Patriots

Antonio Brown, Tom Brady connect on first touchdown out of rare formation

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Antonio Brown, Tom Brady connect on first touchdown out of rare formation

MIAMI GARDENS -- Despite all the challenges the Patriots faced going into Miami in recent years, they probably knew in the backs of their minds that a couple of scores might be enough to start the 2019 season 2-0. Especially against this tear-it-down-before-we-build-it-up iteration of the Dolphins. Especially with this suffocating iteration of the Patriots defense.

The only problem was the Patriots were having a hard time generating much in the way of offense after a methodical 10-play touchdown drive on their first series of the afternoon at Hard Rock Stadium. 

They lost left tackle Isaiah Wynn to a foot injury on the first play of their second drive. Tight end Matt LaCosse was banged up. Fullback James Develin came out of the game briefly with some sort of upper-body irritation.

The Wynn injury was the key one, though, because the Patriots were already without starting right tackle Marcus Cannon (shoulder). That meant Marshall Newhouse, who started the game at right tackle, had to bump over to left tackle. Second-year tackle Korey Cunningham came into the game to play right tackle for the first time as a pro.

The result of New England's first two drives without Wynn? Punt. Missed field goal. 

But what happened on their fourth and final drive of the half proved to be key for the Patriots.

After a ridiculous third-and-17 conversion to Phillip Dorsett to keep the drive alive, the Patriots converted on third-and-one twice to eventually help them get to the Dolphins 20-yard line with 1:24 left in the game. 

They could sniff points and would need them to give themselves some breathing room going into the locker room.

The Patriots trotted out a rarely-used formation on first-and-10 just inside the red zone. It was a four-receiver set with one back, referred to as "10 personnel." The Dolphins, not liking whatever it is they saw, and perhaps thrown off by that package in a critical situation, called timeout. 

The Patriots ran 10 personnel just three times last week against the Steelers and ran it just 17 times all of last season. It's a formation that's seldom used across the league, as it accounted for just two percent of all offensive plays last year, according to Sharp Football Stats.

It's a formation, though, that could benefit the Patriots as long as their receiver depth looks the way it did Sunday. With four quality wideouts in Julian Edelman, Antonio Brown, Josh Gordon and Phillip Dorsett, that's a grouping that's difficult to match with equally-talented corners. 

The Dolphins have a solid top-three in their corner room -- as many teams do -- with Xavien Howard, Eric Rowe and Minkah Fitzpatrick. But their fourth corner is Jomal Wiltz, who spent the last two seasons on the Patriots practice squad and latched on with former Patriots play-caller Brian Flores in Miami. 

Wiltz against any of New England's top four receivers is probably a mismatch Tom Brady would be willing to try to exploit. Wiltz on Brown is definitely a mismatch Brady would be willing to exploit. 

Out of the Dolphins timeout, the Patriots came back with the same personnel and found Wiltz aligned across from Brown in the left slot. Brown attacked Wiltz's outside shoulder with speed and got Wiltz retreating hard. Looking back to Brady, Brown opened up for a perfectly-placed back-shoulder throw to the front pylon. 

Touchdown. 

Brown only saw eight back-shoulder fades and caught one last season with the Steelers, according to Football Outsiders, but he is skilled in contested-catch situations and he showed it there to put the Patriots up, 13-0.

Brown and Brady's chemistry wasn't quite so on point the rest of the way. In the second half there was a misfire on a slant that took too long to develop, another on a rep that Brady ripped before Brown ever turned around to look for it, and another on an attempt into the end zone that got batted away when Brady couldn't find a window to hit Brown who'd broken free from Miami corner Eric Rowe.

The Patriots got a shutout from their stifling defense and added 30 points in the second half. But the touchdown connection between Brady and Brown -- the result of a rarely-used formation and an unlikely one-on-one matchup -- was all Brady and Josh McDaniels needed.

Moving forward, it'll be interesting to see if four-receiver sets, though not part of New England's normal offensive attack, could become a bigger part of their plan with Brown in the mix. Their depth at wideout is looking like it'll be simply too tough for some opposing cornerback units to match. It was on Sunday.

Click to watch Patriots score two defensive TDs>>>

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NFL Rumors: Patriots free up millions in cap space from Antonio Brown, Aaron Hernandez grievances

NFL Rumors: Patriots free up millions in cap space from Antonio Brown, Aaron Hernandez grievances

The New England Patriots just got whole lot of financial breathing room.

The Patriots have earned a total of $6.25 million in settlements from compensation grievances involving former wide receiver Antonio Brown and ex-tight end Aaron Hernandez, ESPN's Mike Reiss and Field Yates reported Saturday.

New England now has $7.79 million in cap space, per Reiss and Yates, a huge bump from the less than $500,000 in spending money the team had earlier this week.

Brown, who spent less than two weeks with the Patriots last September, filed a grievance against the team in October 2019 following his release seeking to receive his unpaid Week 1 salary, his $1.025 million guaranteed base salary and his $9 million signing bonus.

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The Patriots will pay Brown $5 million as part of the settlement, per Reiss and Yates.

The NFL Players Association filed a grievance against the Patriots on Hernandez's behalf in October 2013 seeking over $6 million in guaranteed salary. Hernandez was arrested and later convicted for the 2013 murder of Odin Lloyd and died in prison in April 2017.

New England was up against the cap after squeezing free-agent quarterback Cam Newton in on a one-year contract and inking all of its 2020 NFL Draft picks to rookie deals. With nearly $8 million in cap space, however, the Patriots have more flexibility to bolster their roster via free agency or trade.

Our Patriots Insider Tom E. Curran suggested tight end David Njoku could be a strong fit in New England after requesting a trade from the Cleveland Browns, and there are a number of quality free agents still on the market, as well.

Patriots TE Devin Asiasi joins Cam Newton, N'Keal Harry for workouts

Patriots TE Devin Asiasi joins Cam Newton, N'Keal Harry for workouts

Twelve days ago, Cam Newton was still a free agent looking for work.

But ever since he agreed to a one-year contract with the Patriots, he's been very busy trying to get ready for the 2020 season, learning the playbook and developing chemistry with his new receivers.

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In addition to N'Keal Harry, whose workout with Newton was captured on video, rookie tight end Devin Asiasi was also catching passes from New England's new quarterback. Twitter user amirmehrtash15 took pictures with both Asiasi and Newton at the UCLA practice session and posted them in reponse to the Providence Journal's Mark Daniels.

The workout wasn't limited to Patriots, as Browns wideout Odell Beckham Jr. was also in attendance.

Newton trying to fast-track a relationship with his new teammates makes perfect sense. He set up his first practice with Mohamed Sanu on the day he signed his Patriots contract, and in less than two weeks, he's already connected with three of the guys who will be among his top receiving options in 2020.

The Patriots certainly hope all that extra work pays off, as training camps could open as soon as the end of this month once the NFL and NFLPA can finalize preseason dates.