Patriots

Five quick thoughts: Patriots vs. Jaguars

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Five quick thoughts: Patriots vs. Jaguars

FOXBORO -- Here are five quick-hitting thoughts on what transpired between the Patriots and Jaguars during Sunday's AFC title game . . . 

PATRIOTS 24, JAGUARS 20

1) How was Tom Brady's hand? At times it looked fine. At times, Brady was off the mark with his throws, forcing the football-watching world to wonder if his injury was inhibiting his accuracy. Brady's first pass to Brandin Cooks, a big-gainer up the seam just over Jacksonville's coverage, put Gillette Stadium at ease. His fourth-and-two throw to Danny Amendola, dropped in the bucket near the sideline with perfect touch, sent Gillette into a frenzy. The hand looked good. On Brady's first series of the second quarter, though, he missed Dion Lewis with a high throw to the flat. And on third down, Brady was high down the middle of the field to Chris Hogan. Brady's hand didn't keep him from making every throw, but it also wouldn't keep viewers from wondering if his injury impacted the outcome. 

2) Rob Gronkowski's head injury -- suffered at the end of the second quarter -- put one pregame decision by the Patriots into the spotlight relatively quickly. The Patriots opted to make Jacob Hollister a healthy scratch before the game, giving the Patriots two tight ends in uniform in Gronkowski and Allen. With Gronkowski limited, Hollister might've factored more heavily into a game plan had he been in uniform -- especially since it was a game where it made sense to lean on backs and tight ends. Was Hollister's absence the difference. Of course not. But it eliminated two-tight end packages from Josh McDaniels' arsenal. 

3) The Jaguars started to look like the Jaguars of old with about two minutes remaining in the first half. First, they punted -- with the clock running -- when they didn't have to. The two-minute warning was approaching. They could've had the entire roster on the sidelines and snagged a stoppage from the Patriots offense. They didn't. Bone-headed. The reason the Jags were punting in the first place was because they couldn't get a snap off in time following a time out. Delay of game penalty. Think about that. That turned a third-and-seven situation into a third-and-12. Then, on New England's subsequent possession, they picked up a personal-foul penalty and a pass-interference penalty that allowed the Patriots to drive and score just before the break. What could have been a 14-3 lead or more became a 14-10 lead in a blink due to Jacksonville's mistakes. 

4) Just when it looked like the Patriots out-smarted the Jaguars defense to pick up a big gain, they shot themselves in the foot with a devastating mistake. The Patriots worked a double-pass, using Danny Amendola's right arm to throw back across the field to a wide open Dion Lewis. With blockers in front of him, Lewis picked up 20 yards before Myles Jack caught him from behind. As Jack made the tackle, he punched the ball loose and recovered in one clean motion as he fell to the ground. It was an incredibly athletic play made by one of the most athletic linebackers in football. And it snuffed out a promising Patriots drive when they desperately needed one. 

5) With Gronkowski out and Julian Edelman in mothballs, who's Brady's most trusted option? That would be the receiver dubbed "All-Weather 'Dola" by teammate Matthew Slater. Brady hit Amendola for three catches worth 44 yards, including a nine-yard score with 8:44 left in the game. Amendola's fellow wideouts came up big throughout that drive, which cut the Jaguars lead to 20-17. Cooks started things off with an 18-yard contested catch along the sidelines, and Phillip Dorsett made a 31-yard catch off of a flea-flicker to keep the Patriots moving.  

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With Butler's departure inevitable, Patriots' corner search is on

With Butler's departure inevitable, Patriots' corner search is on

Before free agency kicks off, and before we dissect the top college prospects entering this year's draft, we're taking a look at the Patriots on a position-by-position basis to provide you with an offseason primer of sorts. We'll be analyzing how the Patriots performed in 2017 at the position in question, who's under contract, how badly the team needs to add talent at that spot, and how exactly Bill Belichick might go about adding that talent. Today, we're looking at the position group that received more attention than any other during Super Bowl 52: Cornerback. 

OTHER ENTRIES IN THE SERIES

HOW THEY PERFORMED


No single position group experienced as many dips, climbs and dives as Patriots corners did during their rollercoaster season. In September alone, the communication was a mess, Malcolm Butler got benched, Stephon Gilmore got benched, and Eric Rowe suffered a serious groin injury that allowed Gilmore to quickly get his job back. Second-year special teams standout Jonathan Jones might've been the team's best cover man at that juncture. Then, as soon as Gilmore started to find his footing, he was diagnosed with a concussion. The group started to put it together in the second half with solid performances against the Raiders in Mexico City and the Bills in Buffalo. Gilmore was particularly strong as the season wore on, showing the man-to-man cover skills and the knack for getting his hands on footballs that made him one of the highest-paid players at his position last offseason. But in the end, in the Super Bowl, with Butler benched again, the group (outside of Gilmore, who played well against Philly) had too many letdowns in what was arguably the team's worst defensive performance of the season.

WHO IS UNDER CONTRACT FOR 2018?
Gilmore, Rowe, Jones, Cyrus Jones, Ryan Lewis, Jomal Wiltz

WHO ISN'T?
Butler, Johnson Bademosi

HOW DIRE IS THE NEED?

The Patriots played Rowe in prominent roles in each of the past two Super Bowls and he seems to be first in line to take over No. 2 duties with Butler certainly headed on to a new chapter in his career. Jonathan Jones showed in spurts that he could be an effective slot corner, but he suffered a season-ending injury in the Divisional Round and it's unclear what the Patriots will be expecting from him in 2018. Cyrus Jones is coming off of a torn ACL, and even before his injury, it looked like he may have a hard time cracking the regular rotation. This is one position -  like tackle  - that the Patriots don't want to be left thin. If we had to rank it, the need for another capable body would probably come in at about a 7 out of 10. 

WHAT'S AVAILABLE IN FREE AGENCY?


There are a handful of relatively big names who will be on the market come March, including Butler. Trumaine Johnson of the Rams figures to be at the top of the class. Vontae Davis of the Colts is 29 and often injured, but in a corner-needy league, he shouldn't have much trouble finding a team. EJ Gains of the Bills could leverage his inside-out versatility to come away with a deal worth almost $10 million per year. Aaron Colvin of the Jaguars, Patrick Robinson of the Eagles, Nickell Robey-Coleman of the Rams and Leonard Johnson of the Bills give teams in need of slot help some options. Kyle Fuller of the Bears and Morris Claiborne of the Jets are two former first-rounders who've had up-and-down careers but showed last season they have still value on the outside. 

WHAT'S AVAILABLE IN THE DRAFT?

It feels like the best athletes at the high school and college levels are getting smarter. Or their coaches are. Once again, there's a deep group of athletes peppering the incoming draft class at corner, which is, of course, one of the highest-paying positions in football. (Why so many top-tier athletes are still playing running back, on the other hand, is beyond me.) Alabama's hybrid star in the secondary Minkah Fitzpatrick will be long gone by the time the Patriots pick. Same goes for Ohio State's undersized burner Denzel Ward and Iowa's ball-hawking 6-foot-1 cover man Josh Jackson, in all likelihood. At the bottom of the first round, though, players like Auburn's Carlton Davis (who has drawn comparisons to Richard Sherman because of his length and ball skills) and Colorado's Isaiah Oliver (a one-time Pac-12 decathlete with a 6-foot-1 frame) could be available. Would the Patriots want to invest a first-round pick at that spot? If they feel like they have good depth at the position already on the roster but want to take a flier on a mid-round selection, they could hope Louisville's Jaire Alexander (who dealt with injuries in 2017 that will probably hurt his draft stock) lasts into the third round. 

HOW CAN THE PATRIOTS ADDRESS IT?


One name that's sort of intriguing on the free-agency market is Davis'. You've heard tales similar players ending up in New England before. He's spent the majority of his career without much of a shot at a title - though his Colts made the AFC Championship Game in the 2014 season. He should be low-cost. He had season-ending groin surgery last year, was released in November and went unclaimed. He'll be 30 before the start of next season, but he may be worth a roll of the dice to help a relatively young Patriots secondary. If he doesn't pan out, no harm done. Hard to envision Belichick and Nick Caserio investing big money into this position with Gilmore on the roster, but maybe they'll deem one of the free-agent slot options worth a shot if he's cost-effective. Otherwise, the Patriots may try to take advantage of a draft that seems - at least right now - as if it's deeper at corner than it is at some other spots on the defensive side of the ball, like on the edge.

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Report: James Harrison could return to Patriots

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Report: James Harrison could return to Patriots

James Harrison was a larger than life figure during his time in Pittsburgh. 

It was as if God molded him to be a member of the Steelers: massive, physical, and an absolute bruiser.

But at the end of the day he is a football player. And athletes in this sport don't particuarly like time on the bench.

Mike Tomlin and the rest of the Steelers organization were reminded of this fact in a very harsh manner.

At the end of the December, Harrison made a late season move to sign with the Patriots. It left his former teammates in Pittsburgh frustrated, and his former fans confused.

But at the end of the day he just wanted to be on the football field again. And that's exactly where Belichick put him.

Harrison had the opportunity to appear in many more situations, and had several sacks at the end of the season.

Now there is a new report from Christopher Price of the Boston Sports Journal that he could re-sign with the Patriots in 2018.

A source close to Price and Harrison said "there's a reasonable chance" that he could be on the roster next year.

He will be playing this upcoming season at age 40, and has previously stated he'd like to play one or two more seasons.

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