September 30, 2016

Making The Grades – Patriots at Lions

By Jeremy Gottlieb, Patriots Daily Staff

OK, it may be five days later but really, was anyone even remotely surprised at the outcome of the Patriots Turkey Day visit to the Motor City? There may have been a little bit of worry and stress, a smidgen of hemming and hawing about their prospects during the short week leading up to the Thanksgiving Day game, especially coming off the gigantic win over the Colts last Sunday. And given their sluggish, lethargic first half against the Lions, those worries were certainly justifiable. But, as predictably as the sun rising or sliding into a perpetual, multi-day food coma beginning sometime last Thursday afternoon, the Pats rose to the top and Detroit sunk to the bottom when it mattered most with the culmination of the day’s events being a 45-24 beatdown in which the visiting team used a 35-7 second half run to blow the doors off of Ford Field and run out of there with a 9-2 record, still good for the highest mark in the league. For the most part, it was the Tom Brady show, again, with the Pats QB skying for 341 yards, four TDs and a perfect passer rating. The defense, porous as ever, did it’s usual not-quite-horrid-enough to lose job, providing a couple more smartly timed turnovers after halftime to contribute to what was a close game for 30-plus minutes becoming an absolute laugher in what seemed like about 30-plus seconds. The Pats dodged the trap game bullet they couldn’t avoid a few weeks ago in Cleveland with the win and are now sitting pretty and with a few extra days of rest to boot as they await and prepare for next Monday night’s be all, end all bloodbath with the Jets at Gillette Stadium. So with that, let’s get at some leftovers, Patriots Daily University styles, and bang out this week’s report card.

OFFENSE: Overall Grade: A-

Another banner day for the offense though that banner didn’t fully fly until the second half. The energy and urgency didn’t seem to be there in the early going, perhaps due to the short week, perhaps because the Lions came out as if they were collectively shot from a giant cannon, perhaps a combination of the two. Either way, the Pats overcame their sluggishness (particularly the O-line) and the Lions pass rush, rebounded from three punts in their first five possessions and exploded to the tune of five straight TD drives, or a trip into the end zone the final five times they had the ball. They rolled up 284 total yards to go with those five scores and it seemed like everyone got into the act. Wes Welker and Deion Branch each scored two TDs, as did the Law Firm, BenJarvus Green-Ellis. The tight end trio of Crumpler, Gronkowski and Hernandez (sounds like a pretty bad ass law firm in it’s own right, eh?) contributed with seven catches and of course, Rudy 2, the incredible Danny Woodhead made a couple more plays, possibly in celebration of his shiny, new contract extension through 2012. Since the Cleveland loss, the Pats have scored 39, 31 and 45 points over three straight wins, and are the highest scoring team in the league at 304 PPG. I’m not a doctor, but that sounds like the offense is doing pretty well.

Quarterbacks: A+

What more can be said about Brady and his utter and complete greatness? 21-of-27 for those 341 yards. It’s hard to determine what’s more impressive, the fact that he only threw six incompletions (one of which was a perfect strike that bounced off of Brandon Tate’s number and hands) or the fact that her averaged 12.6 yards per pass attempt, an enormous number. And as good as he was, if his line hadn’t been half asleep through the Pats first three possessions, he could have been even better. Devin McCourty’s first interception on the Lions opening drive of the second half got the ball rolling but Brady’s first TD pass gave it speed. On the play, after a play fake to BJGE, Brady looked over the middle where both Branch and Gronkowski were working to get open, didn’t see anything he liked, took a step left and saw Welker, his outlet, standing pretty much alone in the flat. He delivered the ball perfectly and watched his favorite receiver do the rest. It was an outstanding display of awareness and overall control of an offense and it sent the entire offense on its way. Then, less than two minutes after the defense gave the score right back, he saw Branch streaking down the far sideline, eschewed a dump-off to Woodhead that would have likely garnered a first down and went for it all, hitting Branch in stride for a 79-yard score, the Pats longest play of the season. Branch’s subsequent undressing of Detroit corner (and live turkey) Alphonso Smith wound up the story of the play but Brady’s ability to see the play unfold, adjust and throw a perfect deep ball were sights to behold. He would throw two more scoring passes before the end of the day (the next one to Branch may as well have been a teaching diagram on how to run a perfect timing play on a quick in-cut) before hitting the showers and getting himself out of Detroit and into a film room to get started on figuring out how to dissect the Jets in similar fashion to the way he’s dissected the Steelers, Colts and Lions these past three weeks. And oh yeah, did I mention he didn’t practice a single time leading up to the game? Naturally, I’m biased, but anyone who doesn’t think Brady is the MVP of the league this year (66 percent completions, 105.8 passer rating, 23 TDs against four picks with 13 against none in his last six games) isn’t playing attention. Or at least didn’t watch his virtuoso mastery of the game last Thursday.

Running Backs: A-

BJGE is getting better and better every week. He’s running with true purpose, he never dances or stops going forward (he’s the anti-Maroney that way) and lately, he’s been looking to take guys on more and more. On his first TD in Detroit, a 15-yard run, he absorbed the initial hit just inside the 10, bounced away, saw Smith closing in around the five, put his head down and ran him over, then barreled into the end zone. It was power running at it’s finest, something Law Firm seems to be understanding and executing on a weekly basis. He finished with 59 yards on just 12 carries to go with those two scores (his eighth and ninth of the year), pretty much a five-yard average and his third straight game (and fourth in five weeks) in which he’s managed at least 4.5 YPA. All of this, plus his emergence had enabled the Pats to use much more play action in the passing game and Brady was only 8-of-8 for 173 yards and two TDs on such plays in this game. Fred Taylor was actually active for this game, though he didn’t play, but with the way BJGE has played and given the improvement and ongoing understanding he’s shown as the season has worn on, there doesn’t seem to be any reason to have to play him save for a couple of snaps here and there as a possible change of pace, thus eliminating the certainty that he’ll get hurt yet again and miss another two months. As for Benny’s counterpart, Woody, it was a much quieter week on the field than last week against the Colts. The biggest play he made in the game was probably the pass interference call he drew on a big third down in the second quarter that kept a drive alive and eventually led to the first of BJGE’s scoring runs. The Pats didn’t need Rudy 2 to make any plays against the Lions. It’s safe to say that the next time they do, he will.

Wide Receivers: A-

Not quite the easy A it seems it should be thanks to Tate’s hideous drop of that Brady missile in the second quarter. It was the same pattern he ran to perfection in Pittsburgh a couple weeks ago, a deep post, and like in that game, he beat his man rather easily to get open right where he was supposed to. In Pittsburgh, he hauled it in. In Detroit he didn’t, hence the slightly lesser grade. Other than that, it was all sunshine and puppies. Branch and Welker combined for 11 catches, 203 yards and four TDs. It’s hard for a receiving tandem to do much more. Branch provided the highlight of the day on the 79-yarder mostly thanks to the way he abused the turkey Smith after making the grab, cutting, spinning, juking and breaking away from him all the way into the end zone. I got a text from a buddy right after that play that called it, “the most hilarious yards after the catch ever.” I would tend to agree. But in addition to being hilarious, it was also massively important given the timing (coming 1:38 after the Lions had taken a 24-17 lead) and what followed (it amounted to the first of the Pats 28 unanswered points avalanche). On his second score, he quickly lost his man on a fake jab step to the outside before cutting in to grab that perfectly timed Brady pass after which he could have walked in from 22 yards out. He sure fits in with this team well, doesn’t he? It’s been like he never even left after the ‘05 season. As for Welker, we all know what we’ve got in him but he showed us again anyway. On that first score, he dragged a would-be tackler a few yards into the end zone (and if you guessed that would-be tackler was poor Smith, you’re the big winner). And on the second, a classic, quick slip screen on which he followed a crushing block by Julian Edelman to score untouched. It was typical Welker – always in the right place at the right time, tougher than nails and reliable as ever. These two will have a huge challenge in facing the Jets great cornerback tandem of Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie next week. If anyone can live up to that kind pressure, though, it’s Branch and Welker.

Tight Ends: A

One of the greatest pleasures of this Pats season so far has been the ongoing evolution of the tight ends’ roles. From the veteran Crumpler to the rookies Gronkowski and Hernandez, each has contributed to the offense’s success in a variety of ways, with Thanksgiving the most recent example. Gronk had five catches for 65 yards and grabbed every throw Brady sent his way. Crumpler got the offense going early with a 27-yard catch and run on a quick hitch on the Pats first play from scrimmage, then provided his typical bruising blocking for the rest of the afternoon in helping the Pats to 109 yards rushing. And Hernandez, who has seen a bit of a diminished role of late, still managed to add some of his stuff to the salad, catching a perfectly executed Brady play-action pass on which he smoked the overmatched linebacker who couldn’t stay with him for an 18-yard play. The extra dimension this group adds to the offense has been invaluable all year long. Why should Monday night be any different?

Offensive Line: B

It looked like it may be a long day for these guys in the early going. They were getting flat out beat up in the first quarter and into the second, with the Lions pass rush, led by impressive, monstrous rookie Ndamukong Suh, coming out too fast and agile for the quintet of Light, Mankins, Koppen, Connolly and Vollmer. Suh was moving around all over the Detroit defense and the Pats couldn’t account for him. He only registered one sack, but he got to Brady a couple more times and victimized both Vollmer and Mankins in doing so. But when the O-line woke up, Suh disappeared, mostly thanks to Connolly, who had a big hand in keeping him away from Brady and the backs. Connolly had yet another great game and just keeps on doing that no matter where on the line he’s put. Maybe the Lions got tired after a while; it wouldn’t be surprising given the energy with which they came out. But the Pats dominated the line of scrimmage starting pretty much with the 10-play, 83-yard TD drive in the second quarter that ended in BJGE’s first score. In the second half, as he was carving up the porous Detroit secondary, Brady had all day to throw on play after play after play, thanks partly to the threat of the running game but mostly because the O-line was able to start taking it to their counterparts. It wasn’t a complete performance for this group, as the slow start and a couple of penalties will attest. But it wound up being more than fine.

DEFENSE: Overall Grade: C

Devin McCourty celebrates his fourth quarter interception

It’s getting to be somewhat boring, broken recordy, what have you. But the Pats defense is not good. It has certainly showed improvement from earlier in the season, it is opportunistic, and it most definitely won the Colts game in the end last week. But it was weak on Thanksgiving, borderline terrible. The fact that McCourty bailed the entire group out with his two huge INTs warrants mentioning and he, along with Jermaine Cunningham, Brandon Spikes and Patrick Chung all look like they have the makings of being very good players down the road. But as a unit, it is not good. The Pats D is last or second to last in the league in total defense, pass defense, red zone efficiency, first downs allowed, third down conversions allowed, fourth down conversions allowed and sacks and had problems in all of those areas against the Lions. In the first half, they allowed Shaun Hill, who is not even in the same universe as a guy like Buffalo’s Ryan Fitzpatrick, to complete 15-of-22 passes, post a 98 passer rating, convert seven of eight third downs and make 15 first downs. Detroit ran 56 plays in the first three quarters (the Pats ran 53 in the whole game). That’s horrendous. Obviously, the D was better in the second half, with McCourty’s picks among the plays of the game. And once the offense seized the momentum, Detroit was forced to play catch-up, a scenario that would play into any defense’s hands when the team that has to do the catching up is as inexperienced and ill-equipped to do so as the Lions are. I’m sorry to have to do a little raining on the parade, dear readers. I know the Pats are 9-2 and I truly believe they are not only the best team in the league but can possibly even win the Super Bowl. Still, if this defense doesn’t get better soon, such a scenario will be made even more difficult. The turnovers are great, they really are. But everything else kind of sucks, even in the aftermath of a great win.

Defensive Line: C-

Another solid game from Vince Wilfork aside, this group struggled. The Lions ran for 127 yards as a team, led by a backup named Maurice Morris, who gashed them for 55 yards and two TDs on just nine rushes. Given how much trouble the Pats have defending the pass, particularly in the middle of the field, when they can’t stop the run either, it’s a potential recipe for disaster. No one except Wilfork from this group made any plays of note all day long. Luckily in the end, it didn’t matter.

Linebackers: D

I’m going to make this week’s diatribe regarding Gary Guyton as brief as possible since I’m getting tired of picking on him. He is awful. He can’t cover anyone, is always at least a step behind every play run in his direction and doesn’t seem to have any consistent awareness of where he is on the field. Given that he’s the Pats middle linebacker on passing plays, these factors are, shall we say, alarming? Every time an opposing receiver catches a ball in that constantly wide open, 10-30 yard swath of open space in the middle of the field, the chances are better than good that when you watch the replay, you will see Guyton chasing him. He makes the occasional play, but I’m beginning to believe it’s just by virtue of the amount of time he’s on the field given how often teams throw on the Pats, and it’s just the law of averages kicking in. OK, that’s it for this week’s Guyton bashing – apologies to his fans. Jerod Mayo wound up with his typical double digit tackle game but seemed slow and out of sorts for the most part. Cunningham and Spikes each had a couple of moments, particularly Spikes, who nicely broke up a pass at one point. Maybe he should see more time in the middle on passing downs, though his lack of speed might hurt him there. And no-name Dane Fletcher showed up to play, as did Pierre Woods, who got a few reps late in his first game back from landscaping at his alma mater and posted a garbage time sack. The Pats have got to get more out of this group than they did on Thanksgiving, a lot more. Especially on Monday night.

Defensive Backs: B-

Bless you, Devin McCourty. For I have no idea where this defense would be without you. Maybe face down in a gutter somewhere. McCourty set the winning events of the second half in motion with his first INT, jamming up Lions star receiver Calvin Johnson, aka Megatron, staying with him stride for stride, getting in front of him late in his route and making a leaping, acrobatic catch. It turned the game around, not just because it gave the Pats great field position that led to a score but because it somehow sparked the whole defense to stiffen up just enough to make the Lions offense, which was a juggernaut up to that point, slow down. McCourty is going to be a big star if he continues to develop at this pace – he’s already the best Pats corner since Ty Law, (and yes, that includes Asante Samuel). It’s impossible to overstate how important he has been and is to this team. Elsewhere, it was pretty slim pickins. Chung had a decent game but was unable to make a play on the Lions third quarter TD that gave them their last lead of the day. And Brandon Meriweather, who broke up a couple of passes, wasn’t that bad, which for him should be a moral victory. Only Kyle Arrington was really lousy, getting beaten badly on a Johnson TD catch as well as a couple of other throws. But he’s been so unexpectedly not that bad all season since replacing Darius Butler that he gets a pass for one shitty game. There’s a great deal of talent in this secondary, particularly in McCourty. It would do the Pats a world of good if it could all jell more a lot sooner than later.

Special Teams: C

An average grade for a pretty average performance. Save for a sweet, early punt return by Edelman that went for 28 yards, there wasn’t too much to praise. Tate, who has seemingly fallen off the map on kick returns since his highs of the first month of the season, managed an underwhelming 17.3 yards per return. Conversely, the Pats allowed Detroit 27.6 per runback. Shayne Graham made a 19-yard field goal, all of his six extra points and still can’t kick the ball off past the 10. And Zoltan, our boy, punted for a 51.3 yard average. Ho-hum.

Coaching: A-

Given how little time Bill Belichick and his staff had to prepare the team for this game, especially after all of the hard work that went into the Colts win, the end result on Thanksgiving had to be more than satisfying. The play-calling on offense was terrific, seamlessly mixing runs, passes, play action, empty backfields, power sets and shotgun. Hopefully, de facto offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien got a game ball because the offense made excellent use of all its weapons for almost the entirety of the game. Defensively, the game plan was typically conservative but given how hard it’s been for that group to get off the field all year, taking a lot of chances and gambling more may not be the best idea at this point in time. Belichick and his coaches have taken several big tests this year, the most recent being two weeks ago in Pittsburgh and last week against Indy, and passed most of them with flying colors. Their biggest one yet lies ahead of them, six days from now. It says here that they’re up to that one, too.

Around The League – Week 11

By Jeremy Gottlieb, Patriots Daily Staff

It’s Thanksgiving so in keeping with the spirit of this wonderful holiday, here’s something I’m thankful for regarding each of the NFL’s 32 teams. And thanks to you, dear readers, for continuing to come back to Patriots Daily and reading, skimming or glancing at our stuff. Happy turkey!

ARIZONA: I’m thankful for coach Ken Whisenhunt thinking that cutting the QB he’s been grooming to take over the Cardinals for the past four seasons three weeks before the start of the season was a good decision and wouldn’t necessarily destroy his team., thus giving me ammo to fire at him whenever I feel like it. Hey Ken – it wasn’t and it did.
ATLANTA: I’m thankful for QB Matt Ryan, who I interviewed for a story when he was still at Boston College a few years ago, being really good so that when I tell anyone sitting in front of a TV with me when he comes on that I once interviewed him, it only sounds slightly pathetic.
BALTIMORE: I’m thankful that lip-flapping linebacker Terrell Suggs, who has never won anything, continues to shit talk the Pats even though his teams have lost to them five of the six times they’ve played. Keep it up, Terrell!
BUFFALO: I’m thankful that the Bills, who ran off 35 unanswered points last week against the Bengals to become the first team in history to win a game by 18 or more after trailing by at least 17 at halftime, have won a couple games, so I can stop saying, “the poor Bills,” every week.
CAROLINA: I’m thankful that coach John Fox, as overrated as they come, only has six more games left with this sorry outfit before he’s mercifully let go. That is, until he’s coaching another team next season.
CHICAGO: I’m thankful for QB Jay Cutler’s refusal to understand that he seems more like an entitled, rich frat boy than an NFL quarterback, reflected in every last pout after a terrible turnover. Endless comedy.
CINCINNATI: I’m thankful for T.O. and Chad Ochocinco being on the same team and said team being one of the worst in the league. Maybe someone will cancel their TV show now.
CLEVELAND: Believe it or not, I’m thankful for the Browns stomping all over the Pats three weeks ago. It woke the Pats up and now they’re on a potential Super Bowl run. Way to go, coach Mangini
DALLAS: I’m thankful that I got to see Jerry Jones’s facelift talking to Nicole Kidman’s facelift just before yesterday’s halftime show at the Cowboys game. It was awful plastic surgery (one of the greatest websites ever) heaven.
DENVER: I’m thankful for Josh McDaniels’s ongoing failure in his first stint as an NFL head coach. It just means there’s a good chance he’ll come back here after he gets fired and that would be magical for the Pats.
DETROIT: I’m thankful for the Lions making my job writing this column for the past couple years so much easier. Pretty much every week, I know at least one spot on the week’s worst teams list will be occupied. Big load off the shoulders.
GREEN BAY: I’m thankful for coach Mike McCarthy and GM Ted Thompson not being among the legion of Favresuckers and letting him go a couple years ago when they thought he was washed up. Good work, guys. And even better work recognizing that his replacement, Aaron Rodgers, was ready and better. Rodgers is a star, one of the best QBs in the league.

Daniel Snyder Screws It Up Again

HOUSTON: I’m thankful for the Texans building their whole season around beating the Colts in Week 1. It won’t help them down the road when they miss the playoffs yet again because it’s not always the best idea to peak in the first game of a 16-game season. But it will hurt the Colts with regard to the playoff picture and that’s great.
INDIANAPOLIS: I’m thankful for the Colts playing the Pats seemingly every year despite not being in the same division. No matter who wins, those games are always among the best of the season year in and year out.
JACKSONVILLE: I’m thankful for the Jags showing enough resolve to lose four of their first seven games by an average of 25 points per game but still manage to not only be in the playoff hunt but at the top of their division. Sorry I doubted you, coach Del Rio.
KANSAS CITY: I’m thankful for the Pats midwest affilliate (Scott Pioli, Romeo Crennel, Charlie Weis, Matt Cassel, Mike Vrabel, etc.) being a viable playoff team in just the second year of their regime. The Pats way really does work elsewhere despite evidence to the contrary in certain other outposts of late.
MIAMI: I’m thankful for the Dolphins being not so great this year. Makes life easier for the Pats.
MINNESOTA: I’m thankful for there being only six more games before I don’t have to listen to/read about/watch more material than any lousy, 3-7 team deserves.
NEW ENGLAND: I’m thankful for the best coach and quarterback in the league being employed by my favorite team. It doesn’t get much better or simpler than that.
NEW ORLEANS: I’m thankful for the defending champs getting healthy and starting to round into shape just in time for things to start getting really serious. Last year’s edition of this team was so awesome, so exciting, so fun to watch, I’d love to see it unfold in a similar way.
NEW YORK GIANTS: I’m thankful for the weather getting cold so that I can see coach Tom Coughlin’s face turn a deep shade of crimson and his expression subsequently freeze every time the Giants are on TV. Miracle of modern science, that guy.
NEW YORK JETS: I’m thankful for being spared at least a few hours of Rex Ryan talking about himself and how awesome he is in the aftermath of next Monday night’s game.
OAKLAND: I’m thankful for coach Tom Cable getting through nearly three whole months of a season without violently assaulting one of his assistants, sending him to the hospital then skirting any and all responsibility for it.
PHILADELPHIA: I’m thankful for yet another opportunity to see Andy Reid totally screw his team in a huge game at a huge moment. Some things never get old.
PITTSBURGH: I’m thankful for the chance to visit this beautiful city, get the first-hand Pittsburgh football experience, enjoy their amazing stadium from an excellent vantage point and then watch my team run them off the field. If that wasn’t the best weekend of the year, it was close.
SAN DIEGO: I’m thankful for the Chargers reverting back to form which is to say sucking for the first two months then running away for the next two only to get everybody’s hopes up in time for a colossal playoff loss. Most of the second part of that hasn’t happened yet. But it will.
SAN FRANCISCO: I’m thankful for the chance Mike Singletary got to prove that just because you’re a good motivational speaker who can fire up a crowd doesn’t mean you know the first thing about coaching a football team.
SEATTLE: I’m thankful for being able to see Qwest Field, the Seahawks home, up close. Didn’t see a game there but even from the outside, that place is amazing. If you are ever in Seattle, even if it’s not football season, make sure you check it.
ST. LOUIS: I’m thankful for the Rams doing the right thing in the last draft, taking the franchise QB and not just getting back to respectability but becoming a legit threat that could very well be in the playoffs next year. I’m not a fan but they’ve been so hopeless the past couple years, it’s nice to see them turn it around at least a little bit for their fans.
TAMPA BAY: I’m thankful for the Bucs becoming relevant, competitive and exciting en route a to surprise playoff berth despite being the youngest team in the league, having a coach whose youger than I am and all with $40 million of salary cap space. Great work down there by coach Raheem Morris and GM Mark Dominik
TENNESSEE: I’m thankful for the Titans signing Randy Moss after he was fired twice already by two different teams this season, so that he could potentially hit the trifecta and get fired three times. Not that I have anything against Randy – I actually really like him. But the prospect of one guy of his pedigree getting dropped by three teams in one season and possibly playing for four is a story worth rooting for.
WASHINGTON: I’m thankful for owner Daniel Snyder finally figuring out that he needs to get out of the way and stop trying to play fantasy football by hiring a team building, one-voice kid of coach, but still screwing it up by hiring the wrong one. Mike Shanahan and Donovan McNabb, Dan? Yep. Thanks for that, from the bottom of my heart.

This Week’s Five Best Teams

1. New England: The Pats just keep rolling right along, first blowing out Peyton Manning and the Colts for three-plus quarters before hanging on for dear life and a three-point win, then waking up in the second half to blow out the woeful Lions yesterday. As long as the defense does just enough to not kill them (and boy was that close to happening in Detroit), there’s no reason to think they can’t roll into February, not with their offense clicking so seamlessly. Of course, the truest test will be next Monday night at home against the Jets.

2. New York Jets: The Jets are good, very good. They are also lucky, very lucky. In each of their last four games, all wins, they’ve played like crap, down to their competition (Detroit, Cleveland, Houston, Cincinnati) only to persevere in the end because the opponent is too stupid/poorly coached/undisciplined/not good enough to put them away. When they start playing top level competition next week in Foxboro, then down the road against the likes of Pittsburgh, Chicago and division rival Miami, we’ll see if they can raise their game the way the truly great teams do.

3. Atlanta: The Falcons won a relatively tough game on the road against St. Louis, their fourth straight victory. They look like the team to bat in the NFC. But the game was indoors, just like all of their home games. Matt Ryan is one of the best QBs in the league, Michael Turner is one of the best running backs and Roddy White may well be the best receiver. But they still haven’t gone outside and beaten anyone good. If they keep winning at home though, it may not matter since they have the inside track for home field throughout the NFC playoffs.

4. (tie) Green Bay/Philadelphia: The two main challengers (along with New Orleans) to the Falcons, these two teams are each on fire right now, both thanks to their outstanding QBs. The Packers have to go into the house of horrors in Atlanta this week while the Eagles go to Chicago in another potential playoff preview. If I had to make a pick right now, it would be hard not to predict these two teams meeting in the NFC Championship game.

5. Pittsburgh: The Steelers bounced back from getting drubbed by the Pats with a 35-3 rout of Oakland, though it would be easier to take if they weren’t all whining about the Raiders Richard Seymour not being fined enough for cold-cocking Ben Roethlisberger for stupidly talking shit at him. We’ll know pretty much all we really need to know about them though after they play the Ravens in Baltimore next Sunday night.

This Week’s Five Worst Teams

1. Carolina: You won’t believe this, but bringing Brian St. Pierre in from changing diapers last Tuesday to starting an NFL game at quarterback five days later in a 37-13 home loss to the Ravens was a disaster. Kind of like the Panthers.

2. Detroit: One has to wonder if the Lions would be 2-9 and en route to yet another double-digit loss, high draft pick season if their second year QB Matthew Stafford could stay on the field. His replacement, Shaun Hill, isn’t awful. But he’s a journeyman backup and you can’t expect such a player to be able to lead such a young, inexperienced team week after week. The Lions have talent, a lot of it. But as they showed against both the Jets and Pats, what they don’t have yet are depth, mental toughness and the kind of discipline required to play 60 minutes every week.

3. Cincinnati: The Bengals suck, and as has happened already a couple times this year, you could see their entire season encapsulated in just a few plays against the Jets last night. After failing to convert a fourth-and short from the Jets 30 due to a brutal drop, they got life from a roughing the passer penalty. So naturally, they drove down to the 10 only to see their kicker miss a 27-yard field goal. Later, after forcing a three-and out, a punt glanced off one of their punt blockers helmet, was recovered by the Jets inside the 15 and two plays later, touchdown. Finally, after a partially blocked punt gave them the ball at the Jets 23 and they got another field goal, to cut their deficit to 17-10, they allowed the ensuing kickoff to be run back 89 yards for a TD. It’s sickening to watch and I’ll bet I’d feel that way even if I wasn’t in a food coma right now.

4. Minnesota: What veteran leadership from the great BrettFavre at home against the hated Packers last week, eh? Players yapping at coaches and each other on the sideline. An embarrassing lack of effort on the field as they were getting rolled, 31-3. BrettFavre telling all his suckups that he’d have to go home and “re-evaluate,” things after the game, whatever that means beyond him metaphorically wearing another sign around his neck that said “LOOK AT ME!” He and his teammates are so sorry, they almost made the horrendous Brad Childress look sympathetic when he was finally fired on Monday.

5. (tie) San Francisco/Arizona: These two teams, each 3-7, are actually playing each other on Monday Night Football this week. I’ve heard of players and teams looking ahead to the next game, but what about viewers. Pats/Jets is the following week. I’ll save my MNF viewership for that one, thank you very much.

What’s Trendy

- The Jaguars: In one of the more shocking developments of this bizarro NFL season is that Jacksonville, now 6-4 and winners of three straight, are in first place in the AFC South, with a tiebreaker edge over the Colts. Boy that Jack Del Rio is a great coach, eh?
- Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs: With two more TD grabs in last week’s 31-13 win over Arizona, Bowe now has 11 on the year, 10 of them in his last six games. Previously a big disappointment after being drafted in the first round out of LSU in the 2007 draft, Bowe is having a career year for a potential playoff game, with 725 yards on 45 catches (15.9 yards per catch) to go with all those scores.
- The Seahawks: Must be great to be these guys. They are 5-5 and have lost three of their last four by a combined score of 108-29. They are also in first place in the horrid NFC West and have four of their last six games at home, where they are 3-1.

What’s Not

- The Texans Defense: Houston was 4-2, now it’s 4-6 and has its hideous defense pretty much entirely to blame. The Texans are last against the pass and second to last in points and yards allowed with no improvement in sight. Every week, they lose in more excruciating fashion, with the Hail Mary loss to the Jaguars in Week 10 and last week’s loss to the Jets, in which they improbably came back to take a four point lead in the final two minutes only to let Mark Sanchez go 72 yards in four plays and 25 seconds to score a TD and win. With yet another 7-9 or 8-8 mark coming, expect to see coach Gary Kubiak finally get the gate.
- The Browns: The Browns were a great story a few weeks ago when they waxed the Pats and to an extent, they still are thanks to the inspired, out-of-nowhere play of Peyton Hillis and rookie QB Colt McCoy. But they’ve now lost tow in a row in brutal fashion, the most recent being a 24-20 defeat in Jacksonville in which they forced six turnovers but still couldn’t win. They’re now 3-7 and slip sliding away.
- Eli Manning, Giants: The little Manning doesn’t know how to slide. That simple fact was the difference between the Giants winning and losing a huge, divisional road game to the Eagles last week. Trailing by seven late in the game with a fourth-and 6 looming, Manning saw a huge swath of open turf in the middle of the field and smartly tucked the ball in and ran for a first down well into Philly territory. Problem is, not knowing how to slide forced him to dive forward, stumble down and lose the ball when he hit the ground. The Eagles got it back, salted the game away with a field goal and took over sole possession of first place in the NFC East while the Giants were left to lament their five turnovers, none more costly than that late fumble by Manning.

And finally…

Tennessee quarterback Vince Young got angry after a Titans loss to the Redskins at being pulled from the game due to a thumb injury on his throwing hand because he wasn’t put back in. (never mind that throwing thumbs are somewhat important body parts for QBs). So he threw his shoulder pads in the stands, told his coach, Jeff Fisher, in front of the whole team after the game that he was walking out on him and promptly left the stadium. Then he apologized via text message. Yikes. If Tennessee owner Bud Adams, who has always had Young’s back and was quoted the next day as saying that Young and Fisher “will have to get along,” winds up siding with Young after all of this and not Fisher, e.g. Adams doesn’t sign off on the team trading or releasing such a jerk, Fisher should quit. He caught a break when it was learned that Young’s injury would require surgery and knock him out for the season; now he doesn’t have to deal with the situation until the off-season as opposed to this week or next. But this act of totally insolent insubordination by the relentlessly immature Young, who has a history of childish behavior, has to be the last straw. Fisher, who has coached the Tennessee franchise for 16 years dating back to its days as the Houston Oilers, has pulled no punches in ripping Young to the media since the incident (his statement about the text apology, in which he said, “I’m not a real big texting guy. I’m not really into this new age stuff. I don’t twit or tweet. I think face-to-face is a man thing,” was an absolute classic) making it pretty hard to imagine him ever coaching Young again. Let’s hope Adams sees it the same way.

First Impressions – Detroit Lions

By Greg Doyle, Patriots Daily Staff

Its Thanksgiving and the Patriots are headed towards Detroit. And really, what can be better than Thanksgiving, eating turkey and mashed potato with the family, having a few beers and watching the football. It has to be among the greatest holidays and its certainly my favorite.

A Patriots win would make the turkey taste that much better. If they learned anything from the Cleveland debacle, they’ll be on top of their game from the outset and not let an inferior team get confident. But still, the Patriots are a young team. Despite their record, the Lions are improving and have numerous excellent players. They’re also a much tougher team, lead by Belichick protégé Jim Schwartz at head coach. And they’re probably not going to go down Thursday without a fight.

So lets take a look at some of the key players and factors in the game and Happy Thanksgiving First Impression readers:

Shaun Hill (#14), Quarterback: Hill is filling in for injured starter Matt Stafford, who could be out for the season. Traded to the Lions this past offseason for a 7th round pick, he has done a pretty good job compiling a 80.5 QB rating and a 12 to 9 TD/INT ratio. His career QB rating is 84.8. The problem is, he’s only won one game he has started. Hill does everything adequately. He can move in the pocket, he is over 61% accurate for his career and he puts nice touch on the ball at times. He has a pretty good group of skill players to throw to. While Hill isn’t a great QB, he is capable and could put up a good game versus the Patriots. Really, it wouldn’t surprise me either way because he can be somewhat inconsistent. It would seem if the Pats don’t disrupt him and cause some negative throws on his part early, it could be a long day because he is a rhythm quarterback subject to both hot and cold streaks.

Jahvid Best (#44), Running Back: Best is a somewhat undersized burner of a back, checking in at 199 lbs. He was one of the fastest players in this year’s past draft and the Lions took him with the 30th pick overall in the first round. So far, he has not been very good strictly running the ball, only averaging 3.0 yards per carry. Really, to me, that isn’t that surprising because at his size and with a finesse style it was questionable all along whether he could be a feature back. He clearly has the speed, hands and elusiveness to be a great third down back and change-of-pace back. The Lions may have miscalculated thinking he could carry a full-time load and may have to reach back into the draft high this year for another back. For Thanksgiving, Best could most hurt the Patriots by getting into space in the passing game where he is very dangerous. The Lions do all they can to try and do that as evidenced by his 49 catches through 10 games. He has made some very big plays in that area. So the Patriots really need to watch him out of the backfield and not let him get lost on the backside of misdirection plays, as the Lions are so fond of trying to do.

Calvin Johnson (#81), Wide Receiver:

Calvin Johnson, AKA "Megatron"

Patriots coach Bill Belichick raved about Johnson this week, saying he was virtually uncoverable. He compared trying to cover him to Shaquille O’Neal going for a rebound versus a point guard. Devin McCourty may have to play his best game, and most physical, since coming into the NFL this year to try and neutralize this receiver. Just 25 years old, Johnson has it all….a 6’2″ 235 frame, strength, hands and 4.35/40 speed. It makes one wonder how productive he could be if the Lions ever found a consistent running game. His nickname is Megatron, reflecting how he is liable to go off at any moment. It was just a little more than 3 weeks ago Johnson pulled in three touchdowns in a single game and if the Patriots allow a similar performance against their sometimes shaky secondary, they may just get upset. He is that much of a game changer.

Ndamukong Suh (#90), Defensive Tackle: Suh was the second player taken overall this past draft and so far he has lived up to the hype with 7 sacks thru 10 games and by being very disruptive and stout versus the running game. The Patriots interior line, Dan Koppen, Logan Mankins and Dan Connolly, have their toughest test this week to deal with his pure brute strength. I am a big fan of Suh in that he is supremely talented, but also brings ferocity and intensity to a defense when he plays. It hasn’t quite paid off in wins and the Lions defense hasn’t gelled yet, but they are very physical. They are capable of stretches of great play. They may be a few players away, but on Thanksgiving they always seem to rise to perform well and Suh’s biggest showcase game so far is at hand. If the Patriots come to play, or not come to play, as they did in Cleveland, you’ll see Suh hitting Tom Brady all day long.

DeAndre Levy (#54), Linebacker: Levy is an underrated, energetic, sure tackling middle linebacker who has been hurt most of the year but is now back starting. He started 10 games for the Lions as a rookie and was on his way to taking the next step in his game this year when injuries slowed him down. He could be a major factor in stopping BenJarvus Green-Ellis and he has the speed to run with Danny Woodhead. With Suh in front of him, it frees him up to be a playmaker. How the Patriots handle him will help tell the story how productive their running backs are both carrying the ball and in the passing game.

Dave Rayner (#3), Kicker: Filling in for the injured, long-time Lions kicker Jason Hanson, Rayner is a bit unproven and if he becomes a factor in the game it may spell trouble for the Lions. He does have a big leg and indoors can get it fairly consistently deep in the endzone on kickoffs. He can hit the occasional 45+ yard field goal. But he’s just been too inconsistent so far in his NFL career. Beyond 50, he’s a mere 1-5 in the NFL. Overall, he’s a mere 71.4 percent kicker and has missed 6 of 19 between 30-39. If it comes down to a big kick, I’d give it even money at least he misses.

Thanksgiving Day Football: The Lions are truly one of the more storied franchises in NFL history. Or at least they were. You look at them now, playing in a Dome, with a traditionally bad team, in a dying, decaying city and winless two seasons ago and its easy to forget that. But there was a time they were the NFL gold standard. They were something of a dynasty in the 50’s, winning three NFL Championships that decade. They have four overall. They have a long, long list of legendary players who’ve suited up for them. And they’ve been, along with Dallas, a traditional home team on Thanksgiving for the NFL. Overall, they’re 33-35 on Turkey Day, having lost six straight years.

But it seems to me, many times over the years watching them on that day they were competitive that day even with their worse teams. Of course their are exceptions, for example they’ve lost the last six years by scores of 34-12, 47-10, 37-26, 27-10, 27-7 and 41-9. So perhaps I’m remembering back to the Barry Sanders years. Its been awhile since they’ve actually pulled an upset or even played close. But still, something inside me says they are improving, have lost a lot of tough games this year and in the second year of Coach Jim Schwartz program, they’ll want to re-establish themselves as a tough out on the one day the entire football watching nation always watches them. The Patriots beat them on Thanksgiving 20-12 back in 2002 in what I remember to be a fairly closely fought game. And given all this, I’m anticipating a tougher than expected game this year as well.

Matchups Of The Week – Patriots at Lions

By Dan Zeigarnik, Patriots Daily Staff

The much-ballyhooed matchup against the Colts found a way to live up to its astronomical hype. It played on every string of the storied rivalry. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick found a way to win (as always), while Peyton Manning posted amazing stats and clearly carried a mediocre team. In the end, the allure of Foxborough held up, and as happy as fans are about the win, they are understandably weary of how close the Patriots came to defeat. Fans could barely watch Manning’s inevitable march to victory in the 4th quarter.

Did Someone Call My Name?

With all due deference to Peyton Manning’s greatness, Patriot fans still find New England’s defensive ineptitude inexcusable. They are the worst 3rd down defense in the history of the NFL. The whole history! Considering how likeable this defense is with the likes of Chung, Mayo, McCourty, Spikes and Wilfork and the rest, it’s hard to decipher whether we, as fans, are just huge homers. I remember the Celtic days of yore, not the Bird era but the wilderness after. Fans fell in love with the likes of Gerald Green, Milt Palacio, Adrian Griffin, Marcus Banks, and Sebastian Telfair. This was a time when ‘I love Waltaaaah!’ was as ubiquitous as the “Waz up!” Budweiser commercials. Luckily those cultural phenomena are long behind us. Nowadays, not recognizing any of these names is not a crime as these basketball ‘stars’ were part of the leagues worst teams. The question arises: is Darius Butler, who can’t find consistent playing time on one of the leagues worst defenses, the NFL equivalent of Gerald Green? Are fans turning a blind eye to obvious fact that the Patriots defense is terrible and therefore the players on that team could also be described with the same adjective?

These questions are easily overlooked because of the fantastic wins against the Ravens, Chargers, Steelers and Colts. The 8-2 record gives the young defense much cover as it tries to quickly mature with the all-important winter months quickly closing in on them. However, how fast will reporters and fans sour on the inept defense, especially considering how vital a stout defense is to a prolonged playoff drive?

However, until that day comes, there is much to be thankful for. One of which is the fact that the Patriots are playing on Turkey day. Here are the top 5 things to watch for as you scarf down pumpkin pie with your family:

Calvin Johnson vs. Patriots Secondary

This guy is like a bigger and stronger version of Randy Moss in his prime. It’s a scary thought and a huge challenge for the Patriots Defense.

Green-Ellis vs. Lions Linebackers

With Randy Moss gone, the Patriots have switched to a much more balanced offense, whose success is predicated on a potent running attack. Look for Green-Ellis and Woodhead to manage the clock and keep the Lions linebackers honest.

Lions Defensive line vs. Patriots O-line

The Detriot defensive line has Kyle Vanden Bosch and Ndamukong Suh, who are always dangerous and need to be accounted for at all times. Vollmer and Light did an excellent job against the Colts and will surely continue their stellar performance.

Special Teams Play

The Lions have a great kick-off returner and a great punter. Seeing them often, while difficult is better then not seeing them at all (i.e. Pats never score, and Detroit never punts.)

Patriots 3rd Down Defense vs. Lions Passing Game

As discussed above, the Patriots need to show some ability to get off the field when it matters. The Lions will prove to be a good test as they are no slouches, ranking 6th in passing offense with 256 yards per game.

Tonight on a Thanksgiving edition of Patriots All Access (w/ Video Preview)


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

  • All Access recaps a wild win over Indianapolis, including a trip inside a victorious Patriots locker room
  • Dan Roche explores the challenges facing the Patriots during a very unique week
  • Steve Burton sits down with Tight End Rob Gronkowski
  • Bill Belichick discusses the logistical hurdles of playing two games in five days
  • Belichick spotlights one of the Lions’ most dangerous weapons on The Belestrator
  • All Access follows Wes Welker’s Path to the NFL
  • Running back Danny Woodhead and his wife Stacia talk turkey
  • The Patriots, led by owner Robert Kraft, help more than 200 families enjoy a Thanksgiving meal

Turkey Wart – Game Eleven At Detroit

by Chris Warner, Patriots Daily Staff

We at Worry Wart feel confused: are these games – like last week’s 31-28 win over Indy – examples of gritty triumphs or previews of impending disasters? This week’s Thanksgiving Day tilt against the Lions will tell us more of what we need to know.

Will Shaun Hill Be The Next QB To "Carve" Up The Patriots Secondary?

So as we prep the turkey for our nation’s greatest holiday (where everyone’s invited and the biggest thing to remember is your appetite) and break out the Kiss (“Detroit Rock City,” anyone?). Just this once, we’ll give the Worry Wart the week off. Because we have so much to be thankful for…

A Fine Re-Passed: We must give thanks for an 8-2 record, especially considering the Patriots have the worst pass defense in civilization. Stat-wise, this group has been compared to the 1990 New England crew (and less favorably, we might add). Kidney stones, medical exams, driving tests – you can pass anything on these guys. Thank you for some timely interceptions (that means you, James Sanders) and making just enough plays to win.

How Much Would A Woodhead Run? Speaking of turkeys, how about my prediction that Danny Woodhead wouldn’t see much time in New England? Nice. A top special-teamer, he has averaged 5.6 yards per carry and almost 10 yards per reception. As slippery as cranberry sauce out of the can, Woodhead has given this team and its fans a lot to cheer about this season.

Jermaine To The Conversation: Yes, the Patriots pass rush provides about as much pressure as a garden hose with a car parked on it, but rookie Jermaine Cunningham brushing past Peyton Manning threw off the star’s pass just enough for Sanders to make the game-saving pick. Though he possesses just one QB sack, Cunningham has shown some promise on a team that sees only a few more hurries than a tree full of sloths.

Crackers Over Graham: If we can’t have Stephen Gostkowski kicking for the Patriots, we are thankful that Shayne Graham has displayed confidence and competence since his extra-point hiccup at Pittsburgh, hitting on all his opportunities since.

Nothing more to add. In fact, we’ll just be quiet and move on…

This Thanksgiving, Bring The Mayo: Thanks for tacklemeister Jerod Mayo. The middle linebacker has 120 total stops through 10 games, and should figure prominently in keeping Detroit at the bottom of the NFL in rushing.

Bill Of Rights: While we’re at it, we must give thanks for Coach Bill Belichick, who has made plenty of good decisions this year (signing Vince Wilfork, welcoming back Logan Mankins, trading Laurence Maroney and Randy Moss) to help keep this team atop the rankings. Thanks to him for taking a franchise that in 2000 seemed in danger of returning to its laughable past (see the aforementioned 1990 squad) and making it the winningest professional franchise of the region.

Brady Forever Young: New England’s Tom Brady passed former San Francisco QB Steve Young on the all-time passing yardage list, according to Mark Farinella of the Sun-Chronicle. While we’re at it, we should thank that Brady kid for putting in the hard work to stay on the 2000 Patriots roster as a fourth-string QB: Drew Bledsoe, John Friesz, Michael Bishop, Brady. Yeesh. (For a scintillating highlight reel of Michael Bishop at Kansas State, including all of three passes, click here.)

The Birds: Not turkeys – this time, we’re talking Hawks hosting Eagles. Today, most of all, we should give thanks for every form of football. The family Worry Wart will be watching Xaverian Brothers take on St. John’s Prep. With two nephews as Hawks, I’m afraid I’ll have to wish the Eagles luck some other day.

Thanks for spending some time with PD. Have a great holiday.

Email Chris Warner at [email protected]

Are Thanksgiving Games “Premium” Games, or Not?

How do Thanksgiving games compare with the rest of the schedule in terms of demand? Is it a higher than usual demand, or lower?

This chart shows that in the traditional Thanksgiving day cities (Detroit, Dallas) this game is a “premium” game, while in New York, which isn’t a traditional game, demand is actually less than normal:

The fact that it is a night game, in New York could have something to do with it.

The Patriots/Lions game is a sellout, and I don’t think many people are likely to make a trip out to Detroit between now and then, but I thought it would still be interesting to see what the prices were like.

Patriots Buffet Table – Patriots at Detroit Lions

By Patriots Daily Kitchen Staff

Special Away Game on Thanksgiving edition of the Buffet Table.

The Detroit Lions, as much a part of Thanksgiving as your least favorite uncle who won’t shut up.

Let’s predict the spiel of all those “big Patriots fans” inlaws and relatives.

“Brady needs a haircut”
“Brady looks like Justin Bieber”
“They shouldn’t have traded Moss”
“Belichick is conceited, he needs coordinators”
“Kraft is cheap”
“Kraft is a baby asking Mankins to apologize”
“That girl was asking Favre to send her pictures”
“They’re not really as good as their record”

What? You thought you were the only one who had to deal with someone like this? No way, why do you think pregame shows and sports radio are so popular. Someone is eating that crap up, and they’re related to us.

What to eat?

I don’t know. Why don’t you eat that giant turkey sitting on the table. No not Uncle Bill, the gobbler. No not Uncle Dennis.

Come on now, you know what to eat today.

What to drink?

If you see any articles about drinking beer on Thanksgiving I can guarantee they’ll say to drink Saison.

But not here. Instead we’re going with American Pale Ale. This is the fourth year of Buffet Tables and somehow the signature beer of American beer hasn’t been drunk.

Way back in the late 70’s and early 80’s the American Pale Ale was the new kid on the block. It wasn’t that much darker than all the Budweiser type crap out there, but it had flavor, and it was bitter because the brewers put hops in it.

And unlike the beers in England, the American Pale Ale used American hops. Citrusy, piney, resinous hops.

The characteristics of those hops, and the tendency of American brewers to make their pale ales more hop forward than English brewers forms the main dividing line between American and English style Pale Ales.

There were other American Pale Ales in the old days, but the real survivor from that time was Sierra Nevada with their Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.

The APA is a beer you can have a few of, the alcohol runs from about 4.5% to 6%. It’s hoppy and not cloyingly sweet, but it’s not as abrasive as an IPA.

There are a couple available in New England from Michigan.

Detroit’s Atwater Block brewing calls their APA Atwater Ale. 5.5% ABV and 60 IBU.

Founder’s from Grand Rapids, MI also makes an APA. There beer is simply called Founder’s Pale Ale. 5.4% ABV, 35 IBU and very good.

From outside Michigan:

The beer all APAs are judged against is Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. 5.6% ABV and 37 IBU. A dry beer in the bottle, a bit softer and maltier on tap. A true classic.

From Portsmouth, NH Smuttynose Shoals Pale Ale is one of the oldest in New England. 5.4% and 30 IBUs. Notice anything with those ABV and bitterness numbers yet?

Tuckerman’s Pale Ale is similar in strength and bitterness to most APAs, but is made a bit different by the cold conditioning it undergoes after fermentation. This makes it a bit of a hybrid between an ale and a lager, meaning it’s a bit smoother than most.

Harpoon Ale is sort of a tweener between the American Amber Ale and American Pale Ale styles. These days Harpoon IPA is closer to most APAs on the market. Buy a mix pack and get them both.

Harpoon UFO Pale Ale

Harpoon also puts out UFO Pale Ale under their UFO line. This beer is unfiltered, meaning it still contains yeast and has a hazy appearance. 5.3% and 34 IBU.

Otter Creek makes two. Otter Creek Pale Ale under the normal label. A 4.8% beer that is highly hopped for it’s size at 48 IBUs. Under the Wolaver’s Organic label they add Wolaver’s Pale Ale about 1% higher in ABV but not as hoppy. I prefer the Otter Creek version.

Berkshire Brewing from Mass makes two different APAs. Berkshire Steel Rail is the lighter of the two. Berkshire Traditional is darker and stronger. Available in 22 ounce bombers and in the better liquor stores in 64 ounce growlers.

One of the newest breweries in New England, Cody Brewing Co. from Amesbury Mass, calls their APA Cody’s Pub Ale. 5% and 33 IBUs.

Another newcomer, the draft only Wormtown Brewing from Worcester offers Seven Hills Pale Ale. Lower in alcohol at only 4.5% with 30

Wachusett Country Ale is unique due to the low amount of hops used. It is only 17 IBUs, about half as bitter as the other beers listed.

From Connecticut, Thomas Hooker APA fits right in at 5.2% and 35 IBUs.

Stone Brewing from San Diego, CA makes two. The regular strength Stone Pale Ale 5.0% and 41 IBU. And the lighter Stone Levitation Ale only 4.4% and 45 IBU. Although the bitterness units are close, the Leviation seems much more bitter. This tends to happen when lower ABV beers are made as hoppy as stronger ABV beers.

Obviously this isn’t an exhaustive list, by some counts there are 1500 or more APAs made in the US.

Making The Grades – Patriots vs Colts

By Jeremy Gottlieb, Patriots Daily Staff

Damn, what is it with these Pats/Colts games, class? Why can’t there just be a blowout? What do they all have to be so stressy? So gullet chunky? So chest painy? Sitting through a Pats/Colts game is an emotional, physical, life experience, and that description hardly does it justice. Sunday’s renewal of the rivalry naturally lived up to the hype, yet another instant classic to be observed in some separate space/time continuum by curious observers who want to study the game of football and why it’s so magical, right along with 2003, the 2004 AFC Divisional Playoffs, the 2006 AFC Championship Game and 2009 (aka fourth-and 2). This time around, the Pats finally got the Colts in Foxboro, for the first time since 2005. But despite the change in venue, the game played out a lot like last season’s, with the Pats racing out to a big lead, looking invincible up three scores in the fourth quarter, then hanging on for dear life as Indy QB Peyton Manning surgically dissected the young defense as the chunks rose and the hearts raced within the collective bodies and souls of Pats fans everywhere. The difference this year though, was that the defense, so maligned and picked on all year long, was able to reach down deep and make one last stop, one last big play, to preserve a 31-28 win and keep any of those fans in danger of spinning of their axises on at least somewhat of an even keel. In this one, the Pats offense was great, until it wasn’t, which nearly cost them the game. But the defense, shredded for a truckload more yards and third down conversions, somehow managed to stem the tide when it mattered most, an occurrence that can only breed optimism for the unit’s overall prospects going forward. There’s a lot to get to in examining this one, so with that, let’s get to this week’s report card – breathing exercises, heavy meditation and deep knee bends highly recommended.

OFFENSE: Overall Grade: B+

For three quarters plus five minutes, it was a borderline A+. The Pats dominated the game offensively, exquisitely balancing the run and the pass, almost entirely neutralizing the Colts demonic pass rushing tandem of Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis and basically just doing whatever they wanted whenever they wanted to. Then, with a 17-point lead and just over 10:00 left on the clock, they got nervous. The play-calling got stale. The execution went out the window. It seemed at times that the Pats were afraid to screw up which in turn made them appear scared to win. When Tom Brady’s third down pass to Julian Edelman sailed right through the the receiver’s hands, forcing the Pats to take a 25-yard field goal and a 31-14 lead instead of the 35-14 lead a TD catch would have provided, the tide turned. It didn’t help that CBS’s Jim Nantz (and I, sadly, to my viewing mates) pointed out that 31-14 was the score last year when the Colts started their fateful comeback in the fourth-and 2 game. And while the players surely didn’t hear that reminder, you have to assume that some of them knew it already (even late game hero James Sanders was quoted after the game that the fourth quarter felt a little like “deja vu”). The offense had the ball two more times, ran seven plays and punted twice, forcing the defense to have to stop a suddenly red-hot Manning instead of simply closing the game out itself. If it hadn’t been for Manning making a boneheaded decision with 28 seconds left and Sanders making a great, athletic play on his interception, the discussions today would focus on some entirely different matters, starting with the offense getting blasted with blame. But, in a huge sign of how much different this year’s team is from last year’s, we didn’t have to travel that road again, the offense was absolved and the Pats escaped. As they get ready for Thanksgiving in Detroit and the following Monday Night against the Jets, this group should feel good about what it’s capable of, but has to figure out how to close a game out with more authority, especially when it’s presented with as many chances as it was on Sunday in Foxboro.

Quarterbacks: A-

Brady was terrific for the most part. Coolly efficient for the first three-plus quarters, he looked a little unsteady himself down the stretch, whether it was pressure or questionable play calling or what have you. Still, his worst throw of the day was inexplicably not picked off despite hitting Colts linebacker Tyjuan Hagler in the hands, shoulder and face before falling harmlessly to the turf, the first of two huge, late-game breaks for the Pats. Overall, he calmly completed 76 percent of his passes for 186 yards and two TDs while getting through yet another game without turning the ball over. His command of the game plan was outstanding most of the day and like last week in Pittsburgh, he made all of the throws. His first quarter TD pass to Wes Welker was a lot like Rob Gronkowski’s first score last week, a laser beam, back shoulder throw put where only Welker could make a play on it. Then early in the second quarter, he finished off a picture perfect 15 play, 87-yard drive on which he completed passes to five different receivers with a dart to Aaron Hernandez, who ran across the formation, took the pass in stride and crashed into the end zone. It was the 244th career TD pass for Brady, good for 15th in league history and it gave the Pats a 14-0 lead. Again, he could have been better over the Pats final two drives. But he mastered the Colts almost effortlessly up to that point and was more than good enough to earn his 25th consecutive regular season home win., tying him for an all-time record. Oh and by the way, on the season, Brady now has thrown 19 TD passes against just four INTs, one of which was on a Hail Mary. That, class, is pretty good.

Running Backs: A

It’s often noted that the NFL is a copycat league. In that case, expect to see a lot more teams use a tandem of undrafted, free-agent running backs going forward. Why wouldn’t they? It works for the Pats and it works beautifully. Rudy 2, better known as Danny Woodhead and the Law Firm, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, continued their amazing, out of the blue seasons on Sunday, combining for 165 yards on 28 carries (5.9 yards per attempt) and two TDs in shredding the Colts already porous run defense. Woodhead, still as dynamic as he is diminutive, had the run of the year in the third quarter, a 36-yard scamper that could have been cut short a couple of times before he hit paydirt if not for his remarkable agility, toughness and low center of gravity. On the play, he reached the line of scrimmage, bounced away from some dead space up the middle, broke to the right side of the line, turned on some speed, somehow kept his legs churning despite two Colts defenders trying to wrap him up, used a crushing block from Deion Branch to get to the sideline then followed Welker’s lead into the end zone. It was a fantastic, special kind of play that came out of nowhere, kind of like Woodhead. The fact that he punctuated the run with some serious, riding-the-donkey styling in the corner of the end zone, then made a sensational open field tackle on the ensuing kickoff only added to this kid’s growing legend. Man, I can’t wait to see what he does next. Woodhead now had 529 yards from scrimmage and four TDs this season. Not too shabby. As for BJGE, he continued to bruise and batter all comers up the middle with another powerful performance. He rolled up 96 yards on 21 carries and a score, continuing to look like the next coming of Corey Dillon in the process. Law Firm now has 568 yards on the ground with seven TDs, the first Pats player to rush for at least seven scores in a season since, guess who? Dillon. When these guys run like they’ve been running, it opens up the passing game immensely, particularly the play-action stuff, which Brady is a master of employing. All those other teams can take their first-round picks and high-priced talents in the backfield. We’re good with Benny and Woody.

Wide Receivers: B+

Deion Branch Was Solid Once Again

It was the Welker and Branch show with Brandon Tate slowed by the flu and Edelman a complete non-factor. Again, Welker’s first quarter TD was gorgeous, not just because of the throw from Brady but also due to his strength and desire, dragging two Colts defenders with him to the goal line. Welker finished up with five catches for 58 yards and that score as he continues to work his way back to full strength; these last two weeks for him have arguably represented his two best games of the season thus far. As for Branch, he owned it for good stretches of the game. The Colts played a lot of intermediate to deep zone coverage in the game and Branch took advantage, routinely finding soft spots with ease and producing 70 yards on seven receptions. On one of the Pats two ill-fated, fourth quarter possessions, he and Brady were not on the same page on a third down, quick out pattern which led to an untimely punt. But that was pretty much the only thing that went wrong for either of the Pats top two guys at the receiver slot. It would have been nice to get something, anything, out of Tate or Edelman, but in the end, it didn’t matter. Oh yeah, and those blocks on Woodhead’s TD run. They must be mentioned again and about another hundred times after that. Outstanding team football. Sick.

Tight Ends: B+

A much lighter load for these guys this week, with Gronk and Hernandez each only making one catch. But each of them were massively important, not just Hernandez’s sticky handed TD grab on which he lit up his man before burning into the end zone. Gronk’s was a 25-yard pickup on which he loped by a linebacker up the seam then turned to his left to find a Brady bullet waiting for him. The play was the second of a 65-yard scoring drive that was the ideal response to the Colts scoring their first TD of the day, and put the Pats up 21-7. Gronk and Alge Crumpler played the third and fourth most snaps on offense, according ESPN Boston ace Mike Reiss’s chart, likely a result of the running game being featured so prevalently. It sure is comforting to know that even on a day on which they aren’t as involved in the passing games as most weeks, this group can still be leaned on heavily in other areas and still perform with excellence.

Offensive Line: A

One of the biggest tormentors of the Pats over the years is Colts defensive end Robert Mathis. He doesn’t get as much publicity as Freeney, who plays on the other side, but he’s pretty much as fast, quick, agile and good at getting to the QB. In last year’s game, Mathis so thoroughly beat the shit out of Nick Kazcur, that Kazcur was never the same again, looking tentative and weak as he labored through the Pats final seven games of the year. On Sunday, it was Sebastian Volmer’s task to stay with Mathis. So what happened? Mathis did diddley poo, that’s what. He had two tackles on the day but he never got within a mile of Brady and as far as I can remember, I don’t think Nantz or Phil Simms said his name once all day. Vollmer completely swallowed Mathis whole and that was one reason that the Pats were so successful on offense for most of the day. On the other end, Matt Light let Freeney beat him once but considering how good Freeney is and how much trouble Light has had with him in the past, holding him to one noticeable play all day long constitutes a win in that matchup. Still, the story of the line on Sunday was the run blocking, particularly by Logan Mankins, Dan Koppen and Dan Connolly, filling in for the injured Stephen Neal at right guard. The strength of the Colts defense is in their team speed, so the Pats simply ran the ball up the middle and down their throats. Mankins and Connolly (along with Crumpler) were pulling inside all day and the result was Woodhead and BJGE barrelling for 114 of their 165 yards on runs up the middle. It was beyond awesome watching those guys dominate throughout the game; the Pats imposed their will up front for almost the entire day, doing whatever they wanted in the running game for the second straight week. It’s probably no secret that the superb rushing performances of the past two weeks have come with Mankins back in the lineup – he’s always been an outstanding run blocker and having not played until Week 9, he’s surely operating at peak strength and energy. Brady compared him to John Hannah after the game. Hannah is only one of the two or three best offensive linemen in NFL history. Nice to have you back, Logan.

DEFENSE: Overall Grade: B

I know, I know. 467 total yards allowed and getting off the field after only 3 of 14 third downs feels more like a C- or worse. But that wasn’t remotely the whole story for the Pats defense on Sunday. Against a quarterback like Manning, when you’re running rookies and second-year guys out there at nearly every position on nearly every snap, holding him under 30 points and forcing him into three turnovers, each in incredibly timely fashion, warrants some serious props. In a year marked by the process of bending but not breaking, Sunday’s game was the ultimate testament. Twenty-four yards away from another brutal, humiliating, potentially season-defining el foldo, Sanders read Manning and made sure he was in the right place at the right time to make a massive play, closing out a game full of them. Sure, Manning was complicit in his team’s downfall; with the Colts already in field goal range and down just three points with two timeouts left and with a first down, the throw that Sanders picked off was hardly necessary. But that’s not the point. The point is that this group, despite being positively dismantled in the fourth quarter, still managed to rise up just enough to make a play that last year’s group couldn’t make. These defenders are going to have problems stopping opposing offenses all year, especially when they are led by QBs destined for the Hall of Fame. But on Sunday, they had to have learned first hand, once and for all, that they can make plays when they need them most. Enough being hard on this defense – it’s time to give them credit for winning a game. The defense bailed out the offense on Sunday. Doesn’t that just sound so sweet?

Defensive Line: A-

The Colts aren’t a particularly good running team anyway, especially with two of their top three backs injured. But except for one play, they did absolutely squat on the ground. Colts running back Donald Brown broke one fourth quarter run for 36 yards. On his 16 other carries, he managed just 32, or two yards per attempt. The Pats employed their usual strategy of shuffling linemen in and out and in and out and once again, it worked. Given the magnitude of the game, it’s hardly surprising that Vince Wilfork, the best of the bunch, had the best game of them all. Wilfork’s six tackles, including one on which he was in the backfield and eating Brown alive as he was taking the ball out of Manning’s hands, all mattered, as did his continued ability to take up enough space and occupy enough blockers to allow guys like Gerard Warren, Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes to make stops. Ron Brace was also big for the Pats, creating even more space between himself and Bill Belichick’s doghouse. The D-line continues to be the strength of this defense. It’s been pretty damn hard to run on it all year long. Sunday was no exception and it all started with big Vince.

Linebackers: C

Of all the youngsters on the Pats D not named Devin McCourty, I think my favorite is Jermaine Cunningham. He was drafted out of Florida to be a pass rusher off the edge but he’s proven well equipped to be solid against the run as well. He was good in both areas on Sunday, making a couple of nice plays against the run and providing a Best Supporting Actor worthy performance on the play of the game. Cunningham exploded off the left edge on the final Indy offensive play of the day, getting to Manning just as he released the ball. It was hard to tell whether Cunningham made any contact with Manning, but the quickness with which he got there at the very least forced Manning to unload a touch earlier and with a little less behind the throw than he’d have liked. It was a perfectly timed rush, executed brilliantly and it contributed a ton to Sanders making the game-sealing pick. After Cunningham, there’s not much to write home about concerning the linebackers. Spikes made a couple of nice tackles against the run. Mayo had a lot of tackles, none particularly impactful. Gary Guyton looked a little better again, but considering he’s the middle linebacker in the Pats pass defense packages and that’s the area of the field that gets exploited more than any other week after week, especially on Sunday, I’d say he still has a long way to go. Rob Ninkovich just missed a big sack of Manning in the first half but was otherwise invisible. And Tully Banta-Cain won the knucklehead of the week award with an inexcusable, woefully stupid, unnecessary roughness penalty after the whistle had blown on the Colts second TD drive of the final quarter that turned an 18-yard completion into a 33-yard play. It would be nice to see this group defend the short and intermediate middle of the field a little more effectively on a more consistent basis. Just growing pains, I guess. Show me that smile again…

Defensive Backs: B-

If you had told me the secondary would be getting anything better than a C against Manning and the Colts offense, I would have… well, I would have disagreed. And probably laughed. And maybe even told you that you’re dumb. But these guys showed up, and made enough plays to be successful, no matter how many yards the Colts gained through the air. It started early, when Brandon Meriweather fielded a bad Manning overthrow and ran it back 39 yards to set up the Pats first score. Say this for Meriweather: he may not know how to tackle or take the right route to a ball carrier in the open field or be that fast or be sensible enough to not constantly call attention to himself during games or even seem to really understand how to play football in general. But he can catch a wobbly, overthrown pass with the best of them. McCourty made another wildly athletic pick late in the third quarter that led to the Pats final scoring drive of the day. He also pretty much controlled the right side of the field for the majority of the game; Reiss pointed out on his blog that when Manning threw to the right side, where McCourty lines up in most situations, the Colts QB completed less than half his passes and threw two of his three picks. Kyle Arrington didn’t have such a good day, badly missing a tackle on a short pass from Manning to Reggie Wayne in the second quarter that led to a long run, then being beaten on a TD throw to Wayne later in that same drive (though in Arrington’s defense, that pass was about as perfect as a pass can be and Wayne made a spectacular catch). Arrington also made news by lining up at defensive end on some second half snaps, a scenario that looked almost as bizarre as it sounds. And due to an injury to Jonathan Wilhite, who has played much better the past couple of weeks, Patrick Chung found himself in pass coverage a fair amount, an area that is certainly not his strength. Chung was the nearest defender on both of Manning’s two fourth quarter TD passes to Blair White and although he was right there on the second one (White made an excellent, diving catch), he was torched on the first one as well as on a huge third down completion to Wayne right before the final INT. Tough going for Chung, who has made a huge leap this year and looks to have the makings of a top-flight safety. He shouldn’t have to cover wide receivers one-on-one, but with Wilhite out, the Pats were playing three safeties all day and I guess there was more faith in Chung to be on the line of scrimmage and covering than Sanders or (gulp) Meriweather. Sanders, of course, was the hero in the end and it was his second straight week with a huge INT. He’s the old man of the Pats defensive backfield and it’s been a treat to see him lead that group as they get wiser, better and more experienced on a weekly basis. These guys, for the most part, should feel really good about themselves. So they let one of the greatest QBs of all time throw for almost 400 yards. Big deal. They made the plays when the plays needed to be made. Their collective confidence should be soaring. And in most of their cases, they’re only going to get better.

Special Teams: B

Nothing too big or too small out of this unit. Tate had one really nice kick return that went for 32 yards. Shayne Graham can’t kick the ball further than the opposing team’s 10-yard line but he made a field goal and luckily didn’t miss any more extra points. Our man Zoltan averaged 44 yards on three punts. There were no long snapping issues for the second straight week. The Colts didn’t do anything all that exciting in the return game. Pretty standard stuff here all the way around..

Coaching: B

I wonder what Brady and de facto offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien talked about on the sideline in the fourth quarter on Sunday. Could the Colts have figured out how to stop every single thing the Pats had done for three+ quarters completely out of the blue at precisely the right moment? Did the offensive players suddenly forget how to execute? Or did the play-calling, so dynamic, original and perfectly balanced for 50 minutes of game action suddenly go stale and conservative? Yes, the Pats tried to come out throwing on that first lousy drive and they came out running on the second one. But it felt off somehow. It was like O’Brien, likely with the blessing of Belichick, just tried to get the game over with instead of continuing to take it to a Colts defense that had to have been wiped out by that stage of the game. There was no counter-punch to the Colts fourth quarter rally and if anyone out there has a guess as to why, please raise your hand. Before that, the game plan was masterful. Balance between power running and quick, play-action throws on offense. The Colts couldn’t stop it. They looked lost. So why change anything? The Pats are 8-2, tied for the best record in the NFL. They will likely play at least one playoff game at home and at this point, are probably a Super Bowl contender. They have gotten here in no small part through excellent, top level coaching. They just need to figure out how better to finish games off. One of Belichick’s staples is always being sure that his players are in the best possible position in order to be successful. He and his staff, particularly on offense, need to do a better job of that late in games. This isn’t the Browns or Lions having the Jets beat in the last couple of weeks only to completely crap out near the end of the game and give it away. Let’s hope it never goes that far. Keeping the pedal to the floor, even with a 17-point lead with 10 minutes left, is a good place to start.

Another Test Passed

Now sitting at 8-2, your New England Patriots have defeated the Ravens, Chargers, Steelers and Colts this season, all traditional powerhouses in the AFC. They’ve got a crucial match remaining with the New York Jets, but before then they need to worry about the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving Day.

The Patriots yesterday jumped out to a 31-14 lead, and held on to defeat Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts, 31-28 at Gillette Stadium. The game was sealed by a James Sanders interception with the Colts already in range of a game-tying field goal.

BenJarvus Green-Ellis

The Patriots picked off Manning three times yesterday, and for the first time since January, 2005, Patriots fans got to see the Manning face at Gillette Stadium.

As has been their habit this season, this game was not a pretty nor easy win for New England. Then again, these are the games they were losing last season. These are the games they won in the early part of the decade, when the win would leave observers scratching their heads and wondering how the Patriots manage to come away with yet another undeserved (in their opinion) win.

Coaches love these games because their team got the win, but they have plenty of ammunition to throw at the players during film and practice sessions about what did wrong and need to improve on. The Patriots need to improve in several areas, most notably the pass defense in the middle of the field, but despite giving up 396 passing yards yesterday, they did manage to come up with those three interceptions (Meriweather, McCourty, Sanders) winning the turnover battle once again.

A high point during the CBS telecast was seeing Manning disgustedly throw down the overhead coverage photographs, as if to say “I fell for THAT??”

Patrick Chung was routinely getting beaten in the passing game, though it seemed at times he was expecting one of his teammates to be in a different position. He was beaten on both Blair White touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Expect a quick bounce back for Chung who has been perhaps their most impactful defender this season.

When did Gary Guyton become a decent linebacker? At times this season I’ve wanted him off the field completely, but in the last two games, he has been making plays at opportune moments. When did James Sanders become the big-play guy? He’s always been known as a steady-not-spectacular type safety, yet in each of the last two games he’s made a huge fourth quarter interception.

The offense was remarkably efficient, at least until the fourth quarter when they bogged down and could not extend drives and take time off the clock. With this defense, that is something that absolutely much improve. BenJarvus Green-Ellis had 96 rushing yards and a TD, continuing his strong play, and Danny Woodhead continued to be downright Faulk-like when he comes into the game.

The Patriots roll into Detroit this Thursday afternoon, in a game that again seems to have the potential of being a “trap game.” Coming off wins over the Steelers and Colts, and with the Jets coming up two weeks from tonight, it might be tempting to overlook the 2-8 Lions, but that would be a mistake. We’ll see if the Patriots learned anything from that Cleveland game.

Matchups Of The Week – Patriots vs. Colts

By Dan Zeigarnik, Patriots Daily Staff

After a historic ‘shellacking’ of the vaunted Pittsburgh Steelers, all is great in Patriot Nation. Everyone is walking around on cloud nine, like a middle school girl returning home from her first kiss. The Patriots excelled in all aspects of the game, from Tom Brady and the offensive line to the pass rush and the running game.

Amongst all this understandable exuberance, the worry is that everyone seemed to forget just how pathetic the Patriots played against the Browns. Nobody really knows which team will show up against the Colts, but considering how storied the rivalry has been in the last ten years and how much ESPN has been hyping it up, it seems that both teams will be bringing their ‘A’ game to town.

This week’s game will be much different then last week’s. The Steelers are known for unleashing a stout defense and having a run first offense that relies on clock management with a sprinkle of big plays to Mike Wallace. The Colts, on the other hand, rely on Peyton Manning to audible the right call and to pick apart his opponents with precision passes once he has made all of his reads correctly. So with that in mind, here are the key matchups too look for:

1) Peyton Manning vs. Patriots Pass Rush

Peyton Manning is the greatest quarterback in the NFL at picking defenses apart and it will surely be a long day for the young Patriots secondary. The key to defeating the Colts to not give Manning enough time to make all of his reads accurately. That can only be accomplished by confusing schemes or forcing him to get rid of the ball quickly. The Patriots anemic pass rush was awoken last week against the Steelers as they wreaked havoc in the backfield, sacking Ben Roethlisberger five times. Now it is still unknown whether that was a result of a great scheme and a continued maturation of the young defense, or if it was a result of injuries to the Steelers offensive line.

2) BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead vs. Colts Linebackers

The Colts have a horrible rush defense, allowing 133.2 ypg which is good for 3rd worst. To add to their troubles, they might be without both starting linebackers Clint Session and Gary Brackett. The  Patriots need to exploit this weakness. If they are successful, they will win the time of possession battle which will keep Manning off the field as much as possible.

3) Mathis and Freeney vs. Vollmer and Light

These two Colts pass rushers have been giving Patriots offenses headaches for years. If Sebastian Vollmer and Matt Light have as good a day as they had against the Steelers, then the Patriots will most likely come away victorious.

4) Gronkowski and Hernandez vs. Colts Secondary

Rob Gronkowski had an amazing day against the Steelers and Aaron Hernandez has already ingratiated himself with the Patriots fans. These two are a force to be reckoned with and if they are having a good day, it will be a long day for the Colts defense. Considering that most days are good days for the 2 rookie tight ends, it bodes well for the Patriots chances.

5) Patriots Kicking Situation

Unfortunately Stephen Gostkowski’s absence is going to be felt dearly this year. Shayne Graham can’t kick a football into the endzone, which puts the Patriots defense in a bad starting position every time.  Considering how young and inconsistent the Pats defense is, this new burden will surely give Bill Belichick headaches. This isn’t even considering the fact that Graham probably cannot hit a 45 yard field goal.

College Scout – Special Teamers

By Greg Doyle, Patriots Daily Staff

Today College Scout looks at the top specialists, kickers, punters and returners. The Patriots value special teams play and have used draft picks to select a kicker and a punter in recent years. They seem to have two young draft picks at both positions, but its not unlikely they’ll bring in some competition for both. While punter Zoltan Mesko is having an improving rookie season that started out a bit shaky, he now looks to be a good punter. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski was signed to a new contract and is young. But Mesko will be coming off just his first year and Gostkowski off an injury, so they’ll likely bring in some competition at least for awhile. Its probably they won’t use a draft pick, but could sign a free agent. Its conceivable they could carry either position on the practice squad next season as well. As for returner, the Patriots could be interested in each of the four listed and each has some potential as a NFL receiver as well. Lets take a look.

Top 3 Place Kickers

1.) Kai Forbath (#25), UCLA: Forbath was the 2009 Lou Groza award winner as college football’s best kicker. As a freshman remarkably kicked 5 field goals of longer than 50 yards. Had converted 41 of his last 44 field goal attempts coming into this year. This year he has slumped a bit only hitting on 11-16 attempts. Also does not handle kickoffs for UCLA as that is done by the punter. He has a strong leg and was amongst all-time NCAA leaders in accuracy coming into this season. He certainly has NFL talent and his poor season could make him a free agent signee. The Patriots may want to bring in some competition next year for Stephen Gostkowski coming off an injury and given that he wasn’t kicking great prior to his injury. Forbath has the talent to bring in and even keep on a practice squad for a year.

2.) Josh Jasper (#30), LSU: Perhaps is as well-known for his involvement in trick plays as he is for his kicking, but he is still an excellent kicker. Headed into this season as LSU’s all-time leader in FG percentage. Also serves as LSU’s pooch punter. This year he’s continued his fine kicking with 6-8 from 40-49 yards and 2-3 beyond 50. Memorably carried the ball off a fake FG for a first down after a lateral against Florida, helping LSU to the last second win.

3.) Wes Byrum (#18), Auburn: He’s been busy this year kicking for high scoring Auburn and he has delivered with 15-19 field goals connected upon. Has had one blocked. A good kicker, he probably needs a bit of time to round into NFL shape but he has a strong leg and just needs to improve his accuracy a bit. Was Auburn’s special teams MVP his junior year. Has kicked 3 game winning last second kicks.

Top 3 Punters:

1.) Ryan Donahue (#5), Iowa: A good athlete who kicks for Belichick former assistant Kirk Ferentz. Ferentz subscribes to the punting strategy and teachings where height and direction are more important than pure distance. Donahue is able to stay with the strategy of the kick whether it be to kick towards a certain coverage or height. Can boom the ball when necessary and has kicked in bad weather. Can kick extra points and field goals in a pinch.

2.) Derek Epperson (#38), Baylor: A big kid at 240 lbs. and a right-footed punter. Probably has a stronger leg than Donahue but not quite as polished as him. Smart kid whos

Titus Young of Boise State

e been an Academic All-American several times.

3.) Chas Henry (#17), Florida: Has experience in big games, but not much bad weather experience. Gets good hand time. Has done a decent job filling in for injured Gators kicker this year and beat Georgia in overtime with a kick. Future remains as a punter though. He will get an opportunity in the NFL.

Top 4 Kick Returners:

1.) Leon Berry (#9), Mississippi State: Has only caught 8 balls this year, but averaged over 23 yards per catch. An excellent returner, he has averaged nearly 27 yards per return and brought one back for a touchdown. Hasn’t done any punt returning. Not purely a return specialist as he has good size at 210 lbs. and some potential as a receiver. Good speed, just hasn’t been too productive and needs a lot of work in that area. Only played major college football for two years as he went to junior college first.

2.) Titus Young (#1), Boise State: Young would be drafted anyways as a receiver, but has the added dimension of being a game breaking returner. Boise State has limited his chances compared to past years, but averaging over 25 yards per kick return and nearly 11 per punt return. Will top 1,000 yards as a receiver. Young has great speed and shifty inside quickness. He should be productive as a both a receiver and returner in the NFL. A bit undersized at 175 lbs.

3.) Jeremy Kerley (#85), TCU: Was the Mountain West Conference special teams player of the year as a junior in 2009. This year averaging nearly 13 yards per punt return and 28 per kick return. Has receiver ability and can play there too. Also has run the ball 16 times and could be a reverse/wildcat type player in the NFL. Versatile, also has thrown several passes, including multiple touchdowns, in his TCU career.

4.) Jerell Jernigan (#3), Troy State: Another productive receiver, he’s a bit undersized at 5’9″ Was a quarterback in high school. Averaging 12.5 per punt return and nearly 29 as a kick returner. Has brought one back of each. Quick player who is a leader for Troy State team and a very good receiver prospect as well as returner. Could see him going as high as the second round given the number of things he can do for a team.