First impressions: Lewis carries load in Patriots' division-clinching 16-3 win over Broncos

First impressions: Lewis carries load in Patriots' division-clinching 16-3 win over Broncos

Here are some quick-hit first impressions of the Patriots' 16-3 victory over the Broncos on Sunday . . . 


* Surprise: It was Dion Lewis, not LeGarrette Blount, who shouldered the load for the Patriots against Denver's porous run defense. Lewis saw a career-high 18 carries for 95 yards, and he also caught two passes for nine yards, leading the team in touches with 20. It was the most touches Lewis has seen in a single game in his career, surpassing the 19 (15 carries, four catches) he saw in Week 1 of 2015. His previous season-high for touches was 10, which he recorded against the Jets in Week 11.

* Lewis clearly looks to be at full strength after beginning the season on the physically unable to perform list. He hit holes with speed and didn't need much space to create positive play. On one 14-yard run, it seemed as though Lewis was a shoe-string tackle away from a long touchdown, and the 5-foot-8, 195-pounder even moved the pile at times, finishing his runs with power. Lewis fumbled near the goal line in the second quarter but he recovered the loose ball, and had the play been reviewed, he would have been given a touchdown because he broke the plane of the goal line. One play later, Blount was into the end zone for his franchise record 15th rushing touchdown of the season.

* Blount had a down day running the football, unable to find the same type of running room that Lewis enjoyed. The 250-pounder carried 17 times for 31 yards, a season-low, giving him his worst yards-per-carry mark since he ran 18 times for 37 yards in a win over the Browns in Week 5. 

* Tom Brady finished 16-for-32 for 188 yards, no touchdowns, no interceptions, and he was sacked twice for a 68.2 quarterback rating. He began the game without a completion on his first six attempts. It was Brady's lowest rating in a win since a Week 14 win over the Bills in 2009 (59.1).

* Brady was not helped by his teammates at times as they dropped four passes combined. On the team's final drive of the third quarter, Chris Hogan had his first drop of the season on third down, forcing a Ryan Allen punt. Julian Edelman dropped a pair while James White let one bounce off of his chest. 

* Edelman (six grabs, 75 yards) continued to be Brady's most reliable target, showing toughness as he absorbed hits both in the passing game and as a punt-returner. He reeled in one toe-tapping catch near the right sideline in the second quarter when Brady lofted a pass into double-coverage. Edelman also picked up a hard-charding first down through contact later in the quarter and picked up another fresh set of downs in the third after taking a hard hit over the middle that sent him to the sidelines. 

* Staying away from talented Broncos corners Aqib Talib and Chris Harris, Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell saw just three targets total. They each had one catch and combined for 32 yards. James White saw eight targets and Martellus Bennett saw four. 

Reports: Patriots among NFL teams taking a look at Manziel

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Reports: Patriots among NFL teams taking a look at Manziel

Johnny Manziel said 10 days ago, "I'd go to New England in a heartbeat," when asked about the Patriots as a potential landing spot.

That seemed like wishful thinking at the time, but they're taking a look at him...along with 12 other NFL teams, according to ESPN's Eric Williams. 

Tom Brady's current backup Brian Hoyer is, like Manziel, an ex-Cleveland Browns quarterback. Manziel would again be competing with Hoyer for the Pats' No. 2 job should New England take a chance on "Johnny Football", the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner from Texas A&M, who's been out of football the past two years because of substance abuse and emotional problems.

FOX Sports' Bruce Feldman had it at 12 teams watching Manziel work out at the University of San Diego and said the Patriots gave Manziel a weigh-in.


Patriots re-sign offensive tackle LaAdrian Waddle

Patriots re-sign offensive tackle LaAdrian Waddle

The Patriots have agreed to re-sign offensive lineman LaAdrian Waddle, his agent Scott Casterline confirmed on Twitter.  Waddle hit unrestricted free agency when the new league year began and made a visit to the Cowboys earlier this week. In the end, though, he chose to return to the team that claimed him off of waivers at the end of the 2015 season.

Waddle, who turns 27 in July, appeared in 12 games last season for the Patriots. He was the first right tackle the Patriots turned to when Marcus Cannon suffered an ankle injury mid-season against the Chargers. He ended up playing 51 snaps against the likes of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram without allowing a sack. He then started the next three games against the Broncos, Raiders and Dolphins and held star rushers Von Miller, Khalil Mack and Cameron Wake -- all of whom rush primarily off of the offensive right -- without a sack. 

Injuries forced Waddle (380 snaps on the season) to split the right tackle position with Cameron Fleming (543 snaps), but he was the primary backup when healthy. Waddle started the Divisional Round playoff game against the Titans but suffered a knee injury and was removed for Fleming. 

Both Fleming and Waddle visited the Cowboys this week, and the fact that Waddle has re-signed with the Patriots may impact Fleming's decision moving forward. 

The Patriots went to great lengths to build tackle depth last season, and adding Waddle to the roster helps them retain some of that depth after losing their left tackle, Nate Solder, to the Giants via free agency. Waddle could be an option on the left side, but the vast majority of his work since entering the league as an undrafted rookie in 2013 has been on the right side. 

The Patriots now have Fleming, Marcus Cannon, Cole Croston, Tony Garcia and Andrew Jelks on their depth chart at tackle. Croston, Garcia and Jelks are all headed into their second years as pros. Croston remained on the 53-man roster all season -- an indication that the Patriots liked him enough not to expose him to the waiver system -- but did not see meaningful snaps. Garcia and Jelks both missed the entirety of the 2017 season on reserve lists. 

Once the Patriots lost Solder to the Giants, it seemed to be of paramount importance that the Patriots re-sign either Waddle or Fleming. Behind Cannon, there were simply too many question marks not to have one return. The Patriots could opt to draft a tackle, but this is considered an average year at that position in that there are few ready-made NFL players and several developmental types.

Before the Super Bowl last season, I asked offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia how the team was able to manage offensively with backups at right tackle for much of the season. 

"It's not like [Fleming and Waddle are] not good players," Scarnecchia said. "They are good players. Their skill set seemed to fit that position pretty well. They have the traits that we covet. And they're both really smart guys, very willing learners, and they're both driven to be good and they want to play good. And I think all those things have manifested themselves when they've been out there playing. And we've been very, very pleased with what they've done for us this year, essentially splitting that position."

Asked about the aspects of the game the Patriots worked on with both Waddle and Fleming last year, Scarnecchia said, "For us it transcends everything. Obviously run-blocking and pass-blocking. They're both good at those things. Are they great at those things? No. But they've been able to steadily improve over the last two years to the point where we put them out there and no one's worried. And it's been that way the whole season after Marcus got hurt. Yeah they've done a nice job for us."