Patriots

Pats' transition game leads to 20-7 halftime lead

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Pats' transition game leads to 20-7 halftime lead

By Art Martone
CSNNE.com

FOXBORO -- In basketball, they call it the transition game. It's when the team switches from defense to offense, and successful teams do it well.

The Patriots demonstrated that skill to perfection in the second quarter Sunday.

First:

The New England defense completed its second successful goal-line stand of the young season, as linebacker Jerod Mayo stopped Mike Tolbert at the 1-yard on a fourth-and-goal from the 1, preventing the Chargers from scoring and allowing New England to maintain its 10-7 lead.

The Pats then went on offense, and within two plays -- a 12-yard pass from Tom Brady to Wes Welker, and a 30-yard completion from Brady to Chad Ochocinco -- were near midfield. From there,they marched implacably downfield until Brady hit Rob Gronkowski with a 10-yard touchdown pass that put the Pats in front, 17-7.

And then:

The Chargers had driven to the New England 29 in the final minute of the half, but Vince Wilfork deflected and intercepted a Philip Rivers pass -- his first career interception - and rumbled 28 yards into San Diego territory. A block-in-the-back penalty pushed the ball back to San Diego 47, but Brady hit two quick passes to Deion Branch, of 11 and 7 yards, that moved the Pats to the 29 with one second left. Stephen Gostkowski then drilled a 47-yard field goal as time expired, giving New England a 20-7 lead.

Brady completed 20 of 23 passes for 240 yards and two touchdowns in the half.

New England had broken a 7-7 tie on a 23-yard Gostkowski field early in the second quarter to move ahead, 10-7. The Pats had a first-and-goal of their own, at the San Diego 4, but were unable to punch it in.

The teams had traded long scoring drives in the first quarter.

A 14-yard Brady-to-Aaron Hernandez touchdown pass with 6:16 to play in the period capped a 12-play, 92-yard drive that gave the Patriots a 7-0 lead. But San Diego tied it on its next possession, with a pair of acrobatic third-down catches by Malcom Floyd -- one for 23 yards over the middle of the field that put the ball on the New England 40, and the other a 36-yarder down the sideline that moved San Diego to the Pats' 10 -- set up a 10-yard touchdown run by Ryan Mathews, finishing off an 80-yard march.

Art Martone can be reached at amartone@comcastsportsnet.com.

Where have Patriots LBs improved? Look at covering pass-catching backs

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Where have Patriots LBs improved? Look at covering pass-catching backs

Third quarter, Patriots versus the Raiders. Elandon Roberts lined up in the middle of the defense, the only off-the-ball linebacker on this second-down play from midfield. Roberts looked intently into the Oakland backfield, trying to decipher where quarterback Derek Carr would go on the play. 

At the snap of the ball, Carr released his running back, Jalen Richard, to the right of the formation. With the Pats playing man-to-man, Roberts had to hurry to cover the quicker, faster Richard. The second-year pro also had to skirt around a slight pick by wide receiver Amari Cooper. Successfully navigating that landmine, Roberts went stride for stride with Richard. 

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Carr still identified that as the matchup to exploit but the throw clanged off the back of Roberts’ helmet. Not the result Carr was looking for, and despite the ugliness at the tail end of the play, yet another sign of the Pats improving in an area that early in the season had been an issue.

“It's certainly a good observation,” said defensive coordinator Matt Patricia. “That's part of the process as you go through the year and understanding your opponents and what they like to do from the standpoint of plays. So certainly on that particular play where it might be a situation where they're trying to pick him or get him in a bad coverage matchup and he did a good job of getting through it.”

Covering running backs coming out of the backfield is not something that the Pats have been particularly adept at over the years. Roberts, especially, seemed lost in those spots in his rookie season. But with Dont’a Hightower lost for the season, the Pats have had to spread out some of those responsibilities and Roberts, 23, the University of Houston product, is growing in that department.

“[He's] someone that works really hard to know where his help is in both situations whether it's leveraging a run play or leveraging a pass play,” complimented Patricia. “He's really trying to learn and understand that at a much higher level which he's really trying to do a good job of.”

It wasn’t just that play and it wasn’t just Roberts. In the opening quarter, Kyle Van Noy swarmed Richard in the right flat, limiting the shifty back to just four yards. Later, Trevor Reilly quickly snuffed out a swing pass to Richard. Bill Belichick - like Patricia - has taken notice.

“I think that’s a very competitive group of players on our team,” Belichick said. “So again, just trying to work on our fundamentals, and individual techniques, and try to work each week on our opponent, and their tendencies, the way they do things to match it up against. Those guys work hard at both of those areas.”

That work will need to continue. The Pats will get two doses in three weeks of Miami running back Damien Williams, who in limited snaps has made an impact as a receiver. There’s also Le’Veon Bell in Pittsburgh, the skilled trio of Bilal Powell, Matt Forte and Elijah McGuire for the Jets and LeSean McCoy in Buffalo. In other words, no resting our recent success.

“We're obviously going to look at the other aspect of it too and say, 'Well this is where we think we need to improve and this is where we think we need to make sure that we have this tightened up because this showed up,'" Patricia said. "Whether or not – it could be a bad situation for us whether it's just a – maybe it's a particular look that offense gives us or a particular defensive call.

That no doubt earns a nod from the head coach, who never believes what’s good is good enough.

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Gostkowski named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week

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Gostkowski named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week

FOXBORO -- Stephen Gostkowski is almost 34 years old, but in Mexico City he provided a reminder that he's not slowing down in his 12th NFL season. 

After going four-for-four on field goals -- including a team-record 62-yarder, a 51-yarder and a 40-yarder -- and making all three of his extra points, Gostkowski was named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week for the sixth time in his career. 

During a press conference on Wednesday, Bill Belichick explained that someone in Gostkowski's situation probably isn't improving at this point in his career. But if he's maintaining a strong level of play, that's OK. 

"I don’t know how much real improvement you’re going to see from a player that’s been in the league 12 or 20 years in a case like Adam [Vinatieri] or somebody like that," Belichick said. "But, if the level they’re performing at is pretty good, if they can maintain that, then that’s certainly enough to help the team.

"Are there things that a player can do better? Yeah, sure, there always are technique things. I think Steve has really improved in some of his alternative kicks on kickoffs, as an example, instead of just kicking every ball as far as he can. He’s done a great job of that. I’d say it’s maintaining the timing and the overall leg speed and technique that makes kickers good at their job."