Patriots

Bill Belichick: Browns QB Baker Mayfield 'can make all the throws'

Bill Belichick: Browns QB Baker Mayfield 'can make all the throws'

The Cleveland Browns need a great performance from quarterback Baker Mayfield if they're going to leave Gillette Stadium on Sunday with an upset win over the undefeated New England Patriots.

The Patriots have the best defense in the NFL entering Week 8. This defense is giving up the fewest yards per game, the second-fewest pass yards per game and the fewest points scored per game. New England's defense also leads the league takeaways, including 18 interceptions. No other team has more than nine interceptions.

The Patriots have the most talented and deepest secondary in the league, and this unit presents a difficult matchup for Mayfield. The Browns quarterback's struggles are a major reason why Cleveland has a disappointing 2-4 record. He's completing just 56.6 percent of his passes with a league-leading 11 interceptions.

"I think (Mayfield) would be the first to tell you it's not good enough," Browns head coach Freddie Kitchens told reporters on a conference call Wednesday.

Despite Mayfield's struggles, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick still had plenty of good things to say Wednesday about the young quarterback's skill set, including his ability to make plays by escaping the pocket and running the football.

"Smart player, good control of things at the line of scrimmage," Belichick said of Mayfield. "Good arm, can make all the throws, moves the ball down the field with a good touch. He can extend plays -- scrambled for a touchdown against Seattle (in Week 6). He can hurt you running the ball. I wouldn't say he runs all the time, but he can extend plays with his legs, with his athleticism and make all the throws down the field, throws well on the run."

Mayfield will be the fourth quarterback from the 2018 draft class the Patriots have faced this season. They'll face another in Week 9 against Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson. The first three 2018 quarterback draft picks to play the Pats in 2019 -- Josh Rosen, Josh Allen and Sam Darnold -- have thrown a combined eight interceptions versus the New England defense. 

The Patriots have won 20 consecutive games against first- or second-year quarterbacks, in addition to a 19-game win streak at home (including the playoffs). Mayfield has a lot to overcome Sunday, and it's very difficult to envision the Browns winning unless he gives one of the best performances of his career.

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Patriots punter Jake Bailey wins AFC Special Teams Player of the Week after great performance

Patriots punter Jake Bailey wins AFC Special Teams Player of the Week after great performance

New England Patriots punter Jake Bailey might be the most impressive rookie from the team's 2019 NFL Draft class. 

The NFL announced Wednesday that Bailey is the AFC Special Teams Player of the Week winner for Week 12. He also won this award after the Patriots' Week 3 win over the New York Jets.

Bailey put on a punting clinic in New England's 17-10 win over the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday. The Stanford product had six punts inside the 20-yard line and five punts that went over 50 yards. His punts helped the Patriots win the field position battle and forced the Eagles to go on long scoring drives. Bailey's kicks were among the primary factors in the Patriots holding the Eagles scoreless through the final three quarters.

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick praised Bailey's ability to pin the Eagles deep in their own territory amid the difficult kicking conditions in Philly.

“Yeah. I’d say at Stanford, not a lot of tough conditions out there – out there playing Arizona State and Arizona and UCLA and all. But he’s had a lot of, I would say, challenging conditions out here – both in the spring, and then as we’ve gone through the regular season," Belichick told reporters after Sunday's victory. "This year there have been days out there where it’s been cold, rainy, windy and I think he learned something every day. There’s cross winds and there’s winds in your face and it’s kicking with the wind and all that. There’s challenges in every one of them. If you’re kicking with the wind, that’s an advantage to the punter, but handling the snap, which is coming back into the wind, wobbles and things like that. It’s a little tougher snap for the snapper.

"He’s done a good job of, I would say, adapting to the conditions. He’s still got a long way to go. I’m sure he’ll learn a lot more as the season goes along, but between the holding, the kickoffs and the punting in various conditions and certainly situational football, which came up today. You know, the end-of-the-game punts and backed-up punts and plus 50-punts and the kickoffs and so forth. There were a lot of situations. But he’s a great kid. He works hard. He’s really played well for us this entire season and he’s been so valuable to this team and he proved it out there today. I wish he could have recovered that fumble, but he’s been great for us.”

Belichick doesn't often give that level of praise to a rookie, but it's certainly warranted in Bailey's case. He's been a tremendous asset to the Patriots not only as a punter, but also as the holder on field goals and player handling kickoff duties. That's the kind of versatility Belichick values so much.

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These stats sum up impressive improvement Patriots' pass rush has made in 2019

These stats sum up impressive improvement Patriots' pass rush has made in 2019

The New England Patriots didn't have much of a pass rush last season, but 2019 has been a far different (and better) story.

The improvement in the Patriots' pass rush was evident Sunday in the team's 17-10 win over the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field, where New England tallied five sacks. The pressure the Pats put on Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz swung the momentum in their favor as they shut Philly out over the final three quarters.

The defending Super Bowl champs have dominated opposing offensive lines throughout the season with 37 sacks in 10 games -- the second-highest total in the NFL and two behind the San Francisco 49ers and Carolina Panthers for the league lead. The Patriots tallied only 30 sacks in all of 2018, which tied for the second-fewest.

It's been a long time, as ESPN's Mike Reiss notes, since the Patriots had 37 sacks at this point in a season:

The Patriots have done a good job slowing down the opponent's pass rush, too. Sacks aren't the only stat to factor when grading offensive linemen, but New England's pass protection has allowed the fourth-fewest sacks in the league. The Patriots, as a result, are tied with the 49ers for the best net sack total:

Sunday's test against the Dallas Cowboys should be a tough one for the Patriots. The Cowboys have one of the most talented offensive lines in the league. Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott has been sacked a league-low 12 times, and based on the fact he's playing at an MVP-level right now, pressuring him in the pocket will be of the utmost importance in Week 12.

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