September 27, 2016

Ticket Watch – Dolphins at Patriots

A quick look at the ticket situation for Sunday:

Here is also an update, showing the falling prices this week:

Tonight on Patriots All Access

Tonight on a New Year’s Eve edition of Patriots All Access, airing on WBZ-TV at 7 p.m. and immediately following on Patriots.com:

  • Sights and sounds from the sidelines and locker room last Sunday, where hats and t-shirts were proudly displayed by the newly crowned AFC East Champions following a victory over the Bills
  • All Access follows Matthew Slater’s “Path to the NFL”
  • Steve Burton introduces viewers to one of the newest members of the Patriots, defensive lineman Eric Moore
  • Bill Belichick discusses his approach to Sunday’s game against the Dolphins with Scott Zolak
  • Belichick shows why Miami linebacker Cameron Wake is a force to be reckoned with on “The Belestrator”
  • All Access crowns a “King of the Sticks”

Patriots Buffet Table – Dolphins at Patriots

by Patriots Daily Kitchen Staff

Hey cool! There will be football in 2011! Oh, it’s just week 17 of 2010.

The game is meaningless for the Pats, but since they have a bye week next week I suppose we should watch anyways. It’s always fun to watch the Dolphins try to cope with cold weather.

And of course it is another matchup between Belichick and Parcells. What? Parcells left? He gave up on a team in midseason. Huh. Never would have expected that from him!

What to eat

We’ll go with some summery Mango Curry Chicken to fight the cold.

Mango Curry Chicken (serves 6)
2 pounds chicken tenders
2 mangos, seeded and peeled
1 large can of coconut milk
1 tablespoon hot curry powder
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 tablespoon cayenne pepper
As many skewers, wooden or metal, as chicken tenders

Combine the mango, coconut milk, and spices in a blender and blend well. Pour over the chicken in a large ziplock bag and refrigerate overnight.

If using wooden skewers, soak them in water for at least 10 minutes before putting them on the grill.

Put one chicken tender on each skewer. And cook over medium-high heat for 10-15 minutes.

What to drink

The weather will be bad so let’s get into a variety of strong ales. The English Barleywines and Old Ales and their American cousins.

Barleywine is a term applied traditionally to the strongest beers, implying that they were beers with the alcoholic strength of wine. It is true in some cases, but in some of the English examples the alcohol can be as low as 7%.

American Barleywines are usually stronger than English, running at least 10% up to 12%-13% and even higher for the rare example. They also tend to be a lot hoppier than the English examples. There is a fine line between American Barleywines and Double/Imperial IPAs. The difference being in the body – fuller in a Barleywine due to lower attenuation, and this gives a Barleywine more of a balance between malt and hops than would be found in a Double IPA.

Barleywines can be kept for years and will change over time. Hops will fade, alcohol will mellow and oxidation will occur.

Due to the large amount of barley used to get the ABV so high, barleywines will usually be at least amber in color. They may get as dark as brown but are never black.

Old Ales (the English term) and Stock Ales (the old American term) are very similar to Barleywines but in the past would have been aged before they were sold. The English versions can also be surprisingly low in alcohol, sometimes barely passing 6%. American versions are usually at least 7% and tend to be stronger, overlapping well into Barleywine territory.

These styles are more similar than they are different, despite the different names. Many barleywines are named “Old” to further blur any distinctions.

Expect a strong beer, often with fruit flavors and aromas from fermentation. Body will be full, the alcohol should be noticeable and may be hot especially in unaged beers, but never solventy. American styled barleywines will have all of the citus, pine and reinous qualities you’d expect in a strong IPA. Both English and American styles barleywines can have caramel and toffee flavors from the darker body building malts used.

The first commercially brewed Barleywine in America was Anchor Old Foghorn. Introduced in 1975, this approx 9% beer is more of a traditional English style.

Sierra Nevada also makes a barleywine, and as if often the case between Anchor and Sierra Nevada where Anchor reintroduces an old traditional style, Sierra Nevada reinvents it as American.

Sierra Nevada Bigfoot 9.6% ABV and 90 bitterness units from all American hops.

Brooklyn Monster at 10.3% and brewed with Scottish and English malts, this is a strong version of the English style.

Rogue Old Crustacean around 10% and over 100 bitterness units. This American style barleywine is packaged in small 7 ounce nip bottles.

Harpoon Leviathan Barleywine is their current Leviathan seasonal, a distinct line of stronger beers. 10% ABV and brewed in the English style.

Sam Smith Yorkshire Stingo, is a 9% oak aged beer. Stingo is one of many old names for Barleywine/Old Ale.

Fuller’s Vintage Ale also comes out around 9% and is only produced once a year and is vintage dated for aging.

Berkshire Holidale is a traditional English style Barleywine at 8.5%. Berkshire also puts out a raspberry barleywine in about a month. A fruit beer that beer lovers can enjoy.

North Coast Old Stock Ale is an Old Ale in the English style, brewed with all British ingredients. However it is much stronger than most English examples at 12.5% ABV.

Great Divide brews Hibernation in the Old Ale style, 8.7% ABV, and Old Ruffian in the Barleywine style at 10.2% ABV. Having both would help break down the differences between these 2 closely related styles. However there are other breweries that would call Hibernation a Barleywine instead of an Old Ale.

Dogfish Head Olde School is an American styled Barleywine, and is one of the strongest at 15% ABV. That is close to twice the ABV of some English Barleywines and quite a few Old Ales. Technically it is a fruit beer as it’s made with dates and figs.

Dogfish Head also puts out a beer called Burton Baton. Burton ale is an archaic British strong ale style. Their version is a blend of an Imperial IPA and an Old Ale, making it closest to an American Barleywine.

Heavy Seas Below Decks Barleywine is a 10% ABV English styled beer designed to be aged. Part of Heavy Seas’ Pyrate Fleet of strong beers.

Rock Art from Vermont makes two barleywines. Ridge Runner at 7% ABV is closer to the English style.

Vermonster, at 10% is more of an American barleywine.  Rock Art had to fight for the name “Vermonster” in court when Monster energy drinks tried to use money and legal threats to gain rights to a name Rock Art had prior use rights to. Rock Art also makes an Old Ale named Stock Ale, ‘Stock’ being another archaic name for a beer meant to be stored/aged.

Young’s Old Nick, isn’t listed on the Young’s Brewing website, but it is still imported. One of the most traditional English barleywines at only 7.2% ABV.

Victory Old Horizontal a 10.5% American styled barleywine, the name is a reference to how you’ll end up if you drink too many. Make a super strength black and tan by mixing with Victory’s Storm
King Stout.

Southern Tier Backburner about 9% in the English style. This is a February release, but beer releases seem to happen earlier and earlier each year.

Lagunitas Brewing from California makes a few beers that will fit into these categories. Gnarlywine and Hairy Eyeball are the current seasonals available. Gnarlywine is a barleywine and Hairy Eyeball could be seen as an old ale. Throughout the year you’d also find Brown Sugga and Wilco Tango Foxtrot

Around The League – Week 16

By Jeremy Gottlieb, Patriots Daily Staff

A not so mournful RIP to the San Diego Chargers 2010 season, as they will miss the playoffs for the first time since 2005 on the heels of their brutal, 34-20 loss to the Bengals of all teams last week. The Chargers pulled their annual act of not bothering to show up for the season until November but unlike the past three seasons, in which they could get away with that thanks to the disintegration of the Broncos, the rebuilding of the Chiefs and the ineptitude of the Raiders, there was another team in their division that was able to stay ahead of them long enough to provide a much slimmer margin for error in their attempt to rebound from a lousy first half of the season and make the playoffs.

Seyi Ajirotutu

A rash of injuries plagued the Chargers on both sides of the ball for most of the season. All-World tight end Antonio Gates had major foot problems and missed games down the stretch. Their top two receivers at one point were Patrick Crayton, who they signed off the street after he was cut by Dallas, and the immortal Seyi Ajirotutu, who came up from the practice squad to catch 12 passes for 245 yards and two TDs. Rookie running back Ryan Mathews, who was drafted in the top 15 of last year’s draft to replace franchise icon LaDanian Tomlinson, couldn’t stay healthy, missed four games and has only managed 558 yards and four scores. On defense, stalwarts Luis Castillo and Stephen Cooper each missed multiple games and on special teams, the Chargers were victimized by a truckload of mistakes in the first half of the season, from blocked punts to missed kicks to long returns given up for scores. The Chargers problems ran the gamut this year and in the end, they couldn’t dig themselves out of the hole they’d created.

But despite all this, they were still alive headed into December, which has been their best month over the past few years, as it also has for QB Philip Rivers. Then, a home loss to Oakland the first Sunday of the month dropped them to 6-6 and even though they won their next two after that, the Cincinnati game sealed their fate. Although they were crippled by the injuries and the incompetence of their special teams through September and much of October, a lot of blame must be laid at the feet of coach Norv Turner and general manager A.J. Smith. Turner dragged out making a move with his special teams coach early on even though for a stretch, his team was sunk by mistakes on that unit every week (as opposed to the Dolphins, who made a change after one awful game against the Pats in Week 4 and barely had another problem in that phase of the game for the rest of the year). Turner, an excellent offensive coordinator, also has never exactly lit the world on fire as a head man – in 13 years with San Diego, Washington and Oakland, he’s seven games under .500, has made the playoffs just four times (including the past three seasons) and won just four of eight postseason games. And Smith, one of the more autocratic executives in the league, robbed Rivers of his top offensive weapon in Vincent Jackson for the season’s first 10 games, ostensibly over a couple million dollars. For whatever reason, Smith didn’t provide Rivers, or Turner for that matter, with the kind of depth to better weather the storm brought on by all the injuries. And thus, the Chargers will be home for the postseason.

There seems to be a somewhat passive attitude permeating the organization, from Smith (who needs to pay our best offensive player, we’ll work it all out on the field), to Turner and the players (ahh, so we suck for the first two months every year, we can get away with it and then we’ll be fine when it matters more). And all of this as Rivers enters his prime and develops into one of the best QBs in the league. If it happens like this again next year, combined with the fact that the team needs a new stadium and may move to L.A. if they can’t/don’t get one in San Diego, don’t be surprised to see some major changes for the Chargers at every level.

This Week’s Five Best Teams

1. New England: Bill Belichick once famously said that stats are for losers. That may or may not be true, but regardless, here’s a few that are definitely for the league’s best team. Through 15 games, the Pats are first in the NFL in scoring (32 PPG), third in the NFL on third down (46.7 percent) and third in the NFL in red zone offense (TDs scored 63.9 percent of the time). Not too shabby.

2. Baltimore: Suddenly, the Ravens look playoff ready which a lot of folks seem to think may not bode too well for the Pats if the two teams are to meet up in the divisional round. In order for that to happen, though, Baltimore not only has to beat Cincinnati this week, they have to pray the Steelers lose to the now also-ran Browns. If that doesn’t happen, the Ravens are staring down a first round meeting with the Colts in Indy. The last two times they’ve visited Lucas Oil Stadium, including playoff games? Two losses by a combined 51-6.

3. Pittsburgh: Despite all their travails (and whines) this season, the Steelers are in at No. 2 with a bye and at least one home game if they can win in Cleveland on Sunday. That will likely happen, but then what? Kansas City? Another bloodbath with the Ravens? And the Steelers haven’t exactly protected their turf well this season; three of their four losses have come at Heinz Field.

4. New Orleans: Huge win for the Saints in Atlanta the other night. It was a classic case of a team that had been there before overcoming a team that hadn’t, regardless of the circumstances. It wasn’t the Saints best effort, but they made all the plays on both sides when they needed to which is why they’re still my pick to go to the Super Bowl, even if they have to win three road games to get there.

5 (tie) Chicago/Atlanta: The Bears rolled up 38 points against the fraudulent Jets defense last week, giving them 78 in their last two games. This bodes well going forward, especially now that they have a bye and a home game thanks to the Eagles annual choke job on Tuesday night. As for the Falcons, they played and coached like they were afraid in their biggest game of the year against New Orleans on Monday night. They’re still in the driver’s seat for home-field throughout the NFC playoffs, but they better get over what ailed them in the Saints game or it won’t wind up mattering much.

This Week’s Five Worst Teams

1. Carolina: Not terribly surprising that the Panthers managed just 119 total yards in a waxing at the hands of the Steelers last week. What was slightly surprising was Sports Illustrated shill Peter King, in listing soon-to-be ex-coach John Fox’s accomplishments this week, noted his whopping three playoff appearances in nine years. Way to embarrass the poor guy even more, Mr. King.

2. San Francisco: In their biggest game of the season, the Niners screwed up their QB situation for the 436th time this season, had to deal with another sideline confrontation between a player and his coach, lost the game to the Rams and finally fired Mike Singletary on the plane ride home from St. Louis. Singletary probably never should have had the job in the first place but the whole scene, the whole season, was just another reminder that this once gleamingly proud organization is a complete shambles.

3. Cleveland: Another woeful loss for the Brownies, who have pissed away some mid-season good will in a swirling shitstorm of a three (soon-to-be) four game, season-ending losing streak. The saddest part is that we will likely no longer be treated to the high comedy of seeing Eric Mangini looking more like a UPS driver than a football coach on Sundays next fall.

4. Houston: Another utter collapse by this pathetic defense, to Tim Tebow in his second-career start of all people. So naturally, all the scuttlebutt is that owner Bob McNair will still not fire coach Gary Kubiak after the season, with his feeling that a good defensive coordinator is all his weak, soft, perennially underachieving team needs. Must be a real treat to be a Texans fan, eh?

5. (tie) Seattle/Arizona: The Seahawks were naturally blown out again last week, this time by the Bucs, and haven’t even been within 15 points of an opponent, save for once, in six weeks. Of course, if they beat the Rams at home on Sunday night, they win the pukefest known as the NFC West. Yullchh…. As for the Cards, their dramatic win over the Cowboys on Christmas was probably the highlight of their season. I wonder if coach Ken Whisenhunt edited out the part of the film in which the team blew an 18-point lead at home to a third-string QB named Stephen McGee.

What’s Trendy

- Tim Tebow, Broncos: It may have been against the worse than awful Texans, but Tebow’s electric, come-from-behind performance. 308 yards, two TDs (one rushing) and two TD drives in an eight-minute span in the fourth quarter were what did it. Whether or not he plays well again this week against the out-of-it Chargers, whomever coaches the Broncos next year may want to give him a long look.
- Josh Freeman, Bucs: Freeman continued his breakout season and kept his team alive for a playoff berth with a five TD onslaught against the Seahawks. With one game left, the second-year man has 3,106 yards, has completed 60 percent of his passes, has thrown 23 TDs against just six picks and has a 93.6 passer rating. Not only is Freeman an absolute keeper, he’s an outside MVP candidate. Good work.
- The Lions: I know, I keep giving this spot to those lovable felines from Detroit, but you would too! They’ve now won three in a row, the last two on the road, and can close it out with the unlikeliest of four-game win streaks with a win on Sunday at home against the Vikings. Great, great job by coach (and former Belichick assistant) Jim Schwartz, who looked pretty, ahem… challenged earlier this year.

What’s Not

- The Giants: 73 points allowed in their last 68 minutes of game action. A 45-17 loss to Green Bay with 500 total yards allowed in a must-win game last week. Four more picks by the rapidly regressing little Manning, giving him a league-leading 29 on the year. It’s hard to believe, but the Giants can still make the playoffs with a win over Washington and some help this weekend. Just can’t see it happening though; these guys have made their collective bed.
- The Jaguars: A possible playoff berth on the line and Jacksonville loses at home to… wait for it… the Redskins??!! Once again this season, the Jags have proven that with Jack Del Rio and David Garrard at the helm, it’s just good enough to not quite win.
- Andy Reid, Eagles: You won’t believe this. The Eagles had a big game last week that they needed to win to vastly improve their playoff situation, it was against an inferior opponent and it was at home… and they got rolled, looking woefully unprepared and outcoached in the process. Wait, you do believe this. Of course you do. Because if you’ve paid attention to this team at all over the past 10 years, you know that this is Reid’s MO. Never mind the postponement of the game from Sunday to Tuesday, or the opponent having nothing to lose, or Michael Vick’s thigh bruise. The only thing that matters is that Reid is notorious for stinkbombs like this, particularly when the stakes is high. If you had one game to play, for all the marbles, and you could handpick any coach out there to lead you into it, I hope you’d stay as far away as possible from Reid, without a doubt the most overrated coach in all the league not named Shanahan.

And finally…

Pro Bowl selections were announced the other day. I didn’t bother to look at any other team’s except for the Pats, and I only did that because I felt obligated to do so as someone who writes about the team. Now would be a great time to rail against the Pro Bowl, and every major sports league’s all-star game for that matter, as glorified popularity contests, made so because of the emphasis on fan voting. But I won’t do that. These games are for the fans so why shouldn’t they get to vote for who they want to see, even if those players aren’t the best or most deserving?
What I will do, though, is point out that Pats safety Brandon Meriweather was selected to his second Pro Bowl, or the same amount that Rodney Harrison made in 15 years. And that should tell you all you need to know about the Pro Bowl.

What Me Worry Wart – Game Sixteen vs. Dolphins

by Chris Warner, Patriots Daily Staff

So, let’s get this straight: no matter what happens Sunday, the Patriots gained a bye week and home field advantage in the playoffs with their 34-3 grounding of Buffalo. Sounds like a good week to give the worrying a rest. And we will.

Yup. No concerns here. We are fret-free. Except…

Um, okay, just two quick things:

Valley Of The Dolphins: It seems that New England has a low point every season, and more often than not Miami is involved. But that can’t happen this year, right? I mean, the Dolphins are out of the playoffs, the Patriots are in. Simple.

But we had one other worry – what was it? What could possibly happen in Game 16 where the team’s playoff position is set? Hmmm…

Oh. Oh, yeah:

A Little Bit Wes: We do have our superstitions, so we’ll just remind our readers about last year’s game against Houston when a certain someone got a certain something that kept him blah-blah for X amount of time.

You know, if that certain someone were to have a seat on Sunday, no one would blame a certain coach. We’re just saying.

2010 THANKS

Now, in light of the upcoming New Year, our sincere thanks to the following NFL teams for helping to make early 2011 appear so promising.

Knock On Woodhead? Thanks, New York Jets, for releasing Danny Woodhead. Considering the Patriots got him the week before Kevin Faulk injured his knee, the timing could not have been better. Lil’ Woodhead has averaged 5.6 yards per carry and over 11 yards per reception in becoming a favorite of Tom Brady and – of course – of Foxboro fans.

Say No Moss: Thank you to the Minnesota Vikings for taking Randy Moss in exchange for a third-round pick. Back in October, this looked like a steal. Heading into January, it still does, except in the other direction. In four games with Minnesota, Moss had 13 receptions. Since being released by the Vikings and picked up by the Titans, he has five catches in four games.

We half-expect a documentary featuring blurry photos of Moss and old-timey New Englanders insisting that he did, indeed, exist.

Local Branch: Thank you, Seattle Seahawks, for trading Deion Branch back to New England for a fourth-rounder. In 11 games with the Patriots, Branch has 48 catches and five touchdowns (this season, Moss has 27 receptions and five TDs).

No Mo’ LoMo: Thanks to the Denver Broncos for taking Laurence Maroney and a sixth-round pick in exchange for a fourth-rounder. Maroney, who has not carried the ball since Week Six, averaged 2.1 yards per carry in four games. We’d go over BenJarvus Green-Ellis’ numbers, but at this point that’s just rubbing it in.

Once Moore To The Breach: Thanks to the United Football League’s Florida Tuskers for making free agent pass rusher Eric Moore available. Moore, who played with the Giants, Saints and Rams since 2005, started his Patriot career with a strip-sack in Chicago. He now totals 11 tackles and two sacks in three games. Not a bad guy to have when you go to battle.

A Means To Their Ends: Thank you to the Baltimore Ravens for their need at tight end that compelled Bill Belichick to trade up for Rob Gronkowski. The Brobdingnagian blocker/receiver has 36 receptions and nine TD catches. While we’re here, thank you to every NFL team for passing on Aaron Hernandez at least three times. His 45 receptions and six TDs have come in handy.

Just to round out the tight end triumvirate, thanks to the Titans for deciding not to re-sign Alge Crumpler. He will catch the fewest passes in his career this year (his previous low was 24 in 2008; he currently has five), but he has had a huge impact with the kiddoes.

A Great Read On Kindle: Thanks again to the Baltimore Ravens for taking (and to Bill Belichick for passing up on) linebacker Sergio Kindle, who came into this year’s draft as a high-potential pass rusher. Kindle sat out this season and could miss 2011 due to a head injury suffered falling down stairs. He recently got arrested for a DUI (not his first).

Kind of puts that whole Devin McCourty pick into perspective, doesn’t it?

We Don’t Have That On Draft: Speaking of passing on players, thanks to all other teams for giving New England a chance at undrafted defenders Dane Fletcher, Sergio Brown and Kyle Love (and that’s just this year).

Most of all, thanks to the New York Jets for taking attention away from the Patriots this year. From “Hard Knocks” to knee knocks to foot mocks, the motley Meadowland crew has entertained all NFL fans, both intentionally and (especially) not.

Have a great New Year, dear readers. Maybe in 2011 we’ll have something to worry about.

Email Chris Warner at [email protected]

Making The Grades – Patriots at Bills

By Jeremy Gottlieb, Patriots Daily Staff

Now that’s more like it, eh class? We’d much rather stick to the blueprint generated from the Jets and Bears games than last week against the Packers, wouldn’t we? We would indeed, which is why Sunday’s 34-3 Pats win over the hapless Bills was even sweeter than most of the other 15 consecutive victories over the snakebitten franchise from Western New York. After the Bills first drive of the game, pretty much all suspense and subsequent stress and worry were eliminated from the equation as the Pats reverted back to their dominant form from earlier this month and absolutely lambasted Buffalo every which way in each and every facet of the game. You want offense? How about 348 total yards, a season-high 217 on the ground, Tom Brady extending his now league record streak of pass attempts without a pick to 319, seven different receivers catching passes and even a rare Fred Taylor sighting during garbage time. You want defense? How about six forced turnovers, two sacks, three more QB hits, and 12 pass breakups, with even Darius Butler accounting for two of them. You want special teams? How about a seventh forced turnover, our man Zoltan dropping three of his five punts inside the 20 and the stifling of Bills rookie returner C.J. Spiller, one of the more dangerous at that position in the league, to the tune of just 16.8 yards per runback on six tries. And of course, it all resulted in hats and t-shirts denoting the Pats as AFC East winners yet again, the seventh time in eight years they’ve achieved that goal and the eighth time in Bill Belichick’s 11-year tenure at the helm. One goal down, two more to go and with next week’s game against Miami now meaningless and a first-round bye the week after, the Pats can use their time judiciously so as to ensure having the healthiest possible group available come the divisional round game at Gillette Stadium on either January 15 or 16. Minus a few very minor blips, Sunday’s stellar performance in Buffalo allows them that luxury so with that, let’s get to this week’s report card, yours today along with your very own complimentary Patriots Daily shovel, snowbrush and ice scraper.

OFFENSE: Overall Grade: A

Subtract three very uncharacteristic, though only slightly alarming, drops by Wes Welker, and a stretch of three straight three or four-and-outs in the second half and it was another virtually perfect day for the offense. The Pats came out, got their feet with wet in regard to the conditions on their first drive of the game, got the ball back three plays later and proceeded to blow the doors off ancient Ralph Wilson Stadium. The Bills feature a porous run defense (and when I say porous, I’m being as gentle as possible) so the Pats eschewed their usual, high-powered passing attack in favor of running the ball right down the Bills collective gullet. The result was those 217 yards, 163 of them in the first half and achieved at a 5.1 YPA clip. The Law Firm of BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Rudy 2, aka Danny Woodhead frolicked in the bitter wind chills off the shores of Lake Erie all day long. BJGE rolled up 104 yards on 19 attempts (5.5 YPA) with his usual combination of strength, attitude, decisiveness and power. He routinely followed his blocks, hit every hole with a head of steam and just generally did all the things he’s been doing so well all year long, particularly over the past two months. He now has 928 yards on the season and while it’s still up in the air how much time the starters see against the Dolphins this weekend, it would be pretty awesome to see him reach the 1,000 mark. If anyone’s earned that kind of accolade, it’s the Law Firm. As for Woody, it was another ho-hum, 93-yard, one TD, 32 more yards receiving kind of day. The Pats scored their first points of the day courtesy of a perfectly executed shotgun draw to Woody on which he used textbook blocks by Matt Light and Rob Gronkowski, who came across the formation to land a perfect trap block which allowed Woody to quickly skirt to the outside and practically glide into the end zone. After the game, Brady remarked that Benny and Woody, the undrafted duo, have “carried us all year.” Truer words have rarely been spoken.

In the passing game, Brady didn’t have to do much due to the run, run, run game plan. But he was typically outstanding anyway. He completed just 15-of-27 passes and threw for just 140 yards. But there were three more TDs included within those numbers, two to Gronk (tying him for the franchise record for tight ends with nine) and one to Alge Crumpler and each featured his usual masterful dissection of the defense. All three came inside the 10 and on all three, he either checked into what looked like a running formation before delivering the ball to a wide open man or at least seemed to do so. And again, there were no INTs. Again. That makes 34 TDs and four picks all year and, as we always mention, one was on a Hail Mary. MVP, don’t ya think?

The receiving corps was quiet on Sunday, with Welker’s bizarro day overshadowing a rather pedestrian three catches for just 19 yards and Deion Branch posting just two for 25. Luckily, the tight ends, even without Aaron Hernandez, who was home remedying a sore hip and a touch of the flu, picked up the slack. Gronk had over 100 family and friends from his hometown of nearby Amherst on hand to watch him scurry unnoticed (which is hard to do when you’re 6-6, 265) into the end zone on his first score and outrun the coverage to get wide open in the middle of the end zone on his second, as well as provide veteran-style blocking in the running game. And Crumpler’s TD was his first of the year, perhaps a reward for a year of outstanding blocking and mentoring the kids Gronk and Hernandez. And the O-line performed as well as it has all year long, not just in the running game, in which Dan Koppen, Logan Mankins and Ryan Wendell (filling in for the concussed Dan Connolly) dominated the middle of the Bills front seven, but in the passing game, in which Brady had enough time to make himself lunch seemingly every time he dropped back to pass. Sebastian Vollmer, in particular, was terrific, though he’s been that more often than not over the past couple years. It was the Pats seventh straight win as well as their seventh straight game with 31 or more points scored. The offense is a well-oiled machine. However it needs to play, it will play and more than likely succeed. With just under three weeks until its next meaningful game, there will likely be some consternation as to whether it can still operate at such a high level the next time it needs to. You heard it here first – it will.

DEFENSE: Overall Grade: A

Given the shortage of personnel (Jermaine Cunningham, two-thirds of the defensive linemen) and the Bills success moving the ball on the Pats during the two teams last meeting in Week 3, it wasn’t terribly surprising that the first time they had the ball, the Bills went right down the field in 10 plays, all on the ground. 64 yards later, though, the Pats had made a red zone stand to hold the hosts to a field goal and that was that. Everyone played well on defense, especially Jerod Mayo, who spent the entire afternoon roaming the middle of the field and administering punishment to anyone wearing a blue jersey. The tackle numbers weren’t as high for Mayo as usual but he was all over the place. Multiple blasts on receivers coming over the middle to force incompletions, a fumble recovery, two pass breakups and a hit on poor Bills QB Ryan Fitzpatrick that surprised only in that Fitzpatrick’s helmet was still on straight afterward. It was a performance worthy of a captain, Mayo’s best of the season and so good, even the venerable Tedy Bruschi spent a large chunk of his ESPN Boston recap column touting him for All-Pro honors.

Elsewhere, it was opportunism at it’s best. Gary Guyton had a strip sack and broke up a couple throws. Dane Fletcher, seeing regular time due to the absence of Brandon Spikes, followed up his huge sack at the end of the Packers game with a fumble recovery and an interception. Patrick Chung, who has been asked to do a lot of covering the past several weeks (probably to his detriment) made his first play in weeks with a second half INT. Some guy named Landon Cohen, signed off the scrapheap last week to provide depth on the D-line, started and had two tackles. Kyle Love (who??) had a sack from his spot up front. Eric Moore saw some time at defensive end and had five tackles and a fumble recovery. Even Brandon Meriweather didn’t do anything stupid (though when he went on the radio yesterday and talked of how the Pats secondary is out to “punish” opposing receivers at all times, there was a slight temptation to call up and advise him to learn how to actually tackle properly first, but that’s another column). And Vince Wilfork was placed firmly in the middle after shifting around throughout that first Buffalo drive and made his requisite handful of plays. It was quite a day for the entire group, made even more impressive given how thin it was, especially up front.

The Pats seem content on defense to continually give up yards and yards and yards in the middle of the field in favor of anything remotely approaching a big play, then tighten up when the field gets smaller. That, and of course, forcing turnovers. With the seven more on Sunday, the Pats have now caused 36 on the season, good for a plus-27 differential. The franchise record is plus-17. It’s probably a safe bet that mark will fall. With the exception of last week against Green Bay, this young defense, which according to the great Mike Reiss of ESPN, features eight regular contributors drafted in either the sixth round, seventh round or not drafted at all, has passed every test its taken since that disastrous day in Cleveland several weeks ago. The playoffs will feature the toughest one yet.

Special Teams/Coaching/Everything Else: A

The NFL Network showed the 2003 Pats installment of their excellent, America’s Game Super Bowl Winners series recently and in it, Rodney Harrison talks about Belichick’s pre-game speech the day of Super Bowl XXXVIII and how it made him and his teammates want to run through a brick wall. Imagine what he’d say if he’d been around for either of Belichick’s two best season-long coaching jobs – 2001 and this season. His mastery was on full display yet again on Sunday with game plans on both sides of the ball so brilliantly devised, the game was virtually over early in the third quarter. The Pats didn’t just run the ball, they ran it predominantly to an area they specifically schemed toward, that being up the middle. Defensively, they played conservatively when they needed to, aggressively when they could and weathered the storm of having so many regular parts missing and then some. Like in 2001, he’s managing some big name, high-profile guys but far more unheralded, second, third or no-chance guys who are willing to completely and totally buy into his system because he and they know it works. It has to be a lot easier to get through to guys like Gary Guyton, Kyle Arrington and Mike Wright than established, swollen-headed, me-first guys like Adalius Thomas, Shawn Springs and Derrick Burgess. There is a selfless, team-first mentality up and down the roster that plays into Belichick’s coaching hand perfectly, beginning with guys like Brady, Branch, Welker, Light, Wilfork, Koppen and so forth and permeating right down the line. There may have been more individual talent on last year’s team (or 2003’s or 2004’s for that matter), but this year’s is a better group from 1-53, a circumstance right in the coach’s wheelhouse.

It was almost sad to see Bills coach Chan Gailey, who has done a fairly decent job this season under some trying circumstances, come out doing something that was working, then immediately abandon it for something that wasn’t, probably all in the name of trying to keep pace with the Pats. Bad idea, Chan. There’s no keeping pace right now. There may be down the line; the playoffs are a different animal altogether and, as we saw in 2007, Belichick and his peeps are capable of being outdone by inferior-seeming types, even under the brightest lights. But it’s hard to envision that happening this year. He’s back in a class of his own.

Oh yeah, the special teams and everything else was great too. Onward and upward.

College Scout – QB and RB Review

By Greg Doyle, Patriots Daily Staff
As the Bowl season gets under way, lets take a look back at our rankings back in September of quarterbacks and running backs who could be in the 2011 draft. Some guys, like Case Keenum, would have fallen off a lot. In his case, its due to injuries. Others lived up to the hype and in some cases have moved way up the draft charts. We’ll also take a look at some players at both positions who have moved into the top 10 and up in the draft.

Quarterbacks:

Washington QB Jake Locker

September College Scout Rankings:
1.) Jake Locker, Washington
2.) Christian Ponder, Florida State
3.) Andrew Luck, Stanford
4.) Terrelle Pryor, Ohio State
5.) Case Keenum, Houston
6.) John Brantley, Florida
7.) Greg McElroy Alabama
8.) Ryan Mallett, Arkansas
9.) Jerrod Johnson, Texas A+M
10.) Adam Weber, Minnesota

Analysis: Locker had a decent, but not great, year and Luck has clearly surpassed him and is the number one quarterback in the draft if he comes out. You can watch highlights of Locker and see how he athletic he is in this video clip. Mallett probably surpassed him as well with an excellent year. Locker is a good athlete but may have slipped down to the bottom of the first round or even second round. Luck, the son of former NFL quarterback and current West Virginia Athletic Director Oliver Luck, could go number one overall if he comes out, though if Carolina has the pick perhaps they stick with Jimmy Clausen and look elsewhere. You can get a look at Andrew Luck highlights here. Ponder had a good season and at times looks terrific. He can be a bit inconsistent. It seems unlikely Pryor comes out. Keenum got hurt with a torn ACL and only played in 3 games. He tried to get another year of eligibility but was denied. His draft stock has been hurt, but he would be good late value for an NFL team willing to wait while he rehabs his knee. McElroy is a winner who will make a nice third round pick to develop for some team. Johnson got benched late in the year and Texas A+M got hot afterwards. Reportedly he took it well and is a team player with good character. He also is a top-flight athlete so is still draftable late.

If we had to do the list again, Rick Stanzi from Iowa would probably creep into the list and is certainly draftable. He’s smart, only threw 4 INTs all year and there is a tie to the Patriots as Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz is a close friend of Bill Belichick and former assistant to him. Delaware QB Pat Devlin will likely be a mid-round choice and has lots of potential. He was originally at Penn State before transferring to Delaware. You can watch some highlights of Devlin in this video link. TCU quarterback Andy Dalton is a winner with limited skills, but smarts and could make a good NFL backup. Of course Cam Newton from Auburn has to be mentioned. The Heisman Trophy winner could come out with all the controversy that swirled around him. And we do know being paid to be football would please his family. He has tremendous skills. The running, size, arm and strength are all top notch. But he could use another year of experience. If he comes out, his talent will get him drafted high.

Running Backs:

September College Scout Rankings:
1.) Daniel Thomas, Kansas State
2.) Mark Ingram, Alabama
3.) Evan Royster, Penn State
4.) DeMarco Murray, Oklahoma
5.) Anthony Allen, Georgia Tech
6.) Brandon Saine, Ohio State
7.) John Clay, Wisconsin
8.) Roy Helu, Nebraska
9.) Derrick Locke, Kentucky
10.) Noel Devine, West Virginia

Analysis: Thomas is not the top runner according to many, though in the top 5 in most opinions. I like him because his size-speed combo translates to the NFL, along with his excellent power. But there is some bust potential there as he disappears at times. I chalk that up more to playing for a middling team. You can see some excellent highlights of Thomas in this clip. Ingram had an up and down year and started out injured. The 2009 Heisman Trophy winner remains a great prospect, but is perhaps towards the back end of the first round now. Some have Murray as the top back in the draft and he is perhaps the most well-rounded. He’s a good player. Saine had a very disappointing year and didn’t even get the majority of snaps for OSU. He’s a late round project despite great talent. Something is missing. Many like Devine more than me and while he is electrifying, I see him as a third down back and perhaps not even as good a one as Locke.

Others who’ve slipped into the conversation are Mario Fannin who is a big, talented back from Auburn who had limited playing time as the Tigers used a younger, top recruit as their main back. Fannin has played some receiver and is good in the passing game, but also has great power and running skills as a back. Kendall Hunter from Oklahoma State is a bit undersized, but has good speed and elusiveness. You can see some sweet highlights of Hunter here.

First Impressions (Second Time Around) – Buffalo Bills

By Greg Doyle, Patriots Daily Staff

The Patriots travel to Buffalo having won now an amazing fourteen consecutive games against the Bills. They have every reason to be fired up, if they win they’ll clinch both the AFC East and the #1 seed and home playoff games throughout the playoffs. In other words, its yet another “hat and t-shirt game.” Back during the midst of the Patriots glory days, Tedy Bruschi said “We don’t lose hat and t-shirt games.” This Patriots team is a lot different than the Super Bowl winners of several years ago. Its younger and much of the cast of characters have changed. Do they still not lose hat and t-shirt games? We’ll find out Sunday. For what its worth, Buffalo has played a lot better of late. Early in the year they lost a remarkable number of close games. They played the Patriots decently in losing 38-30 in Foxboro in September. They’re 4-2 in their last 6 games. They should provide a good test. But with so much at stake, one would expect the Patriots to come out very motivated and put together one of their better efforts of the year. We’ll find out how much they may be like those championship Patriot teams starting Sunday

Ryan Fitzpatrick (#14), Quarterback: When we last saw the pride of the Harvard Crimson football program, things were a lot more uncertain for Fitzpatrick. He was making his first start of the year versus the Patriots. His career, to that point, had been mediocre at best. And, yet, this year it all seems to have come together for him. He started with a rather good game versus the Patriots in September and has continued along with generally good showings all year. For the year, Fitzpatrick has completed almost 59 percent of his passes, he’s tossed 23 touchdowns versus only 12 interceptions and has a respectable 85.9 quarterback rating. Its far and away the best season thus far for the 28 year old. Fitzpatrick’s strengths are a good arm, solid weapons and an improving ability to avoid the rush. He still throws the occasional dumb pass and he’ll likely give the Patriots an opportunity for a few Sunday. But he’s in a good offense for his skills and his head coach, Chan Gailey, has found a comfort level in calling plays that don’t put him in difficult situations. The Patriots have won fourteen games in a row. But perhaps Fitzpatrick is at the best place right now of any quarterback they’ve faced during that time. And that alone may give Buffalo the best chance its had in quite a number of years versus New England.

Steve Johnson (#13), Wide Receiver: Similar to Fitzpatrick, Johnson was sort of meandering along in his career when he and the Bills visited Foxboro in September of this year. He came into that game with 23 career catches in two plus seasons. But since then, he’s become the Bills go to receiver. He had a touchdown that day versus the season and he now stands on the cusp of a 1,000 yard season with 943 with two games to go. He’s scored 10 touchdowns on the season, which places him among the league leaders for a wide receiver. Johnson has good speed, he can catch the short routes, he’s big and physical and he can occasionally get deep by usually relying on his strength to outfight defenders for the ball. A former 7th round choice, Johnson has become a great steal from the 2008 draft for the Bills. Also, just not to be confused, for whatever reason since he’s begun playing well its become common to hear him called “Stevie Johsnon” rather than the former mundane “Steve Johsnon” when he was just another player.

Moats Ended Brett Favre's Streak

Arthur Moats (#52), Linebacker: A rookie 6th round choice out of James Madison, Moats has really come on in recent weeks. Loyal readers of Patriots Daily will recall our interview with Moats prior to the NFL draft last season. Back then, he noted in the interview the Bills were interested in using him as an inside linebacker. They did initially, but in recent weeks they’ve switched him to outside linebacker which could be a good move for him where he’ll be able to utilize his 4.64/40 speed. Moats will likely forever be remembered as the guy who ended Brett Favre’s consecutive start streak as his hit knocked Favre out for a week for Minnesota. The last two weeks, Moats has had 2.5 sacks so he is definitely a threat to Tom Brady in the backfield. The Patriots spent some time with Moats last spring, so they were clearly interested in him, but ultimately it looks like Moats is a late-round keeper who will go down as a Buffalo draft find.

Leodis McKelvin (#28), Cornerback: McKelvin is a very inconsistent player. Supremely talented, at times he costs the Bills with untimely penalties or lapses in coverage. On special teams, he can be explosive as a returner, but also prone to fumbling. The Patriots found this out last year when he cost the Bills the 2009 opener with a late fumble. Watching McKelvin, it almost seems he loses concentration at times. While he has the ability to make excellent plays, the Patriots undoubtedly will find times they can beat him Sunday too for big plays. In the end, despite his talent and stretches of solid play, McKelvin is now in his 3rd season and has to be considered a disappointment as a first round pick if he can’t begin to play more consistent football.

Brian Moorman (#8), Punter: The weather report for Buffalo, as one can expect this time of year, is looking treacherous for Sunday. Moorman, who is arguably the best punter in the NFL, could prove a major factor. Games in Buffalo this time of year often prove to be field position battles in the rocky weather. Win that, you can many times win the game. Moorman who excels in both distance and hang time could prove a major weapon in helping the Bills win the field position battle if the Buffalo defense can slow down the Patriots offense and get some stops. Moorman, now in his 10th season, may have lost a bit off his leg slightly at age 34 but is still an excellent punter who knows how to deal with the Buffalo weather. He could be a major factor Sunday.

Around The League – Week 15

By Jeremy Gottlieb, Patriots Daily Staff

If you missed Sunday’s Giants/Eagles clash at the New Meadowlands, or at the very least, the fourth quarter, you missed what was likely the game of the year. The Eagles trailed 31-10 with just over eight minutes to play, had been completely bottled up by the resurgent Giants all day long and were staring down the barrel of a loss that would cost them a shot at the NFC East crown and at least one home playoff game. But Michael Vick took the game over, mostly with his legs, and Philly shockingly rallied to a 38-31 win when Giants rookie punter Matt Dodge failed to punt the ball out of bounds in the waning seconds of a 31-all tie, instead booting it right to DeSean Jackson, only one of the two or three most dangerous, open field players in the league. Naturally, Jackson picked up the ball after initially dropping it, made a quick move and was off the races, scoring the game-winning TD as time expired and single-handedly causing the chunks to stir in the gullets of every Giants player, coach and fan in the stadium and beyond.

It was a stunning collapse on several levels, not the least of which was the fact that the Giants, who had so thoroughly dominated up to that 8-minute mark, collectively went to sleep. It’s easy to understand the thought process behind moving your defense way back with a 21-point lead in the late stages of a game – the last thing you want to do in that situation is give up a long pass play (although that’s exactly what happened on the Eagles first score of their comeback when Vick found tight end Brent Celek on a deep slant, Celek’s man fell down and there was no one left downfield to stop him). But against a quarterback like Vick, a guy much more prone to run around and try to get outside under such circumstances, leaving that much space in the middle of the field for him to make a play running with the ball may not be the best plan. He wound up with 130 yards rushing on just 10 carries. The Giants had held the Eagles to 198 total yards for the game’s first 52 minutes. Why change what was working so well for you?

It didn’t help the Giants at all either that their offense completely stagnated. Eli Manning passed for nearly 300 yards and four TDs but four of the Giants last five possessions ended in punts, including their last, which was a miserable, three-and-out right on the heels of the Eagles tying the score at 31 and led to the fateful Dodge punt. Maybe the Eagles defense was so fired up by what the offense had wrought throughout that final quarter that they were suddenly impenetrable. Or, maybe the Giants took too much comfort in their big lead and stopped doing what had worked so well for them up to that point in favor of a more conservative approach. I’m going with the second option there. Add to that the home team’s total surprise when the Eagles went for an onside kick after cutting the lead to 31-17, an attempt that was of course successful and further fueled the Philly comeback, and it’s clear that enough people on the Giants sideline had packed it in with that big lead that it may have been impossible to avoid their disastrous fate.

Dodge’s kick got most of the press, probably because a game had never ended on such a play in NFL history prior to the Jackson return, it was a spectacular run and Giants coach Tom Coughlin actually came out on the field as the Eagles were celebrating to yell at the shell-shocked rookie punter. He should have; Dodge has had a litany of issues this year from fumbled snaps to shanked kicks and so on. If you are punting in the NFL, your coach says, “whatever you do, don’t kick it to that guy, just knock it out of bounds,” and you then go out and do exactly what he told you not to do, you deserve for him to humiliate you on the field in full view of the cameras. What will be the most interesting aspect of this incredible game, though, will be how the Giants respond. They now have to win their final two games just to make the playoffs, and this week’s test is a road game against a similarly desperate Packers team that will be playing at home with its starting QB returning from a week out thanks to a concussion. There are rumors swirling that Coughlin’s job is now in jeopardy, a theory that doesn’t make much sense given how they were eight minutes from a division title after playing their best football of the season over the past month right up to that 8-minute mark. Whatever happens, it was a phenomenal finish to what would otherwise have been a rather ho-hum kind of blowout. Just another example of why the NFL is so fantastic.

This Week’s Five Best Teams

1. New England: Not interested in any more dissection of the near disaster against the Packers so here’s another absolutely outstanding stat regarding the best team in the NFL. Over the course of the Pats current, six-game winning streak, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez have combined for 29 catches, 369 yards and eight TDs. Boing.

2. Atlanta: The biggest question regarding whether the Falcons are contenders or pretenders has always been if they can win on the road. Well, they’ve played four of their last five games away from home and won all of them, by an average of 12 points. They’re 6-2 out of Georgia and will be hosting playoff games in January.

3. Philadelphia: The biggest headlines surrounding the Eagles monumental, comeback, 38-31 win over the woebegone Giants last week focused on Jackson’s punt return and Dodge’s inability to kick the ball out of bounds. But Vick was the real story, leading his team to 220 yards and three TD drives of 75, 57 and 85, respectively over the final eight minutes of the game. Hate the guy if you want, but man is he an unbelievable player.

4. Baltimore: The Ravens defense (prevalently featuring loser/Brady-hater Terell Suggs) blew another fourth quarter lead last against the Saints, but was bailed out by the offense, primarily Ray Rice. Rice had 31 rushes for 153 yards, caught five passes for 80 yards and scored two TDs. His big runs salted the game away late for Baltimore, which will need more performances like Sunday’s out of him if Suggs and the defense continue to sputter down the stretch.

5. (tie) New Orleans/Pittsburgh: Not a very inspiring sight for Saints fans to see their D gashed so thoroughly by Rice and Co. But the offense is fully healthy and really clicking at the right time, which should be easing to any worried, New Orleans minds. As for the Steelers, they lost another home game to an AFC East foe, this time the Jets, though they had a great chance to take it in the end thanks to some more woeful,l in-game coaching by Rex Ryan and crew (see below). In keeping with other season-long patterns, safety Ryan Clark was flagged for yet another illegal hit delivered by a Steelers defender, then naturally whined and cried about how unfair it all is and how he “can’t play properly” if such hits are continued to be found illegal, fineable offenses. I’m starting to wonder if anyone in the Pittsburgh organization is over the age of 8. Hey Ryan – it doesn’t matter what you think, how much you and your teammates whine like little babies or whether the world is just an unfair place. The rules say those hits are illegal. It may be dumb, but those are the rules, like em or not. If you want to stop getting flagged, fined and made an example of, why don’t you just stop hitting like that? Wow, what a novel concept!

This Week’s Five Worst Teams

1. Denver: Get a load of this – in two games against the Raiders this year, both losses, the Broncos defense has allowed 98 points and over 1,000 total yards. Worst in the league? Yep, Tim Tebow or no Tim Tebow.

2. Arizona: The Cardinals pathetic season just got worse as they lost to Carolina in a game they never even came close to leading. Again, they got terrible quarterback play and again, they had no running game. Looking at this team in relation to the past two seasons, I’m starting to wonder if Kurt Warner actually was the second coming.

3. Carolina: Hooray for the Panthers, getting John Fox one last win in Charlotte and QB Jimmy Clausen his first (and possibly only) one before they draft Stanford star Andrew Luck next year. And hooray for the Panthers also for not being No. 1 on this list for yet another week.

4. Cleveland: Well, it sure was fun while it lasted, eh Browns fans? There was a stretch earlier in the year when it looked like your team might actually be turning the corner. Then they remembered they’re the Browns, lost in consecutive weeks to the Bills and Bengals, are destined for yet another double-digit loss season and will now almost undoubtedly have to start over with a new coach next year for the fifth time since the turn of the century.

5. Cincinnati: The Bengals won a game! After 10 straight losses! Can you believe it? Interesting how it came with Terell Owens getting hurt early and Chad Ochocinco basically being benched while Cedric Benson had his best game of the season (31 carries, 150 yards, 4.8 YPA, one TD). They’re a little slow on the uptake in Cincy.

What’s Trendy

- Jason Garrett, Cowboys: Dallas is 4-2 since Garrett took over for Wade Phillips and has scored at least 27 points in all six games. They scored 27-plus once this year under Phillips. It seems they’re responding to Garrett, no?

- Donald Brown, Colts: Pretty much a complete bust since Indy took him in the first round out if UConn last year, Brown went off in last week’s huge, 34-24 win over Jacksonville. Brown’s 129 yards (on just 14 carries, a 9.2 YPA) was by far a career high and his TD was just his second of the season. With all of the injuries on the Colts offense, if they can get a consistent running game going with Brown as the lead back, watch out come playoff time.

– The Lions:
Major congratulations to the Lions, who one week after snapping their 19-game divisional losing streak, beat the Bucs in Tampa to snap a jaw-dropping, NFL record 26-game road losing streak with a 23-20, overtime win. Their last road win before Sunday? October, 2007. Amazing.

What’s Not

- Matt Hasselbeck, Seahawks: A very good career for the former Xaverian and BC product is coming to a close and if you don’t believe me, just look at the numbers. Hasselbeck has 17 turnovers this season, 10 in the past three weeks. In Sunday’s loss to the Falcons, he was 10-of-17 for just 17 yards and three picks before getting yanked. Ouch.

- The Texans: Now, instead of just losing games in humiliating fashion, they’re humiliating themselves in a different way. Linebackers Brian Cushing (who was suspended four games earlier this season for steroids) and Antonio Smith actually got into a fight with each other on the field during Sunday’s loss to Tennessee. If Houston owner Bob McNair brings coach Gary Kubiak back for yet another season, he is either stupid or just doesn’t care. This team is toxic in so many ways and something near to the top is the only thing that can save it.

– The Jets Coaching Staff:
Yes, the Jets won, ending their two game misery streak. And yes, it was a big one, on the road against a very good team. But for all his motivational hoohah and macho, braggart crap (not to mention his predilection for foot fetish home videos) Rex Ryan and his minions are lousy in-game coaches. With a 20-17 lead, three minutes left and the Steelers with just one remaining time out, the Jets called two straight pass plays, both of which were incomplete, thus stopping the clock. They got the ball back after a safety with another chance to salt the game away and of course, threw another incomplete pass, this one after Pittsburgh had burned its final TO. Two possessions, less than one minute spent. And that’s without even mentioning Braylon Edwards and LaDanian Tomlinson going out of bounds (Edwards twice) down the stretch with that lead and the clock running. It would have served the Jets right if the Steelers comeback attempt hadn’t stalled out all the way down at the 9-yard line. The fact that Sports Illustrated’s Peter King, who loses more and more credibility with each passing week, named offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer the coach of the week in his Monday column speaks hilarious volumes not only about King but about how inexplicably overrated Ryan and his staff really are.

And finally…

It would be easy to use this space to take some more shots at some of my favorite targets, like BrettFavre, who again made it all about himself last week in playing against the Bears at the last second on Monday night, got hurt again and subsequently subjected all of us to still more “will he or won’t he,” garbage primarily sponsored by his house network, ESPN. Or Redskins coach Mike Shanahan, who continues to be the biggest fraud in coaching as well as coming off as someone who has little regard or respect for his players in the wake of his handling of the Donovan McNabb benching, and who will now have five straight years of not taking his team to the playoffs. But I’ll take the high road, it being the holidays and all. Hope everyone has a wonderful holiday and thank you so very much for reading Patriots Daily!

Worry Wart – Game Fifteen At Bills

by Chris Warner, Patriots Daily Staff

Well, we hate to say it, but we told you so.

Actually, that’s not true: we love to say it. Especially when a rolling Patriots team delivering a lackluster performance against a young quarterback ends up not in a loss, but in an exciting victory. Too exciting. (We do tend to worry, after all.)

So this week, does New England wrap up the AFC East title and a first-round bye with a win, or does Buffalo play the rude host?

Don't Ask.

We figured we’d share our thoughts on that…

Ryan The Crimson Reigned Here: Buffalo has a lousy (4-10) record, but QB Ryan Fitzpatrick has done everything short of make up his own rules to keep them competitive (he’s from Harvard; he can do that). With 23 touchdown passes vs. 12 interceptions, Fitzpatrick has shown solid ability in leading the Bills’ offense. Considering the Patriots made Green Bay’s Matt Flynn look like the star of his own Disney movie (From Sidelines To Stardom, with, let’s say, Zac Effron?), they need to prepare for their trip up North.

Put One Foot In Front Of The Other: Bills running back Fred Jackson has averaged over four yards a carry in a league determined to stop him every week. Last Sunday night, the Patriots defense looked about as difficult to run through as a gentle spring rain, so expect Jackson and C. J. Spiller to do more carrying than Santa this week.

I’ll Have A Blue(print) Christmas: The fret with Foxboro fans is that Green Bay showed the rest of the league how to stop the Patriots. Keep QB/spokesmodel/guy-I’d-love-to-hang-out-with Tom Brady off the field, blitz him up the middle, cover his two main receivers with your shutdown corners. (Not really a new plan, by the way.) While the Bills lack the type of personnel the Packers have, New England has to ready their offensive game plan for “the blueprint.”

Seven Years A-Streaking: What were you doing on September 7, 2003? (Oh, I’m sorry. I thought you were Marilu Henner or one of those other people with a Super Autobiographical Memory.) If you guessed, “watching the Pats get their butts handed to them by the Bills,” you’re correct. Drew Bledsoe and Lawyer Milloy gained revenge on their old team in that season’s opener; Buffalo hasn’t beaten New England since.

Not that we care much about streaks (the whole “Brady undefeated at home” thing seems dumb when we remember last year’s playoff debacle), but at this point you have to believe Buffalo has gotten tired of it.

Silver Bills: As the song goes, “Above all this bustle, you’ll hear” the Buffalo crowd, desperate for a win against the Pats and ready for blood if the visitors show any hint of weakness. Those people are nuts. Seriously, run a search for “Bills-fan-drunk” and see how many videos you come up with. We find it both hilarious and off-putting – much like the people of Buffalo themselves.

Under The Missile – D’oh! It seems this season that safety Brandon Meriweather has done his fair share of knocking teammates out of the way for opponents’ scores, the latest example happening at the 40-yard line at Foxboro to give Flynn his first career TD. We’re sure Meriweather has heard this advice, but Brandon? Stop trying to cut under the coverage.

God Bless Ye Merry Edelman: While receiver Julian Edelman proved better than his seventh-round status as a rookie (37 catches), he’s had a tough go of it this year (four). Two games ago, he had a punt return TD called back at Chicago. This past week, he missed a pass from our good friend Tom Brady that would have set up the Pats first-and-goal at the 10. The home team had to settle for a field goal and a 27-24 deficit.

Our Christmas wish? That Edelman gets more chances, and takes advantage of every single one. Not a bad thought for all our readers, either.

Have a very Merry Christmas.

Email Chris Warner at [email protected]

Making The Grades – Patriots vs Packers

By Jeremy Gottlieb, Patriots Daily Staff

OK, class. Raise your hands if you were confident, extremely confident, or perhaps even over-confident, regarding the Pats chances in Sunday night’s game against the Green Bay Packers. The way they’d been playing over their previous five games on both sides of the ball. The Packers running a former seventh-rounder out there to make his first career NFL start. A home game under the lights in prime time against a team that lost 7-3 to the, ahem… Detroit Lions, last week. It didn’t phase you in the slightest when yahoos like Scott Zolak cheerfully proclaimed things like, “Easy one, guys. 34-9. Mark it down,” during the pregame radio broadcast, did it? Shame shame shame. Because even though the Pats escaped the Pack with a 31-27 win of the gut-wrenching variety, it was as ugly as a win can be, maybe even more so than that stinkbomb planted out in San Diego in Week 7, and if you don’t believe that, just listen to Bill Belichick’s post-game press conference, in which he sounded almost as morose as he did after losing Super Bowl XLII. The Packers came up with a perfect game plan and that combined with a sluggish night on offense along with a brutal, hugely regressy evening for the injury/suspension-depleted defense made for a nail-biter that I’m certain few in these parts saw coming. If not for two returns, one an INT for a score by Kyle Arrington, the other a 71-yard kick return by O-lineman Dan Connolly of all people (arguably the play of the year) that led to a TD, this may well have been a far darker day of analysis and report cardage. Still, in the end, with the money on the table and the fourth quarter time winding down, plays were made and the game was won. Tom Brady didn’t play anything near his best game but still managed it beautifully down the stretch while the D, completely and totally worn out by the time Green Bay’s final handful of possessions came around, reached down as deep as it collectively could and ended the proceedings with a flourish, with a little help from some of the worst clock management by the Packers that I’ve ever seen. It just goes to show, yet again, that there are rarely any gimmes in this league, that each week is a whole different set of circumstances unto itself and that thankfully, as poorly as the Pats played, they still are the masters of closing out games when they need to. So with that, let’s cheer up a little bit and get to this week’s report card, now with free sample doses of Maalox for all.

OFFENSE: Overall Grade: B-

It’s tempting to grade higher here given that the Pats offense had the ball for less than 20 minutes and only 44 plays all night yet still managed to score 24 points. But they were off rhythm on that side of the ball almost all game and while much credit for that has to go to the Packers excellent defense, the Pats seemed to have a hard time adjusting to what Green Bay was throwing at them throughout the game. There were only two sustained drives in the game and while one of them was very well-timed (the fourth quarter game-winner), that’s normally not going to be enough to win, particularly in the playoffs. Brady avoided a couple of picks on poorly thrown passes to extend his string of attempts without an INT to 292, now a league record, but was typically excellent when it mattered most on the game-winning TD drive in the fourth quarter. He didn’t get a lot of help from his receiving corps this week thanks in large part to the Packers duo of star corners, but the tight ends, Aaron Hernandez especially, made up for that in a major way. And while the line deserves a round of applause for containing Defensive Player of the Year shoo-in Clay Matthews (most of which goes to Sebastian Vollmer), the guys up front had a much harder time with everyone else who came at them as Brady was sacked three times and never seemed to be able to stay on his spot comfortably with any consistency. Despite all this, there were still enough plays made to ensure the win, as opposed to the Cleveland game back in Week 9, when the offense couldn’t overcome a similar mediocre/inconsistent performance. It was a textbook example of a very good team overcoming a less than good performance and winning anyway. It may not have been pretty, but it’ll likely prove to be an important lesson going forward.

Quarterbacks: B

None of this Offensive Player of the Week business for Brady this week. It was a far cry from the 350-plus yard, four TDs per week stuff he’s been posting like it’s as easy as changing his and Gisele’s kids diapers the past few games. But it wasn’t ordinary. On the contrary, Brady was as ruthlessly efficient as he’s always capable of being when he needed to be. Those long scoring drives he engineered may have been few and far between but look at the timing of them both – in the first quarter as a direct response to the Packers game-opening onside kick and in the fourth quarter after Green Bay left the door open a crack by kicking a 19-yard field goal to make its lead six points instead of go for a TD on fourth-and 1 to potentially make the lead 10 points (a decision by coach Mike McCarthy, i might add, that I foolishly agreed with at the time, even while being derided for it by my viewing mates). It seemed surreal to watch NBC’s graphic noting that with two minutes left in the third quarter, a Brady led team had just 129 total yards and held the ball for a jaw-dropping 1:14 seconds for that entire period. But following the Packers field goal, Brady got everyone in the no-huddle and went 54 yards in seven plays, starting with a 35 yard strike to Wes Welker, and culminating in a field goal by Shayne Graham. Then, after a surprising three-and-out by the defense and with a little momentum in hand, he went to work again, leading a six-play, 63-yard TD march to give the Pats a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. The piece de resistance on that drive on that drive was naturally the TD, on which Brady, seeing Hernandez singled up out wide on a nickel corner, checked the play from an inside run to a quick out, easily getting Hernandez his second score of the night. It was vintage Brady, seeing the mismatch then taking advantage of it. Again, the numbers were down in a big way from the past five weeks (15-of-24, 163 yards, 6.8 YPA). But there was nothing to complain about regarding the two TD passes and 110.2 passer rating. Extrapolate that out to a more normal number as far as time of possession and number of plays are concerned and maybe we’re discussing that Offensive Player of the Week business again.

Running Backs: A-

Danny Woodhead missed a blitz pickup. The Law Firm known as BenJarvus Green-Ellis was trapped for no gain or a loss a couple of times. Other than that, it was aces for the Pats running game. They only ran the ball 16 times all night due to the limited time on the field, but man, did they make the most of it. Law Firm and Rudy 2 (along with a 16-yard reverse by Hernandez) racked up 113 yards and a TD, good for a 7.1 average. On the scoring run, a fantastic, 33-yarder by BJGE (his 12th of the season), he waited behind perfect blocks inside by Vollmer and on the edge by Welker and Alge Crumpler, got into the open field, got behind a crushing, downfield block by Deion Branch and coasted home. Woodhead had 34 yards on five carries on the Pats two fourth quarter scoring drives and also inserted a huge, 12-yard catch and run to open the TD march. The superior balance on offense shown by the Pats all year was on full display and represented yet another chapter in the stunning, out-of-nowhere success stories that Law Firm and Woody have been penning since September. And they went a long way toward saving the Pats from what would have been an ugly loss.

Wide Receivers: C+

Sort of a supporting role at best kind of night for this group. Welker had that huge, 35-yard grab and big block on BJGE’s scoring run, and that’s about it. Branch had two catches and while both were immense (a 17-yarder on third-and 17 to sustain the first quarter TD drive and a 16-yarder on the fourth quarter TD drive that he stayed with and caught despite Brady’s arm being hit as he threw), that was pretty much it. Again, the Packers corner tandem – Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams – are stars and they effectively blanketed Welker and Branch all night to the point that they were rendered borderline obsolete. Last year, if Welker and Randy Moss had been taken away from Brady the way Welker and Branch were on Sunday night, it would have been curtains. But this year’s offense is so much more diverse and spread out and Brady is operating so much more fluidly, that the team can survive his top two receivers combining for just five catches and 75 yards. No need to worry too much here.

Tight Ends: A

Another week, another win, another stellar showing by at least one of the Pats fledgling superstars at the tight end position. This week it was Hernandez, who burned whomever had the misfortune of having to cover him pretty much every time Brady called his number. Displaying the wide receiver-type skills that make him nearly impossible to cover with a linebacker or a safety, and taking advantage. Hernandez pulled two TDs out of his bag on the night, the first one a wide open grab in the flat three plays after Connolly’s stunning kick return and the second that audible on which he smoked rookie corner Sam Shields with a picture perfect out cut, then shed Shields’ weak tackle attempt as he high-stepped into the end zone. When Hernandez gets a little more seasoning, a little more consistency, a little more experience, he could be one of the top tight ends in the league given his size alongside how skilled and talented he is. He’s a major weapon and he showed it on Sunday night. Rob Gronkowski only had one catch for 25 yards but was big in the running game as he gets better and better each week as a blocker. Spending as much time as he does with Alge Crumpler, one of the best blocking tight ends there is, has to help.

Offensive Line: B-

It was a banner night for Vollmer, who bore most of the responsibility in keeping Matthews bottled up. The Packers star had two tackles, period. He didn’t get to Brady a single time. It was his most ineffective performance since Week 7 against Minneota which came one week after he missed a game against Miami with a concussion. There were problems up the middle though, as Brady was pushed from the pocket fairly routinely by pressure from nose tackle B.J. Raji and middle linebacker Desmond Bishop. Those two combined for all three of the Packers sacks as well as a couple more hits on Brady. Logan Mankins, Dan Koppen and Connolly, before he left with a concussion, were a step slow on several occasions when the Packers brought that heat over center. Ultimately, it didn’t hurt too too badly as the Packers pressure let up in the fourth quarter when the Pats were in hurry-up mode. And the run blocking was excellent, as evidenced by the lofty, 7.1 yard rushing average. It wasn’t the O-line’s best night by any stretch, but collectively, they did enough to win. Kind of like the whole team.

DEFENSE: Overall Grade: C

It felt a lot like September/October all over again, watching the defense run around in circles, crashing into each other, missing tackles and just generally looking inept. Here are a few raw numbers if you don’t believe it: Through three quarters, the Packers, held the ball for 31:26 of 45 minutes. They were 9-for-13 on third down. They had four drives of 11 plays or more, all of which resulted in points and all of which took at least six minutes off the clock. Their 24th ranked rushing attack rolled up 143 yards rushing at four yards a pop. And their quarterback, the one with one half of regular season NFL experience, was 24-of-37 for 251 yards, three TDs, just one pick and a 100.2 passer rating. It could have been worse; the Packers were only 2-of-5 in the red zone. The converted just two of their six third downs in the fourth quarter while allowing two of the Pats five sacks down the stretch. And the fact that they gained only one yard on three plays from the Pats three-yard line before eventually settling for that field goal, speaks volumes. The D was mostly shredded but was able to not entirely break after being bent that far back. The Pats made plays when they needed to make them the most and were able to overcome some massive deficiencies. Some of it was a byproduct of the offense not dominating the game and giving the D a huge early lead as it has the past couple weeks. Some of it was that they are thin thanks to injuries, especially on the line. Some of it is that they are still not that good. But they survived on Sunday night. That may not be so easy come playoff time.

Defensive Line: C

You gotta hand it to Vince Wilfork. The guy played pretty much the whole game thanks to the injuries to Mike Wright, Myron Pryor and Ron Brace (and the one suffered in game by Brandon Deaderick). He had a couple of costly penalties and there was a second half stretch when the Packers actually ran at him behind some double teams and had success. But he still managed six tackles and had a hand in a few others while seemingly everyone else around him was missing them left and right. After the game, Belichick praised Wilfork effusively, calling his effort, “oustanding,” and labeling the game, “one of the best games he’s played. And he’s played a lot of them.” Who am I to argue with that? Otherwise, it was slim pickins. Some props to Eric Moore, a linebacker who was forced to line up down in passing situations for most of his time in the game due to all the injuries and responded with his second sack in as many games. But Packers running back Brandon Jackson was allowed his second best game of the year, running for 99 yards on 22 attempts while fullback John Kuhn brought back memories of the Browns Peyton Hillis bulldozing over Pats defenders six weeks ago in Cleveland. Given the deficiencies of the pass defense, it’s imperative that the Pats at least contain their opponents running games. Perhaps if/when Pryor and Wright and Brace are back to good health and Brandon Spikes suspension is up, this will be a slightly easier task than it was on Sunday.

Linebackers: B-

This group probably provided the best collective performance of any level of the Pats D. Jerod Mayo had as good a game as he’s had in several weeks, looking quicker and more agile than he has over the past few games and rolling up another 10 tackles as a result. And Dane Fletcher had one of the defensive plays of the night with his sack of Flynn on the Packers final drive, a killer, 8-yard loss that forced the Packers to use their final timeout with 53 seconds left to play. Jermaine Cunningham also had a nice game, getting in on Flynn a few times. He couldn’t quite close the deal, only getting one QB hit on the stat sheet, but he was quick and aggressive and again, showed some skill in holding the edge on outside runs. Rob Ninkovich also had another strong showing, sacking Flynn once and getting to him another time while also making a few big sticks on Jackson. He fell down on a TD flip to Kuhn when he was the only thing between the Packers fullback and the end zone, but his play the rest of the night made up for it. Tully Banta-Cain ended the game with his strip sack of Flynn which was lucky for him given his atrocious, hands-to-the-face penalty a few plays earlier that wiped out an INT that would have buried the Packers. It was some sweet redemption for Tully. And Gary Guyton, our boy, was overwhelmed by a lot of the Packers inside runs. He’s just not big or strong enough to be an every down middle linebacker, which is why when Spikes plays, he only comes in for obvious passing situations. It was sort of sad to see him miss tackles and get wiped out several times after his huge game last week in Chicago in which it seemed he’d turned the proverbial corner. Hopefully, for him and the entire Pats D, opposing offenses won’t be as proficient or capable of running straight at him as the Packers were over the next two weeks.

Defensive Backs: C-

Save for Kyle Arrington’s right-place-at-the-right-time pick 6 and another all-around game by Devin McCourty (10 tackles, two for a loss, one QB hit, a sack and a couple pass breakups), it was a dreary night for the secondary. Flynn had his way with them most of the night with none other than Brandon Meriweather providing the biggest gaffe. After Flynn completed a go-route pass to James Jones in the second quarter on a play where McCourty was beaten by a step, Meriweather turned a 15-17 yard play into a 66-yard TD thanks to, a) being late to help on his side of the field, b) taking as bad an angle on the play as I’ve seen since the last high school game I covered and c) subsequently smashing into McCourty’s sore ribs, knocking both of them out of the play while Jones strolled into the end zone. It was a pretty apt summation of Meriweather’s career; no discernable clue about how to properly do anything except try to level a guy with his shoulder or helmet only not even being able to do that either. When word got out prior to the game that his snaps had been reduced over the past couple weeks for being late to meetings (another example of his utter stupidity, along the lines of admitting earlier in the year that he’d lost time for ignoring coaching in favor of freelancing and doing what he felt like doing), it seemed to reflect a greater possibility than ever that he will be jettisoned after the season, a move that will do nothing but help the secondary and the entire defense in a major way. One can only hope. Arrington had a bit of a rough night other than the TD return but that was such a huge play and he looked so impressive in making it thanks to all of those shed tackles, it’s OK to look the other way. Patrick Chung made a giant play in stopping Jones short of a first down on third-and 11 late in the fourth which led to that burning away of the clock right before the final play of the game. And that’s mostly it. When a guy with an acumen as bereft of pretty much anything as Flynn’s can carve you up with such ease, you don’t deserve much better than that C-. Again, plays were made late and that’s certainly important. But they didn’t come without some serious nail-biting. The Pats have to get back to what they were doing at this level of the defense against the Steelers and Jets and Bears. As Belichick said, “their season won’t last much longer if they don’t.”

Special Teams: A

Zoltan Mesko had a pretty good night. The kick and punt coverage was fine. Shayne Graham didn’t miss any kicks. So why the A? Dan Connolly, Dan Connolly, Dan Connolly, Dan Connolly, Dan Connolly, Dan Connolly, Dan Connolly, Dan Connolly, Dan Connolly, Dan Connolly, Dan Connolly, Dan Connolly, Dan Connolly and Dan Connolly. That’s why. One of the best plays I’ve ever seen. How about that cutback around the Green Bay 20? Unbelievable.

Coaching: B

Not going to be as hard on the coaches as Belichick was on himself. With the exception of needing to send more pressure at Flynn than they actually did, there wasn’t really too much wrong with the looks the defense was showing, the problems were with the execution of those schemes. It’s understandable why the Pats don’t rush the passer more than they do; the secondary, with the exception of McCourty, is so weak, Belichick and his defensive staff must be terrified of leaving the DBs alone in man coverage of pretty much any receiving corps. When they did bring the pressure though, they were mostly successful. It’s not Belichick’s fault that more than half the defensive line is hurt and Brandon Spikes is a knucklehead (it might be at least partially their fault that Meriweather, and to a lesser extent, Darius Butler are so bad at this point, but that’s another column). Offensively, there wasn’t much time to properly assess the game plan but it was quite impressive that when Bill O’Brien and Co. had their chance to take the game in the fourth quarter, they adjusted to the perfect counter to all of the Packers pressure in going no-huddle. Maybe Belichick was referring to how well or not well motivated the players were when he said over and over again after the game how much better a job he himself needs to do. If so, that’s also on the players; if you need your coach to motivate you when there’s as much at stake as there is for the Pats these next few weeks, you should find another job. This season has proven thus far to be Belichick’s best job since 2001, right up there with 2008, 2003 and 2004. It wasn’t him or his staff that was the issue on Sunday night against the Packers. He must know that and had to have said what he said to protect his guys. It’s a safe bet that those guys will find that out from him in no uncertain terms starting before practice tomorrow, if not sooner.

Ticket Watch – Patriots vs Packers

News of a potential storm Sunday night caused a huge surge in available tickets and a drop in ticket prices for the Patriots/Packers game at Gillette stadium. Now, with the storm seemingly set to miss the area, it’s a great opportunity to come see the NFL’s hottest team.

Click on the image to search for deals.