Patriots

Five thoughts from Patriots-Broncos: Special teams play is the difference

Five thoughts from Patriots-Broncos: Special teams play is the difference

DENVER -- Here are five quick-hitting thoughts from what transpired between the Broncos and Patriots on Sunday night at Mile High Stadium . . . 

1) Rex Burkhead was a jack-of-all-trades in his third game back from injury. Since returning from a rib issue that kept him out five weeks, Burkhead has seen his snap-count and his usage steadily increase, and in Denver he was featured prominently. He carried six times in the first half for 23 yards, and he caught all three of his targets for 27 yards and a touchdown. He also made one of the biggest special-teams plays of the game, blocking a second-quarter Broncos punt that eventually led to a field goal. He was in on two first-half tackles as a member of the kickoff team as well. Have a day, Rex. When the Patriots signed Burkhead this offseason, they thought he had the ability to contribute in multiple phases. Now that he's healthy, he's proving them right. 

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2) The monkey is finally off of Dwayne Allen's back. Late in the second quarter he made his first catch of the season -- an 11-yard touchdown that made the score 27-9. Tom Brady was fired up to see the tight end make catch No. 1 as a member of the Patriots, and Allen probably felt doubly relieved since he had a potential touchdown pass bounce off of his hands earlier in the quarter. For a player who has done all the right things off the field and in practice, yet still hasn't seen results on the field, the score had to have served as a huge boost of confidence. 

3) Martellus Bennett played two snaps in the first half and caught passes on both. He had a 27-yard catch-and-run on his first play since re-joining the Patriots, and he made a five-yard grab later in the first quarter. Soon thereafter, however Bennett made his way to the medical tent on the Patriots sideline and spent several minutes inside. He did not play at all in the second quarter, though he was spotted chatting briefly with Tom Brady with his helmet in hand. Bennett returned to action in the second half, though he was used sparingly. He caught a six-yard pass in the fourth quarter to give him three grabs for 38 yards on the night. 

4) Special teams play was the difference as the Patriots built up a three-score lead in the first half. And it wasn't all Burkhead. First was the muffed punt by Broncos return man Isaiah McKenzie, which was encouraged by Jonathan Jones' good coverage. Jacob Hollister fell on the ball, and two plays later Brady found Rex Burkhead to open the scoring. What looked like a quick three-and-out for the Broncos defense turned into a 7-0 deficit. Then came Dion Lewis' 103-yard kick return for a score that was sprung by good blocks from Allen, James Develin and Marquis Flowers. Then came Burkhead's block. Former Broncos assistant special teams coach Bill Belichick had to be beaming. 

5) The Patriots put together a big-boy drive when they took possession for the first time in the second half. After the Broncos scored to make it 27-16, Brady and his teammates took over at their own 25 and needed just 3:18 to drive the field. Long-gainers to Rob Gronkowski and Brandin Cooks -- helped by play-action fakes -- set up a Phillip Dorsett catch that was then followed by three hard-charging Lewis runs. His last, from eight yards out, showed his strength as he carried Aqib Talib into the end zone. Suddenly, after the Broncos thought they'd built some momentum, the Patriots were back up three scores, 34-16.

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Dolphins' Wake promises pain for Patriots on Monday night

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Dolphins' Wake promises pain for Patriots on Monday night

Monday night, Cameron Wake will be trying to hurt Tom Brady. Pain – inflicting it, enduring it, the specter of it – is a football fact of life.

And no matter how hard the NFL tries to legislate out the danger of the game, it will always be inherent. Brady gets that better than Wake does. He’s been on the receiving end of it a lot longer than Wake’s been dishing it out. And while Brady’s gets to do his job with plenty of protections, he spends a lot more time prone and vulnerable than Wake does.

The Dolphins defensive end went deep last week talking about the nature of the game, the protections afforded, the risks players take and what he sees as the inconsistencies.

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Asked about the injury suffered by Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier last week, Wake said, “I’ve seen a lot of injuries so, unfortunately, that comes along with. This is my thing: I want to hurt everybody I play. I don’t want to injure anybody.

“I want you to be able to get up and go to the next play or feed your family and play next week but I want you to say ‘Man, Cameron Wake …’ ” Wake continued. “I don’t want you to be off the team or like not playing. I want you to obviously be physically defeated. I want to intimidate. I don’t want you to be harmed beyond tomorrow at all. It doesn’t always work that way.”

Continuing, Wake did a little math to make a very good point.

“We have 10 guys on IR or whatever? I’m sure every team has about that with 50 players on a team and then when you think about a 90-man roster … That’s a 20 percent chance every time you’re on the field, a 20 percent chance that whatever happens to you, you’re not going to play football this year.”

As appetizing as the NFL tries to make its product for the masses, the truth is that every single one of the players in the league has reconciled himself to the brutal, primitive nature of the game in which an opponent isn’t just defeated but beaten – literally.

Which means you will see a quarterback exhibit the fencing response as Tom Savage did Sunday, a linebacker unable to walk off the field because he can’t feel his legs as Shazier did last Monday or a well-liked tight end go barbaric on an opponent who made him mad as Rob Gronkowski did last Sunday.

Consumers, advertisers, social media and fans recoil. But violence is as much a part of the game as the football.

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Eagles announce Wentz has torn ACL, out for rest of year

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Eagles announce Wentz has torn ACL, out for rest of year

PHILADELPHIA -- Eagles star quarterback Carson Wentz has a torn left ACL and will miss rest of the season and playoffs, coach Doug Pederson confirmed.

Wentz, a favorite in the NFL MVP race, had an MRI on Monday that revealed the severity of the injury. Wentz was hurt late in the third quarter Sunday at Los Angeles. Backup Nick Foles rallied the Eagles (11-2) to a 43-35 win over the Rams that secured the NFC East title and put them in first place in the conference with three games remaining.

The Eagles have overcome several key injuries and now have to move forward without their most indispensable player. Nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters, return specialist/running back Darren Sproles, star linebacker Jordan Hicksand special teams captain Chris Maragos already went down for the season.

"If there's ever an opportunity for me to rally the troops as the football coach, now might be the time," Pederson said. "You can't lose faith. This has been a resilient football team all season long."

After starting all 16 games as a rookie, Wentz made a giant leap this year. He passed for 3,296 yards and set a franchise single-season record with 33 touchdown passes while only tossing seven interceptions.

Foles led the Eagles to a pair of field goals on consecutive drives against the Rams. He is 20-17 as a starter in six seasons with the Eagles, Rams and Chiefs.

Pederson insisted the offense won't change with Foles.

"He's a highly intelligent football player," Pederson said.

A third-round pick by former Eagles coach Andy Reid in 2012, Foles in his second stint in Philadelphia. He replaced an injured Michael Vick in 2013 and led the Eagles to an NFC East title during Chip Kelly's first season as coach. Foles tied an NFL record with seven TD passes in a game at Oakland in November 2013 and finished that season with 27 TDs and only two picks. The Eagles lost at home to New Orleans in the playoffs. Foles went to the Pro Bowl and was the offensive MVP.

But Kelly traded Foles to St. Louis for Sam Bradford after the 2014 season. Foles spent a year with the Rams, a season with the Chiefs and returned to Philadelphia as a free agent this season.

Second-year pro Nate Sudfeld is Philadelphia's No. 3 quarterback. Pederson said he hasn't spoken to personnel boss Howie Roseman about adding a third quarterback yet.

"I'm absolutely ready to go - need be," Foles said after the win over the Rams. "I prepare every day."