Patriots

Five takeaways from Patriots-Texans: All-purpose backs Burkhead, Lewis look sharp

Five takeaways from Patriots-Texans: All-purpose backs Burkhead, Lewis look sharp

HOUSTON -- We'll have plenty of analysis and reporting from the Patriots and Texans locker rooms later, but here are five quick-hit takeaways from Saturday's preseason matchup at NRG Stadium . . . 

1. ALL-PURPOSE BACKS COULD BE HEADACHES FOR OPPOSING DEFENSES

Rex Burkhead and Dion Lewis both looked quick on their feet and showed off their well-rounded games against Houston's defense. Burkhead finished with seven carries for 20 yards and caught three passes for 50 yards, including a 22-yard touchdown where he freed himself from linebacker Zach Cunningham with a nifty move over the middle of the field. Burkhead also showed up in pass protection. Lewis, meanwhile, had seven carries for 34 yards and caught one pass for nine yards. He also returned a kick for 29 yards, flashing his impressive burst and vision. Both players have value as between-the-tackle runners and receivers and seem to be ideal fits for the Patriots offense when they run their hurry-up. Should Josh McDaniels break out his "pony" formation, using both players in the backfield, it could be a nightmare for opposing defenses this year. Keep them in the backfield? Flex them out wide and hope to get linebackers on them in coverage? Their versatility gives the Patriots all kinds of options, and with Mike Gillislee still out injured, both had plenty of opportunities to play on Saturday. 

MORE: Gronkowski takes the field vs. Texans for first preseason action since 2012

2. GOSTKOWSKI ON THE MARK

Stephen Gostkowski hit all three field goals he attempted as well as all three of his extra-point attempts. He shanked a 56-yarder last week against the Jaguars, but he was on point against the Texans, making kicks of 51, 42 and 38 yards. 

3. ROBERTS CARTED OFF, FURTHER THINNING FRONT-SEVEN

The Patriots are already dealing with a number of injuries to their front-seven and they suffered another on Saturday. While in coverage of running back D'Onta Foreman on a slant, Elandon Roberts collided with teammate Jonathan Freeny and stayed down. He was eventually carted from the sideline area with what the team announced as a rib injury. Should Roberts miss significant time, the Patriots would be left with David Harris, Kyle Van Noy and Freeny as their primary off-the-ball 'backers. Shea McClellin and Dont'a Hightower (PUP) figure to play big roles when healthy, but they have not been available for some time. Second-year player out of Maine Trevor Bates and undrafted rookie out of BYU Harvey Langi have both been utilized as linebackers of late. 

4. GAROPPOLO TURNS IT OVER TWICE UNDER PRESSURE

Jimmy Garoppolo got plenty of work in preseason game No. 2, subbing in for Tom Brady after Brady saw 17 snaps. It was not the clean-and-tidy performance he put together against the Jags last week. He missed two throws on his first two drives, he was the victim of a strip-sack when Tony Washington charged completely unblocked into the Patriots backfield, and he was picked by Denzel Rice when he rolled out to his right and threw high on the run to Jacob Hollister. That play looked like the type of throw Garoppolo made more regularly in training camp earlier this summer when interceptions in practice were an issue. 

5. NO SIGN OF FLOWERS

It's worth keeping an eye on Trey Flowers' availability moving forward. He did not see any playing time on Saturday despite being the team's top defensive end. Perhaps it was simply a way for Bill Belichick and his staff to ensure they didn't lose another defensive end to injury. They're hurting at that spot with rookies Derek Rivers (knee) and Deatrich Wise (head) dealing with injuries. 

Amendola the definition of a good football player for Belichick, Patriots

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Amendola the definition of a good football player for Belichick, Patriots

FOXBORO -- When it was over and an army of reporters and photographers in vests flooded the Gillette Stadium turf, Tom Brady was engulfed. Danny Amendola, meanwhile, was on the periphery, about 30 yards away from the 6-foot-4 eye of the storm, talking to one man with one microphone. 

Amendola slowly worked his way toward the middle of the field, and after a few minutes he eventually met up with Brady at the bottom of the steps of a makeshift stage. Before they both stepped up to address the more than 70,000 people in attendance, they laughed. It was their longest-developing connection of the night. 

"It means a lot, man," he told CBS' Jim Nantz moments later. "We put a lot of hard work into each week of the season and coming out here and getting a win each week. And we love playing at home, we love being in Foxboro, and we love you."

In that instant, Patriots fans of all types were probably returning the sentiment en masse. Amendola had just reeled in seven grabs for 84 yards and two scores, both of which came in the fourth quarter. The second put the Patriots ahead for the first time all night and gave them a 24-20 victory over the Jaguars to advance to Super Bowl LII. 

"I’m going to enjoy it tonight, I know that," Amendola said. "We know what to expect. A lot of guys in this room have been in a situation like that before. We know what’s it’s going to take to get the work done the week of. We know what the expectations are, we know what the media are going to be like and we’re going to be ready."

With Rob Gronkowski out due to a head injury suffered in the second quarter, and with Julian Edelman long gone for the season, Amendola came into focus as Brady's top target, especially in critical situations. 

There was the fourth-down conversion in the first quarter that led to a field goal. There was the third-and-18 completion with 10:49 left that kept New England's first fourth-quarter scoring drive alive. And there were the two touchdowns, a nine-yarder with just under nine minutes remaining and a toe-tapping four-yarder along the back end zone to take the lead with 2:48 to go. 

"Yeah, it was great," Brady said of Amendola's game-winner. "He’s made so many big catches, and I saw he got the one foot in and I just saw it up on the big screen one time. He’s got great hands and just a great sense about where he’s at on the field. So, I mean, he’s made so many big plays for us, and this was huge, and without that, we don’t win. It was an incredible play."

The Patriots work on those specific types of plays going all the way back to the spring, according to players. And in training camp, during practice sessions that are open to the public, some of the most engaging periods involve watching Patriots receivers catch touchdowns along the back end line from Brady. 

"These are situations that we practice," said receiver and special teams ace Matthew Slater. "Red-area scramble. Red-area situations. Back of the end zone, ball high. Front of the end zone, ball low. We work this. We practice this. To be able to come out and execute it at the most critical times of the season, it started in OTAs and now presents itself when we need it the most. I think preparation and execution really came together at the right time for us today."

Amendola had just three touches -- including a three-yard run -- in the first half. Jacksonville's defense was swarming, and the shallow middle portion of the field seemed to be a no-go for the Patriots offense. His first touch of the second half was a throw that he completed to Dion Lewis on a double-pass. Then, when he caught the third-and-18 sinking fastball from Brady, the seal was broken. Amendola was targeted six more times the rest of the way and caught four. 

One was a wild throw from Brady, high and a touch wide, to Amendola to pick up 14 yards and a first down. It was one of multiple athletic grabs from the 32-year-old in the game. 

"“The guy’s got maybe the best hand-eye coordination of any player I’ve ever played with," Slater said. "And I played with Randy Moss. His hand-eye coordination is elite. How do you measure that? You can't. It's just an in-game thing. I don't know. He's just so reliable, so consistent. And I think it just says so much about his character."

Bill Belichick raved about Amendola's game, which he did just over a week ago after Amendola had 11 catches for 112 yards against the Titans in the Divisional Round. Not only did Amendola catch it well, Belichick explained, but he had a key punt return as well. 

With 4:58 remaining in the game and the Patriots down 20-17, Amendola brought a punt back 20 yards to put the Patriots in field goal range. Three plays later, Amendola was in the end zone and they didn't need a kick. 

"Danny's a tremendous competitor, made some big plays for us," Belichick said. "I thought, as usual, he handled the punts great, and he had the last punt return that really set us up for the final touchdown. 

"Danny's such a good football player. When you look up ‘good football player’ in the dictionary his picture is right there beside it. It doesn’t matter what it is. Fielding punts, third down, big play, red area, onside kick recovery -- whatever we need him to do. He’s just a tremendous player, very instinctive, tough, great concentration. He had some big plays for us today."

He seems to have a knack for that this time of year.

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Sooner or later, the Patriots will cut you down

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Sooner or later, the Patriots will cut you down

FOXBORO – Somewhere in Jacksonville, there had to be a whiteboard drawn up with the following “MUST DOS!!” on it.

Control Rob Gronkowski.

Control Dion Lewis.

Win turnover battle.

Convert third downs.

Stop Tom Brady on third down.

Win time of possession.

Run football.

Stop the run.

Convert in red zone.

Get brilliance from Blake Bortles.

When the Jaguars return to Jacksonville, they will look at this hypothetical whiteboard.  They’ll see that they checked every … single … box. Even the last one. Then they will clean out their lockers and go home for the season.

The Jaguars – who had an upset for the ages in their hands until they realized it was too hot to hold – will have to grapple with how they let it get away.

They will never accept that they weren’t a better team on this day. They don’t have to. But they will have to accept that they got beat. This was one of those stealth assassinations by the Patriots – a blowdart in the back of the neck from behind a bush 200 feet away.

The Jaguars will watch another Super Bowl. Like the Lions, Browns, and Texans, they still don’t know what it’s like. The Patriots are headed to their eighth Super Bowl of the Brady-Belichick Era. That means 15 percent of all Super Bowls will have included those two. Twenty-one percent of all Super Bowls will have featured Belichick on the sidelines (nine with New England and two with the Giants).

Even Tom Coughlin couldn’t save the Jaguars from the inevitable Brady’ing they got in the fourth quarter  Sunday evening.

Watching Brady bring the Patriots back from a 20-10 deficit without Gronk over the last 15 minutes was like watching the MacGyver disarm a bomb before the orphanage blew up.

Even after the wires sparked (Lewis getting stripped by Myles Jack with 13:53 left). Even after he dropped his wrench (a sack and an incompletion bringing up third-and-18 with 10:49 left). Even after the lights went out (forced to punt with six minutes left, still trailing by three). You knew, I knew, the Jaguars knew and America knew how it would end.

With kneeldowns and confetti and the Patriots heading to Super Bowl 52. With another local opportunity to produce odes and t-shirts commemorating the grit, preparation and resourcefulness that New England loves and makes the rest of the country want to punch itself in the face.

The Jaguars, with their Pro Bowl corners Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye, their Defensive Player of the Year candidate Calais Campbell, their $90M defensive lineman Malik Jackson, a defensive end taken third-overall in 2015 (Dante Fowler) and two rocket-fueled linebackers (Myles Jack and Telvin Smith), got outfoxed by Danny Amendola.

Undrafted, 32-year-old Danny Amendola, noted for annual pay cuts, a lengthy injury history, a modeling contract and a narrow-frame that hasn’t been acceptable by NFL standards since the 1970s.

A player that was dismissed before he began in New England, mocked after once he did begin and lamented even after that.

Danny Amendola was the Robin to Brady’s Batman this time, catching five passes for 56 yards and two touchdowns and returning a punt 20 yards over an eight-minute span that brought the Patriots from down 20-10 to ahead 24-20.

It was Amendola and Brandin Cooks – a player maligned this year in a way similar to what Amendola once got – carrying the Patriots after their Hall of Fame-bound tight end that got knocked out with a concussion in the second quarter.

This will be the kind of game Jaguars fans will have to watch a dozen times before they finally see the tiny things that caused them to lose. Because the numbers sure don’t show it. Gronk caught one pass for 21 yards. The Jags were 6 for 15 on third down and the Patriots were 3 for 12. The Patriots had the game’s only turnover.

The Jaguars scored touchdowns on both red zone trips. The Patriots ran for 46 yards while the Jags ran for 101 (and 18 of those Patriots yards came on one run in clock-killing mode). The Jags had the ball 10 minutes longer than the Patriots and Bortles went 23 for 36 for 293.

But the Jags mismanaged the clock before the half. In a three-play span just before halftime, they took three penalties. One of them was a delay of game after a Patriots time out. Moronic. The clock stoppages and penalties gave the ball back to New England and the Patriots – predictably – got a touchdown before the break instead of the Jags being able to double up possessions going into the half and coming out.

Meanwhile, a Jags coaching staff that probably figured it would be playing from behind and trying to keep the ball away from New England, didn’t adjust to the flow of the game and take what the Patriots were giving – miles of open space in the secondary.

The Jags kept running into the middle of the Patriots defense on first down – Leonard Fournette looked like the drunk guy at the barbeque who keeps walking into the slider.

In the second half, this is what Jacksonville did on first down while it had the lead: Fournette for 2, Fournette for 1, Fournette for 3, incomplete, Fournette for 0, FLEA FLICKER for 15-yard completion! Fournette for 2, Fournette for 14, incomplete, Fournette for 2, Fournette for 1, Fournette for 1, Fournette for -1.

Think about that for a second. The Jaguars had the Patriots on the run. Gronk was down. Julian Edelman never played. Donta Hightower never played. They’d taken the running backs away on the ground and in the air. The 40-year-old quarterback was playing with a gash in his hand. Both Patriots coordinators have a foot out the door on their way to new coaching gigs. Bortles was playing like Aaron Rodgers. And they ran 10 dive plays, a flea flicker and threw two incompletions on the first 13 first down plays they ran in the second half.


That’s just asking for the result they got. If you steal a lead against the Patriots, you don’t hide in the closet and hope they don’t come looking for you there.

They always look in the closet.


And they always get you. In the end, they always get you.


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