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.”

Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe miss Friday's practice

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Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe miss Friday's practice

FOXBORO -- It appears the Patriots will be without Stephon Gilmore and Eric Rowe again Sunday. 

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Neither player was seen on the field for the media portion of Friday’s practice, capping a week in which neither Gilmore (concussion) nor Rowe (groin) practiced. Harvey Langi also remained off the field a week after his car accident. 

Assuming the Patriots are without Gilmore and Rowe, a secondary that has struggled this season will face an even bigger challenge against Atlanta’s passing attack Sunday night.
 

Belichick: Patriots preparing for everything from slumping Julio Jones

Belichick: Patriots preparing for everything from slumping Julio Jones

FOXBORO -- Julio Jones: He’s the best, right? No? No touchdowns this season? He stinks? He’s going to score against the Patriots because their defense stinks? Real breakout game for ol’ No. 11 in red? Who knows?! Lmao. 

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I’ll tell you what Bill Belichick knows: That Jones is not a one-dimensional player. While “deep threat” might be the first thing that comes to mind with ol’ No. 11 in red, Belichick said the Patriots are preparing for anything and everything from ol’ No. 11 in red. 

“Yeah, I wouldn’t say [he’s just a deep threat],” Belichick said. “I mean, he catches a lot of in-cuts, a lot of over routes, out routes, the one he caught against us last year. He’s good on catch-and-run plays, he’s hard to tackle, he’s strong, slants, so he’s pretty good on everything. You know, same thing, but I mean, they screened everybody. They screened the backs and the receivers and Gabriel, Jones. I mean, they all can get the ball. They’re not just going to screen to one guy and just key on that guy. They mix it up.”

The Patriots will mix it up with the Falcons Sunday night at Gillette Stadium. Jones has 25 catches for 367 yards on the season.