaky for the second straight week, especially on the late game fourth-and-1, on which he failed to see a small hole that opened up just next to the left guard and would have been reachable with a small cutback (though in his defense, the play call – not the decision to go for the first down – was borderline horrendous). If Fred Taylor ever gets over the toe injury that’s now robbed him of three and half games and can play a half of football without being forced to miss another two months, it will be interesting to see how the carries get divvied up. Obviously, Taylor can’t be counted on to carry anything near a full load but BJGE has tailed off since his huge Week 3 performance against Buffalo. As for Rudy 2, he may have added a couple of phrases to his ongoing ballad with a couple of big plays in the second half, the biggest a 16-yard catch and run for 16 yards on a second-and 17 from deep in Charger territory to set up a first-and-goal and BJGE’s eventual scoring plunge. But like everyone else on offense, his stats were modest at best – eight carries for 24 yards, three catches for 28 yards. The Pats running backs have acquitted themselves quite well in the absence of Taylor and Kevin Faulk. Hopefully, Sunday was just a blip on the radar.

Wide Receivers: C

The first reception of the game by a Pats wideout came at the 4:50 mark of the second quarter when Brady hit Welker for a three yard gain. Welker would later catch a 12 yard pass with just over a minute left in the half and that was it for the first half. He finished with four catches for 25 yards and Branch, who was targeted by Brady eight times, added four grabs for 39 yards, with a couple of those catches crucial to the two second half scoring drives. But that’s about it. Whether the Nos. 1 and 2 just couldn’t get open or if their lack of production stemmed from Brady running for his life most of the afternoon they were mostly non-factors in the game, neither really here nor really there. The real disappointment here, though, is Brandon Tate, who was thought to be ready to break out following the Moss trade but has one catch for three yards in the two games since. Brady may not be looking for him too much given Welker’s dependability and Branch’s bond with the QB. But it would really be nice to see a guy with the gifts Tate has do something, anything. Right now, thanks to his great productivity on kick returns and his invisibility on offense, he reminds me a lot of old friend Bethel Johnson. And we know how that turned out.

Tight Ends: B

The biggest strength of the Pats offense that doesn’t wear No. 12 showed well again on Sunday, about the only group that can make such a claim. ESPN Boston’s Mike Reiss points out that the Pats utilized two or more tight ends on 48 of 61 offensive snaps and once again, Aaron Hernandez was a focal point. Even though he looked to be in a slight haze on a third quarter offensive pass interference penalty, he didn’t let his next opportunity go up in smoke. He found a seam in the middle of the Chargers defense and pulled in a 22-yard strike from Brady on the fourth quarter field goal drive, burning the linebacker assigned to cover him on the play with relative ease. Overall, he was the Pats top pass catcher again with five catches for 54 yards. Through his first six games in the NFL, he hardly looks burnt out, not in the slightest. Gronk, of course, caught that goal line pass for a TD and added another reception later on. He may only have nine catches all year but a third of them are for scores. Can’t argue with that. Not that any of you would argue with Gronk about anything, would you? I mean, look at him.

Offensive Line: F

What the hell is going on with Matt Light? Anyone have any ideas? I don’t. After a subpar game against Baltimore, Light was atrocious on Sunday, getting routinely spun around and tied into knots by someone who plays for the Chargers named Antwan Barnes. I’d never heard of him and apparently, neither had Light because the Pats left tackle had no idea how to stop him. Brady was sacked three times in the first half, four times overall and while not all of them were by Barnes (just two, and he drilled Brady a couple of other times for good measure) it spoke volumes that in the second half, left guard Dan Connolly, who for my money has been the Pats best O-lineman this season, was benched in favor of Ryan Wendell, seemingly to shore up the fact that most of the pressure from San Diego’s pass rush was coming from the left side and there really isn’t anyone who can fill in for Light. He really looked like he had no chance on several plays, even getting himself penalized for illegal hands to the face, likely a penalty borne out of frustration. Dan Koppen and Sebastian Vollmer gave up sacks as well and the line was never really able to make any room for a consistent set of running plays. There were multiple occasions in which a tight end, be it Hernandez, Gronk or Alge Crumpler were inserted on to the left side of the line to help out, including on the fateful, late game, fourth down failure – that’s how bad it was on that side of the line. Connolly did do his job well as the fullback while lead blocking for BJGE on the third quarter TD but it was strange to see him removed from the game in the second half especially considering his stellar season to this point. Still, the most alarming O-line factoid of all has to be the performance of Light the past two weeks. He looked to be slowing down somewhat last season and now has submitted a couple of weak showings two weeks in a row. Here’s hoping he figures it out. The line, which has allowed Brady to be sacked 10 times in the last three games after letting up just two in the first three games, really needs him.

DEFENSE: Overall Grade: C+

I suppose this is a compliment, but the defense didn’t look nearly as hideous as it has in almost every previous week until late in the third quarter and throughout the fourth. In fact, they looked pretty good to that point, stifling any run game the Chargers tried to get going and holding their own against a star QB like Philip Rivers. Much of the reasons for the drop off later in the game is certainly on Bill Belichick and his defensive staff, who for whatever reason put the Pats into a straight prevent look following the 17-play TD drive. The idea of the move is to not give up the big play and San Diego came into the game leading the league in plays for 20+ yards. I suppose that makes the decision somewhat defensible. But the Pats have enough trouble making plays in their base defense. Why subject them to allowing huge, giant, enormous swaths of turf to be open in the middle of the field? Seriously, any play run by the Chargers while the Pats were in this ultra conservative formation that happened between the numbers and spanned from five yards beyond the line of scrimmage to 20 yards beyond the line of scrimmage was totally, utterly and completely wide open and San Diego took advantage. The Chargers got back into the game and had a chance to tie in the end not because of the fourth-and-1 call, not because of their successful onside kick in the fourth quarter and not because the Pats offense sucked for most of the day. They did it because that’s what the Pats defense allowed them. It doesn’t help that guys like Gary Guyton, who was staggeringly bad down the stretch, is a part of this defensive package, or that the Pats were thin at safety following the first half injury suffered by Patrick Chung. But until the fourth quarter, the Pats D had held the league’s No. 1 ranked offense (proof that those kinds of stats aren’t always that important, what with the Chargers now 2-5 and all) to three points and forced four turnovers. When they shifted what they’d been doing all game long, they were shredded, almost to the point of blowing the game. Sure guys could have made more plays, but that’s the case in every game. I hope these guys remember that when they get their final GPAs for the year.

Defensive Line: B-

Once again, the D-line held its own and then some. How else to explain the Chargers managing just 38 yards rushing on 19 attempts? Vince Wilfork (or again, as Jim Nantz continually calls him, Wilferk) started at the left end again and although he registered just one official tackle, he effectively eliminated the Chargers ability to run to their right. Frequently taking up multiple blockers on running plays, Wilfork’s massive presence allowed Jerod Mayo to come in and make a multitude of stops, as well as giving more opportunities to fellow linemen Myron Pryor (three tackles), rookie Brandon Deaderick (two tackles, one for a loss, a sack and another shot at Rivers) and Mike Wright (the same line as Deaderick). This group also put pressure on Rivers throughout the first three quarters, not allowing him the time to wait for his receivers to get open down the field which in turn helped the secondary have its best collective game of the season (at least until the fourth quarter). About the only disappointment was the inactive status of Ron Brace, the second rounder from last season who seemed to have figured it out earlier in the year but has since lost his job to Deaderick (a seventh-round pick). When veteran defensive end Ty Warren went down for the season during training camp it seemed that the D-line would be a potential weak spot. But their collective performance all season has ranged from solid to excellent and Sunday was no exception.

Linebackers: C

Don’t blame Mayo. No, it wasn’t his best game and yes, he was out there for the fourth quarter carnage. But he excelled in the stuffing of the Chargers run game, recovered the first of the three Chargers fumbles and produced another 10 solo tackles, nothing to sneeze at. On the opposite side of the coin stands Guyton, who has but one role on this defense and that’s to cover, spy and make plays in obvious passing situations. And although he had eight tackles including one for a loss, he was scorched time after time after time by multiple San Diego pass catchers in the fourth quarter. Whether he was waving at tight end Antonio Gates while getting beat by three strides on the Chargers first TD or having running back Darren Sproles pinned near the sideline for a loss only to be faked out of his jock as Sproles turned the play into a nine-yard gain, Guyton was fleeced enough times to make even the most casual of observers notice. Rookie Dane Fletcher saw a good deal of time again and fared well for the second straight week, coming up with four tackles and along with Kyle Arriington, forcing the the first Chargers fumble. Rob Ninkovich had what is now become his customary solid game, running back the third Chargers fumble 63 yards to the San Diego 8. The two Florida rookies, Jermaine Cunningham and Brandon Spikes, didn’t do much and neither did forgotten man Tully Banta-Cain. The linebacking corps started out well and played consistently enough until they were put in a no-win situation thanks to the fourth quarter alignment shift. Still, it would have been nice to see one of them make a play during that stretch, especially Guyton.

Defensive Backs: C+

Yeah, it’s true – these guys were better than average on Sunday! Will wonders never cease? Big props to rookie Devin McCourty who had his best day as a pro, the highlight of which was a leaping, super athletic interception of a deep sideline pass by Rivers. McCourty covered the play to perfection, showed outstanding technique and timed his leap just right to make the play. He’s struggled from time to time this year, sometimes a great deal. But he’s shown flashes of brilliance and looks like if he stays on the right course and doesn’t regress, he could be really, really good. Arrington also played well with his forced fumble and six tackles and at safety, veteran James Sanders led the way with a sack and fumble recovery as well as a pretty pass break up. Patrick Chung left with a knee injury in the second quarter but still managed to make his weekly impact with a big tackle for negative yards on a first quarter running play. The injury appears to not be terribly serious though if it is, the Pats certainly have themselves a player in backup Sergio Brown. Promoted from the practice squad on Saturday to fill in for the injured Jarrad Page, Brown not only was big on special teams, he made four tackles on defense, none bigger than his huge, open-field stop of Gates two yards shy of a first down on third-and-10 in the final minute, a play that forced the Chargers into their ill-fated, last second field goal attempt. sooner than they would have liked. And of course, we’d be remiss to not discuss Brandon Meriweather, who earned praise from all corners, including the NFL head office, for learning from his spearing of Baltimore’s Todd Heap last week and subsequently laying out Chargers receiver Patrick Crayton with a perfectly executed shoulder to shoulder smash in the first quarter. It wasn’t nearly as impressive to see Meriweather stand and salute the crowd immediately following the play even though he’d given up a first down but hey, baby steps. Again, this group gets a lower grade than it might have thanks to the ease with which the Chargers carved it up late. But they still have to be commended for continuing to improve every week.

Special Teams: C

One of the Pats biggest strengths throughout the first six weeks of the season turned into one of their biggest weaknesses on Sunday. Four penalties, a litany of bad snaps on punts and worst of all, not being prepared for the Chargers fourth quarter onside kick all combined to make Sunday the worst of the year for these guys. Like the defense, the special teamers were done no favors on that onside kick by the coaching staff, at least as far as we know. Maybe their coordinator Scott O’Brien or Belichick did tell them to be ready even though there were still over seven minutes left on the clock and the Chargers still trailed by 10. Yet upon examining the actions of those on the field as Chargers kicker Kris Brown approached the ball (pretty much in full retreat mode across the board), that seems highly unlikely. Maybe the Pats thought that since the Chargers had already tried it once in the first quarter and failed, there was no way they’d dare try it again. Whatever the reason, they should have at least been prepared for the possibility it was coming. They weren’t, and it cost them. Stephen Gotskowski’s 3-for-3 performance on field goals and our man Zoltan’s handling of all those bad snaps from long snapper Jake Ingram prop this grade up as does Julian Edelman’s sick punt return in the third quarter that looked like it would lose yards but wound up gaining 34. Given how well this phase of the game has gone for the Pats all year up to this week, it’s safe to assume Sunday was just one of those days.

Coaching: D

Not remotely Belichick’s best day and I write that without even considering the fourth-and-1 decision in the fourth quarter. Going for it there was the right call; the object of the game is to win, and you have to play that way. When you start playing not to lose, which punting at that point would have signified, you become Chargers coach Norv Turner. Belichick believed his team could gain a yard, as well he should. If they do it, the game is over and they win. So what if not converting gives the Chargers a short field on which to try tying the game? Needing just a yard makes it worth the risk. The problem was the play call. Everyone in the stadium knew the Pats would be running a power set off-tackle to the left. They’d already done it twice in the game with just a yard to gain for either a first down or touchdown. I guess you could argue if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. And if Green-Ellis cuts the ball back as he approaches the line of scrimmage, there’s no discussion. But why not sneak the ball there? Brady is 6-5. He takes the snap, the interior of his line pushes forward and all he does is take a couple steps then fall forward, arms slightly extended. Seems to have a much lesser degree of difficulty. It’s also a play the Pats run frequently and almost always seems to work. Good decision to go for it there, bad decision on how to do it. Again, the special teams problems, particularly the failure on that onside kick, fall at the feet of O’Brien and Belichick. And the shift in the defensive look with a 17-point lead must be mentioned again, especially considering the fact that it not only got the Chargers right back in the game but in position to tie. Belichick has worked wonders this season in getting a team with as much youth and inexperience, especially on defense, to win five of its first six games. He has avoided the Randy Moss trade coming back to bite him thus far and has managed to succeed with a running game that features two undrafted free agents. His team had no turnovers on Sunday while the other one had four and the Pats are tied for fifth in the league in turnover differential at +6. That’s all coaching. He’s still as good as it gets. Just not on Sunday.

The Return Of The “Lucky” Patriots

By Bruce Allen, Patriots Daily Staff

Back in the “old” days earlier this century, the Patriots often confounded observers and critics alike by routinely winning games which were dubbed “lucky” wins. It always seemed that the Patriots were hanging on for dear life at the end, escaping only by the narrowest of margins, usually due to a mistake or poorly executed play by the opponent.

The Chargers Were Nice Enough To Share With Their Guests

“The Patriots were lucky to win that one,” the critics would state, “Wait until they play team X, and they won’t be quite so lucky.” Team X would come onto the field, and the Patriots would hang on and beat them in a different, but similarly head-scratching (to the critics) way.

In 2009, the tables were turned, as all the games in which you expected the team to pull out a last minute win, they actually folded down the stretch, or themselves committed the costly error to deprive themselves of the win.

Have the last two weeks seen the return of the “lucky” Patriots? Two last-minute wins, both decided on a field goal attempt. Last week, the Patriots were able to kick a winning field goal, yesterday they won because San Diego’s kicker missed a field goal.

The Patriots had run out to a 20-3 lead entering the fourth, thanks to a number of mental miscues by the San Diego Chargers, plays which if you’ve watched this team over the years, you’ve learned not to be surprised by, regardless of who the head coach is.

The Patriots defense played well for three and a half quarters yesterday, perhaps the most encouraging item to come out of the afternoon. They were aggressive, opportunistic, and held All-World tight end Antonio Gates in check until the end of the game. (I will however, call for Gary Guyton to be tossed to the bottom of the depth chart.)  The offense had a dreadful first half, but got into a rhythm in the second half.

On special teams, if you take away the converted onsides kick by the Chargers in the fouth, a play on which the Patriots seemed totally surprised and unprepared, were generally solid again, though Jake Ingram seems to be in a bit of a long-snapper slump of late.

In the end though, all that is important is that the Patriots are now 5-1 on the season, tied for the best record in the NFL. I saw on NFL Network where the panel was discussing the best team in the league, and they were debating between the Steelers and the Jets. At they went to break, someone asked whether the Patriots should be considered. “Noooo!” was heard around the table, along with some scornful chuckles.

It felt good, like we were back in 2003.