Patriots

From limited role to covering Julio Jones, Rowe's wild 2016

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From limited role to covering Julio Jones, Rowe's wild 2016

For more than a month, Eric Rowe was a non-factor for this New England Patriots team. Yet on Super Sunday, all signs point to him getting the first crack at All-Pro Julio Jones. What a trip.

“Definitely,” Rowe told me earlier in the week. “For me, it actually started off back in OTAs last year (with Philadelphia). A lot of ups and down there, then getting traded here, trying to figure out my role. Now -- shoot -- we’re in the Super Bowl. It’s real cool.”

Acquired in early September from Philadelphia some 18 months after the Eagles drafted him in the second round, Rowe had a number of obstacles to overcome before he eventually found the field. There was the playbook, some nagging injuries and proving that he did in fact belong. Rowe finally earned that chance against the Bengals in Week 6. What a debut it was. In the second half, Rowe matching up at times 1-on-1 with A.J. Green, limiting him to just one catch and breaking up a touchdown pass in the end zone.

“That was huge for us,” recalled Devin McCourty. “We knew he could play. We’d seen it in practice, but it’s always nice to see it actually happen in a game.”

Green is one of the best receivers in the league. Atlanta’s Jones is the best. Rowe wisely has been bathing in tape, trying to figure out a way to defend the usually indefensible.

“He can do it all,” said Rowe. “The short routes, the intermediate routes, the deep routes. He can run. He’s got long strides. Great route running skills. Great hands. Strong. I mean, you pick it. I’ve seen it all from him on film. We just gotta slow him down.”

Sounds like a tall task, made even taller because Atlanta wisely decided to let Jones hit you from any and everywhere.

“Oh yeah, they’re going to move him around,” said Rowe. “They aren’t going to keep him in one place to make our job easier. He’s going to inside, outside, out wide, in tight. We’ve gotta find him on every play.”

I asked Rowe if there were any similarities between Jones and Green. The biggest takeaway: both are the go-to-guys. But Rowe has had some success against players of that ilk as well. He handled the Jets Brandon Marshall twice, frustrated Demaryius Thomas in Denver, holding him to just 2 catches on 5 targets. And we can’t forget what Rowe did to Green. This will be his greatest challenge yet, but one Rowe is relishing as he returns to the place he grew up.

“It feels great just to go home for a good reason,” he smiled. “I don’t know the odds of playing a Super Bowl in your hometown. They’re like nothing to nothing but it feels great.”

Jaguars beat Seahawks 30-24, take outright lead in AFC South

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Jaguars beat Seahawks 30-24, take outright lead in AFC South

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Blake Bortles threw two perfect passes for touchdowns, Jaydon Mickens set up another score with a 72-yard punt return and the Jacksonville Jaguars beat the Seattle Seahawks 30-24 on Sunday.

The Jaguars (9-4) intercepted three passes by Russell Wilson, including two on deep balls, and won for the sixth time in their last seven games. This victory, coupled with Tennessee's loss at Arizona, moved Jacksonville atop the AFC South.

It's the first time since 2010 that the Jaguars have had the outright division lead this late in a season.

The loss didn't sit well with the Seahawks (8-5), who had two players ejected in the final minute. Defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson was ejected for throwing a punch during a melee that included defensive tackle Michael Bennett and Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette.

More pushing and shoving occurred after the next play, and defensive end Quinton Jefferson was tossed. Jefferson tried to climb into the stands after getting hit with what looked like a plastic bottle. Seattle coach Pete Carroll also got flagged for coming onto the field. Carroll walked into Seattle's huddle, possibly to calm his players down.

The ending did little to ruin Jacksonville's celebration, which had a lot to do with Bortles and the league's top-ranked defense.

Coming off one of the best games of his career, a 30-10 victory against Indianapolis, Bortles was equally efficient and effective against the Seahawks.

Two of his better throws ended up in the end zone. He floated an 18-yarder early in the third quarter to rookie Dede Westbrook, the first for the 2016 Heisman Trophy finalist. Bortles' second one was even better, a deep pass that hit Keelen Cole in stride and went for 75 yards.

Cole's second touchdown in as many weeks came on the ensuing play after Wilson connected with Doug Baldwin for a 26-yard score that tied it at 10.

Jacksonville's third-quarter surge wasn't done. Mickens zigzagged through the middle of Seattle's coverage team and ended up getting stopped at the 1-yard line. Leonard Fournette handled it from there, scoring for the ninth time this season.

That was enough - just barely - for Jacksonville's defense.

Trailing 27-10, Wilson avoided a sack and hit Paul Richardson for a 61-yard score. Down 30-17, Wilson connected with Tyler Lockett for a 74-yarder.

Wilson had a final chance to rally his team, but he failed to convert a fourth-and-9 pass from the Seattle 43.

Fournette iced the victory by gaining 13 yards on a third-and-11 play with less than 2 minutes remaining.

RARE MISTAKES

Wilson's early mistakes left Seattle in a huge hole. It was the first time this season and the fourth time in 105 career games that Wilson threw three interceptions. It was his first game with three or more picks since throwing five against Green Bay in December 2016.

INJURIES

Seahawks: All-everything LB Bobby Wagner left the game in the third quarter with a hamstring injury and did not return. ... LB K.J. Wright (concussion) left the field late in the third quarter and was ruled out. ... RB Mike Davis (ribs) was knocked out briefly but returned.

Jaguars: RB Corey Grant injured his right shoulder while fumbling a kickoff. ... TE Marcedes Lewis jammed a finger on his left hand. ... WR Larry Pinkard left in the second quarter while being evaluated for a concussion and was ruled out at halftime. Jaguars played without speedy LB Telvin Smith (concussion).

UP NEXT

Seahawks: Host the Los Angeles Rams in game that could help determine the NFC West champion.

Jaguars: Wrap up a three-game homestand against Houston.

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.