Marcus Cannon

Patriots lose Cannon, still find a way to protect Brady vs. Chargers

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Patriots lose Cannon, still find a way to protect Brady vs. Chargers

FOXBORO -- For most of last week, it was hard to hear anything about the Chargers without hearing something about their pass rush. 

Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, two of the game's top-10 sack artists, would be in many ways the key to Sunday's outcome. If they could make Tom Brady uncomfortable, they'd be in business. 

As it turned out, the Chargers sacked Brady three times and they hit him five times in all. But only two of those hits came courtesy of Bosa and Ingram -- they had one each -- as the Patriots were able to prevent the pair from ruining the game. 

How'd they do it? 

The short passing game of the Patriots helped. Twenty of Brady's 32 completions on the afternoon went to backs and tight ends. James White caught five passes for 85 yards, while Rex Burkhead caught seven passes for 68 yards. When Brady targeted either, the football was generally out of his hands very quickly, preventing Bosa or Ingram from having the time to pose a threat. 

PATRIOTS 21, CHARGERS 13

"They have a lot of good rushers," Bill Belichick said. "I mean, It’s Ingram and Bosa, but it’s a lot more than that. They did a good job with their perimeter pressures. They brought some extra guys and dropped some out, so it was again, not the easiest thing to deal with. 

"Some of that involved the backs. Sometimes the backs and the tight ends were involved in bumping those guys on the way out. To handle that everybody has to do a good job. The quarterback has to get the ball out on time. The line has to pass protect. The receivers have to have spacing in zone and get open in man-to-man."

When they didn't do those things, it meant trouble. Because even when Bosa and Ingram weren't getting to Brady, there were plays when they beat their blockers quickly and would have had hits or sacks had it not been for some fancy footwork by Brady to avoid punishment. 

"What he does, he’s great at, you have to give him credit," said Chargers defensive lineman Brandan Mebane. "They knew that we could pass rush and get to the quarterback, he tried to avoid us and there were times he did a pretty good job at it."

"We don’t have all day because the rush is getting there pretty quick so if nobody is open you can’t block them forever," Belichick said. "If we get open quickly then we don’t have to block them as long. The times that we had it was good overall team execution. Unfortunately, there were times where we didn’t have it and then we didn’t have good plays to go with it."

But for Brady to remain as clean as he did against a pair of rushers as dynamic as any other duo in the league, the Patriots will take it. Especially considering they were down one of their best offensive linemen for the majority of the game. 

Marcus Cannon left the game with an injured ankle during New England's second drive of the second quarter. He entered the game questionable with an ankle issue and has dealt with ankle problems for much of the season. 

When he left, it was up to LaAdrian Waddle to man the right side of the Patriots offensive line. 

"I just went out there and tried to play ball, man," Waddle said. "That's what I'm here for. Play ball. I got an opportunity today and every opportunity I get I'm going to try to make the most of it."

According to Pro Football Focus, Waddle was responsible for five quarterback hurries but he did not give up a hit or a sack in 51 snaps. Because Bosa and Ingram swap sides occasionally, Waddle got both at different points. 

"You can't really double-team both of those guys every play," Waddle said. "Some plays guys are going to have a little heavier load to lift, and they're going to be matched up one-on-one on them. But guys are expected to come through. We just believe in each other and we all go out with that kind of attitude of whoever we play or whoever we're matched up against. We should be able to play the way we should play and we'll be all right."

In the last three games, Brady has been sacked a total of five times. He was sacked 16 times through the first five games of the season.

It wasn't a clean sheet against the Chargers, but facing one of the toughest tandems they'll see all season, it was a strong showing. 

"They definitely have some good rushers and good players and we just came out with attitude," Waddle said. "We just gotta execute and do our job. When we play with good technique and the way we should play, we can handle those guys."

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Have the offseason changes negatively affected the Patriots locker room?

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Have the offseason changes negatively affected the Patriots locker room?

The Patriots improve their record to 4-2 with a win over the Jets, but there are still a lot of concerning factors for New England. Mike Giardi and Dan Koppen talk about something the team isn't used to - close games.

Giardi also dives into whether there is a major problem with the locker room dynamic, and whether all the moves they made in the offseason were blown way out of proportion by the media and fans of the talent added, but didn't factor in the personalities they lost.

Koppen and Giardi also look at how the offensive line play has fallen off, despite the same personnel as last year. Finally, discussing the late scratch of Stephon Gilmore due to a concussion. Anything to read into the timing?

Hightower starts in return from knee injury, plays more than half Patriots snaps

Hightower starts in return from knee injury, plays more than half Patriots snaps

FOXBORO -- Dont'a Hightower hadn't played since the season-opener, but it looked like his conditioning level was just fine midway through the fourth quarter.

Coming in off the left edge, he beat his blocker and chased down Cam Newton to notch his first sack of the season. The play forced a Panthers punt and gave the Patriots possession with 7:27 left in the game. Down 30-23 at the time, Hightower's team had a chance to tie. Ten plays later, they did.  

PANTHERS 33, PATRIOTS 30

Though the Patriots couldn't hold off the Panthers late in the fourth quarter, Hightower's sack could be viewed as an encouraging sign for a defense that needs as many of those as it can get at the moment.

Hightower started and played 37 of 63 defensive snaps on Sunday, according to Pro Football Focus, including one as an inside linebacker. For the most part, though, Hightower remained on the edge. That's the role he played exclusively in Week 1 against the Chiefs before suffering a knee injury that sidelined him for wins over New Orleans and Houston. Per PFF, he rushed the passer 16 times -- recording two hurries in addition to his sack -- and dropped into coverage six times.

Hightower missed much of training camp while on the physically unable to perform list, and then his injury against the Chiefs may have stunted any progress he was making with his conditioning. He may still need some time before he's feeling like he's at full strength, but playing more than half the snaps and coming up with a key play late isn't a bad place to build from.

Here's a look at some of the other banged-up Patriots and how they performed . . . 

Marcus Cannon, OT: Returning to his spot as the starting right tackle after dealing with an ankle injury and a concussion that kept him out against the Texans, Cannon played all 70 offensive snaps for the Patriots. He allowed a sack to Julius Peppers and gave up four more pressures in the game, according to Pro Football Focus. 

Eric Rowe, CB: Rowe sat out Week 3 with a groin injury. He said on Sunday that the injury felt 100 percent before the Panthers game, but on the first play of the third quarter he tweaked his groin making a tackle. He did not return and finished the game having played 19 snaps. Had Rowe remained healthy, it would have been interesting to see how the Patriots utilized Stephon Gilmore, as Gilmore sat out the first play of the third quarter with Rowe and Malcolm Butler on the field. Rowe's injury seemed to force Gilmore back into action. Gilmore has missed just 12 snaps on the season. He sat for 11 against the Texans as he dealt with dehydration.

Elandon Roberts, LB: The second-year linebacker started the game as an off-the-ball linebacker alongside Kyle Van Noy, making five tackles before leaving the game with an injured ankle. He did not return and finished having played 33 snaps. Roberts was spotted in the locker room after the game with a noticeable limp.  

Jacob Hollister, TE: The undrafted rookie played just three snaps offensively but was involved on special teams as well. He was a late addition to the injury report with a hamstring issue on Saturday. Before the game, he tested the injury with team medical personnel and coach Bill Belichick watching closely. He was held without a catch on one target. This was not a big tight end game for the Patriots as their No. 2, Dwayne Allen, played a season-low nine snaps.

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