Van Noy debut highlights shifting look for Patriots at linebacker level


Van Noy debut highlights shifting look for Patriots at linebacker level

When the Patriots dealt Jamie Collins to the Browns, the assumption was that Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia would take a Frankenstein's monster approach to replacing the 2015 Pro Bowler. Tapping into their depth at linebacker, it seemed as though they could utilize the skill sets of multiple players to try to make up for what they lost in Collins. 

Yet in their first game with Collins out, a Sunday night matchup with the Seahawks, the Patriots instead leaned heavily upon rookie sixth-round pick Elandon Roberts. After watching Seattle running back CJ Prosise go off for seven catches and 87 yards, the Patriots featured a many-hands-make-light-work approach against the 49ers. 

Shea McClellin (36 snaps) and Kyle Van Noy (29) served as the two top options at linebacker alongside the clear-cut leader of the unit Dont'a Hightower (48). McClellin got the start in an off-the-ball role, and Van Noy saw the majority of his work in obvious passing situations. Making his Patriots debut after being dealt to the team from the Lions last month, Van Noy registered one of the team's five sacks, he recorded another quarterback pressure, and he had one run-stuff.

"Yeah it looked like he helped us a little bit," Belichick said of Van Noy after the game. "We'll see how it goes on the film, but he has some versatility for us. Can rush, cover. I thought he and Shea both -- it was kind of Shea's first playing time off the line of scrimmage -- both those guys gave is a lot of snaps.

"I think there were some things that were OK. I'm sure there are some things that we can improve on. We'll see how that looks, but it was good to have all of those guys in there. We used Elandon. We got some play out of all of our linebackers."

Roberts saw 12 snaps on the afternoon and allowed three catches on three targets for 44 yards. He was in coverage on Shaughn Draughn for Draughn's garbage-time score in the fourth quarter. He also had difficulty in trying to corral Niners quarterback Colin Kaepernick during his longest run of the day, a 17-yard scramble across the middle of the field. 

How the Patriots utilize their linebacking corps moving forward should be interesting to track.

Roberts has shown proficiency in the running game, though eye-opening plays he made earlier this season have been fewer and father between since the bye. Can he re-capture a role on early downs? 

Van Noy showed some burst as a pass-rusher in Santa Clara, which is how many saw him earning his place in the league coming out of BYU. He was most often deployed as an off-the-ball linebacker in Detroit, but might he benefit from a role that focused more on getting after quarterbacks?

McClellin has been primarily an end-of-the-line player since coming to New England, but clearly the coaching staff trusts him to understand his assignments when moved to the middle of the field. 

Hightower will be the staple in the middle as long as he's healthy -- "Dont'a is one of our best players," Belichick said when asked about a stretch early in the game when Hightower came off the field -- but who fills in alongside seems very much in the air and dependent on the situation.

THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Raiders score on final play for 31-30 win over Chiefs


THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Raiders score on final play for 31-30 win over Chiefs

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Wins have been so hard to come by for the Oakland Raiders that it took three tries at the final play for them finally to pull this one out and possibly save their season.

Derek Carr threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Michael Crabtree on the final play after the game was extended by two straight defensive holding calls and the Raiders snapped a four-game losing streak with a 31-30 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs on Thursday night.

"We didn't give up," Crabtree said. "We got a team full of fighters. We believe. ... No matter how hard the game was, we believed. We came out with the W and I'm excited. It's a good way to win, a great way to win."

With their season on the line following the recent slump, Carr led an 85-yard touchdown drive in the final 2:25 to give the Raiders (3-4) the thrilling comeback in a game they trailed by nine points heading into the fourth quarter.

Carr finished 29 for 52 for 417 yards and three touchdowns, with Amari Cooper catching 11 passes for 210 yards and two of the scores. The Raiders had struggled to get the ball downfield while being held to 17 or fewer points in four straight games but Carr repeatedly beat the Chiefs with deep passes.

"No. 4 kept making plays," coach Jack Del Rio said. "This is a special, special win."

Alex Smith threw for 342 yards and three touchdowns but it wasn't enough for the Chiefs (5-2). They lost consecutive games for the first time since Oct. 11-18, 2015, and had their 12-game winning streak in the AFC West snapped in a thrilling finish.

"I've never been part of a game that came down so dramatic," linebacker Derrick Johnson said. "But, still had a chance to win. Period. Just have to make a play. One play. One play."

The Raiders had an apparent go-ahead touchdown pass to Jared Cook with 18 seconds left overturned when replay ruled he was down at the 1. An offensive pass interference on Crabtree wiped out another touchdown on the next play.

But holding calls on Ron Parker and Eric Murray set the stage for the final play. Carr hit Crabtree in the front corner of the end zone to tie it at 30. Giorgio Tavecchio won it with the extra point , setting off a celebration on a wild night that included Oakland running back Marshawn Lynch getting ejected in the second quarter for shoving an official.

HOT TEMPERS: The game took an odd turn midway through the second quarter after Kansas City's Marcus Peters hit Carr late, angering the Raiders. Offensive linemen Kelechi Osemele and Donald Penn confronted Peters and Lynch sprinted off the Oakland sideline to join the fray. Lynch, a close friend of Peters, ended up shoving line judge Julian Mapp and getting ejected . Peters also was called for a personal foul on the play. Lynch congratulated his teammates in the locker room after the game but didn't speak to reporters.

"I was disappointed he ran out because I knew we had a 15-yard penalty and we'd be in good shape," Del Rio said.

LONG DRIVE: After Marquette King pinned the Chiefs at their own 1 with a perfect punt early in the second quarter, Kansas City needed little time to turn the momentum. Smith hit Demarcus Robinson on a 33-yard pass on the first play of the drive. After a short run, Tyreek Hill beat David Amerson for a 64-yard touchdown pass that gave the Chiefs their first 99-yard drive since doing it Dec. 3, 2006, against Cleveland.

DEEP CONNECTION: Carr had not connected on a single deep ball to Amari Cooper all season before the two teamed twice for long TDs in the opening quarter. On the first, Cooper appeared to push Terrance Mitchell but the officials picked up the flag and gave Cooper the 38-yard TD . Later in the quarter Carr and Cooper connected on a 45-yard score, making Cooper the first Raiders receiver with two TD catches in the first quarter since Mervyn Fernandez in 1989.

KICKING WOES: The Raiders were hurt last week when a bad snap by Jon Condo led to a missed extra point by Giorgio Tavecchio in a 17-16 loss to the Chargers. That was Tavecchio's first missed kick of any kind this season but he then had a 53-yarder blocked and missed a 45-yarder wide left in the second quarter. Tavecchio also had a false start on an extra point in the third quarter.


Chiefs: Host Denver on Oct. 30.

Raiders: Visit Buffalo on Oct. 29.