Patriots

Who'll give Patriots a lift?

Who'll give Patriots a lift?

The NFL trade deadline is nearly upon us, and the question is: Life Post-54, where can the Patriots find LB help at the deadline?

MIKE GIARDI: First, let's start with the teams that suck on wheat, rye and pumpernickel: San Fran. Cleveland. Indy. The New York Giants. All of those teams are having dumpster-fire seasons. The Browns are the suckiest bunch of sucks who ever sucked. The Colts aren't too far behind despite good buddy Jacoby Brissett trying to lead them. The Giants were supposed to be a Super Bowl contender and their GM just said they bought into the hype. And the 49ers are trying to remake their entire culture. That will take time -- and a QB. The Niners have Aaron Lynch as a possible edge guy who might make sense in New England. No sex appeal, but a sound player. Indy has former Patriot Jon Bostic (more inside than out). He never got the system when he was here, but it wouldn't be foreign to him. Also not sexy. Jamie Collins anyone?? I kid,I kid. Jason Pierre-Paul would be all you could ever want and more, but he just signed a big money extension during the offseason. As much as I'd love to see him coming after opposing QBs, that ain't happening either. You've also got another former Pat in the Big Apple (actually Jersey, but work with me): Jonathan Casillas. A leader. High energy, Decent player. None of this doing much for ya? Me, either. Okay, what about teams that Belichick has done business with, especially lately? Tampa. They're still in the mix for a playoff spot. Ditto for Detroit, although that season may be going sideways again. I won't steal Phil Perry's thunder but I think there might be a guy in Motown he's got a good vibe for. SENATOR! The floor is yours . . . 

OTHER TRADE QUESTIONSWill Malcolm Butler be this year's Jamie Collins? | Will Pats trade Jimmy Garoppolo?Will Larry Fitzgerald pipe dream become a reality?

PHIL PERRY: Could I interest you in a Ziggy? Hear me out. With Hightower unavailable, I believe the Patriots are actually more in need of a pass rusher than they are a linebacker. They have Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts and David Harris in the mix off the line. Shea McClellin seems to be on his way. Off the edge, they could use a boost. That's where Lions pass-rusher Ezekiel Ansah comes in. He's in the final year of his deal. He's had a down season coming off a down 2016, during which he was slowed by injury. He's only a year-plus removed from a 14.5-sack season but would the Lions be willing to deal him? When asked recently about the 6-foot-5, 270-pound former No. 5 overall pick, coach Jim Caldwell provided a relatively passionless defense. (Though, who knows, that may be the heat of 1,000 suns for him.) Ansah is still starting in Detroit but he's only playing about 50 percent of the snaps. The Lions have someone named Nevin Lawson starting for them at corner and they just gave up 52 points in a loss to the Saints. Any chance former Patriots director of pro personnel Bob Quinn would be interested in giving up on Ansah if it meant a reunion with Malcolm Butler?

If that's off the table, here are a couple more edge defenders in the final years of their deals the Patriots may find interesting: Erik Walden is on a one-year deal in Tennessee, playing for former Patriots director of college scouting Jon Robinson. He's been used to rush and cover, and he had some decent performances against New England as a member of the Colts in years past. And what about Sam Acho of the Bears? Another outside linebacker who has been used to rush and cover. He's played about 40 percent of his team's snaps. And that's another team that's executed deals with the Patriots in the past.

Tom, any of this making sense to you? Or should we just expect them to roll with what they have?

TOM E. CURRAN: You guys are making tons of sense, but the 30,000-foot view of the Patriots roster keeps chewing at my brain. The team had four draft choices in 2017. In 2016, there were nine and two of them -- Brissett and Kamu Grugier-Hill -- are gone, while Malcolm Mitchell and Cyrus Jones are on IR. The Pats haven't had a first-round pick in the last two years and the only time they selected in the top 20 this decade was when they took Nate Solder in 2011. They project to have eight selections in 2018 and -- if they make deals for picks as opposed to players with someone like James Bartholomew Garoppolo -- then they can get up into that first round, perhaps. As much as the Patriots might want to satisfy the short-term need of a pass rush with a player like Ziggy, Walden or Acho, would the team be better this year shipping someone like Butler for more heat up front? (I know you're just spitballing . . . ) Or would they need to give up picks? Certainly, a sixth-rounder for somebody like Ansah or Acho would be an easy-to-make trade, but as I look at the depth of the Patriots roster and see how they looked at times during the preseason, I get the feeling this roster is built on a fault line.

Wentz, Eagles roll over Cowboys 37-9 after losing kicker

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Wentz, Eagles roll over Cowboys 37-9 after losing kicker

ARLINGTON, Texas - No kicker, no problem for the Philadelphia Eagles.

Carson Wentz threw for two touchdowns and three 2-point conversions after Philadelphia lost kicker Jake Elliott to a head injury, and the Eagles all but wrapped up the NFC East with a 37-9 victory over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night.

The Eagles (9-1) outscored the Cowboys 30-0 in the second half while extending their winning streak to eight games, their longest since 2003-04 and tied with New Orleans for the best current run in the NFL.

Philadelphia leads the second-place and defending division champion Cowboys (5-5) by four games with six to play after handing Dallas its worst home loss at 8-year-old AT&T Stadium.

Dallas' Dak Prescott threw a career-high three interceptions and lost a fumble that was returned for a touchdown in his second straight loss without star running back Ezekiel Elliott, serving a six-game suspension for alleged domestic violence.

Jake Elliott's injury wasn't a factor for nearly a half because the NFL-leading Eagles couldn't get in scoring position. They failed to get a first down on five straight first-half drives, starting with one at the Dallas 15 when Elliott missed a 34-yard attempt and soon after left the field.

Trailing 9-7 at halftime, Wentz led the Eagles on scoring drives of 75, 90 and 85 yards, the middle one boosted by Jay Ajayi's 71-yard run against his hometown team in his second game since getting traded by Miami.

"The biggest thing was sticking with the game plan," said Wentz, who is up to 25 touchdown passes with just five interceptions. "The big boys up front kind of came out angry. We ran the ball the second half really effectively."

Ajayi had 91 yards on seven carries and LeGarrette Blount added 57 on 13 carries, including a 30-yarder leading to the last offensive touchdown.

Eagles coach Doug Pederson declared at halftime that he would go for every fourth down and try 2-point conversions after every touchdown.

It came into play right away when Corey Clement scored on an 11-yard run to open the second half and ran in a screen pass behind three blockers for the 2-pointer.

The first fourth-down try was Wentz's 17-yard touchdown pass to Alshon Jeffery for a 29-9 lead. That 2-point pass failed. Torrey Smith had the other TD catch, an 11-yarder.

After Derek Barnett hit Prescott's leg and arm as he was throwing, Nigel Bradham picked up the loose ball and ran it 37 yards for a touchdown. Wentz's 2-point pass to Trey Burton provided the final margin.

"We got some nice 2-point conversions," said Wentz, who was 14 of 27 for 168 yards. "Now we've got to go back to the drawing board with our 2-point plays."

The Cowboys appeared to have fixed the problems of missing injured left tackle Tyron Smith and 2016 All-Pro linebacker Sean Lee from a week earlier, when they allowed eight sacks of Prescott along with three Atlanta scoring drives following Lee's injury in a 27-7 loss to the Falcons.

But after protecting Prescott fairly well before halftime, Dallas allowed three sacks and 180 of Philadelphia's season-high 215 yards rushing in the second half. Lee's replacement at weakside linebacker, Anthony Hitchens, left with a groin injury after halftime.

Prescott was 18 of 31 for 145 yards for a career-worst 30.4 passer rating before backup Cooper Rush took mop-up duty.

"It's no excuses," said Prescott, who teamed with Elliott in a remarkable rookie season that is now a distant memory with already two more losses and three more interceptions than Prescott had a year ago. Elliott won't be back until the final two games of the regular season.

"We're not saying injuries or any of that's bothering us. We're not saying it's the reason we're not winning is because of those guys."

NO RUST THIS TIME

The Eagles had a focus on being better following the bye after losing nine of 11 last season after a 3-0 start going into the break. Now Philadelphia will take a shot at the best record in the NFL with history on its side when starting this strong. The Eagles have two NFL championships (1949, 1960) and two trips to the Super Bowl (1980, 2004, both losses) following 9-1 starts.

SECOND-HALF MELTDOWNS

The Cowboys have been outscored 47-0 in the second half the past two weeks following a three-game winning streak that seemed to have Dallas back on track following an NFC-best 13-3 record last season.

"It would be pretty tough not to panic, but I don't think we are panicking," said running back Alfred Morris, who had 91 yards filling in for Ezekiel Elliott. "It's been two tough losses, ugly losses on top of that. But at the same time, I know the character of this team and the fight we have."

EMERGENCY KICKER

Linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill is the emergency kicker for the Eagles. But he completely missed the safety net on a practice try on the sidelines, sending the ball into the stands. He did reach the goal line with his first kickoff, though.

UP NEXT

Eagles: Home against Chicago next Sunday.

Cowboys: Los Angeles Chargers visiting for annual Thanksgiving game.

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Energized Patriots defense forces 'critical swings' with turnovers

Energized Patriots defense forces 'critical swings' with turnovers

“We’re a blue-collar team…”

Devin McCourty didn’t hesitate when asked about the Patriots’ identity. Moments prior, McCourty and his teammates had just stomped the Oakland Raiders in Mexico City, 33-8, to run their win streak to a half-dozen games. The Pats are tied for the best record in the AFC with the Steelers

“We played at a high level,” said McCourty. “They made some plays, but I thought we executed our game plan and did exactly what we wanted to do today.”

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After surrendering a 100-points per game through the first month (ok, it was only 32), the Pats defense has flexed their muscle during this stretch, allowing 12.5 points per game, which would be the best in the NFL were this a season-long thing. We’re not looking at the same unit even though the personnel is largely the same. If anything, from a talent-level, this defense has less skill than it did when the season started. Their best player, Dont'a Hightower, is out for the year, lost during the first win of this 6-game streak. They’ve also survived three-game absences from $31-million cornerback Stephon Gilmore and their most consistent interior defender, tackle Malcom Brown. Yet the defense keeps showing up, keeps improving and its confidence is growing by leaps and bounds.

“We’re just playing together…we’re kind of figuring that out,” said McCourty. “We’re understanding how we need to prepare, how we need to practice, whether it’s a hard, full-padded practice, whether it’s a walkthrough, we know what we need to do on each of those days and when we do that, we give ourselves a chance. You’re seeing that on Sundays. Everyone running around, everyone knows their job and it’s all about execution.”

“I thought our players gave a great effort tonight,” said Bill Belichick. “We came out and performed well early, throughout the game and played really good situational football.”

The Pats were opportunistic, forcing three turnovers, including one in a huge spot, when Marquis Flowers stripped the ball from wideout Seth Roberts as the Raiders were knocking on the door. It was 14-0 at the time, and Oakland had life. Second-year cornerback Jon Jones battled Roberts, Flowers popped the ball free and safety Pat Chung pounced on it. Instead of milking the clock and heading into halftime up two scores, the Pats turned that fumble into points, driving to midfield before Steven Gostkowski kicked a career-long 62 yarder. That further energized a Pats team that was already surging.

“It’s something we talk about every week,” said McCourty. “We’re playing solid defense, executing the game plan, but changing the game with turnovers - you know, even Duron’s interception was a third down so it was kind of like a punt. The energy that brings - when the offense takes the field after we get a turnover - that’s huge. And then with them driving again in the red area before the half is what we talked about, getting that stop.”

“We had some real critical swings with those turnovers,” admired Tom Brady, a chief beneficiary of those change in possessions.

Earlier this week, I asked McCourty if he got a sense that the team was coming together at the tail end of their stay in Colorado Springs. He smiled and joked initially, but you could sense the veteran safety can see and feel what the rest of the league is now a witness to.

“I hope so. I mean, it’d probably be terrible if I say yeah and then we go on a five-game losing streak. I can see the headline: ‘McCourty was wrong.’ So, no, I think we understand how the season starts to pick up. You know, each game means more. We understand that seven wins (now 8) doesn’t mean anything. We have to continue to get better. So, I think why we end up usually improving is because it’s the understanding of there’s no tomorrow.”

The defense ordered that Code Red after losing to Carolina in Week 4, and since then, they have worked harder, worked longer and cleaned up so many of the issues that ailed them that opening month. It’s a credit to the players, “they won’ the game tonight,” said Belichick, and the coaching staff as well. if you’ve followed this team over the years, you know even now, they’re not satisfied. There are “things to work on” added Belichick and they’ll start that work on the flight home from Mexico City to Foxboro. 

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