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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Report: Ex-Patriots WR Danny Amendola to re-sign with Lions

Report: Ex-Patriots WR Danny Amendola to re-sign with Lions

Scratch that Danny Amendola-Patriots reunion.

Peter Schrager of the NFL Network reports the free-agent wide receiver is re-signing with the Detroit Lions, where he spent last season and had 62 catches for 678 yards. Former Pats defensive coordinator Matt Patricia will enter his third season as Lions coach in 2020. 

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The 34-year-old left the Patriots after five seasons to sign with the Miami Dolphins in 2018 and may have burned a bridge or two with Bill Belichick. 

It had been speculated that perhaps bringing in a former reliable Tom Brady receiver might be part of a plan to lure Brady back to New England, with a report in late January that Amendola could come along to wherever Brady lands in free agency, but a Brady-Amendola reunion in Detroit isn't happening, either. 

Next Pats Podcast: Will Patriots go mobile at QB if Tom Brady leaves?

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Next Pats Podcast: Will Patriots go mobile at QB if Tom Brady leaves?

There's one big question that New England Patriots are facing this offseason. Who is going to be their starting quarterback in 2020?

For the past 20 seasons, the team hasn't really had questions at the position. It has always been Tom Brady's job. But with the 42-year-old set to hit free agency, the Patriots can't necessarily count on him returning unless they want to pay him what he's worth.

So, now the question for the Patriots becomes, what will life look like if Brady departs?

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On the latest episode of The Next Pats Podcast, which returns for its first episode of the 2020 offseason, Phil Perry is here to explore that question. And really what it all boils down to is what the Patriots are looking for in a potential successor.

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As Perry notes, it's likely to be one of two types of quarterback: The traditional pocket passer or a more mobile athlete in the mold of some of the recent success stories at the position.

Do the Patriots look for the next Brady? Uber-accurate, somebody who's going to sit in the pocket and absolutely dissect every little aspect of the defense that he is looking at. Or, do they go a different route? Do they go with an athlete? Do they get more mobile? Because talking to people this offseason, I'm getting a whiff -- I'm getting a scent that people believe the pocket passer might be dead.

Perry is joined by guests including Pro Football Focus' Steve Palazzolo, Greg Cosell of ESPN and NFL Films, and NFL Network's Kurt Warner to answer questions about Brady's future and what his game has looked like in recent seasons.

For more thoughts about the Patriots offseason, check out the latest episode of the Next Pats Podcast, available as part of the NBC Sports Boston Podcast Network.