Patriots

Five takeaways: Why was Rob Gronkowski on the field at end of Patriots' 34-33 loss to Dolphins?

Five takeaways: Why was Rob Gronkowski on the field at end of Patriots' 34-33 loss to Dolphins?

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Here are some quick-hitting thoughts from the Patriots' crushing 34-33 loss to the Dolphins on Sunday .  . .

SO, ABOUT THAT FINAL PLAY . . . 
On the last play of the game, the Patriots called for a package that called for Rob Gronkowski to enter the game as a "jumper" in place of the free safety, who in this instance was Devin McCourty. It was certainly a questionable decision based on the fact it was unlikely Ryan Tannehill would be able to heave one to the end zone from his own 31-yard line. McCourty would have made more sense as a run-and-chase player, given his speed and tackling ability. It was Gronkowski who was the last line of defense against Kenyan Drake's game-winning touchdown. The tight end slipped as he chased Drake to the corner, and Drake crossed the goal line untouched.

McCLELLAN A ONE-MAN WRECKING CREW
Not sure if it was indecision by Miami long-snapper John Denney on the two blocked punts by the Patriots, or if he just can't block. Nate Ebner crossed his face on both, which might've caused some indecision up front for the Dolphins. And Albert McClellan -- a mid-season acquisition by the Patriots to give their special teams a boost -- showed closing good speed and awareness to get to the punter's foot quickly and legally. The Patriots didn't show any kind of incredibly complicated rush, though, on either of their punt blocks in the first half.

BAD END TO A GOOD HALF
Tom Brady admitted afterwards he "lost track" of how many timeouts the Patriots had left -- none -- at the end of the first half, which cost the Pats at least three points . . . and, ultimately, the victory. On third-and-goal from the Miami 2 he came under pressure and, with no timeouts remaining, you'd assume he'd throw it away to stop the clock and get the field-goal unit on. He didn't. He took a sack, allowing the last few seconds to drip off the clock and wiping a gimme field goal off the board. To that point in the game, Brady had set the Dolphins secondary ablaze with three touchdown passes, but he ended it with a costly mental error. Combine that play with a missed field goal and a missed extra point by Stephen Gostkowski and the Patriots left at least seven points on the board in this one. And they lost by one.

MIXED BAG UP FRONT
The Patriots were getting shoved around in the running game early. Perhaps helped by the shifts and motions that coach Adam Gase likes to employ, the Dolphins were finding holes at the line of scrimmage, hitting them hard, and running . . . and running . . . and running. Ryan Tannehill took a keeper for an easy gain of 13 yards early when Dont'a Hightower crashed down on the edge too hard. That was followed by a 36-yarder from Frank Gore that helped set up a score. In the second quarter, Brandon Bolden hit another open gap for a 54-yard touchdown and was somehow untouched. The Patriots got after the quarterback well in this one with sacks from Trey Flowers, Adam Butler, Dont'a Hightower, John Simon and a split sack from Kyle Van Noy and Jonathan Jones, but against the run the Patriots had big-time issues having all their gaps covered. 

BIG-TIME BOUNCE-BACK FOR GRONKOWSKI
Just because Gronkowski had a rough game a week ago against the Vikings didn't mean that he was washed up. Last Sunday was a bad game for a player who has been banged up over the course of the season. But this Sunday -- last play notwithstanding -- he showed up in a big way. He caught eight passes for 107 yards and a touchdown, his first time surpassing 100 yards since Week 1, as the Dolphins simply could not stop one-on-one or in zone. The Dolphins tried to use linebackers on him -- perhaps taking a page out of the Minnesota playbook -- but Gronkowski beat Kiko Alonso, Jerome Backer and Raekwon McMillan for key gains. His touchdown in the second quarter came on a leaping, twisting grab that was vintage Gronkowski.  

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NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Kyle Van Noy takes aim at PFF for snubbing Patriots linebackers

Kyle Van Noy takes aim at PFF for snubbing Patriots linebackers

How do the defending Super Bowl champions find motivation for next season?

Kyle Van Noy knows where to look.

Pro Football Focus tweeted out its five highest-graded linebackers in the AFC East on Saturday, and every team in the division was represented -- except the New England Patriots.

Enter Van Noy, who alerted fellow linebackers Ju'Whaun Bentley, Dont'a Hightower and Elandon Roberts to PFF's snub of New England.

Van Noy later admitted he was just having fun, but he stood by his take.

If the Patriots' linebacking corps didn't have enough "talent" to crack the top five, it certainly didn't matter in the postseason. New England's defense powered the club to a sixth Super Bowl title, with Van Noy and Hightower both playing crucial roles in Super Bowl LIII defensive masterpiece.

And just for the record: None of the players in PFF's top five made the playoffs.

Van Noy's tweet was his latest stop on a post-Super Bowl victory lap that included a playful shot at 98.5 The Sports Hub's "Felger & Mazz" and a live call-out of Max Kellerman on ESPN's "First Take."

But when you're at the top of the mountain, you have every right to roar.

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Areas of change: How can the Patriots create some cap space ahead of free agency?

Areas of change: How can the Patriots create some cap space ahead of free agency?

Change is coming for the Patriots this offseason. Every day this week, we'll react to one area of the team that either has already undergone a shift, is in the process of shifting, or will be shifting soon. Today we'll see what kinds of changes the Patriots could make to player contracts in order to free up some cap space ahead of the new league year. 

Change is coming for Patriots bookkeepers. Happens every offseason, and 2019 will be no different. The team will have to make a few changes to contracts ahead of free agency if they want to have the cap space necessary to be in the mix for players on their radar.

Say the Patriots would like to make a play for Trey Flowers to keep continuity in their front seven, and say they'd like to try to add both Golden Tate and John Brown to bolster their depleted receiver corps. How would they do it? Could they do it?

The cap hits for those players in 2019 could very well eat up every last bit of the about $18 million in cap space the Patriots have at the moment. Not ideal, especially since they'll likely want to re-sign some of their other free agents like Stephen Gostkowski and Ryan Allen, have enough space to sign their rookie class, and leave some space left over for mid-season acquisitions.

So what can they do?

They could extend Tom Brady for another couple years, drop his base salary to the minimum of $1.03 million, and convert his remaining 2019 base salary into signing bonus prorated over the life of his new deal. The result? He gets a raise, and the Patriots get a few million in cap space. 

Not a bad way to start.

Then the Patriots can work their way down the roster, and there's more cap space to be had. For instance, Dwayne Allen was a key to the Patriots Super Bowl victory, allowing them to get two tight ends on the field to pick apart the Rams, but with a $7.3 million cap hit for 2019, he's an obvious candidate for a contract restructure or release.

The Patriots will have decisions to make on role players such as Adrian Clayborn and Elandon Roberts. If they're looking for more cap relief, they could free up several more million by moving on.

Retirements will impact the equation here, too. If those are coming, they could mean millions more in cap space.

The bottom line: There are a lot of moving parts salary-cap wise for Bill Belichick and Nick Caserio to consider, but if they want to give themselves some financial flexibility ahead of the new league year, they have a variety of options to pursue in order to achieve that goal.

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