Patriots lament lack of energy after loss to Dolphins

Patriots lament lack of energy after loss to Dolphins

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- It was a simple question and, in the world according to Bill Belichick, deserved a simple answer. Shortly after the Patriots’ eight-game win streak came to an end at the hands of the Miami Dolphins, a reporter asked Belichick if there was any chance his team was looking ahead to next week’s regular-season showdown in Pittsburgh with the Steelers. 

“No. Give me a break," he said. "Any questions about the game, or no?"

There were, but not many answers to be given. In the aftermath, Belichick’s players seemed to have a better grasp on the team’s performance than he was willing to offer up. A keyword kept being repeated. Energy. The Patriots felt like they just didn’t have enough.

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“We know we can’t come down here in a place like this and not play with energy,” said Duron Harmon. “We saw what happened to the Broncos. We just got behind too early and dug ourselves a hole that was too hard to come out of.”

“You gotta come down here with a ton of energy. A ton of determination,” said Nate Solder. “That's just the environment down here. We know that those guys play great at home. We know that we've had a lot of hard games here, and that just has to be the mentality.”

“They definitely played with a lot more energy than we did,” added Shaq Mason. “We got behind the eight ball and were just trying to fight uphill.”

For a team that has overcome plenty of deficits in the past, their reaction to Monday night’s slow start was troubling to Devin McCourty,

“I think it impacted us a little too much,” he said. “We knew this was a game we wanted to play from ahead but we gotta have the mental toughness that if it doesn’t go the way you want, you just gotta keep fighting.”

There was no sense that the Pats were primed for a letdown. In fact, the mood as the week went on was one of confidence but not overconfidence. Just days prior to the loss, McCourty was talking about how the team understood what they were and how they had gotten to this point - by preparing well and avoiding those bad days that eventually will catch up to you.

“We had a good week,” said McCourty. “In football, sometimes you come out and don’t play as well as you want to and that’s what it was. You play another good team that knows you well and you know them well and they’re on it a little more than you are. You’re a half step late. You saw that. It wasn’t like we never got anything going. We got some things at different times in the game but it was just too late.” 

“I felt like the energy all throughout the week, all throughout warmups, I felt we were ready to go,” Harmon said. “Sometimes it’s just not your day.”

Cameras captured Harmon giving a fiery speech during the game. Most of his teammates were stone-faced in response but to their credit, did seem to respond afterward. When I asked Harmon what the message was, he went back to the word of the night.

“Just trying to play with a little bit more energy. That’s it. We wasn’t playing the way we wanted to play. We wasn’t playing consistent. Everything we talked about doing as far as a Patriot defense, we weren’t doing.”

They paid the price for that, now must quickly reset and get back after it. This is a short week, and the Steelers are waiting.

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Patriots check-up: Chris Hogan will give it a go; Trey Flowers ruled out

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Patriots check-up: Chris Hogan will give it a go; Trey Flowers ruled out

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Chris Hogan made his way to South Florida with the Patriots on Sunday. And not to watch. 

Tom Brady and the Patriots offense have gone without Hogan since he injured his shoulder late in a Week 8 win over the Chargers. It's unclear how much he'll play, but after four practices this week in Foxboro, he's going to give it a go Monday night against the Dolphins. 

Earlier in the week, we went into some detail on how Hogan could help the Patriots offense if he's able to go. With Rob Gronkowski suspended, Hogan could serve as a valuable red-zone target. 

Hogan's return could also have an impact on the workload issued to his teammates. Brandin Cooks and Danny Amendola's snap-counts have been relatively unchanged with Hogan out, but Phillip Dorsett has taken on the No. 2 receiver role in terms of play-count since Week 8. In four games since Hogan's injury, Dorsett has averaged 42 snaps per game.

Here's a quick look at how the Patriots may be impacted by some of the injuries they're dealing with . . . 

Marcus Cannon, Kyle Van Noy, Trey Flowers ruled out: Cannon's ankle injury will hold him out yet another week, leaving the right-tackle duties to LaAdrian Waddle (more on him later) or Cam Fleming. Van Noy's absence could be a difficult one for the Patriots. He has handled the hybrid end-slash-linebacker duties once held by Dont'a Hightower, and he's emerged as a leader of the New England front-seven. Without him, the Patriots become thinner at both the edge and the second-level. Players like Eric Lee (57 snaps against the Bills last weekend), Elandon Roberts (49), David Harris (25) and Marquis Flowers (35) can all expect a busy day with Van Noy unavailable. Trey Flowers will miss his second consecutive game with a ribs injury. Special-teamer Brandon King (hamstring) has also been ruled out.

Issues on the edge: Injuries to Van Noy and Flowers aren't the only issues the Patriots have on the edge. Deatrich Wise (foot) came into the weekend listed as questionable. He only managed to get onto the field for one practice this week. The Patriots have been perilously thin at defensive end all season -- the Derek Rivers injury, Rob Ninkovich retirement and Kony Ealy release had something to do with that -- and are facing a situation where they may have to go deep into their bench just to man the position. If Wise is at all limited, Bill Belichick could be forced to turn to Lee and Geneo Grissom -- both of whom were practice-squad players just a few weeks ago. Rookie defensive tackle Adam Butler could also potentially bump outside; the Patriots worked him there throughout training camp. 

Waddle improving, still questionable: Waddle worked out prior to the Bills game but was deemed unable to go. His ankle injury has improved steadily since then, however. While it's not certain he'll play, he'll have a better shot at getting back onto the field than he did a week ago. Waddle was injured in the fourth quarter of his team's win over the Dolphins in Week 12. Whoever is playing right tackle for the Patriots, whether it's Waddle or Fleming, will have his hands full. Dolphins pass-rusher Cameron Wake typically lines up on that side. 

Something going around the running backs room: Mike Gillislee (illness) was ruled out on Sunday night. He missed Saturday's practice with an illness one day after Dion Lewis missed a practice due to illness. Lewis practiced on Saturday and is expected to be ready for Monday night. Gillislee has been a healthy game-day scratch since the Week 9 bye. 

Pats ready for Dolphins’ cheap shots? ‘Prepare for the worst, hope for the best’

Pats ready for Dolphins’ cheap shots? ‘Prepare for the worst, hope for the best’

FOXBORO -- At some point, it's on the players, isn't it?

When dangerous on-the-field incidents occur, whether it was Rob Gronkowski's hit on Tre'Davious White last Sunday or JuJu Smith-Schuster's block on Vontaze Burfict Monday night, the spotlight really can't be pointed at anyone but the players.

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You could argue officials let a given situation get out of control. You could argue that coaches have a responsibility to teach their players to make better decisions. But when it comes down to it, players have to keep their heads. They have to straddle the line between playing fast, competitive football while trying to abide by a certain set of guidelines to ensure that no one is maimed.

It can be a difficult line to toe. Especially in a game where emotions are flowing, and against a team where there is a history.

For instance, the Patriots know that they have to expect an extra level of physicality from the Dolphins on Monday night.

"It's going to be chippy," Devin McCourty said this week. "Just this time of year everybody is playing for something. You get to after Thanksgiving and you get into December, no one wants to lose anymore. Everyone wants to win games and build and get better. But I think the key is just us keeping our poise, us understanding we're trying to win a game Monday night and just trying to do that and whatever is best for the team and push us forward for us winning the game. I think that just has to be our focus."

The Patriots are aware of the rap sheets on players such as Ndamukong Suh and Kiko Alonso. Some of the hits - hits that came at the echo of the whistle - from their matchup with the Dolphins two weeks ago are still fresh in their minds. That's why, for Bill Belichick's group, an expect-the-worse approach is critical.

"It's definitely one of those games where you have to understand it's one of those 'prepare for the worst, hope for the best' kind of things," said defensive tackle Adam Butler. "You just have to know that something's going to happen. They have several guys on that team that have a history of doing stuff after the whistle, or doing stuff during the echo of the whistle and being on the fence of what's ethical and what's not during a game.

"That's definitely...This will be one of those games where you have to say something's bound to happen. Something's going to happen. We just gotta be prepared to respond the right way."

Especially when responding the wrong way can hurt the team.

"The No. 1 thing that Coach Belichick talks about all the time is having fewer penalties than the other team," Butler added. "I understand that people sometimes do messed-up things. They'll hit you in the throat or hit you in the back of the head. Something messed up like that. But you just gotta grab yourself. Just control yourself."

Self-control may mean different things to different people, especially depending on a player's position on the field. Linemen may be able to get away with something at the bottom of a pile that isn't caught on camera or seen by an official. But if a defensive back lays a questionable hit on a receiver -- particularly on a Monday night -- the country sees it instantaneously.

"You're going out there, you're playing football," said LaAdrian Waddle. "You're hitting the crap out of people. That's just what it is. It's a violent sport. You're in that mode, you gotta move guys. Whatever your job is. It's physical. It's violent. You just gotta use that physicality and that violent nature in a way that's beneficial, that's productive . . .

"You don't want to do anything to hurt the team. You don't want to do anything that can get you suspended or fined. They're fining everybody for everything nowadays. It's stuff like that. You gotta play the game, man. You gotta play the game."

Duron Harmon is a captain with a spotless reputation. From his spot at free safety, he's been able to largely avoid borderline hits over the course of his career. But he explained on Thursday that it's more difficult than it looks when it comes to taking care of vulnerable opponents.

"That's always hard. I mean this is a physical game," he said. "I mean every hit is a quick second. It's hard to decipher if I'm hitting them in the helmet or I'm hitting them in the chest. These guys duck at times. It's just all a part of the game.

"Some collisions you're going to hit the head. You don't want to. You're not trying to but it's just the way the game is. It's so fast-paced and things happen in the blink of an eye. It's hard. All you can do is just try. I mean the rules are going to be the rules, and the rules are to make this game as safe as possible. So, I completely understand that but certain things are just unavoidable."

Harmon added: "You've just got to just try to play the game the right way but fast at the same time, and know that sometimes some collisions are just going to happen. It's just the way the game is. It's football. We all signed up for that. We all know that but at the end of the day it's football."

The sentiment was similar to one of several expressed by Steelers safety Mike Mitchell when he ranted to reporters in Pittsburgh earlier this week.

What Mitchell left out of his comments, though, was an acknowledgment that there is some responsibility on players to do the right thing - difficult as that may be at times.

"There's a line you don't cross," Waddle explained. "I don't think that line's spelled out for you. But you kind of know what things are frowned upon and what things are just part of the game. There are a lot of variables that go into that. A whole lot. Like I said, some stuff is tip-toeing that line. It's kind of a case by case deal. That's how I look at it. Some of that you just chalk it up to football."

What if the equation isn't really as complicated as it seems? What if the line is clear?

If your sole focus is on helping your team win a game, a lot of the issues that plagued the Steelers-Bengals game Monday night can be avoided.

Questionable hits lead to penalties. Penalties lead to yardage for the other team. Yardage leads to points. Points decide games.

Take the morality out of it. Take the long-term health concerns out of it. Look closely enough, and keeping emotions in check can help decide a game.

That alone, McCourty explained, could help players avoid destroying each other. It's an approach the Patriots will take with them in what's sure to be a physical contest in Miami.

"Things happen out there," McCourty said. "It is what it is. But I think as long as we keep the goal of us trying to win and doing what our coaches always harp on us - ‘Do what's best for the team’ - it usually works out well."

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