Patriots

Patriots-Saints joint practice notes and observations

837873.jpg

Patriots-Saints joint practice notes and observations

FOXBORO -- The Patriots and Saints went at it during Monday's practice, the first of two joint sessions that will be held before their exhibition game Thursday. Here are all the little nuggets of information we gathered throughout the course of the day:

No Brandon Spikes or Kyle Hix for the second consecutive day of camp. In addition to PUP list absences (Logan Mankins, Sebastian Vollmer, Markus Zusevics, Daniel Fells, Myron Pryor, Jake Ballard), Visanthe Shiancoe, Tracy White, Alfonzo Dennard, Spencer Larsen, Matt Kopa, Ron Brace, Jonathan Fanene, and Darrion Weems did not participate.
With No. 55 unavailable, Bobby Carpenter found himself back working with the 1s.

Kyle Love had a shield affixed to his helmet. Considering the way he left practice Sunday, leaving the field with a towel over his head after spending several minutes on the sideline covering his face with his hands, he might have suffered an eye injury.
Patriots receivers versus Saints defensive backs: Donte' Stallworth got one on CB Johnny Patrick; Wes Welker destroyed CB Marquis Johnson; Brandon Lloyd shook rookie CB Corey White with a nice cutback; Rob Gronkowski was just too big for S Roman Harper; Julian Edelman had no trouble with CB Kamaal McIlwain; Jabar Gaffney beat White; S Malcolm Jenkins was flagged for pass interference (the refs were back again today) on Aaron Hernandez; Johnson tipped a ball targeted for Jeremy Ebert, but Ebert got a handle on it after another bobble.
More: Gronkowski used a quick burst to get by S Isa Abdul-Quddus; Welker had a beautiful over-the-shoulder catch on S Jerico Nelson; Lloyd just plan outran White; Matt Slater caught an absolute bomb over Patrick.
Of Brady's three touchdown passes, Gaffney looked nice gaining five solid yards of separation before the catch -- he streaked in for the score with no problem.
The offensive line had several different looks today. First team with Brady: Nate Solder at LT, Donald Thomas at LG, Ryan Wendell at C, Dan Connolly at RG and Marcus Cannon at RT. Dan Koppen rotated in at C to get some reps with the 1s.
New England misses Vollmer, Waters and Mankins; some of Brady's struggle and frustration had to do with blown assignments. During 11-on-11 the QB had to spike a ball into the dirt because one of those screens the Patriots have been practicing so much got blown up. Badly.
Ryan Mallett didn't get as many reps as Brady and Brian Hoyer. His very first snap? Bungled; the drill was reset. He also threw one ball in the dirt before getting a reception from a laid-out Ebert. He connected with Ebert again and twice with Britt Davis (one ball in the end zone). The QB practiced a lot of handoffs to Brandon Bolden.
Hoyer had a very, very well placed ball to Edelman deep down the sideline over Saints CB Elbert Mack. Just perfectly thrown.
The Patriots ran a good third-down pick play during 11-on-11. Two receivers crossed, brushing off pursuit from the secondary with the collision, and Lloyd brought down a ball in the end zone. A lot of special teams work was spent on punt return. Edelman, Pat Chung, Hernandez, and Ebert all took turns deep to receive.
Tempers were largely kept in check. The only blip on the radar was when Sergio Brown and WR Courtney Roby got a little hot during punt return, hanging onto each other after the whistle.
Dont'a Hightower and Saints linebacker Will Herring got into a good little shoving match during a drill that pitted the Patriots punt team against the Saints return team. Herring almost dropped Hightower as Hightower got off the ground to pursue the returner. The Pats rookie quickly shot back with a shove that lifted Herring off his feet for a moment. Herring went to Auburn and Hightower went to 'Bama, so perhaps it was just a little SEC love rekindled.

No breaks for Kyle Arrington today. After facing Wes Welker all camp, he had his work cut out for him in the slot against New Orleans' Lance Moore. When healthy, Moore is one of the better slot receivers in the league, and he beat Arrington for catches on several opportunities throughout the day.

Yes, Jon Bon Jovi was there in all his feathered-hair glory. He signed a bunch of autographs as he made his way from talking to Robert Kraft, to watching practice on the sideline. Kraft and Bon Jovi made their way up next to the media tent area where Saints owner Tom Benson had his own private shady spot. All three shared a word before practice really got going.

After practice Tom Brady sat on the field with his dog, his pregnant wife and Drew Brees among others.

Purdue boys Drew Brees and Patriots linebacker Niko Koutovides chatted in between drills. Boston College products Tim Bulman and Saints offensive lineman Matt Tennant also sought each other out to talk.

Chandler Jones seemed a little jumpy during pass-rush drills against Saints offensive linemen.

Jimmy Graham is a very large, athletic man. He beat Nate Ebner down the seam for a touchdown during one drill and finger-rolled the ball over the uprights. Moments later, Brees put a pass just over Hightower's head and into Graham's hands for another score that Graham -- a former hoops player at Miami -- dunked through the uprights with authority.

Patriots linebackers and members of the secondary had a solid practice. Brees often seemed to go through two or three options before throwing short dump-offs. Not a ton of long-distance hookups for the Saints.

Steven Ridley got some work with the punt return unit -- but not as a returner. He was on the line, rushing in, trying to get his hands on the ball off of New Orleans punter Thomas Morstead's foot.

Trevor Scott got a "sack" in 11-on-11 work, getting his arms extended on his blocker and wrapping up Chase Daniel as he stepped up in the pocket.

Has to be noted that randomly, while other guys were engaged in drills, Saints punter Thomas Morstead (formerly of Southern Methodist) dropped a ball 50 yards dead on the 3-yard line. The thing just laid flat. Whatta boom.

Some interesting looks from the Patriots defense during 11-on-11 time, especially as the Saints ran their hurry-up offense. At one point they used just one linebacker. They had Rob Ninkovich, Jermaine Cunningham, Vince Wilfork, Chandler Jones and Jerod Mayo on the line. Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Steve Gregory, Ras-I Dowling and Kyle Arrington were in the secondary, and safety Tavon Wilson was dropped down as a 'backer. In a two-minute situation against a pass-happy team like the Saints maybe the Patriots feel like that's one package they can use successfully.

Jones worked out of two-point and three-point stances. On one play it appeared as though he wanted to show that he would start the play standing up, then he put his hand on the turf at the last minute and rushed the quarterback.

Jones had an active day. He jumped to bat down one pass attempt by Brees. He also got called over to the field goal block unit by Patriots coaches and was placed just off of the center. He would seem to be a perfect candidate for that job with his athleticism and long arms.

Steve Gregory picked off Brees near the end of practice in 11-on-11. Dane Fletcher was given a pick when Chase Daniel put a pass in Fletcher's belly down in the red zone.

Matthew Slater and Saints kicker John Kasay seemed to give short speeches to both teams as they huddled around one another at the end of practice.

Military members got a lengthy standing ovation by the 14,830 at Gillette as they walked around the edge of the practice field. Patriots and Saints players shook hands with the uniformed servicemen and women at the end of practice.

Mary Paoletti and Phil Perry contributed to this report.

Hard to find a Patriots equal in soft AFC

Hard to find a Patriots equal in soft AFC

John Elway created a stir this week when he said his Broncos, after a 3-1 start, had “gotten a little bit soft." Elway, the Broncos GM, said that after five straight Denver losses – the last two by the combined score of 92-39

Denver’s head coach Vance Joseph said Elway’s remark bothered him. He talked to his players about it. On Sunday, the Broncos went out and did something about it. They lost by just three at home against the Cincinnati Bengals. Yay.

They’re pretty much all soft in the AFC this year. Check out the AFC West. There’s Denver. And the Raiders – who the Patriots handled with disturbing ease on Sunday, 33-8. The 5-4 Kansas City Chiefs, who lost on the road to the one-win Giants after starting the season 5-0.

MORE:

The AFC East is soft. Miami was 4-2. It’s lost four straight including a 40-0 loss to Baltimore. The Jets were 3-2, they’re now 4-6 (which is a minor miracle given how ragged their roster is). The Bills were 5-2, now they’re 5-5 having lost by a combined 101-34 the past two weeks as head coach Sean McDermott willingly stuck a butter knife in an electrical outlet and replaced Tyrod Taylor with a not-ready-for-preseason-Week-4 Nathan Peterman.

The AFC South is led by the Jaguars and Titans. Jacksonville – which can play some defense – isn’t as bad as the rest. The Jags have won four straight and play cutthroat defense, but they had their hands full with the 0-10 Browns on Sunday. During the week, running back Leonard Fournette complained about having to play in the cold in Cleveland. At least he showed up Sunday and ran for 111. The Titans are awful when they leave Tennessee, which was further proven last Thursday when they lost 40-17 at Pittsburgh. Since October began, they’ve been outscored 122-43 in four road games. Their one road win in that span was a 12-9 decision over Cleveland. 

The big, bad AFC North contingent led by the Steelers at 8-2? Talented. But led by a forever-whining, passive-aggressive quarterback who openly and annually mulls retirement and two “me first” skill guys in Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell. Their greatest strength may be in executing elaborate post-touchdown skits. Vital.

Meanwhile, here are the boring-ass Patriots. Yeah, they have Tom Brady and Bill Belichick and continuity in the program and coaching staff, but the gap between them and everyone else in the conference is that they don’t worry about the cold or the road or the five-act plays after they score.

They stayed a week in Colorado Springs to get ready for the altitude. Two Patriots – Stephon Gilmore and Danny Amendola – had to be treated for dehydration in the second half. After five PLAYS, Raiders rookie Obi Melifonwu was asking out of the game saying he couldn’t breathe.

The Raiders – a team that went 12-4 last year - haven’t improved a bit defensively all season. They are – under head coach Jack Del Rio – one of those “we do what we do” defenses the Patriots love to face because it’s like shooting fish in a barrel. Brady is now 8-1 against Del Rio-led teams/defenses and the numbers against Del Rio’s teams are absurd: 225 completions on 310 attempts for (73 percent) for 2,387 yards, 21 touchdowns and zero interceptions.

It just feels like the AFC is a collection of teams, with an overwhelming majority of them in turn-it-on, turn-it-off mode. Their coaches are just kind of casting about, constantly open to suggestion and willing to give anything a shot because, hell, they better try something to get hot or they’ll be passing out resumes at the Combine in four months.

The Patriots remaining schedule goes like this: Dolphins, Bills, Dolphins, Steelers, Bills, Jets. Shake me awake on December 17 when the Steelers game comes. And we have a mountain of data explaining how that one will go too.

I’m not weary of the team. It’s historic and fascinating, like watching a hooded Mozart compose and a helmeted Van Gogh paint every week. But the exercise of trying to conjure scenarios where the Patriots play November football with the exquisite ineptitude of their opponents is not easy.

They are doing this without Julian Edelman or Dont'a Hightower. They played Sunday without Chris Hogan, David Andrews, Marcus Cannon and Matt Slater.

Offenses can’t score against them. Defenses can’t stop them. They create points on special teams. They manage the game, the clock and their opponents like simple arithmetic while every other team’s doing trigonometry. What was broken in September has been long fixed.

The time will come again when the Patriots appear just as inept, clueless and mired in mediocrity as every other AFC team appears right now. But it won’t be this year.

So embrace the softness? I guess?

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Wentz, Eagles roll over Cowboys 37-9 after losing kicker

eagles_cowboys_carson_wentz_111917.jpg

Wentz, Eagles roll over Cowboys 37-9 after losing kicker

ARLINGTON, Texas - No kicker, no problem for the Philadelphia Eagles.

Carson Wentz threw for two touchdowns and three 2-point conversions after Philadelphia lost kicker Jake Elliott to a head injury, and the Eagles all but wrapped up the NFC East with a 37-9 victory over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night.

The Eagles (9-1) outscored the Cowboys 30-0 in the second half while extending their winning streak to eight games, their longest since 2003-04 and tied with New Orleans for the best current run in the NFL.

Philadelphia leads the second-place and defending division champion Cowboys (5-5) by four games with six to play after handing Dallas its worst home loss at 8-year-old AT&T Stadium.

Dallas' Dak Prescott threw a career-high three interceptions and lost a fumble that was returned for a touchdown in his second straight loss without star running back Ezekiel Elliott, serving a six-game suspension for alleged domestic violence.

Jake Elliott's injury wasn't a factor for nearly a half because the NFL-leading Eagles couldn't get in scoring position. They failed to get a first down on five straight first-half drives, starting with one at the Dallas 15 when Elliott missed a 34-yard attempt and soon after left the field.

Trailing 9-7 at halftime, Wentz led the Eagles on scoring drives of 75, 90 and 85 yards, the middle one boosted by Jay Ajayi's 71-yard run against his hometown team in his second game since getting traded by Miami.

"The biggest thing was sticking with the game plan," said Wentz, who is up to 25 touchdown passes with just five interceptions. "The big boys up front kind of came out angry. We ran the ball the second half really effectively."

Ajayi had 91 yards on seven carries and LeGarrette Blount added 57 on 13 carries, including a 30-yarder leading to the last offensive touchdown.

Eagles coach Doug Pederson declared at halftime that he would go for every fourth down and try 2-point conversions after every touchdown.

It came into play right away when Corey Clement scored on an 11-yard run to open the second half and ran in a screen pass behind three blockers for the 2-pointer.

The first fourth-down try was Wentz's 17-yard touchdown pass to Alshon Jeffery for a 29-9 lead. That 2-point pass failed. Torrey Smith had the other TD catch, an 11-yarder.

After Derek Barnett hit Prescott's leg and arm as he was throwing, Nigel Bradham picked up the loose ball and ran it 37 yards for a touchdown. Wentz's 2-point pass to Trey Burton provided the final margin.

"We got some nice 2-point conversions," said Wentz, who was 14 of 27 for 168 yards. "Now we've got to go back to the drawing board with our 2-point plays."

The Cowboys appeared to have fixed the problems of missing injured left tackle Tyron Smith and 2016 All-Pro linebacker Sean Lee from a week earlier, when they allowed eight sacks of Prescott along with three Atlanta scoring drives following Lee's injury in a 27-7 loss to the Falcons.

But after protecting Prescott fairly well before halftime, Dallas allowed three sacks and 180 of Philadelphia's season-high 215 yards rushing in the second half. Lee's replacement at weakside linebacker, Anthony Hitchens, left with a groin injury after halftime.

Prescott was 18 of 31 for 145 yards for a career-worst 30.4 passer rating before backup Cooper Rush took mop-up duty.

"It's no excuses," said Prescott, who teamed with Elliott in a remarkable rookie season that is now a distant memory with already two more losses and three more interceptions than Prescott had a year ago. Elliott won't be back until the final two games of the regular season.

"We're not saying injuries or any of that's bothering us. We're not saying it's the reason we're not winning is because of those guys."

NO RUST THIS TIME

The Eagles had a focus on being better following the bye after losing nine of 11 last season after a 3-0 start going into the break. Now Philadelphia will take a shot at the best record in the NFL with history on its side when starting this strong. The Eagles have two NFL championships (1949, 1960) and two trips to the Super Bowl (1980, 2004, both losses) following 9-1 starts.

SECOND-HALF MELTDOWNS

The Cowboys have been outscored 47-0 in the second half the past two weeks following a three-game winning streak that seemed to have Dallas back on track following an NFC-best 13-3 record last season.

"It would be pretty tough not to panic, but I don't think we are panicking," said running back Alfred Morris, who had 91 yards filling in for Ezekiel Elliott. "It's been two tough losses, ugly losses on top of that. But at the same time, I know the character of this team and the fight we have."

EMERGENCY KICKER

Linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill is the emergency kicker for the Eagles. But he completely missed the safety net on a practice try on the sidelines, sending the ball into the stands. He did reach the goal line with his first kickoff, though.

UP NEXT

Eagles: Home against Chicago next Sunday.

Cowboys: Los Angeles Chargers visiting for annual Thanksgiving game.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE