Patriots

Patriots trust in Jonathan Jones to cover Jarvis Landry speaks volumes

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Patriots trust in Jonathan Jones to cover Jarvis Landry speaks volumes

FOXBORO -- To get a feel for just exactly how Bill Belichick feels about a player, there are a couple of ways to go about it.

Asking him about said player in a press conference setting will provide a response. But watching how Belichick is willing to deploy that player in a game situation is probably the most accurate window into his brain.

Judging by how the Patriots used Jonathan Jones two weeks ago against the Dolphins, when Jones shadowed Jarvis Landry for the majority of the afternoon, Belichick and the Patriots are very high on their second-year corner.

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"He's played quite a bit of football for us," Belichick said on Wednesday. "And I'd say quite a bit of good football for us. We have a lot of confidence in Jon. Jon's made a lot of plays for us. Plays in the kicking game. He's a tough kid. He's out there every day. And he plays in tough spots. Penetrator on the kickoff team. Gunner on the punt team. He's right in the middle of the action. 

"I think his toughness, competitiveness and his ability to cover . . . we have a lot of confidence in him. He always supports that confidence with very competitive performance. He plays hard, tough kid."

The evidence of the trust Jones has garnered has been there for much of the season. He saw significant action in Week 2 against the Saints, coming away with two pass breakups on seven targets in coverage. According to Pro Football Focus, he's allowed a passer rating of 69.0 this season, which is the 19th-lowest in the NFL for qualifying corners, just a shade behind Cardinals star Patrick Peterson (68.9). 

By following Landry around at Gillette Stadium late last month, the Patriots dubbed Jones one of their most dependable defensive backs. Belichick reveres Landry. Has for a long time, and his respect for Landry's skill set was broadcast on NFL Films' "Turning Point" just last week. 

"It's obviously a Landry game," Belichick told CBS sideline reporter Evan Washburn on the sidelines prior to kickoff. "We gotta do a good on on him. Not get it thrown over our head."

In two games against the Pats in 2016, Landry had 19 catches for 211 and a score. The 5-foot-11, 208-pounder's unique skill set was on full display in Miami when he lowered his shoulder into 265-pound linebacker Dont'a Hightower and plowed into the end zone.

"Very dangerous," Belichick said Wednesday when asked about Landry. "Hard guy to tackle. Super competitive player. Strong. Has good balance. Good quickness. Can make people miss but he's a very hard guy to tackle. He breaks a lot of tackles. Probably as many as any receiver in the league. He's targeted probably more than any receiver in the league. He gets the ball a lot, and he's really hard to tackle. Makes a lot of yards after the catch on his own. Both tackling, actually wrapping up and tackling is an issue, but also leverage because he has good vision, he can cut back against the grain, make people miss in the open field."

Because the Dolphins have depth at receiver -- plus a receiving tight end in Julius Thomas who could be considered another wideout in certain situations -- Belichick explained that "this is a big week for [Patriots] corners." 

They'll often have three on the field to check Miami's 11-personnel, and even with Eric Rowe back in the mix after a long absence due to a groin injury, Jones will likely be one of them.

Given all he's done this season and how he performed the last time the Patriots and Dolphins met -- holding Landry to 46 yards on five catches and six targets -- it would come as little surprise if he was trusted yet again to square off against Miami's best. 

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Brady unable to get comfortable without security blanket Gronkowski

Brady unable to get comfortable without security blanket Gronkowski

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Was it the number of hits Tom Brady took from the Dolphins defense two weeks ago that were still fresh in his mind? Or did he simply understand that without Rob Gronkowski it was going to be a difficult night? 

Whatever it was, the Patriots quarterback seemed uncharacteristically jumpy from the beginning of Monday night's game at Hard Rock Stadium, and he wasn't able to help his team mount much of a fight in a 27-20 defeat that was not as close as the score indicated. 

The Patriots went 0-for-11 on third down -- their first game without a third-down conversion since 1991 -- and went three-and-out seven times. They managed only 25 yards rushing (a season-low) and 248 yards passing (also a season-low). 

Brady went 24-for-43 for 233 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. He was picked twice in the Divisional Round last season against the Texans, but Monday was his first regular-season game with two picks since 2015. His 59.5 passer rating was his worst in four seasons. He's now 7-9 in Miami for his career. 

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"Yeah, it was pretty bad," Brady said after the game when asked about the difficulty he had on third down. "We can't get any worse than that. We couldn't stay on the field and just didn't make enough plays. It's just a bad night. We've had a lot of good nights this year and this was a bad night."

Brady's first dropback of the night may have rattled him. He managed to get off an incompletion despite Lawrence Timmons screaming off the right edge unblocked. On the next snap, he had plenty of time but underthrew Brandin Cooks badly and was picked by Xavien Howard. 

On the first play of the next Patriots drive, Brady bailed on a throw early, perhaps sensing that Ndamukong Suh was wiggling free from his block. The pass went incomplete to James White despite the fact that Brady had time to throw and was in no real danger of being hit. 

Brady made some remarkable throws later in the first half. His 20-yard floater to Dion Lewis as he was being hit by Kiko Alonso stood out. So too did his seven-yarder to James White that was completed after Brady avoided an Andre Branch pressure. 

But in the second half, the pressures began to pile up and take their toll on the front-runner for MVP. After taking an eight-yard sack, he was picked deep down the middle of the field by Howard on another underthrown shot to Cooks. The Dolphins went up 20-10 on the subsequent drive, and all of a sudden Miami rushers could pin their ears back and hunt. 

Brady attempted one third-down throw to a smothered Cooks on the outside when he might've had Dwayne Allen available for first-down yardage. He threw another third-down prayer deep to Chris Hogan that went incomplete. Yet another was fired to Cooks on a slant that was so off-the-mark it looked almost like a throwaway. 

With a lead, Suh, Phillips, Branch, Cameron Wake and Charles Harris stalked Brady from the other side of the line of scrimmage, making life difficult for the Patriots offensive line. Brady was hit six times, sacked twice, and pressured on numerous other occasions -- even when he had more time than he thought. 

The result was an unsettled offense.

"I think that's accurate," Nate Solder said. "I think there was a lot of drives where we were just playing behind on the chains, and that made it really tough. We know they have a great pass-rush and the front four is as good as any that's in the league. When you're playing behind like that, you have to take their best shot every time. It just is gonna look bad, it's gonna be tough, and it's a long, hard day."

Not having Gronkowski to attract coverage -- and beat man coverage even when blanketed, as he so often does -- didn't help matters for the Patriots. Neither did having a No. 2 receiver in Chris Hogan who hadn't played in more than a month and may have had some rust to knock off. 

But Brady was not himself early, and that led to issues later on as the score got away from him and his teammates.

"We got behind and that's not the way we want to play the game. It's a bad loss," Brady said. "I wish we played better, but we didn't. We have to move on and try to play better next week."

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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’ 8-game win streak came to an end at the hands of the Miami Dolphins, a reporter asked the 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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