Patriots

Patriots' Phillip Dorsett's impressive streak for a consecutive targets caught

Patriots' Phillip Dorsett's impressive streak for a consecutive targets caught

Phillip Dorsett has been doing everything you want a wide receiver to do to start the season: Catch the ball when it's thrown to you. 

According to Mike Giardi, Dorsett has caught the last 23 passes thrown to him, tied for the eighth-best streak in the NFL since the league started tracking the stat in 2009. 

Over those 23 receptions, Dorsett has 259 yards (11.3 YPC) and three touchdowns, while 134 yards and two of those touchdowns have come this season. Dorsett's streak is also a franchise record for the Patriots, leading the likes of Dion Lewis (19 games), Julian Edelman (18) and Wes Welker (18 and 17). 

Dorsett is well on his way to a breakout season with the Patriots this season, especially after the team released Antonio Brown. Dorsett always presented game-breaking speed and explosiveness on the outside but wasn't able to put it all together.

If he can come into his own, the Patriots' wide receiver position won't need much more help with Dorsett, Edelman, Josh Gordon and N'Keal Harry (once he's healthy).

Dorsett will look to extend his streak in Week 3 against an 0-3 Jets team burdened by the injury bug. The Patriots may have the game wrapped up by halftime, so there might not be a ton of targets to be had on Sunday. 

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Ben Watson's debut a sign more 'Detroit' packages coming for Patriots?

Ben Watson's debut a sign more 'Detroit' packages coming for Patriots?

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — It just so happened that Ben Watson's first opportunity to play in a game this season came on a Monday night. That meant a lot of down time during the day to sit around and think about things. 

Maybe too much.

"Today I had to sit around like all day and have jitters all day so that was even worse," Watson said. "I haven’t played a full game since last season. Definitely was a little bit of jitters."

Watson seemed a little off when he was targeted for the first time since the 2018 season. Running an out-route on the fifth snap of the game, Watson was late to turn to Tom Brady's throw. The football ended up catching Watson square in the face mask as he looked for the pass, eventually falling incomplete, making it one of the few true Patriots follies of the night during their 33-0 drubbing of the Jets.

There weren't many of those thereafter, and Watson quickly redeemed himself, converting on a third-and-five throw later in the drive. Three plays later, running back Sony Michel was in the end zone thanks to a key block on the edge by the 38-year-old tight end.

Watson's contributions ended up going well beyond his team's first drive, as he played 62 total snaps and caught three passes for 18 yards. But it was during that methodical 16-play scoring drive to start the game that Josh McDaniels and Bill Belichick let the world know that they still have the ability to run a two-tight end offense, long known as their "Detroit" package.

(Why "Detroit?" The Lions had two tight ends in the mid-1970s, Charlie Sanders and David Hill, who were tough covers. The Lions used both together as weapons, upsetting Chuck Fairbanks' Patriots in Week 5 of 1976, 30-10. An assistant on that Lions staff? Belichick. According to Ian O'Connor's book, "Belichick: The Making of the Greatest Football Coach of All Time," it was Belichick who urged his team to try two tight end sets that week. Four years later, as an assistant in New England, Bill Parcells learned to call two tight end sets "Detroit." The name stuck as Parcells' coaching tree branched out to include the likes of Charlie Weis, Al Groh . . . and, of course, Belichick.)

The Patriots ended up using a 12-personnel look (one back, two tight ends) on the first snap of the game and seven times in all on the game's first drive, picking up 21 yards on six carries, including a three-yard Michel touchdown.

Newly-acquired tight end Eric Tomlinson played 38 snaps, impressing teammates with his ability to adjust to a new offense as he played both in-line and as a fullback. Watson, meanwhile, was used all over the formation as an in-line player, a fullback and detached from the formation in the slot. 

Coming into the Jets game, the Patriots had run just 18 snaps of "12," according to Sharp Football Stats. On Monday, they posted nearly half that total during the opening drive alone.

"Both Eric and Ben did a real good job this week of catching up, not only from an assignment standpoint but getting extra reps on the practice field, and getting timing and so forth, in both the running game and the passing game," Belichick said after the game.

"I thought they both competed well. It’s good to be able to put some bigger people on the field and not being four and three wides on every single play. So we had some productive plays from that. Hopefully, we can build on that and balance off our different personnel groupings a little bit more than we have in the past couple of games."

The Patriots were limited to one personnel grouping in Week 6 for the entirety of the second half thanks to the injuries they dealt with at both fullback and tight end. It was the first time that'd happened in 20 years, Tom Brady said after the game. 

Not the case against the Jets. Using their "12" package early made sense since Adam Gase's club had allowed 9.7 yards per pass attempt to that grouping coming into Week 7, as well as a 115.5 quarterback rating, per Sharp.

Without Matt LaCosse (knee) and Ryan Izzo (concussion), it looked like the Patriots might be forced to roll with 11-personnel groupings (one back, one tight end) for much of the game at MetLife Stadium. But both Watson and Tomlinson filled in effectively. The Patriots also used two-back sets, and they utilized "23" groupings (two backs, three tight ends) at the goal line when they had to grind out plays in short-yardage.

Watson and Tomlinson factored into them all.
 
"It's awesome. Coming in this week, one week of preparation and then coming in and playing a lot of plays is really impressive," James White said of Watson and Tomlinson. "Ben did great. Eric did great. I say they'll be able to continue to build on that. It's not easy just coming in in one week and going out there to play a lot of plays so hats off to them two."

It wasn't all positive for the Patriots offense. They averaged only 2.2 yards per carry as a team. Brady averaged just 5.5 yards per pass attempt. On their last nine drives, they scored one touchdown, punted seven times and were intercepted once.

But having a couple of tight ends ready to go as part of the attack helped the Patriots show a little diversity in Jersey, and it forced the Jets to stay on their toes to try to keep up with the personnel changes called by McDaniels.

Having Watson back in the mix, in particular, was something that his teammates appreciated.

"Awesome, man," Julian Edelman said of Watson's night. "He went in there and he played like the pro that he is. He's a veteran player. He knows what we have to do. It's awesome having him out there and having a guy who's got some stripes."

He also has a few catches and more than a few snaps to his name this season after beating the Jets. To think it was only a couple of weeks ago that the Patriots didn't have a roster spot for Watson following his four-game suspension. 

How long his spot remains his is yet to be seen, but on Monday he was a key piece in helping the Patriots get their offense established. 

Best & Worst: Really rough night for Darnold>>>>>

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Patriots defense scares the life out of Jets, Sam Darnold

Patriots defense scares the life out of Jets, Sam Darnold

“Wear a mic,” they said. “It’ll be good for your brand,” they said. “What could go wrong? It will give everyone a look into what it’s really like to be Sam Darnold,” they said.

Never again. NEVER AGAIN!!!!!

Somewhere Monday night, Mark Sanchez felt a weight lift off of him. Because even though he ran face-first into an ass on Thanksgiving Night seven years ago, nobody ever heard him mutter fearfully about what the Patriots were doing to him.

But Sam Darnold did. Miked up for Monday Night by ESPN, we found out with 2:55 left in that Darnold is just 22 and he do mind dying.

“They’re gonna keep bringing it,” Darnold muttered. “Seeing ghosts.”

In what may have been one of the worst quarterbacking performances of this decade, Darnold threw up more fallaways than Wizards-era Michael Jordan.

Let’s get this clear: you, me and 99.9 percent of the people on this planet would soil ourselves if we had to take a shotgun snap in an NFL game and figure out who to throw it to. We wouldn’t know what to do. We’d panic. We’d see ghosts, werewolves, minotaurs, small children chewing tin foil. But we’d have an excuse for the soiling and the panic. Not our job.

It is Darnold’s job. He’s an NFL quarterback, a top-10 pick, a young man eight days removed from a very impressive win over the Cowboys.

And Darnold wasn’t just caught in a moment of candor using a common football phrase meaning he sensed pressure that wasn’t coming.

He played with palpable fear. Every one of the four interceptions he threw was a grenade toss into nowhere. He took a flamethrower to any chance his team had to win. Worse, he may have assassinated his teammates’ confidence in him. To say nothing of what a performance like that will do to his own confidence.

If he were smart, he’d blame it on the spleen. But it’s probably too late for that. His “Seeing ghosts …” utterance will live in infamy. Especially if the Patriots defense continues down the historic path it’s on.

Through seven games, the New England defense has allowed 27 points. It wasn’t long ago that that was a good half for the Patriots when Matt Patricia was in charge. (I joke.) Now, despite all the “Yeah, buts …” about the teams they haven’t played, the mountain of statistical evidence has become impossible to dismiss. This unit is tracking to be the hardest defense to score on in the modern football era. Some would use shorten that description by simply using the words “best defense in the modern era.”

Darnold’s words make it easier for the collection of Patriots players trying to speak into existence the “Boogeymen” nickname they’ve been working on. It isn’t quite as catchy as The Killer B’s or The Steel Curtain but it’s just as good as the Purple People Eaters.

And now they’ve got Darnold co-signing on the concept.

Told that Darnold mentioned ghosts, Patriots linebacker Kyle Van Noy said, “That’s the Boogeymen. Did he really say that? That’s crazy. That makes it real.”

During his postgame interview on ESPN, Dont'a Hightower was told about Darnold’s words and reacted with disbelief, his eyes widening as he said, “Really?!”

It wouldn’t have been so bad for Darnold had he not intimated last week that he was about to find the soft underbelly of the New England defense and feast.

"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."

He also said after last week’s win over the Cowboys that, once the Jets had all their players up to speed, they’d be “unstoppable.”

Yeah, no.

The Patriots heard all of it and then used it against Darnold and the Jets all night long.

As for the other side of the ball? Tom Brady was still a little tepid in the postgame about the output.

“We’re looking for (consistency) and we’ll be trying to be a little better next week,” he said.

He’s been a notoriously hard grader all season, but it is a fact that once the Patriots got out to their fat 24-0 lead, the offense managed just one score over its final nine possessions.

Still, that shouldn’t overshadow the dissection he presided over. Given 11 days to get ready for the Jets, the Patriots offense scored touchdowns on three of its first four possessions. And that was with the offense incorporating two new tight ends (Ben Watson and Eric Tomlinson), a parade of lead blockers for Sony Michel and a bigger role for rookie Jakobi Meyers. And it was without Josh Gordon, Rex Burkhead and the other offensive personnel the team’s been doing without for a while now.

The running game is still sputtering along and the reliance on Julian Edelman and James White is still outsized (the two were handed off to or targeted with passes a total of 28 times) but, as Brady pointed out, if the other team doesn’t score, it’s going to be hard to beat the Patriots.

The next two weeks brings the rest of the upper tier of 2018 quarterback draftees. The Patriots have already dispatched Josh Rosen, Josh Allen and Darnold. Next up, it’s Baker Mayfield and then Lamar Jackson.

As the week progresses, we’ll do our analysis and — by Sunday — we (or, more accurately, I) will have found ghosts of our own. Phantom reasons why opposing offenses may pose a threat to the Patriots defense and give this team a reasonably competitive game. Reasons that maybe the Patriots should be ascared.

And by 4 p.m. or so, I’ll probably be where I’ve been after a bunch of other games this year. Like Sam Darnold, not exactly sure what I’d seen.

Best & Worst from Patriots' 33-0 win>>>>

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