Patriots

Patriots 34, Texans 16: Game notes

Patriots 34, Texans 16: Game notes

FOXBORO -- Notes from the Patriots' 34-16 Divisional Round playoff victory over the Texans, courtesy of the Pats' P.R. department:

PATRIOTS 34, TEXANS 16

TEAM NOTES
Sweet Six: The Patriots advanced to their sixth straight AFC Championship Game, setting an NFL record for consecutive conference championship appearances. They had been tied with the 1973-77 Raiders at five.

Lucky Thirteen? This will be the Patriots' 13th appearance in the conference championship game. They are 8-4 in their previous 12 games, including 5-1 in Foxboro and 4-1 at Gillette Stadium.

Top Five: The Patriots have now won 30 postseason games, one of only five teams in NFL history to do so. The others are the Steelers (35), Cowboys (34), Packers (33) and 49ers (30).

Record Advancement: The Patriots have now won at least one postseason game in six consecutive seasons, tying the 1991-96 Cowboys for most consecutive years advancing in the playoffs.

Home cooking: The Patriots are now 19-4 (.826) in home playoff games, the second-best home playoff record in NFL history among teams that have played at least 10 home playoffs. (Seattle is first at 12-2, .857.) The Pats are 15-3 in playoff games at Gillette Stadium.

INDIVIDUAL NOTES
Passing Landry: Bill Belichick will coach his 11th conference championship game next week, most in NFL history. He had been tied with legendary Cowboys coach Tom Landry at 10.

Approaching Landry . . . and Shula: Landry and ex-Colts/Dolphins coach Don Shula share the NFL record for most postseason games coaches at 36. Belichick now has coached in 34, and will tie them if the Patriots advance to the Super Bowl.

He's Number One: Brady will play in his 11th conference championship next week, most in NFL history. He had been tied with ex-Raiders Gene Upshaw and George Blanda at 10.

He's Tied At Number One: Brady played in his 13th Divisional Round playoff game, tying Jerry Rice for the NFL record for most appearances in the Divisional Round.

Catching History: With eight catches (for 137 yards), Julian Edelman (76) passed Wes Welker (69) to become the Patriots' all-time leader in playoff receptions. He also moved into second on the Patriots list with 819 receiving yards in the postseason, 33 yards behind the all-time leader Deion Branch (852).

Moving up: Edelman passed Art Monk (69), Anquan Boldin (70), Fred Biletnikoff (70) and Cliff Branch (73) to move into a tie for seventh place with Thurman Thomas on the all-time postseason reception list in NFL history.

Third time's the charm: Edelman had his third 100-yard postseason game.

Making his points: Stephen Gostkowski's 10 points in Saturday night's game gives him 142 career postseason points, good for fourth place on the all-time NFL list. He had been tied with Rice at 132.

A first: As noted elsewhere, Dion Lewis is the first player in NFL postseason history to have a rushing TD, receiving TD and kickoff return for a touchdown in a single game.

Another first: Lewis became the first player in Patriots history to return a kickoff for a touchdown in a postseason game.

 

With Butler's departure inevitable, Patriots' corner search is on

With Butler's departure inevitable, Patriots' corner search is on

Before free agency kicks off, and before we dissect the top college prospects entering this year's draft, we're taking a look at the Patriots on a position-by-position basis to provide you with an offseason primer of sorts. We'll be analyzing how the Patriots performed in 2017 at the position in question, who's under contract, how badly the team needs to add talent at that spot, and how exactly Bill Belichick might go about adding that talent. Today, we're looking at the position group that received more attention than any other during Super Bowl 52: Cornerback. 

OTHER ENTRIES IN THE SERIES

HOW THEY PERFORMED


No single position group experienced as many dips, climbs and dives as Patriots corners did during their rollercoaster season. In September alone, the communication was a mess, Malcolm Butler got benched, Stephon Gilmore got benched, and Eric Rowe suffered a serious groin injury that allowed Gilmore to quickly get his job back. Second-year special teams standout Jonathan Jones might've been the team's best cover man at that juncture. Then, as soon as Gilmore started to find his footing, he was diagnosed with a concussion. The group started to put it together in the second half with solid performances against the Raiders in Mexico City and the Bills in Buffalo. Gilmore was particularly strong as the season wore on, showing the man-to-man cover skills and the knack for getting his hands on footballs that made him one of the highest-paid players at his position last offseason. But in the end, in the Super Bowl, with Butler benched again, the group (outside of Gilmore, who played well against Philly) had too many letdowns in what was arguably the team's worst defensive performance of the season.

WHO IS UNDER CONTRACT FOR 2018?
Gilmore, Rowe, Jones, Cyrus Jones, Ryan Lewis, Jomal Wiltz

WHO ISN'T?
Butler, Johnson Bademosi

HOW DIRE IS THE NEED?

The Patriots played Rowe in prominent roles in each of the past two Super Bowls and he seems to be first in line to take over No. 2 duties with Butler certainly headed on to a new chapter in his career. Jonathan Jones showed in spurts that he could be an effective slot corner, but he suffered a season-ending injury in the Divisional Round and it's unclear what the Patriots will be expecting from him in 2018. Cyrus Jones is coming off of a torn ACL, and even before his injury, it looked like he may have a hard time cracking the regular rotation. This is one position -  like tackle  - that the Patriots don't want to be left thin. If we had to rank it, the need for another capable body would probably come in at about a 7 out of 10. 

WHAT'S AVAILABLE IN FREE AGENCY?


There are a handful of relatively big names who will be on the market come March, including Butler. Trumaine Johnson of the Rams figures to be at the top of the class. Vontae Davis of the Colts is 29 and often injured, but in a corner-needy league, he shouldn't have much trouble finding a team. EJ Gains of the Bills could leverage his inside-out versatility to come away with a deal worth almost $10 million per year. Aaron Colvin of the Jaguars, Patrick Robinson of the Eagles, Nickell Robey-Coleman of the Rams and Leonard Johnson of the Bills give teams in need of slot help some options. Kyle Fuller of the Bears and Morris Claiborne of the Jets are two former first-rounders who've had up-and-down careers but showed last season they have still value on the outside. 

WHAT'S AVAILABLE IN THE DRAFT?

It feels like the best athletes at the high school and college levels are getting smarter. Or their coaches are. Once again, there's a deep group of athletes peppering the incoming draft class at corner, which is, of course, one of the highest-paying positions in football. (Why so many top-tier athletes are still playing running back, on the other hand, is beyond me.) Alabama's hybrid star in the secondary Minkah Fitzpatrick will be long gone by the time the Patriots pick. Same goes for Ohio State's undersized burner Denzel Ward and Iowa's ball-hawking 6-foot-1 cover man Josh Jackson, in all likelihood. At the bottom of the first round, though, players like Auburn's Carlton Davis (who has drawn comparisons to Richard Sherman because of his length and ball skills) and Colorado's Isaiah Oliver (a one-time Pac-12 decathlete with a 6-foot-1 frame) could be available. Would the Patriots want to invest a first-round pick at that spot? If they feel like they have good depth at the position already on the roster but want to take a flier on a mid-round selection, they could hope Louisville's Jaire Alexander (who dealt with injuries in 2017 that will probably hurt his draft stock) lasts into the third round. 

HOW CAN THE PATRIOTS ADDRESS IT?


One name that's sort of intriguing on the free-agency market is Davis'. You've heard tales similar players ending up in New England before. He's spent the majority of his career without much of a shot at a title - though his Colts made the AFC Championship Game in the 2014 season. He should be low-cost. He had season-ending groin surgery last year, was released in November and went unclaimed. He'll be 30 before the start of next season, but he may be worth a roll of the dice to help a relatively young Patriots secondary. If he doesn't pan out, no harm done. Hard to envision Belichick and Nick Caserio investing big money into this position with Gilmore on the roster, but maybe they'll deem one of the free-agent slot options worth a shot if he's cost-effective. Otherwise, the Patriots may try to take advantage of a draft that seems - at least right now - as if it's deeper at corner than it is at some other spots on the defensive side of the ball, like on the edge.

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Report: James Harrison could return to Patriots

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File Photo

Report: James Harrison could return to Patriots

James Harrison was a larger than life figure during his time in Pittsburgh. 

It was as if God molded him to be a member of the Steelers: massive, physical, and an absolute bruiser.

But at the end of the day he is a football player. And athletes in this sport don't particuarly like time on the bench.

Mike Tomlin and the rest of the Steelers organization were reminded of this fact in a very harsh manner.

At the end of the December, Harrison made a late season move to sign with the Patriots. It left his former teammates in Pittsburgh frustrated, and his former fans confused.

But at the end of the day he just wanted to be on the football field again. And that's exactly where Belichick put him.

Harrison had the opportunity to appear in many more situations, and had several sacks at the end of the season.

Now there is a new report from Christopher Price of the Boston Sports Journal that he could re-sign with the Patriots in 2018.

A source close to Price and Harrison said "there's a reasonable chance" that he could be on the roster next year.

He will be playing this upcoming season at age 40, and has previously stated he'd like to play one or two more seasons.

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