Patriots

Patriots lament lack of energy after loss to Dolphins

Patriots lament lack of energy after loss to Dolphins

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- It was a simple question and, in the world according to Bill Belichick, deserved a simple answer. Shortly after the Patriots’ eight-game win streak came to an end at the hands of the Miami Dolphins, a reporter asked Belichick if there was any chance his team was looking ahead to next week’s regular-season showdown in Pittsburgh with the Steelers. 

“No. Give me a break," he said. "Any questions about the game, or no?"

There were, but not many answers to be given. In the aftermath, Belichick’s players seemed to have a better grasp on the team’s performance than he was willing to offer up. A keyword kept being repeated. Energy. The Patriots felt like they just didn’t have enough.

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“We know we can’t come down here in a place like this and not play with energy,” said Duron Harmon. “We saw what happened to the Broncos. We just got behind too early and dug ourselves a hole that was too hard to come out of.”

“You gotta come down here with a ton of energy. A ton of determination,” said Nate Solder. “That's just the environment down here. We know that those guys play great at home. We know that we've had a lot of hard games here, and that just has to be the mentality.”

“They definitely played with a lot more energy than we did,” added Shaq Mason. “We got behind the eight ball and were just trying to fight uphill.”

For a team that has overcome plenty of deficits in the past, their reaction to Monday night’s slow start was troubling to Devin McCourty,

“I think it impacted us a little too much,” he said. “We knew this was a game we wanted to play from ahead but we gotta have the mental toughness that if it doesn’t go the way you want, you just gotta keep fighting.”

There was no sense that the Pats were primed for a letdown. In fact, the mood as the week went on was one of confidence but not overconfidence. Just days prior to the loss, McCourty was talking about how the team understood what they were and how they had gotten to this point - by preparing well and avoiding those bad days that eventually will catch up to you.

“We had a good week,” said McCourty. “In football, sometimes you come out and don’t play as well as you want to and that’s what it was. You play another good team that knows you well and you know them well and they’re on it a little more than you are. You’re a half step late. You saw that. It wasn’t like we never got anything going. We got some things at different times in the game but it was just too late.” 

“I felt like the energy all throughout the week, all throughout warmups, I felt we were ready to go,” Harmon said. “Sometimes it’s just not your day.”

Cameras captured Harmon giving a fiery speech during the game. Most of his teammates were stone-faced in response but to their credit, did seem to respond afterward. When I asked Harmon what the message was, he went back to the word of the night.

“Just trying to play with a little bit more energy. That’s it. We wasn’t playing the way we wanted to play. We wasn’t playing consistent. Everything we talked about doing as far as a Patriot defense, we weren’t doing.”

They paid the price for that, now must quickly reset and get back after it. This is a short week, and the Steelers are waiting.

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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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