Patriots get a well-rounded performance from their backs without Gillislee

Patriots get a well-rounded performance from their backs without Gillislee

DENVER -- The Patriots might've proved just how deep they are at running back by the caliber of player they were willing to bench on Sunday night against the Broncos. 

Denver's defense came into Sunday night ranked second in total defense and fifth against the run, yet the Patriots sat their leading rusher and still put up big offensive numbers in their 41-16 win. 

Mike Gillislee was a healthy scratch against the Broncos on Sunday night, giving the Patriots four active backs: Dion Lewis, James White, Rex Burkhead and Brandon Bolden. They combined for 99 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries, and they caught six passes for 38 yards and two touchdowns. 


Gillislee averaged less than 4.0 yards per carry in New England's two games leading up to the matchup in Denver. And while he gives the Patriots a different kind of runner as the team's "big back," the Patriots were OK going without him against a stout run defense. 

Lewis (21 snaps) started the game and ran with good power -- particularly on his eight-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, during which he carried Aqib Talib about four yards into the end zone. 

Burkhead (36 snaps) came in after Lewis opened the game, catching two passes on his first two snaps, including a 14-yard touchdown. Burkhead ended up leading the position group in playing time, and for the third consecutive game since coming back from a rib injury, he saw his workload increase. 

White (11 snaps) saw five touches, the last of which was an eight-yard touchdown on an option route that completely shook linebacker Will Parks. 

The Patriots invested in the running back position this offseason when they signed both Burkhead and Gillislee. Now they have more backs than they know what to do with. 

Bolden is active on a weekly basis for what he gives the team in the kicking game, but he's no longer the only back who contributes on special teams. Burkhead made two tackles as a member of the kickoff team, and he blocked a punt that helped set up a field goal. Lewis, meanwhile, returned a kick 103 yards for a score. 

It's a dynamic group that can run, catch and chip in on "teams," and they put on display their varied skill sets Sunday night. 

Though Lewis has seemingly taken on any role that Gillislee (who isn't used as a receiver and doesn't play special teams) might handle, the Patriots may opt to bring Gillislee back into the fold when they see a matchup that might favor a bigger back. And if they do, the league will see they have yet another wrinkle to their running game. 

As it is, it's already a headache, as Sunday night's performance showed. 


Rob Gronkowski reportedly nearly traded to Lions in offseason

Rob Gronkowski reportedly nearly traded to Lions in offseason

Any chance Matt Patricia had a hard time coming up for a plan to stop Rob Gronkowski this weekend knowing that there was a chance the big tight end could've been playing for him in Detroit? 

According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, the Patriots and Lions were "deep into trade discussions" last offseason on a deal that would have sent Gronkowski to Detroit. 

When Gronkowski caught wind of the deal, according to Schefter, he threatened to retire.

We know what happened next. The Patriots and Gronkowski got together -- a meeting that Schefter reported on after it happened -- and the All-Pro committed to the season just before the draft. In turn, it was understood that Gronkowski wouldn't be dealt. 

Gronkowski is looking to get back on track against the Lions after catching two passes on four targets for 15 yards last week against the Jaguars. He popped up on the Patriots injury report Thursday but the ankle issue he dealt with was a minor one, and he is expected to be good to go Sunday night. 


Expect moving parts in Patriots secondary with Chung, Rowe out

Expect moving parts in Patriots secondary with Chung, Rowe out

DETROIT -- The Patriots are going to have some moving parts in their secondary as they take on a Lions passing game with some talent behind center and on the outside. 

Not only were Trey Flowers and Patrick Chung ruled inactive on Saturday night -- which was expected given that neither had practiced due to concussions suffered last week -- corner Eric Rowe (groin) was also ruled out. 

Rowe suffered the injury against the Jaguars last weekend. While he admitted his play was not up to par against Jags receivers down in Jacksonville, his benching was viewed by teammates as more injury-related than performance-related. The injury contributed in part to him finishing with an ugly line: three targets, three catches, 68 yards, one touchdown. 


For Rowe, dealing with a groin injury is nothing new. The fourth-year defensive back was looking like he was on track for a larger role last season, starting Week 2 over Malcolm Butler, until he strained his groin against the Saints. He came back to play in Week 4 and started the second half against the Panthers over Stephon Gilmore, but on his first play back, his groin gave way on him again. It was two full months before he saw game action again. 

Here are a few more reactions to Saturday night's inactives . . . 


The Patriots are down two starting defensive backs, and so it'll be interesting to see a) if Bill Belichick dresses two new defensive backs to maintain depth there and b) who those two would be. Cyrus Jones figures to be one given his punt-return ability. He also saw some time at safety this week. While it would be a surprise to see Jones see significant time defensively, he gives the Patriots a player who is understands their system -- particularly how things function in the slot, where Chung spends much of his time. I'd anticipate JC Jackson being activated as well. He's the healthier option over Keion Crossen (questionable with a hamstring injury), and he provides the Patriots with legitimate cover corner skills against an offense that is deep with talent at the receiver spot. While I'd expect the top options at corner to be Stephon Gilmore, Jason McCourty and Jonathan Jones in the slot, it wouldn't surprise me to see Jackson get a fair amount of work depending on game flow and how the Lions deploy their personnel. Expect the Patriots to utilize more traditional nickel looks Sunday instead of the "big" nickel they like with Chung on the field. With no clear replacement for Chung, Devin McCourty and Duron Harmon should play the vast majority of the game, and I'd expect that they'd often be joined by three corners.


With Flowers out, the Patriots could use a little depth on the edge of the line of scrimmage, potentially opening up the door for Rivers to play his first regular-season game as a pro. The second-year end out of Youngstown State has been a healthy scratch for the first two weeks of the season. The team is expected to roll with Adrian Clayborn, Keionta Davis and Deatrich Wise as its primary edge guys. Last week Geneo Grissom, primarily a special-teamer, saw 19 snaps. Those are reps that could now go to Rivers. An athletic presence at the line of scrimmage, the Patriots have used Rivers in a variety of roles in camp and preseason games. He can play the edge, but he's also seen looks in coverage and on the interior as a rusher.