Patriots

Tom Brady on pace to dwarf deep-ball passing numbers from 2016

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Tom Brady on pace to dwarf deep-ball passing numbers from 2016

FOXBORO -- When the Patriots traded their first-round pick in the 2017 draft for Brandin Cooks, they gave Tom Brady one of the most productive deep-ball receivers in the NFL over the course of the last few seasons. 

The Cooks acquisition not only made the Patriots offense more versatile, it also may have signaled an acknowledgement that the team needed more pass-catchers who could produce down the field and outside the numbers.

In the playoffs last season, against Houston's and Atlanta's defenses -- both of which were effective at times in taking away the short-to-intermediate areas of the field -- the Patriots could have benefited from someone like Cooks. In both games, the Patriots were able to hit on throws deep and on the outside in critical moments with likes of Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell. 

Now after three weeks, and after having faced two defenses in Houston's and Kansas City's that were intent on packing the middle of the field with defenders, it's clear that the move to grab Cooks is paying dividends. 

In Sunday's win over the Texans, 36-33, Brady threw eight passes that traveled at least 20 yards in the air, and he completed five for 185 yards and three scores, according to Pro Football Focus. On the season, Brady leads the league with 22 attempts of 20 yards or more, per PFF. He's completed 11 of those for 368 yards and four touchdowns. His passer rating on deep attempts (135.4) is second in the league. 

Compare that to last season's totals for Brady on deep passes -- 23 completions for 834 yards and eight touchdowns -- and he's on pace to blow those numbers away. Whereas he only attempted deep passes on just over 11 percent of his throws last season, according to PFF, so far this year one in every five of his throws is traveling 20 yards or more.

The biggest beneficiary of the new approach? Cooks, of course, who Brady has dubbed "Cookie." 

PFF says Cooks is leading the league in deep-ball receiving through three weeks, with 187 yards on five deep catches. Three of those came on Sunday and they resulted in 111 yards and two scores. In Week 1, Cooks had three catches for 88 yards -- including a 54-yarder -- and he drew three penalties that resulted in an additional 38 yards. In Week 2, Cooks had two catches for 37 yards -- including a 22-yarder.

Last year? The leading receiver for the Patriots on passes that traveled 20 yards or more was Hogan (10 catches for 397 yards). 

One more indication that the Patriots offense has shifted with Cooks in and Edelman sidelined: Cooks leads the NFL in yards per catch through three games (25.6 yards per reception), while Danny Amendola (16.4 yards per reception, seventh) and Rob Gronkowski (14.9, 13th) are all found among the league leaders in that category.  

Opposing defenses may continue to play the Patriots as the Texans and Chiefs did this season: Flood the middle of the field and pressure Brady with just three or four linemen. They may be content with allowing Brady to attempt lower-percentage throws down the field as opposed to letting him slice them up with shorter tosses. 

It worked well enough for the Chiefs to win, and it nearly worked well enough for the Texans. Perhaps "the blueprint" is still the blueprint. But with the addition to Cooks, Brady and the Patriots have proven that they've evolved to more efficiently combat those schemes.

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Doctors believe Carson Wentz has torn ACL

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Doctors believe Carson Wentz has torn ACL

LOS ANGELES - Two sources familiar with the injury tell The Associated Press that doctors believe Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz tore his left anterior cruciate ligament in a win over the Rams on Sunday and will miss the rest of the season and playoffs.

Wentz, a favorite in the NFL MVP race, will have an MRI on Monday to confirm the severity of the injury. Both people spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to release the information. Wentz left the stadium on a cart with a brace on his left leg.

"I don't know anything until we evaluate him (Monday)," Eagles coach Doug Pederson said.

Wentz was hurt late in the third quarter of Philadelphia's 43-35 comeback win at Los Angeles . Backup Nick Foles rallied the Eagles (11-2) to a win that secured the NFC East title and put them in first place in the conference with three games remaining.

"Everyone is really excited about the win but you have your starting quarterback go down, it's emotional," Foles said. "It's emotional for me. I work with him every day so I'm dealing with that."

Wentz was hit hard as he scrambled into the end zone on a play that was called back because of holding. He stayed in the game and threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to Alshon Jeffery four plays later , setting the franchise record for most TD passes in a season with 33.

"It shows how tough he is," Pederson said.

Foles replaced Wentz the next drive after the Rams took a 35-31 lead. He led the Eagles to a pair of field goals on consecutive drives. Second-year pro Nate Sudfeld is Philadelphia's No. 3 quarterback.

Wentz arrived in Philadelphia as the No. 2 pick in the 2016 draft out of North Dakota State. On Sunday, he dueled with Rams quarterback Jared Goff, the No. 1 pick in that draft.

After starting all 16 games as a rookie, Wentz made a giant leap this season. He passed for 3,296 yards and only seven interceptions to go with those 33 TDs.

Despite the injury, Wentz stayed in the locker room to greet teammates after the victory over the Rams (9-4).

After the game, Wentz's left knee was wrapped in a brace. He was driven in a cart up the tunnel at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and then hobbled to one of the team buses

"He's one of the leaders on the team. He was there congratulating and celebrating with everyone," Foles said.

Foles, a third-round pick by former Eagles coach Andy Reid in 2012, is in his second stint in Philadelphia. He replaced an injured Michael Vick in 2013 and led the Eagles to an NFC East title during Chip Kelly's first season as coach. Foles tied an NFL record with seven TD passes in a game at Oakland in November 2013 and finished that season with 27 TDs and only two picks. The Eagles lost at home to New Orleans in the playoffs. Foles went to the Pro Bowl and was the offensive MVP.

But Kelly traded Foles to St. Louis for Sam Bradford after the 2014 season. Foles spent a year with the Rams, a season with the Chiefs and returned to Philadelphia as a free agent this season.

"I'm absolutely ready to go - need be," Foles said. "I prepare every day."

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