Hard Truths Game Preview: When the Patriots have the ball

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Hard Truths Game Preview: When the Patriots have the ball

When we last left the Patriots, they were getting waxed 34-10 two weeks ago in Tennessee. Will a week off followed by a visit to the 3-7 Jets be enough to get them right?

By Land: The Patriots offense peaked when they scored 119 points in three games against the Dolphins, Colts and Chiefs. That’s when Sony Michel was at his best, Julian Edelman returned from suspension and Rob Gronkowski was available. They’ve scored 84 offensive points in the four games since and it’s been tough sledding at times. Even though the Jets aren’t a patsy defensively, this is a good week for New England to surge. Michel will be in his second game back from his knee injury, Gronkowski is poised to return from his injuries and the offensive line had two weeks to heal and should have Shaq Mason. In two of their past three games, the Jets have been routed on the ground (179 yards allowed vs. Chicago and 212 to the Bills). In order to take the heat off of Tom Brady and his tweaked knee and to begin preparing a playoff antidote to teams such as the Chiefs, the Patriots need to find who they are on offense. Rediscovering their ground efficiency is the best way to do that. Look for the Patriots to be run-heavy against the Jets. The Jets’ front is anchored by Leonard Williams and their primary linebackers – Avery Williamson and Darron Lee – are fast and fill well.

By Air: The Tennessee game was a bad one for myriad reasons but the fallout centered on Brady. Same as it ever was when the Patriots look disjointed. The primary reason the Patriots were so punchless that day was protection. Tennessee got heat with four-man rushes all day. But Brady didn’t have a great patience either and, in the past four games, has been overly reliant on James White and Edelman. Good players to rely on, for sure, but the Patriots made it a point in their bye week to get under the hood and try to fix some of their tendencies. Look for more shots to players who’ve been under-utilized and an effort to get the ball downfield more than Brady has been. Brady is listed as questionable with his tweaked knee and an illness that kept him out of practice Friday but is expected to play. The Jets lead the league in third-down defense and are one of the top red-zone defenses in the league so this isn’t a walkover.  

Kicking Game: Stephen Gostkowski is having an outstanding season for the Patriots with his only misses coming outside 50 yards. The Patriots are only averaging 7.5 yards on punt

Key Matchup: Rob Gronkowski on Jamal Adams. The second-year safety’s been an impact player for the Jets and – with fellow safety Marcus Maye doubtful to play – Adams will be in the middle of things as Gronk, having three of his past four games, is trying to reassert himself.

Who’s Hurt: Brady, Gronkowski, Mason and Michel are all questionable. Tight end Dwayne Allen won’t play. For the Jets, Maye is the big injury to watch.

Recent Past: The Patriots lost to Tennessee before the bye but had won six in a row prior to that. They are 7-3 and a win would keep them a game behind the Chiefs in the race for the top seed in the AFC.

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Tom Brady cameo in Netflix comedy series has him leaving strip mall spa

Tom Brady cameo in Netflix comedy series has him leaving strip mall spa

Tom Brady's interesting cameo in the recently released Netflix comedy series "Living With Yourself" features the Patriots quarterback emerging from a spa at a strip mall. 

He spots the character played by Paul Rudd in the parking lot and asks him, "First time?"

“Uh-huh, you?” the Rudd character asks.

“Sixth,” Brady says, which happens to be the number of Super Bowls he's won.

Here's the scene, via the Twitter feed of 98.5 The SportsHub's Jim Murray:

Show creator Timothy Greenberg told refinery29 that it was more than four years ago when he scripted the scene, which is part of a plot where the Rudd character visits the "Top Happy Spa" to clone the best possible version of himself, and, after Patriots owner Robert Kraft's arrest at a Florida strip mall spa in late February, he assumed Brady wouldn't want to do the scene.

From the refinery29 story:

During this waiting period [to shoot the scene], news also broke that had [Greenberg] convinced they were going to lose Brady. In [2019], Patriots owner Robert Kraft was charged with soliciting a sex worker at a day spa in a strip mall “that looked almost exactly like what we were shooting. Like, I would have used it as a reference photo,” Greenberg admits. “So we’re like, ‘Alright, this is clearly not going to happen now.’”

In the end, it did. After the Patriots won [Super Bowl LII], Greenberg, Rudd, and the crew headed up to Boston to shoot the cameo in a parking lot.


Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk reports that Brady didn’t realize that the scene would be a direct or indirect reference to Kraft's case.

Brady will undoubtedly be asked about the cameo at his media availability in Foxboro this afternoon.

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Patriots not taking the bait on potential bulletin-board material from Darnold...yet

Patriots not taking the bait on potential bulletin-board material from Darnold...yet

FOXBORO -- Devin McCourty knew where the question was going before it had even been asked.

"At his press conference yesterday," a reporter started, "Sam Darnold..."

McCourty laughed. He was already aware of what Darnold said Thursday. But he didn't want to be the one generating headlines ahead of Monday night's matchup with the Jets, reacting to something said at a podium by a second-year quarterback he'd soon be tasked with trying to stop.

"We'll see," McCourty said. "I don't have a comment on that right now. We'll see how it goes."

Darnold, fresh off his team's first win last weekend and AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors, didn't say anything that would be considered by an impartial observer as incredibly inflammatory. 

But these are the Patriots. They've long had a reputation of taking slights, real or perceived, and using them to their advantage. A little extra motivation never hurt. And it wouldn't be surprising if what Darnold said this week serves as fuel for his opponents.

"Their defense is good, they have been all year,” Darnold said of the Patriots. "But just like any team, they’re not unbeatable. So we’ve just got to go out there, find the weakness in the defense and keep working it. So that’s what we’re going to do on Monday night."

The word "weakness" seems to have been the one that struck a chord with certain Patriots when they were asked about it Friday.

"I wonder what that is," Kyle Van Noy said, shrugging his shoulders.

Van Noy was at the center of things the last time we found out that the Patriots latched onto an opponent's words in the week leading up to the game.

After Bills tackle Dion Dawkins suggested in Week 4 that the Patriots hadn't done anything in 2019 until playing in Buffalo, Van Noy said after his team’s win, "Just wanted to make sure Dawkins knew who we were."

The Patriots, of course, have the league's attention. They rank first in the NFL in scoring defense (8.0 points per game) and first in defensive passer rating (42.6). They are, in the eyes of many, the easy choice as the best defense in football right now. 

Still, Darnold likes his offense's chances. If they can get tight end Chris Herndon back, Darnold said the Jets can be "unstoppable." (Herndon is dealing with a hamstring injury and isn't expected to play Monday.)

"Right now, we're just missing Chris," Darnold said. “Once all the guys are back together, I think we're unstoppable as an offense -- or we can be.  

"It's just up to us and how we execute. It's really up to us how many points we score, I think. I think we're capable of so many points. With our offensive line, too, the way they played last game, with the way we've been running the ball and the way they've been protecting, sky's the limit for us."

Darnold's comments -- comments from a confident young quarterback who undoubtedly is trying to instill confidence in his team ahead of their biggest game of the season -- could be ones he comes to regret. 

Not that the Patriots wanted to suggest as much ahead of the game.

"I don't know," Stephon Gilmore said for his reaction to Darnold's "weakness" comment. "You can ask him that, I don't know."

"I hadn't heard him," JC Jackson said. "I'm not on the internet. I don't pay attention to what other guys say.  We just show up. We let our play do the talking. We're just gonna play ball. We ain't got time for the talking. We're just going to show up and do what we do."

Jonathan Jones said his reaction to Darnold saying what he said is, "to go back to the film to find what he finds and find it before he does, I guess." 

"There's always some plays," Jones continued, "that they're going to be looking at and say, 'Hey, we had them here.' They might not have completed it or targeted the guy, but we'll definitely try to find those plays and anticipate those."

"It's not really [a slight]. There's always going to be plays out there. I don't care how good you are. Whether it be the front disrupting him and the quarterback didn't have time to get through his read and make the throw. but there's always plays that we can get better from. Hopefully, we can find those corrections before he does."

The Patriots are near the top of the league in just about every defensive category, though perhaps the Jets will try to run the football as New England ranks closer to the middle of the pack in yards per carry allowed (4.2). 

But calling that phase of their defense a "weakness" would be a stretch, as interior defenders Lawrence Guy and Danny Shelton have been among two of Bill Belichick's best players on that side of the ball this season. Their front seven is loaded with athletic and experienced linebackers capable of stopping the run as well.

Darnold probably felt as though what he said Thursday wasn't a big deal at the time. But he might not be familiar with the time-honored Patriots tradition of taking an opponent’s words and using them as a spark.

They'll take any morsel of motivation they get and gnaw on it until the clock strikes zeros. Using the word "weakness" when talking about a defense on a historic pace probably qualifies as more than a morsel. As would suggesting the Jets offense can't be stopped.

The Patriots didn’t let on that they were zeroed-in on Darnold’s comments Friday. But it would come as little surprise — depending on how Monday night goes, of course — if they later acknowledge those words breathed a little extra oxygen into the fire that’s burned under their defense through the season’s first month and a half.

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