Patriots

Patriots seem to have found another impactful pass-rusher in Deatrich Wise

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Patriots seem to have found another impactful pass-rusher in Deatrich Wise

When Deatrich Wise notched his first sack as a pro in Week 1 against the Chiefs, it wasn't quite what he had envisioned all his life. Kansas City quarterback Alex Smith tripped over himself trying to avoid pressure and all Wise had to do was be the first to touch him to get credit. 

But in Sunday's win against the Chiefs, Wise got his money's worth on No. 2, and he nearly had a couple of others. His sack of Drew Brees in the third quarter knocked the Saints out of field goal range and forced a Thomas Morstead punt.

To that point in the game, Wise had three quarterback hits -- and on two of those, Brees hit receivers for long gains -- so he was fired up to finally get home.

"When I finally got to him, I was excited," Wise said. "Was rushing a few times, was missing, kept hitting him, but there's nothing like getting an actual sack."

Wise finished the game with a whopping five quarterback hits, a sack and two tackles for losses, and it looks as though he's going to be able to provide the Patriots with a solid option as a pass-rusher along with fellow Arkansas product Trey Flowers.

After a summer-long debate as to where the Patriots would get their pass rush, the fourth-round pick -- the only 2017 draft pick to make the 53-man roster out of training camp -- has emerged.

Wise had an encouraging start to camp and immediately performed as one of the team's top defensive linemen. A concussion during the preseason opener against the Jaguars limited his practice time, but since he's been cleared, he immediately re-established himself as one of defensive coordinator Matt Patricia's third-down rushers. 

In 34 pass-rush snaps, Wise has recorded seven quarterback pressures (sacks, hits and hurries), according to Pro Football Focus. Though it's a small sample size, those numbers have made him one of the most productive pass-rushers in the league on a per-snap basis through two weeks.

His seven pressures is tied for eighth in the league, while Flowers (11) is fourth. 

"It's been great, these last few games," Wise said after beating the Saints. "I just want to keep showing my teammates and my coaches what I can do for this team."

Wise's experience in the SEC and physical skill set have helped him adapt to the pro game relatively quickly. He also seems to have a good grasp on how to use is length to his advantage -- perhaps as a result of working closely alongside Flowers, whose length is also one of his advantages in the trenches.

Coming into the draft, Wise measured in at 6-foot-5, 274 pounds with 35.5-inch arms and 10.5-inch hands, giving him dimensions that were strikingly similar to Chandler Jones when Jones was drafted out of Syracuse in 2012.

Bill Belichick likes what he's seen from Wise thus far, but he noted on Monday that Wise is still a work in progress, even when it comes to taking advantage of his length.

"I think that the length can be a good thing for a player if he knows how to use it and he plays with good leverage," Belichick said. "It can be a bad thing if long players play high and let other players play with better leverage and get underneath their pad level. It’s a potential opportunity, again, if it’s used properly with good pad level, leverage and technique, but it could also not be a good thing if it’s not used properly and just gives the blockers a bigger target and just isn’t effective.

"Deatrich’s worked hard on the techniques that Coach [Brendan] Daly’s been working with him on, both in the running game and the passing game. There were certainly some positive things that showed up yesterday and even last week. I still think there’s a long way to go, a lot of things that he can improve on. But, if he continues to work hard at it like he has been, then hopefully each week we’ll be able to see some improvement and better techniques and better fundamentals in all of the different areas of the game -- not just pass rush, but the running game and playing combination blocks and all the different sorts of things that come into really the heart of the issue, which is playing with good pad level, pad level leverage and technique."

After his second straight impactful performance, though encouraged, Wise expressed similar sentiments.

"There's still room to grow," he said. "I'm still learning every day. Malcom [Brown], Trey, [Lawrence] Guy [are] always telling me things I can work on daily. I'm really behind right now, I've got to catch up . . . I'm a rookie so I have a lot to learn about the game, about the playbook and about this whole thing."

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Patriots donate 200 tickets to military members for tonight's game

Patriots donate 200 tickets to military members for tonight's game

Patriots long snapper Joe Cardona is also an officer in the Navy. He was instrumental in having the team donate 200 tickets to military members for tonight's game against the Atlanta Falcons at Gillette Stadium.

As ESPN's Mike Reiss pointed out, Cardona and teammate Matthew Slater were behind the plan to provide the tickets. The military personnel will also be on the field before the game. 

"It's a number that far exceeded expectations," Cardona told Reiss. "It was a collaborative effort. I was talking to Matt Slater, we were thinking of ways to reach out, especially to our local military community, and show how much we value them. My point of view was, 'Let's give these men and women the experience of coming to a big game.' Let's get them a personal feel, them being our personal guests, guests of the team."

The 200 tickets were provided by Patriots players and coaches, who each receive two tickets to a home game and the opportunity to purchase others 

“My point of view was, 'Let's give these men and women the experience of coming to a big game,'“ Cardona said in Reiss' story. “Let's get them a personal feel, them being our personal guests, guests of the team.” 

Gronkowski on pace for max earnings, ready for his crack at Falcons

Gronkowski on pace for max earnings, ready for his crack at Falcons

FOXBORO -- Despite missing one game this season, Rob Gronkowski is on track for a big year that would pay him more than double what he's scheduled to earn in 2017.

A thigh issue held the Patriots tight end out of action in Week 5 against the Buccaneers, yet he's still 12th in the league in receiving yards (401) and third among tight ends, behind only Travis Kelce (423) and Zach Ertz (405). His four touchdowns put him in the top-10 pass-catchers in the league in that category, and his six catches of 20 yards or more is tied for 14th. 

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If Gronkowski stays healthy and is on the field for the final 10 regular-season games of the year, he's on pace for 78 catches for 1,203 yards and 12 touchdowns. Those numbers would put him in contention for a first-team All-Pro nod, which would earn him the max $10.75 million for 2017 that's been written into his incentive-laden contract for this season.

But even if he isn't an All-Pro -- say Kelce and Ertz continue to have excellent seasons -- Gronkowski's 1,200 receiving yards would also trigger the max value of his deal. Seventy catches, 1,000 receiving yards or 12 touchdowns would trigger the second tier of Gronkowski's incentives, paying him $8.75 million. Sixty catches, 800 yards or 10 touchdowns would pay him $6.75 million -- up from the minimum of $5.25 million he's  guaranteed for this season.

Against Atlanta, he'll have a chance to combat the Falcons team speed in a way that he wasn't able to last February when he missed the Super Bowl following season-ending back surgery. 

"It feels great to be back playing, but I mean, it’s a whole new year," he said Wednesday. "It’s a whole new week. They’ve got different players now. We’ve got different players. They’ve got a different scheme a little bit from all the different players. We’ve got a little different scheme from all the new players that we have, so it’s a whole new game. It’s a whole new challenge this week and we’ve just got to work hard this week and get ready for Sunday night."

The Falcons defense features young and athletic players like linebackers Deion Jones and Duke Riley as well as pass-rusher Vic Beasley and safety Keanu Neal, but they haven't been all that stout against opposing tight ends in 2017. Per Football Outsiders, they rank 19th in defending tight ends, allowing 61.4 yards per game on 8.9 pass attempts. 

The Patriots could wind up seeing 6-foot-4, 232-pound linebacker De'Vondre Campbell on Gronkowski on Sunday night. He and Neal have been the primary defenders on tight ends in recent weeks, and against the Lions last month Campbell was targeted five times and allowed zero catches while covering tight end Eric Ebron.

"They're a good defense," Gronkowski said. "You've got to go out there and you've got to play your best football. I feel like at any time, any given time, if I'm not playing my best football, if I'm not taking the coaching points, if I’m not doing the things right out there on the field then I feel like I could be covered by any one.

"But also at the same time, if I’m doing things right, feeling good, taking the coaching points then I feel like I can get open on anyone. It just all comes down to playing the game this coming Sunday night."

The problem for Atlanta is that Gronkowski is playing his best football right now. And if he keeps it up, he'll be paid accordingly.