Patriots

Mother Nature gets between Belichick and his Patriots-Falcons film study

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Mother Nature gets between Belichick and his Patriots-Falcons film study

If your team makes a goal-line stop in the fourth quarter, but you can't see it on the All-22 tape, did it even happen? 

Bill Belichick said the fog that hovered above the Gillette Stadium turf on Sunday night didn't impact the play on the field, but it did make its imprint on the game in other ways. First of all, spotters and coaches up at the press level had some difficulty relaying information to coaches on the sidelines. Video on the hand-held tablets for sideline use -- as well as the old-school still-frame pictures Belichick prefers -- was also obstructed. 

Then on Monday, as coaches tried to digest the film, the fog butted in on the process again. 

"It affected us a lot this morning because it’s hard to see the game," Belichick said during a conference call. "The fourth quarter is – I don’t know – pretty close to a white-out on the sideline film. The sideline cameras are at the top of the stadium, so that’s a tough shot.

"The end zone cameras are a little bit lower and they get a little tighter shot, so the picture is a little bit clearer. But, on that shot, a lot of times you’re not able to see all the guys on the perimeter. It’s kind of an in-line shot.

"Yeah, the first half, start of the third quarter, it’s all right. As they get into the middle of the third quarter and on, for those of us with aging eyes, it’s a little strained to see it, and then there’s a point where you can’t really see it at all, especially from the sideline. So, yeah, it affected us."

Belichick re-iterated that the fog didn't do much to the product on the field (other than maybe making life difficult for kick and punt-returners), refuting Julio Jones' claim from late Sunday night. When it came to digesting the film, though, that was another story.

"It was more, I’d say, just tougher for, whether it be our video camera or the fans that were sitting in the upper deck. It’s just there was too much interference there," Belichick said. "It was probably hard to see the game. I know when we tried to look at the pictures in between series – you know, I don’t look at the tablets, so I won’t get into that – but the pictures, it was kind of the same thing. It was hard to really be able to make out exactly what you were seeing."

Here's how important Steelers game is to Patriots' first-round bye hopes

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Here's how important Steelers game is to Patriots' first-round bye hopes

The New England Patriots enter their Week 15 showdown with the Pittsburgh Steelers as the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoff picture, and Sunday's showdown will have a profound impact on whether the Pats earn a first-round bye.

A win for the Patriots on Sunday would raise their chances of clinching a first-round bye to 94 percent, per ESPN Stats and Info. A loss drops the Pats' chances to 63.6 percent. A 30-point swing is pretty emphatic, which shows how important this game is for Tom Brady and Co. Luckily for the Patriots, their quarterback has owned the Steelers throughout his career -- Brady is 8-2 in his career against Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

The Patriots, if they can beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh for the second consecutive season, would only need to beat struggling AFC East rivals in the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets at home to close the regular season and secure a first-round bye. A bye in the playoffs and the guarantee of at least one home postseason game is critical for a Patriots team that's 3-4 on the road this year. 

New England controls its own fate for the No. 2 seed, but the margin for error is small. The Patriots' toughest competition for a first-round bye is the Houston Texans, who also have a 9-4 record. The Texans close the regular season at the New York Jets, at the Philadelphia Eagles and home to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Only the Eagles pose any kind of threat, and the defending Super Bowl champs are struggling at 6-7.

A ton is at stake for the Patriots on Sunday, and if past results are any indication, it would be surprising if they didn't make enough plays to earn a much-needed victory. 

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Steelers coach knows Rob Gronkowski still is "dangerous" Patriots weapon

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Steelers coach knows Rob Gronkowski still is "dangerous" Patriots weapon

Rob Gronkowski isn't the same unstoppable force we've seen in previous seasons, but the New England Patriots tight end still is capable of putting his mark on games.

That was evident in Week 14 when the Miami Dolphins had no answer for him. Gronk tallied eight receptions on eight targets for 107 yards and a touchdown in the Patriots' 34-33 loss in Miami on Sunday.

Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin is well aware of Gronkowski's abilities despite some of his struggles this season.

"He’s a dangerous man. He’s Gronk," Tomlin told reporters during a conference call Wednesday. "He’s a vertical matchup. He’s a big-time play-maker. He’s good with the ball in his hands after the catch. He’s a big-time competitor. It is a serious job to work to minimize his impact on the game."

Gronkowski has dominated the Steelers in his career, so there are plenty of reasons for Tomlin to be concerned. The veteran tight end has tallied 39 receptions for 664 yards and eight touchdowns in eight career games against the Steelers.

He was the MVP of last year's matchup when he caught nine passes for 168 yards and a key two-point conversion late in the fourth quarter as the Patriots barely held on for a win in Pittsburgh. 

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