Patriots

Patriots run defense toughens up down stretch, stuffs Jets

Patriots run defense toughens up down stretch, stuffs Jets

FOXBORO -- For three weeks, the Patriots run defense was embarrassed. 

They allowed 7.3 yards per carry to the Vikings in Week 13. Against the Dolphins a week later, that number bumped up to 9.0 thanks to repeated breakdowns. In Pittsburgh, the Patriots showed some improvement, knocking their yards allowed per carry number all the way down to . . . 6.3.

They were arguably the worst run defense in the league. Bill Belichick, Brian Flores, Patriots players -- they all vowed that the run defense would improve. And those words would've rung hollow if they hadn't gotten stingier. 

But they have.

Last week, the Bills averaged 4.0 yards per attempt and just 72 yards total. In a 38-3 beatdown of the Jets on Sunday, the Patriots allowed their division rivals to pick up only 3.5 yards per attempt on non-quarterback carries. (Sam Darnold rushed once for 28 yards when the Patriots lost contain in the first quarter.)

Trey Flowers was asked on Sunday if the team's struggles against the run in recent weeks bothered the Patriots.

"Definitely," he said. "Any time we fall short of our goals, fall short of playing physical and being that physically tough team, it bothers us, personally. We weren't necessarily thinking about what people on the outside were saying. We just took it personally. We knew what we had to fix and we knew how we had to fix it."

The Patriots made some personnel changes, getting Danny Shelton into the lineup, and giving game-day jerseys to players like Ufomba Kamalu and Derek Rivers but not Adrian Clayborn. The Patriots also got back to basics, refining their techniques and fundamentals, and results have followed. 

Against the Jets, the Patriots had a dozen plays where they held Jets rushers to two yards or less. Flowers was in on four. Same went for Elandon Roberts. Malcom Brown, Lawrence Guy, Danny Shelton, Deatrich Wise, Derek Rivers and Kyle Van Noy were all in on impressive plays at or near the line of scrimmage to keep the Jets in difficult down-and-distance situations.

The Jets were not a good running offense going into Sunday. They ranked 30th in yards per carry at 3.9. The teams the Patriots could see in the Divisional Round are certainly better in that regard. 

Baltimore (whose offense is a throwback founded in the running game) and Houston rank near the middle of the pack in terms of running the football. The Chargers, meanwhile, averaged 4.8 yards per carry going into Week 17, giving them one of the league's most efficient running games.

Not knowing who they'll see in two weeks, the Patriots still came away pleased with what they've done against the run these last two weeks.

"Just coming into the end of the season," Flowers said, "to get that type of performance, understanding how we had to play, how we had to practice, how we had to come on Sunday, fundamentally and things like that, it's definitely big for us to practice well, prepare well and come out in the game and execute."

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WWE's Lio Rush calls out Rob Gronkowski during 'Monday Night Raw'

WWE's Lio Rush calls out Rob Gronkowski during 'Monday Night Raw'

Just one day after retiring from football, Rob Gronkowski already is getting called out by WWE stars.

During "Monday Night Raw," Lio Rush knew exactly how to rile up the Boston crowd. While taking shots at fellow WWE star Finn Balor, Rush fired some at Gronkowski as well.

"You should've just quit while you were ahead. You really should've," Rush said. "Now, you are gonna be forced to leave the game as a beaten, broken, hot piece of garbage like Rob Gronkowski."

WWE has been considered a potential landing spot for Gronkowski as he moves on from his NFL career. Mojo Rawley, a WWE star and friend of Gronk's, believes we'll see him step into the ring plenty in the future.

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Nothing cooking on the Tom Brady contract front

Nothing cooking on the Tom Brady contract front

PHOENIX - All is quiet on the Tom Brady contract front, according to a source here at the NFL's League Meetings at the Arizona Biltmore. 

Why does the absence of activity pass for news? Because Brady, the six-time Super Bowl champion, has never entered a season while in the so-called "walk year" of his contract. And the $27M cap hit he currently carries is onerous and represents a bigger hit than the Patriots have ever carried for a player (though Rob Gronkowski's retirement has freed up significant room). Also because Brady, who for years has taken less than he could command as the reigning king of the quarterbacks, more than deserves to have his salary brought in line with the league's best players and that cost will be significant. 

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Brady, who will be 42 in August, has made it clear he doesn't want to finish his career anywhere else and both Robert and Jonathan Kraft have made it clear they don't want that to happen either. While on Boston Sports Tonight  last month, Jonathan Kraft intimated Brady entering the walk year of his contract isn't really significant until he actually starts playing regular season games without a new deal. The intimation was that a new deal could be in place by training camp. 

So while it's still way too early to sound the alarm about Brady not getting a new deal, it's always an apt time to check in on the progress being made toward one. And right now, there's nothing coming down the pike. 

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