Patriots

Five takeaways: Devin McCourty's pick-six clinches Patriots' Monday night win over Bills

Five takeaways: Devin McCourty's pick-six clinches Patriots' Monday night win over Bills

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Here are five quick-hitting thoughts on what went down at New Era Field Monday night between the Patriots and Bills. . .

McCOURTY SUPPLIES THE DAGGER

With just under six minutes remaining, Devin McCourty read Derek Anderson on a third-and-15 dropback to smoothly undercut Anderson's target, reel in the interception and return it 84 yards for a touchdown. McCourty's speed to outrun the Bills offense was on display on the play, as was Adrian Clayborn's effort to provide him an escort all the way to the goal line. It was the Patriots' first defensive touchdown since 2015 -- the 40-game streak without one was the longest in the NFL -- and their first pick-six since 2013. When it was finished, what looked like the majority of the Patriots bench tried to get into the end zone to congratulate the defensive captain. Dwayne Allen and Brian Hoyer were among those looking to celebrate. As the group made its way back to the Patriots bench, Kyle Van Noy waved goodbye to the fans, and they heeded his advice, heading for the New Era Field exits in droves.

FOURTH QUARTER EXECUTION 

Early in the fourth quarter the Patriots made a series of key plays offensively that earned them their first touchdown of the game and some much-needed breathing room. Julian Edelman got things going with that 26-yard grab on third down. Then on third-and-eight, Brady found White in the flat for another conversion. Patterson followed that up with a 22-yard run from out of the I-formation. Next came a back-shoulder completion to Chris Hogan. All sorts of diversity to the attack in those moments. It ended with a one-yard plunge from White. The two-point attempt failed when Brady was picked, but the Patriots offense got itself in order when it needed to most. 

PATRIOTS GET CREATIVE AT RUNNING BACK

The Patriots dressed only two running backs on Monday -- James White and Kenjon Barner -- and both got plenty of run. But they also incorporated Cordarrelle Patterson as a back in the early going. He was part of their I-formation package and carried several times in the first half, with the assumption being that the Patriots coaching staff believed his open-field running ability might help him as a runner. Not wanting to use White too much, incorporating Patterson as a back until Sony Michel (knee) works his way back into the lineup makes some sense. Between Patterson's usage and Julian Edelman being deployed on end-around runs, the Patriots managed their backs by leaning on their receivers. Patterson's 22-yard run in the fourth quarter, mentioned above, was one of the key plays in the game.

BILLS MAFIA A FACTOR IN THE RED ZONE? 

The Patriots had opportunities early in the game to get into the end zone but couldn't. Bills Mafia a factor? Perhaps. In the first quarter, Patriots tackles had issues on back-to-back snaps. Trent Brown allowed a strip sack -- which we highlighted as a potential issue earlier in the day -- and then LaAdrian Waddle allowed a pressure that helped force a Tom Brady incompletion. Deep in enemy territory, on the road, it can be difficult for tackles to get the snap count. And if Brown and/or Waddle lost a beat to Lorenzo Alexander and/or Jerry Hughes -- both having strong seasons off the edge -- then it would make it tough for them to recover. The Patriots accepted a field goal on the play. The first of three for them in the first half. Late in the third quarter, the Bills red-zone defense held firm once again, pressuring Brady into an incompletion and forcing another field goal. 

PATRIOTS BANGED UP

The Patriots dealt with a handful of injuries over the course of the night. Right guard Shaq Mason left in the third quarter with a calf injury and was replaced by Ted Karras. Elandon Roberts dealt with a groin issue starting in the third quarter that led to Nicholas Grigsby getting snaps with the first-team defense. He returned and nearly had a pick-six to start the fourth quarter. The Patriots seemed to avoid a more significant injury in the first quarter when Julian Edelman was shaken up after throwing a block in the first quarter. He took an awkward shot to the head and neck area but remained in the game and remained active throughout the night. He had a key 26-yard catch on a third-and-seven play early in the third quarter deep in Patriots territory. 

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These stats highlight the Patriots' excellence protecting the quarterback

These stats highlight the Patriots' excellence protecting the quarterback

The pillars of any good offense in the NFL most likely involve good quarterback play, a solid offensive line and a scheme that maximizes the strengths of its skill players. 

The Patriots have checked all of those boxes for almost two decades, and it's helped them win six Super Bowl championships and nine conference titles. Tom Brady has been the constant for the entire run of dominance and the offensive line's ability to keep a clean pocket has helped him play into his age-42 season. 

According to Connor Price of Pro Football Focus, the Patriots have the fourth-fewest quarterback pressures (2,001) in the league over the last 10 years, trailing only the Bengals (1,786), Saints (1,945) and Titans (1,957). The league-average for the last 10 years is 2,025 quarterback pressures.

Not only that, but New England also sports the fourth-best pressure rate over that span as well (25.4 percent), behind Cincinnati, New Orleans and Pittsburgh with the league average hovering around 28 percent.   

The Patriots have consistently invested in their offensive line and have the masterful Dante Scarnecchia overseeing the unit, but Brady executing the team's offensive scheme to perfection goes a long way in these stats as well. 

What makes Brady so good, among many things, is his ability to understand opposing defense's tendencies and concepts. This allows him to dissect what's happening in front of him quicker than basically any other quarterback and hit his receivers before pass rushers can finish their moves. 

Without Rob Gronkowski going into this season and seemingly more weapons on the outside than normal, it will be interesting to see if the Patriots' offensive line can continue to keep the pocket clean for Brady if he targets more downfield throws. 

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Julian Edelman pumped for Patriots camp to begin: 'School's back in session'

Julian Edelman pumped for Patriots camp to begin: 'School's back in session'

Julian Edelman warmed up for training camp Saturday by putting on a clinic in near 100-degree heat.

The Patriots wide receiver helped conduct his football clinic for about 600 boys and girls at Lincoln-Sudbury High School about 40 minutes north of Foxboro. The Super Bowl MVP compared Pats camp, which begins Thursday at Gillette Stadium, to school being back in session.

“I’m extremely excited for the new year. This is a new team. Training camp coming up, this is kind of like when school’s back in session," Edelman told reporters. "We had summer break, [now] you get to see all the fellas. This is where you learn your team and learn each other and become accountable for each other and work hard together and create a consistency together."

The undisputed veteran of a Patriots receiving corps that is short on big names beside himself, Edelman, 33, is ready to mentor young receivers, such as first-round pick N'Keal Harry. 

“This is like the beginning shape form of your team, these next few weeks. It’s a crucial point. We put a lot of hard work in during the spring, and the next step to playing other teams, so it’s definitely exciting.”

With tight end Rob Gronkowski retired, Edelman takes center stage as Tom Brady's favorite target. He led all Pats receivers with 850 yards in the regular season despite an NFL-imposed PED suspension that kept him out of the first four games. His 10-catch, 141-yard performance against the Rams in Super Bowl 53 earned him game MVP honors.

Starting Thursday, he'll lead a receiver group that includes few familiar names: Phillip Dorsett returns, Braxton Berrios is back from the practice squad, Harry is a top draft pick and free-agent signees Demaryius Thomas, Dontrelle Inman and Maurice Harris are among those who've been added.