Patriots

Patriots-Rams: What's changed since these teams last met 2 years ago?

Patriots-Rams: What's changed since these teams last met 2 years ago?

You might remember it as the game when Jeff Fisher, then coach of the Los Angeles Rams, thought Danny Woodhead (who last played for the Patriots in 2012) was still on the team.

You might also remember it as the game when Fisher could not find his challenge flag in a winter parka puffy enough to put Tom Brady to shame.

Regardless of how you remember it, the Patriots defeated the Los Angeles Rams 26-10 in the teams' last meeting, in Week 13 of the 2016 NFL season.

This was the Rams' first season back in Los Angeles, Fisher's final season as Rams' coach, and the nascency of a dramatic two-year turnaround, in which the Rams have gone from cellar dwellers of the NFC West to one win away from the franchise's first championship since Super Bowl XXXIV.

When these two teams last met, the Patriots were in the midst of one of the most storied seasons in the franchise history. Brady, having missed the first four games due to his Deflategate suspension, led the team to a 14-2, MVP regular season, and a legendary comeback Super Bowl win over the Falcons.

The Rams, meanwhile, had two of their most important puzzle pieces in place— quarterback Jared Goff and running back Todd Gurley. However, outside of Gurley and Goff, there is very little resemblance between this year's NFC champions and the team that came into Gilette Stadium on Dec. 4, 2016

The turnaround began immediately. The Rams fired Fisher days after the loss, and John Fassel took over as interim coach to close out the season before the Rams made Sean McVay the youngest head coach in modern NFL history the following offseason.

This gamble has paid off. McVay's coaching style and the Rams roster moves have empowered Goff, the first overall pick in 2016, to become one of the premier passers in the league, climbing nearly 40 points in passer rating between his seven starts in 2016, from 63.6 in 2016, to 100.5 and 101.1 in 2016 and 2017, respectively.

McVay can be seen on game broadcasts talking constantly into Goff's headset right up until the league-mandated,15-second play clock cutoff, coaching the Rams' star QB on the situation in front of him.

Meanwhile, Rams general manager Les Snead has done a masterful job in transforming L.A.'s roster from a unit that put up 4,203 total yards of offense in 2016, to what will likely be 7,000 total yards of offense for 2018 by the time Super Sunday comes to a close.

The Rams, between 2016 and 2018, have gone from a wide receiver group that included such names as Patriots' retread Kenny Britt, and Mike Thomas (not the Saints' Michael Thomas), to Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods, and Josh Reynolds, powering an offense that has put up over 4,500 passing yards, close to the 4,700 put up by the legendary 2007 Patriots.

The Rams have gotten faster across the board, and the coaching and game-planning put into place by McVay have unlocked the potential of his talented team.

The Patriots, meanwhile, reached the Super Bowl twice in that same span, winning one and losing the other to the Eagles last season. Putting the off-field drama aside, the Patriots have remained true to the "Bill the GM" strategy of being cost efficient, replacing $62 million Giants left tackle Nate Solder with Trent Brown and dealing Cooks away to the Rams for a first-round pick.

While the Patriots have seemingly overcome this season's passing game woes after taking a flyer on troubled Browns receiver Josh Gordon. They've clicked on offense once again in recent weeks, it is the Patriots' defense that has stood out.

In an era where most NFL teams have seemingly gone away from emphasizing defense, the Patriots struggles last season, which culminated in the Super Bowl loss, were largely due to the defense's inability to get off the field in key situations.

The Patriots replaced Malcolm Butler with Jason McCourty, Stephon Gilmore has become arguably the league's best cornerback in 2018, and defensive end Trey Flowers has set himself up for a major payday this offseason.

Meanwhile the Rams defense has made upgrades across the board, acquiring Aqib Talib, former Dolphins enforcer Ndamukong Suh, and still feature Aaron Donald, who has become "pretty much unblockable," according to Patriots coach Bill Belichick.

Perhaps the best Patriots-Rams storyline going into Super Bowl LIII is that Belichick and Brady will again face the team they beat to start it all in 2001 — then 14-point underdogs to the "Greatest Show on Turf," Kurt Warner-led Rams.

As they say, the rest is history.

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Bill Belichick's update on Mohamed Sanu, Phillip Dorsett involved a Oujia board

Bill Belichick's update on Mohamed Sanu, Phillip Dorsett involved a Oujia board

FOXBORO -- At least Bill Belichick is getting creative in his non-answers.

The New England Patriots head coach was asked Friday morning if he has a sense about the statuses of wide receivers Mohamed Sanu and Phillip Dorsett, who both are dealing with injuries that threaten to hold them out of Sunday's game against the Dallas Cowboys.

"I have a sense, yeah," Belichick responded with a grin.

"We'll share it when the injury report comes out after practice. We'll make sure you get a copy."

Before reporters could ask a follow-up question, Belichick felt the need to defend his non-update.

"No point in guessing on them," he said of Sanu and Dorsett. "Might as well go out in practice and see what they can do and then make an accurate report.

"I'm not gonna sit here and try to Oujia board it here this morning and tell you how a guy is going to feel before he's gone out there and done anything. That would be irresponsible on my part."

Who had Belichick referencing Oujia boards on a Friday morning?

For those not well-versed in paranormal activities, a Oujia board is a flat board marked with numbers and letters that psychics and spiritualists use to communicate with ghosts or, in this case, read into the future.

While we don't know how this particular item popped into Belichick's head, we do know there was zero chance he would provide an update on Sanu or Dorsett prior to Friday's practice.

Our Tom E. Curran recently reported that Sanu, who didn't practice Wednesday or Thursday, is dealing with a high ankle sprain that may sideline him for a week or more.

Dorsett, who's dealing with a concussion he suffered against the Philadelphia Eagles, returned to practice Thursday, but his status remains unclear.

Don't look to Belichick and his Oujia board for answers. 

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Julian Edelman responds to Antonio Brown-to-Patriots rumor with company line

Julian Edelman responds to Antonio Brown-to-Patriots rumor with company line

Julian Edelman apparently took notes from Tom Brady's interview Thursday night.

The morning after Brady deflected a question about Antonio Brown's possible return to the New England Patriots, Edelman was asked about the same subject Friday morning on WEEI's "The Greg Hill Show."

Specifically: Is there any part of you that wants to see Brown back in a Patriots uniform this season?

"I don’t make personnel decisions," Edelman said, via WEEI.com. "My focus is entirely on the Dallas Cowboys.”

“We’ve got a huge game this week, this is a team that is playing very well and is a team you don’t get to see. This is America’s team. Everyone grew up either loving or hating the Cowboys. So, that’s where my focus is at."

Edelman's answer is right in line with that of his quarterback, who has repeatedly said that personnel decisions aren't up to him when asked about Brown or any other player with reported ties to the Patriots.

Brown spent just over two weeks as Edelman's teammate earlier this season before New England released him in September. The free-agent wide receiver -- whom the NFL is investigating for multiple allegations of sexual assault -- drummed up speculation about a Patriots return with a recent "apology" to team owner Robert Kraft on social media.

NBC Sports Boston's Tom E. Curran is reporting the Patriots have no interest in bringing Brown back, though.

In any case, Edelman insists he's just keeping his head down -- to the point where he'll probably hear about any Patriots transaction just like the rest of us.

"I think that's the only way I find out," Edelman said when asked if he's ever learned about team news on social media. "We've got a department that handles that, and they do what's best for the team in their eyes, and we kind of just go out and play."

"There's been plenty of times when you look at the ticker and go, 'Oh, we signed that guy. Cool.' "

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