Patriots

Patriots give Bills the little brother treatment in Buffalo

Patriots give Bills the little brother treatment in Buffalo

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – It really came down to three mistakes. One massive one, the other two subtle ones.

All three conspired to ensure the Buffalo Bills would not be hanging with the Patriots on this Sunday. Even though they had a plan, even though they had chances, even though they knew they had to play almost perfect and hope the Patriots weren’t, they still lost by 20.

The final result was dwarfed by conversation revolving around Rob Gronkowski’s dirty hit on Bills corner Tre’Davious White and whether Gronk deserved to be fined, jailed, suspended and made to read “Infinite Jest” or whether he should be fined, jailed, suspended and made to read Dan Shaughnessy.

Everybody has an opinion there.

There are fewer opinions on the game because, well, it was the ass-booting we anticipated though some (me) went the “You never know…” route and prophesied moments of doubt.

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Those moments lasted until Tyrod Taylor capped a masterful opening possession by the Bills with a goal-to-go pick thrown to Eric Lee fewer than eight minutes into the game. Lee is a player you may not know because, 12 days ago, he was a member of the Bills practice squad.

The Patriots, in essence, went to the Bills, saw Lee leaning up against the shed out back and said, “You using that? No? Mind if we use it for a while?” New England then proceeded to ruin their day with their newfound tool.

The two other mistakes I alluded to – Tyrod Taylor overshooting Travaris Cadet for a would-be touchdown in the second quarter and the Bills failing to cover Gronk on a third down early in the third quarter – were harmful, nothing could top the poison pill that was Taylor’s day-ruining turnover on the opening drive.

Despite what social media kept insisting, the Patriots didn’t take Buffalo lightly. The Bills are a tough matchup on the ground because they have a mobile quarterback in Taylor and a gifted runner in LeSean McCoy. They get you in space and beat you with shiftiness and speed. The Patriots are a lot of things. Off-the-charts athletically isn’t one.

So the Bills confirmed the Patriots fears on the first drive. And on New England’s first few offensive drives, the Buffalo defense was enough of a nuisance to have the Patriots’ blood pressure up.

But this was big brother-little brother all day long. No matter how much the Bills schemed and hoped and psyched themselves up to try and take the Patriots into the fourth quarter, they couldn’t hang. When the second half started the Patriots started pounding the ball to Gronk. That was when the game really felt like one kid firing futile fists at the stomach of his brother who laughs and holds him off with just a palm on the little dude’s forehead.

Which brings us to the running game and how that’s become the Patriots’ ultimate weapon in 2017. With three dual-purpose running backs, a Hall of Fame tight end, one of the league’s best downfield threats and third-down conversion machine Danny Amendola, the Patriots are so loaded they can only beat themselves. Truly. There is a mismatch somewhere every time Tom Brady is behind center. They either find and exploit it or user error prevents them from doing so.

Adding in the potent threat of a ground attack in which the Patriots are going heavy while other teams are going light means New England has something else up its sleeve. They could throw it every down if they wanted to and still win plenty. But running the ball is so much easier when it comes down to it.  Running also adds the extra dimension of saying, “We are tougher than you…” And that still matters in football.

“In a lot of ways, holding onto the ball, being able to run the ball helped us control the game,” said Nate Solder after the Patriots ran for 191 on 35 carries a week after running for 196 against Miami. “The better we can run it, the more our play-action opens up, the more our passing game opens up. Honestly, for me, if I don’t have to deal with a great pass-rusher like Jerry Hughes on every down, that’s OK with me. (Running the ball means) a little less risk, it relies a little more on our effort and technique and less of going against a great athlete in space.”

Between the offensive line, tight ends and fullback James Develin, the Patriots are bare-knuckling in a velvet-glove league.

“The more balanced we are offensively, the better we’ll be,” said tight end Dwayne Allen. "To be able to go from, ‘Let’s spread ‘em out and throw it…” to “Let’s pack it in here, let’s run the ball, let’s control the game, it just makes us a more effective offense.

“The fullback and the tight end position are two dying breeds in terms of blocking,” he added. “There are plenty of tight ends with the title ‘tight end’ but there are very few doing it the way Rob Gronkowski is. He’s able to dominate the blocking game, dominate the edge of the line of scrimmage and then do what he does in the passing game, that’s what the position is all about.”

Develin also personifies what the fullback position’s traditionally been about. He’s a battering ram in a sport that, for a century, has centered around violent, head-on, human collisions. We’ve got a better understanding now that those collisions sometimes lead to dire health consequences for some, so few weep for the fading of the fullback. But the Patriots have taken the market inefficiency that’s resulted from teams going skinny and fast on defense by getting big again.

“It’s a selfless position,” Brady said of Develin’s role. “It’s all dirty work. He’s not getting carries. … (But) being the lead blocker really sets the tone for the offense. I think those guys love running behind him and I think the line really appreciates a guy that takes that to heart. We went away from fullback for a while and then everyone else did as well so we went back to fullback. It’s a very valuable position and anyone that can create holes … that physical style in the run game is valuable for us.”

The football will take a back seat to the sexier storylines Monday.

There will be clucking because Brady yelled at Josh McDaniels. “How come Brady gets to…?!”

The quest to prove who’s most outraged by Gronk’s dirty hit began Sunday night with virtue signalers upping the ante by the minute. Of course it deserves punishment – a one-game suspension wouldn’t be ludicrous and neither would a $50,000 fine. But it was not – as a Twitter follower claimed to me – aggravated assault nor – as another fella on Twitter said – should it result in a suspension for the rest of the regular season.

But the football part, it wasn’t uninteresting. For the second straight week. The Patriots lined up and steamrolled a team on the ground. Nearly 400 yards on the ground in two weeks time? For an offense that was already daunting? That’s a development.

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Gronk question now makes tight end a position of need

Gronk question now makes tight end a position of need

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 a position where the Patriots have arguably the best player that’s ever manned it in his presumed prime. But tight end is suddenly a tenuous spot for New England.

OTHER ENTRIES IN THE SERIES

HOW THEY PERFORMED


This became – contrary to the Patriots hopes – a one-man position. Rob Gronkowski had 69 catches for 1,084 yards and eight touchdowns in 13 games. The rest of the tight ends – Dwayne Allen, Jacob Hollister and Martellus Bennett – combined for 20 catches and six of those came from Bennett who played just two games before heading to injured reserve. Gronk was – and is – the best tight end in the game and one of its most dominating offensive weapons. After losing Julian Edelman in the preseason, the Patriots offense became tremendously Gronk-reliant. They got away with it. But they clearly wanted more from Dwayne Allen than what they got or they wouldn’t have gone after Bennett when he became available.

WHO IS UNDER CONTRACT FOR 2018?
Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen, Martellus Bennett, Will Tye, Jacob Hollister

WHO IS NOT?
All tight ends on the roster are under contract.

HOW DIRE IS THE NEED?


Publicity grab or legitimate consideration? What exactly to make of Gronk’s reported dalliance with the WWE and his idle desire to be an action movie star (also reported)? Both have the earmarks of brand-building genius. It’s a page torn from the business plans of Michael Jordan, Muhammad Ali, Floyd Mayweather, Sugar Ray Leonard or Conor McGregor – ruminating on retirement and expressing interest in other public pursuits exponentially ratchets up public interest in both the main gig and the potential side gig. Gronk himself might not be that savvy and calculating to mildly hold the Patriots fortunes hostage but Gronk Inc. certainly is. Then again, maybe he legitimately is weighing it. The “will he or won’t he” conversation will sustain buzz and has to in some way impact the Patriots’ offseason plans. The presumption has to be that Gronk returns but this is anything but a layup. Which means the need is a Level-8

WHAT'S AVAILABLE IN FREE AGENCY?


There is a nice crop of tight ends hitting the market. Virtually all of them come with the same nagging health issues that Gronk has (had). Jimmy Graham is the biggest name in the group. His tepid blocking skills may make him unattractive to the Patriots, but never let it be said the Pats don’t like to take a flier on a once-electric player who’s on the backside. At 31, Graham’s coming off a 10-touchdown season, though his yards per catch went down to 9.1. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least to see New England pursue. The Eagles' second tight end, Trey Burton, is 26 and stuck behind Zach Ertz. An undrafted rookie, the kid who threw the touchdown pass to Nick Foles in the Super Bowl is targeted sparingly in Philly but is a smooth player. He also plays special teams (boing!). Austin Sefarian-Jenkins finally got his stuff together with the Jets in 2017 and he’s only 25. He’s no dummy, he’s only acted like one in the past and it seems like he’s got a handle on it now. He’d need face-to-face vetting but he’s got upside. Then there’s Tyler Eifert. Still just 27, Eifert’s played in 10 games the past two seasons and had season-ending back surgery in the fall (it was performed by the same doctor who treated Gronk). He’s played 39 games in five seasons. Terrific talent. Always broken.

WHAT'S AVAILABLE IN THE DRAFT?


I like this Dallas Goedert kid from South Dakota State. Also, Dalton Schultz from Stanford gets checkmarks as a blocker and competent receiver. Neither of them are first-round prospects at this point. Hayden Hurst from South Carolina and Oklahoma’s Mark Andrews are regarded as the top prospects. Hurst is a very good pass-catcher with a huge catch radius. He’s a 24-year-old former Pittsburgh Pirates draftee. Andrews is smooth as a receiver but not seen as a potent blocker. Same with Mike Gesicki from Penn State who’s the best athlete along with Hurst but doesn’t impress with his blocking.

HOW CAN THE PATRIOTS ADDRESS IT?


Assuming Gronk is returning, the Patriots can go at it a number of ways. There’s not a “can’t miss” prospect out there, so drafting Hurst or Gesicki in the first couple of rounds means they’ll have to live with the shortcomings or hope they can improve them. Given other needs, they may not want to spend on “maybes” near the top of the draft. Too many drafts have been like that, especially with second-rounders. It seems unlikely they’ll be really interested in counting on either Allen or Bennett to provide anything in 2018. If they take a run at the Eagles’ Burton and pay him a crapload, Gronk will lose his mind. Screw it. They should take Hurst. We will change our minds several times between now and April but that’s where we are now.

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Julian Edelman posts video of resistance-band training

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Julian Edelman posts video of resistance-band training

Julian Edelman is grinding.

The New England Patriots receiver, who is recovering from an ACL repair surgery that ended his 2017 season, shared a quick video from his workout on Tuesday. Edelman is shown running with a resistance band and a trainer in-tow.

Edelman has posted a few tidbits on social media to show encouraging signs during his recovery since he got surgery in October after suffering an ACL tear in a preseason game. He was spotted around the locker room a few times during the final weeks of the 2017 season.

"Rehab is a [expletive]. It sucks," Edelman said in November on Barstool Sports' "Pardon My Take podcast." "You go in and you’re feeling decent and then you warm up, you beat it up and then you get stiff again. I mean it’s just a process and you go in six days a week and you’re going into work it, work on everything — your flexion, your extension."