Patriots-Redskins: What to expect this afternoon


Patriots-Redskins: What to expect this afternoon

What I'm looking for today as the New England Patriots host the Washington Redskins at Gillette Stadium:

1) The Redskins secondary is beat up. D'Angelo Hall is not likely to play. Their best corner, Bashaud Breeland, has a bad hamstring and will try to gut it out (although he first may need to convince trainers he can go). Another corner, Chris Culliver, has a sore knee and is in the same predicament as Breeland. Couple that with a pair of safeties in Dashon Goldson and Trenton Robinson who haven't been average this season, and it's easy to see Tom Brady doing what he's done every week: Going for 300 yards, if that's the route the Pats choose.

2) Of course the Pats could attack the Redskins between the tackles as well, with injuries playing a role there. Terrance "Pot Roast" Knighton didn't make the trip to Foxboro. He's dealing with something called cluster headaches, which are debillitating. Knighton hasn't been playing great football this year. He's been merely average. But he's the 'Skins starting nose tackle and his absence could force Jason Hatcher to a more prominent role over rookie center David Andrews. Hatcher is better suited as a defensive end either over the tackle or shaded betwen the tackle/guard gap. He might get lost on the interior. So that could entice the Pats to finally unleash LeGarrette Blount, though I'm still of the opinion that every game should be a Dion Lewis game until he proves otherwise.

3) There's also the matter of the Pats' offensive line. I expect Andrews to remain at center despite the activation of last year's man in the middle, Bryan Stork. Stork got work at guard this week in practice and it seems a smart decision to let him stay there for now, especially with Tre' Jackson out this week and Shaq Mason also recovering from a knee injury that's kept him sidelined the last two games. This is an area the Pats can ill-afford any more injuries, having placed Ryan Wendell on season-ending IR yesterday (where he joins starting left tackle Nate Solder). The third tackle would seem to be TE Michael Williams, who played tackle with Detroit before being dealt to New England.

4) If you're buying on Chandler Jones and his breakout performance this year, his matchup with Redskins left tackle Trent Williams is one to watch. Williams is a top-3 left tackle in my book, and elite as a pass blocker.

5) Little bit different of a test for the Pats secondary. DeSean Jackson is expected to play, and he is a straight burner with a big-play resume. To me, he's the guy I keep a body over the top of, and take my chances being physical with the other wideout, Pierre Garcon. The Redskins' best threat in the passing game is tight end Jordan Reed, at least when he's healthy. He is for this game, but he's been brittle. If the Pats are without LB Jamie Collins, who showed up as questionable on the injury report with illness yesterday, Matt Patricia's defense loses someone who could give Reed a different look, with the size and speed to run with Reed. Pat Chung, who's played his best football as a Patriot in the last month, surrenders 3 inches and 25 pounds to Reed.

6) Lastly, I love Ryan Kerrigan, the Redskins hybrid LB/DE. He got off to a fast start this year but has been quieter in recent weeks, and then broke his hand versus the Buccaneers two weeks ago and couldn't finish the game. One of the things that makes Kerrigan so impressive is how well he uses his hands both as a pass rusher and in the run game, disengaging from blockers. If he's casted up, or wrapped up, as you would expect him to be, I would think that would be a big deterrent on Kerrigan reaching the levels he's capable of reaching.

Bortles silencing critics while earning respect from teammates, Patriots

Bortles silencing critics while earning respect from teammates, Patriots

Blake Bortles doesn’t care that you think he sucks. Why should he? “It’s a waste of time,” says the Jacksonville quarterback. He’s just one win away from playing in the Super Bowl and is set to earn 19 million dollars next year. Life is good. But man oh man, the vitriol sent his way via fellow NFL defenders is rather staggering.

MORE - Getting ready for the AFC Championship Game

Bottles has been called a choker by Titans defensive lineman Jurrell Casey, subpar by Seahawks safety Earl Thomas, and Texans edge rusher JaDaveon Clowney trashed the Jags QB by calling him trash. Yet all three of those guys are on vacation while Bortles is still working, preparing for the AFC title game in Foxboro Sunday afternoon. 

“He’s a dog,” shouted defensive tackle Malik Jackson in the immediate aftermath of last weekend’s win at Pittsburgh. “I want to know what Jurell Casey has to say about him choking in big moments while you sit at home and watch us next week.”

Jackson’s fiery defense of Bortles is not an uncommon event in the Jacksonville locker room. Yes their quarterback has flaws - we’ll get to those in a minute - but he’s their ride or die, at least for now.

“Blake is a rockstar,” said defensive lineman Calais Campbell. “He doesn’t let any of that get to him. He keeps showing up every day, having fun, preparing as hard as he can. We have a lot of respect for him. He’ definitely loves the game. He handles his business."

“One thing I learned about Blake is when you talk negative about him he proves you wrong over and over again,” said cornerback A.J. Bouye. “He did it against Seattle, he did it versus Pittsburgh the first time, he did it again versus Pittsburgh this time. That’s who he is.”

As you would imagine, that support is everything to Bortles.

“I don’t care much about what is said outside our locker room,” said Bortles. “What I care about is inside that locker room. Those are the opinions I care about. When other people say stuff, it doesn’t bother me. But to see guys in that locker room stand up for me and say stuff, it’s pretty cool. Because those are the opinions I value and the guys I want to impress and do well for.”

Bortles was hardly the star Sunday in Pittsburgh. He barely completed over 50% of his passes one week after running for more yards (88) than he threw for (87) in a Wild Card round win over the Bills. But Bortles didn’t turn the ball over in either game, something that has been a problem for him not only in years past but late in the regular season. Yes, he was inaccurate at times and appeared nervous at others but the Patriots could only shake their heads and laugh when told about the comments other players have directed at the 25-year old.

“It’s kind of crazy,” smiled Devin McCourty, “you know, the guy is still playing football. All those guys that said that, I’m sure they want to be in his spot right now playing in the championship game…the guy is a winner. Whether it’s dropping back and throwing the deep ball in a drive where Pittsburgh cuts it to seven and you need to make a big play and he stays in the pocket and finds [T.J.] Yeldon after surveying the field. Or in other games, against Buffalo, he drops back, they drop into coverage, everybody has their back to him, and he scrambles for 15 yards [and] a big first down to keep the drive going. To me, you see a winner.”

“He’s a good quarterback,” said Duron Harmon. “He does what they want him to do. He checks them, gets them in the right place, makes the right throws. Just try to do his job effectively and he did it at a high level yesterday. Made a lot of plays on third down. Made them with his arm, made them with his feet. He’s obviously somebody who feels comfortable in the system. Plays well and has been making plays for them all year. We know he’s going to come ready to play…”

Hard to believe Bortles is ready to lift the Jags past the Pats all on his own. He needs a good running game, he needs his receivers to make plays for him, and he needs that defense to figure out a way to slow down Tom Brady. That’s a lot to ask, but the Jags with Bortles at quarterback are this close to something few thought possible before the season started, just a win away from a trip to the Super Bowl. Maybe that belief in Bortles is about to be rewarded…


Patriots place CB Jonathan Jones on injured reserve, sign PR Bernard Reedy


Patriots place CB Jonathan Jones on injured reserve, sign PR Bernard Reedy

FOXBORO -- The Patriots will have to go the remainder of the season without one of their top special teams players. 

Jonathan Jones was placed on injured reserve Wednesday after suffering what appeared to be an injury to his left leg during the Divisional Round against the Titans. Jones was in coverage on Eric Decker in the fourth quarter when he broke with Decker to move toward the sideline before crumpling to the turf. He reached for his left foot/ankle area after the play and remained down for several moments. He did walk off the field under his own power after medical 

Without Jones, the Patriots will have to find another gunner for their punt units. Jones is also one of the better kickoff coverage players on the Patriots. The move the Patriots may make without him will be to activate Johnson Bademosi on game day. Bademosi was a healthy scratch against the Titans but has ample experience on special teams and will serve as a reserve corner, as Jones did. 

Matthew Slater said it won't be one player, though, who makes up for Jones' absence. 

"He does a lot of things for us and he does a lot of things well," Slater said. "And he’s done that since he’s gotten here. He’s been consistent. He’s improved day after day. It’s going to take a lot of guys stepping up, doing their job just a little bit better. A few guys in different roles. You don’t replace him with one guy."

The Patriots added punt-returner Bernard Reedy to the roster to take Jones' open roster spot. Reedy was signed to the Patriots practice squad in November and elevated to the active roster soon thereafter. He was later released, re-signed to the p-squad, and released from the p-squad earlier this month. He played in nine games with the Bucs and returned 14 punts and seven kicks for averages of 10.2 and 20.7 yards, respectively. 

Danny Amendola and Dion Lewis are the team's primary punt and kick-returners, but Reedy could serve as insurance for both in those roles.