Patriots

Can Jamie Collins make a Patrick Chung-like turnaround in second Patriots run?

Can Jamie Collins make a Patrick Chung-like turnaround in second Patriots run?

FOXBORO -- Jamie Collins was explosive, but he was quiet. His athleticism made you shake your head. So too did the fact that we didn't know more about him.

In his first run with the Patriots, from 2013 midway through the 2016 season, Collins showed time and again that he was one of the most gifted athletes on the field. He came into the league as a former safety and defensive end in college, someone who broke the record for the broad jump at the combine six years ago. He jumped over the line of scrimmage to block kicks as a pro. He chased down quarterbacks, blitzing from the A-gap. He ran with tight ends and backs in coverage at 250 pounds.

Staggering as his ability was, and despite playing a critical role in a defense that won the Super Bowl in 2014, there was little Collins was willing to share with reporters. He was reluctant to meet with the group, and when he did he spoke low and said little.

Now that he's back, after a two-and-a-half season run with the Browns, his approach with reporters is staggeringly different. Something he admitted Thursday when he asked what's changed since he was here last.

“I’m talking to you more,” he joked. "This is, like, my fifth, sixth [availability period] I’ve done. I don’t think I did that many when I was here so this is definitely different right here. I’m trying to change. I’m doing a little bit better with that. Just overall, just enjoying it as a man."

Collins added that his growing family has changed him. A father now, his perspective and motivations have changed. It's been important to him to discover "that 'Why?' "

On the field, things are different too. Matt Patricia is out. So is Brian Flores. Jerod Mayo -- Collins' former teammate -- is the inside linebackers coach. The scheme appears to be changing as well.

What does that mean for Collins, who played in the middle of the field for Patricia -- someone who preferred 4-3 looks? 

It could mean he serves as a bit of a queen-on-the-chess-board type. He can play off the ball in the middle of the field, walking down over the A-gaps from there as he did so many times during his previous stint. Or matching up with running backs in coverage as he did during Thursday's practice. He can also play on the outside as an outside linebacker in the team's 3-4 alignments, rushing the passer from there or dropping into coverage.

The Patriots could use an athletic presence at the second level, particularly in coverage. They had issues against pass-catching backs and tight ends at times last year. Now with Collins, Patrick Chung and Devin McCourty in the fold, they have three players with movement skills who may serve as matchup weapons in Bill Belichick's man-to-man defense.

Best-case scenario? Collins ends up having a career turnaround a-la Chung, who left New England for a year, came back, was put in a different role and excelled. Perhaps if he's used in a little different way, focusing on coverage and pass-rush responsibilities, Collins can have a similar resurgence.

So far, Belichick likes what he's seen. He's had Collins taking reps with Dont'a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy and other perceived starters.

"He's been great," Belichick said Thursday morning. "He had a great spring, he's had a good training camp. I think he's done everything we've asked him to do and he's done it well. I'm glad we have him. I think he'll help our team."

"From him, man, that’s music to my ears," Collins said later. "It’s an honor to get that type of response from him, and I really do appreciate it. It just makes me feel even better and makes me want to come to work even more."

It's been less than three years since Collins was shockingly traded away to a non-competitive franchise for a mid-round pick. 

Oh, how times have changed.

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Patriots on controversial calls in loss to Chiefs: 'A tough pill to swallow'

Patriots on controversial calls in loss to Chiefs: 'A tough pill to swallow'

FOXBORO — Bill Belichick wasn't thrilled. He stood at the podium in the belly of Gillette Stadium, his team coming off of its second consecutive loss, and he was peppered with questions about the officiating. This after he'd said in his opening remarks, "A lot of other circumstances in the game; no point in talking about those."

The officiating queries came anyway.

"You'd have to talk to them about that," he said. "I'm not going to speak for them."

Asked if calls made by Jerome Boger's crew impacted his team's ability to sustain any momentum.

"I don't know," he said.

In all, there were 15 penalties called for 161 yards in the game, and penalties were among the calls garnering attention after the fact. But the calls that generated the most buzz in the Patriots locker room weren't penalties. The headliner was the call that took points off the board for Belichick's team early in the fourth quarter.

Tom Brady hit rookie N'Keal Harry with a short pass that he took down to the goal line. Diving into the end zone, it appeared as though Harry had scored a touchdown. He celebrated as though he had. Replays showed he remained in bounds. But one official marked him out of bounds at the three-yard line.

The Patriots weren't able to challenge the play — they were out of challenges after losing a pass-interference challenge earlier in the game — and they kicked a field goal three plays later to make the score 23-16.

"We still had a chance to win," Brady said. "Wish we could have scored there at the end."

A touchdown and an extra point would've made the score 23-20, meaning on the final Patriots drive of the game, where they entered deep into Chiefs territory, they would've been able to kick a chip-shot field goal to tie it.

"I thought it was a touchdown," said Harry, who left the game with a hip injury. "I'm pretty sure everybody else thought it was a touchdown. It's something that's out of our control, out of my control.

"It's definitely frustrating, but at the end of the day I was always told to control what I could control. I felt like I did that. I felt like my effort was good. That's all I can give."

ESPN's Mike Reiss, serving as the pool reporter, spoke to Boger after the game about the call.

"What led to it was the covering official on the wing was blocked out by defenders," Boger said. "The downfield official who was on the goal line and looking back toward the field of play had that he stepped out at the three-yard line. So, they got together and conferred on that. The final ruling was that he was out of bounds at the three-yard line."

Calling the play a touchdown and then using replay to the crew's advantage — since all scores are reviewed — was not discussed as an option, Boger explained.

"Not really. Those two officials who were covering it, they look at it in real time," he said. "This case was unique in that the guy who would have ruled touchdown had him short. So maybe if that ruling official on the goal line had a touchdown, we could have gotten into that, but he thought that that guy stepped out of bounds. The goal line wasn’t in the play."

The reason the Patriots couldn't challenge the Harry play was because they'd had a challenge fail earlier in the contest. Late in the third quarter, Belichick threw his red hanky when on a third-and-4 play Stephon Gilmore got picked by Travis Kelce, allowing a catch to Sammy Watkins. Watkins was tackled right near the line to gain,  and so Belichick was challenging both the pass interference and the spot of the ball.

The challenge failed, which meant they'd have just one more challenge for the game, even if that next challenge succeeded.

Later in the third quarter, on a third-down pass to Kelce, Devin McCourty punched out the football and Gilmore recovered it quickly with a good deal of open space in front of him. The play was whistled dead.

The Patriots challenged and won. It was a momentum-shifter, but the fact that they had to use their challenge at all — on a play that was clearly fumbled upon review, no guesswork there — bothered the Patriots after the fact.

"It sucks because at the end of the day, we felt like those were plays that were gonna help us change the momentum of the game and put us in a good spot to eventually win the football game," safety Duron Harmon said. "It was taken away from us. I know the refs, they have a hard job. I'm not going to sit here and say obviously  their job is easy. 'Just make a better call, and do this better.' At the end of the day, we all have a job. We all get paid money to do the job and do it well."

Harmon added: "I just feel empty. We played a good team and had a chance to win. We didn't win. Like I said, I'm not going to just sit here and blame the refs. The Chiefs probably feel some calls could've gone their way, didn't go their way, but at the end of the day when you got two touchdowns taken away from you, that's always a tough pill to swallow."

The Patriots finished the game going 1-for-3 in the red zone. They were 3-for-15 on third and fourth down. They averaged — including three sacks — just 4.6 yards per pass. They averaged 3.4 yards per carry in the first half against a defense that was allowing over 5.0 for the season.

There was plenty they could have done to help themselves. But it's not hyperbole to say that final drive — which resulted in a fourth-down pass breakup on a Brady attempt to Julian Edelman — should have been an opportunity for them to tie the game with an easy field goal.

"You don't wanna blame officiating," Harmon said, "because at the end of the day, we still had an opportunity to win."

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NFL playoff picture: Updated AFC, NFC seeds, matchups, standings after Week 14

NFL playoff picture: Updated AFC, NFC seeds, matchups, standings after Week 14

Sunday was a great day for the Baltimore Ravens, whose standing atop the AFC was strengthened with their victory over the Buffalo Bills and the New England Patriots losing to the Kansas City Chiefs.

Unless something drastic happens, the road to Super Bowl LIV in February will travel through M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. The top two seeds in the NFC are still up for grabs after a wild day of exciting action, highlighted by the San Francisco 49ers' 48-46 win over the New Orleans Saints on the road.

Here's a look at the updated AFC and NFC playoff pictures based on the outcome of the Week 14 games. This story will be updated as more games conclude.

AFC
1. Baltimore Ravens, 11-2, AFC North leader: Bye week

The Ravens held on to their lead atop the AFC with a 24-17 road win over the Buffalo Bills. The Bills were the Ravens' toughest test remaining in the regular season. Baltimore has three very winnable games (vs. Jets, at Browns, vs. Steelers) left, making the AFC North leaders clear favorites to secure the No. 1 seed and homefield advantage throughout the playoffs.

2. New England Patriots, 10-3, AFC East leader: Bye week
The Patriots still have the No. 2 seed after losing to the Chiefs at home Sunday. Earning the No. 1 seed likely would require the Patriots to win all of their remaining games and for the Ravens to drop two of their last three matchups. The chances of that scenario playing out are pretty slim, though. New England's focus now must be to preserve its playoff bye -- the Chiefs and Bills are the top two threats for the No. 2 seed. The Patriots also have only a one-game lead over the Bills for first place in the AFC East, but these two teams will play in Foxboro in two weeks.

3. Kansas City Chiefs (9-4, AFC West leader) vs. 6. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-5, second wild card)
Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes earned his first career win versus the Patriots to improve Kansas City's standing in the AFC playoff race. The Chiefs' win, combined with the Texans' loss, moves Kansas City up from the No. 4 seed to the No. 3 seed. Houston owns the head-to-head tiebreaker over Kansas City if these teams finish with identical records. The Chiefs host the Denver Broncos, travel to play the Chicago Bears and finish at home against the Los Angeles Chargers. They also clinched the AFC West title Sunday.

The Steelers maintained their hold on the second wild card spot with a 23-17 win over the Arizona Cardinals. Pittsburgh owns the tiebreaker over Tennessee based on win percentage in conference games.

4. Houston Texans (8-5, AFC South leader) vs. 5. Buffalo Bills (9-4, first wild card)
The Texans followed their huge win over the Patriots in Week 13 with an awful performance versus the Denver Broncos on Sunday. Houston lost 38-24 and at one point trailed 21-0 in the second quarter. The Texans play the Tennessee Titans in two of their final three games of the season, and those matchups likely will decide the AFC South division. Both teams will be 8-5 entering Week 15, but Houston currently owns the tiebreaker over Tennessee based on win percentage in division games.

The Bills failed their toughest challenge of the season and lost at home to the Ravens despite a late comeback attempt. Buffalo remains in a great position to make the playoffs, but a wild card berth is the most likely scenario. The Bills still have a chance to win the AFC East, but that likely would require winning their final three games, including a Week 16 showdown versus the Patriots at Gillette Stadium.

In the Hunt
7. Tennessee Titans, 8-5
8. Cleveland Browns, 6-7
9. Oakland Raiders, 6-7
10. Indianapolis Colts, 6-7

NFC
1. San Francisco 49ers, 11-2, NFC West leader: Bye week
The 49ers went into New Orleans and earned a 48-46 victory behind four touchdown passes from quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. It easily was the 49ers' best win of the season, and it temporarily moves them back into the No. 1 seed ahead of the rival Seattle Seahawks. The Seahawks can reclaim first place in the conference by beating the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday night. Seattle owns the head-to-head tiebreaker over San Francisco. The 49ers and Seahawks will play once more in Seattle in Week 17.

2. Green Bay Packers, 10-3, NFC North leader: Bye week
The Packers took care of business at home with an unconvincing win against the Washington Redskins to maintain their one-game advantage over the Vikings for first place in the NFC North. Those two rivals will play once more in Week 16, and that game could have huge implications on NFC playoff seeding, as well as the division title race.

3. New Orleans Saints (10-3, NFC South leader) vs. 6. Minnesota Vikings (9-4, second wild card)
The Saints lost to the 49ers at home despite six touchdowns (five passing, one rushing) from quarterback Drew Brees. New Orleans dropped from the No. 1 seed to the No. 3 seed because it loses the tiebreaker to the Packers based on win percentage in conference games. The Saints already have clinched the NFC South title, but now a playoff bye is in jeopardy. 

The Vikings beat the Detroit Lions at home Sunday to keep the pressure on the Packers in the NFC North race.

4. Dallas Cowboys (6-7, NFC East leader) vs. 5. Seattle Seahawks (10-2, first wild card)
The Cowboys went into Chicago and disappointed on "Thursday Night Football" by losing to the Bears. Dallas' defense got roasted by Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, and that tells you everything about the state of the Cowboys right now. Despite the loss, the Cowboys still lead the NFC East -- easily the worst division in the league -- and would host a Wild Card playoff game against the 10-win Seahawks if the season ended today. The league reportedly will not consider re-seeding despite the NFC East's struggles.

In the Hunt
7. Los Angeles Rams, 7-5
8. Chicago Bears, 7-6

Instant Overreactions to Pats' loss vs. Chiefs>>>

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