Patriots

Former Patriots WR says there's "blood in the water" with New England right now

Former Patriots WR says there's "blood in the water" with New England right now

The Patriots have been the model of consistency in the Belichick/Brady era. 

Sixteen AFC East titles in 18 seasons. Sixteen seasons of 10+ wins. Eight consecutive first-round byes. Eight trips to the Super Bowl.

But New England has rarely been here, scuffling late in the season after two straight December losses and heading into Week 16 without a playoff berth already wrapped up.

Sure, it's a speed bump, but can they pull themselves out of the skid and right the ship? Earlier this week on The Ex-Pats Podcast, Rob Ninkovich voiced his doubts about where the team stands right now. And Tuesday night on "Boston Sports Tonight," another former Patriot echoed those thoughts.

"There is some blood in the water. They're wounded right now," Troy Brown explained. "This team hasn't lost two straight in December since '02, so that's a long time for a team to be that consistent late in the year. You usually see this team not making the mistakes they've made the last couple of weeks. They're hitting their stride right about now and getting ready for that playoff push, and you just don't feel it, you don't see it.

"I'm pretty sure most of those teams out there now that are probably going to be competing in the playoffs are smelling some blood in the water. It's not gushing out right now, but it's a little paper cut."

Bill Belichick was questioned about the mental toughness of the 2018 Patriots on a conference call Tuesday, and though he said there's still time for this team to improve in that area, Brown said that's not a quick -- or easy -- fix.

"It just comes down to the personality of the players. That's the bottom line. If they can't fix that themselves, it's nothing you can coach into them. It's like [Belichick] said. He can't get them to play he wanted them to play in 2009; he probably can't do it now. So it just comes down to the players they have on the roster, and those guys wanting and figuring out how to get it done."

Here's the good news: The Patriots wrap up the season with home games against the Bills and Jets, two teams they've had a great deal of success against in the past, especially at home. A win Sunday would lock up the AFC East and guarantee at least one home playoff game, 

But here's the bad news: New England no longer controls its own destiny when it comes to a first-round bye, so the Patriots might have to go on the road for the Divisional Round and AFC Championship Game, and the road hasn't been friendly this season, with losses at Jacksonville, Detroit, Tennessee, Miami and Pittsburgh. Brown thinks that poor track record will likely spell a road loss in the postseason.

"If you're going to go to the casino and bet, then you're going to bet what you've seen so far. And what you've seen so far is a team that can't perform on the road. It's a different makeup. You watch these guys at home when they play - the amount of energy they bring to those games when they play at home, high-fiving, jumping up and down, chest bumping. And then when you go on the road, you see none of that."

Considering their track record, it would be foolish to bet against Brady, Belichick and the rest of the Patriots. But hearing numerous players who have been there and done that in their Foxboro tenures voice their concerns with where this team stands heading into the homestretch of a playoff run? That's pretty worrisome.

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Here's why a lot of Patriots recent draft picks have Senior Bowl experience

Here's why a lot of Patriots recent draft picks have Senior Bowl experience

Bill Belichick was there. Josh McDaniels was there. The Patriots had a large contingent down in Mobile, Ala. for this week's Senior Bowl practices (the game will air Saturday on NFL Network at 2:30 p.m.), which should come as no surprise.

Just look at how the Patriots have drafted of late. 

In 2019, they selected Jarrett Stidham, Byron Cowart and Jake Bailey -- all of whom participated in the Senior Bowl. They also signed undrafted rookie Jakobi Meyers, who played in the game. 

In 2018, they grabbed Isaiah Wynn in the first round, Duke Dawson, Ja'Whaun Bentley and Braxton Berrios after they'd competed in the Senior Bowl.

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Three of their four draft picks from 2017, plus two undrafted rookies, were in the Senior Bowl. 

From 2013-16, they brought aboard 20 Senior Bowl participants as rookies.

"The great thing about the Senior Bowl is that you're seeing some of the best players," Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio said last spring. 

"There have actually been some underclassmen who have been incorporated into that mix. So you're seeing them against good competition and it's a different dynamic or different situation that they've been placed in. You're kind of taking them out of their environment that they've been in and kind of giving them something new and seeing how they handle it against good people."

The small-school players -- or the players who are asked to do something they didn't do much as collegians -- are the ones who have an opportunity to really land on radars during Senior Bowl work. For the Patriots, who constantly harp on the benefit of having seen players work against great competition on a regular basis when they hail from an SEC program, seeing some of the best in the country work against one another matters.

"It’s one thing if they do it against a lower-level team," Caserio said back in 2016, when asked about the Senior Bowl. "I mean, look, not all teams are created equal. Not all conferences are created equal. That’s just a fact. We can’t control that. So when you can see them actually play against really good players or good players that are at a comparable level of competition that they’re going to see every Sunday, that has to be a part of [the evaluation], no question."

The next year, the Patriots took two Senior Bowlers from smaller programs: Youngstown State's Derek Rivers and Troy's Antonio Garcia. 

"Where [the Senior Bowl] probably helps a little bit is players on a lower level that maybe haven’t competed against the same level of competition," Caserio said back in 2017. "Obviously, they’re making a big jump. . . Garcia was down there. That’s going to be a big jump in competition because this is what they’re going to be playing against. 

"With all due respect to whatever conference Youngstown State is in, there’s not a lot of NFL players in that conference. I mean, that’s just the way that it is. You’re going to have to see him against NFL competition, which the Senior Bowl is usually a pretty good indication of that because you’re talking about the top seniors in the country. It’s a part of the process. You’re not making a decision based off of that, but maybe a player who doesn’t have as much experience against that level, you’re going to see how he fares, and then you just kind of continue to move forward."

Some small-school prospects who may have caught Belichick's eye this week? 

Dayton tight end Adam Trautman was already considered one of the better tight ends in the draft class and seemed to only help his stock.

Safety Kyle Dugger -- who hails from Division II Lenoir-Rhyne University -- impressed. Ditto for Division III offensive lineman Ben Bartch out of Saint John's, who saw rushers from Alabama, Florida, South Carolina, Ole Miss and other high-end programs and reportedly held his own.

Perhaps the most recent success story out of Senior Bowl week for the Patriots wasn't with a small-school prospect, though. It might've been with Shaq Mason, a guard coming out of a run-heavy system at Georgia Tech. The Patriots simply hadn't seen him do much in the way of pass protection for the Yellow Jackets.

But Mason got to the Senior Bowl, took to the coaching he received, and the Patriots took notice. 

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"The thing I’ll say about Shaq," Belichick said after drafting Mason in 2015, "is just watching him at the Senior Bowl, I mean it was only one week, but he made a huge improvement just in those, whatever it was, four or five practices, whatever it was down there. His stance is different. You could see each day progressively how he was taking to the coaching down there and his footwork and his hand placement and his body position. I know it was basic. It wasn’t like it was a big scheme thing at the Senior Bowl, but just doing things on a daily basis better than the day before, looking more comfortable doing them. And it was different than what they did at Georgia Tech."

Big school. Small school. Everyone had something to gain in Mobile this week. And that includes the Patriots. That's why -- with more time off this year than recent years -- they were well represented down there.


 

NFL Rumors: Patriots hiring ex-Rams assistant offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch

NFL Rumors: Patriots hiring ex-Rams assistant offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch

The New England Patriots reportedly have made an addition to their coaching staff.

According to Jim McBride of The Boston Globe, they've hired ex-Los Angeles Rams assistant offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch.

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Fisch's official role with the Patriots offense is to be determined. But now that there's an opening at wide receivers coach with Joe Judge joining the New York Giants, Fisch could be a candidate for the job.

He brings plenty of experience to the table having coached Denver Broncos wide receivers in 2008 and Michigan receivers from 2015-16. Fisch also coached Seattle Seahawks quarterbacks in 2010 and was the Jacksonville Jaguars' offensive coordinator from 2013-14.