Patriots, Sony Michel gladly accept Chargers invitation to run wild

Patriots, Sony Michel gladly accept Chargers invitation to run wild

FOXBORO -- Chargers coach Anthony Lynn and defensive coordinator Gus Bradley could've just held up signs when the Patriots offense was on the field. One each. 


When the Patriots took the ball to begin the game, the Chargers responded by doing what they did last week against Baltimore: They flooded the field with defensive backs. Praised for their game plan a week ago -- matching quarterback Lamar Jackson's speed with the speed of their corners and safeties -- the results couldn't have been more different Sunday. 

The Patriots answered Los Angeles' athleticism with power, forcing smaller players to muck it up near the line of scrimmage and tackle hard-charging rookie running back Sony Michel. "The Blazin' Haitian," as Julian Edelman called him, rushed for 129 yards on 24 carries, breaking 100 before halftime. As a team, the Patriots ran for 155 yards on 34 attempts for an average of 4.6 yards per carry in their Divisional Round win, 41-28. 

Before the Patriots started killing clock in the fourth quarter, they were averaging over 5.0 yards per attempt. 


"We saw on film the different personnel groups they run, and we knew that there would be certain times where we'd have to execute," right tackle Marcus Cannon said when asked about the lighter packages the Patriots faced early on. "We knew that there would be a little more importance on execution against certain personnels than others."

Though the Patriots said during the week that they expected the Chargers to handle Tom Brady differently than they handled his stylistic antithesis Jackson, they knew there was a good chance they'd see safeties playing linebacker roles, trying to shoot gaps as run defenders as opposed to taking on 300-pound behemoths head-on.

According to Pro Football Focus, seven of the Chargers' top-10 players in terms of playing time Sunday were defensive backs. Players like safeties Derwin James, Jahleel Addae and Adrian Phillips all mucked it up near the line of scrimmage, and the Patriots did their best to take advantage. 

"They've been doing it all year," Bill Belichick dead-panned after the game. "They did it against us last year."

It wasn't always easy for the Patriots. Their first two carries of the game combined for -2 yards. But later on their opening drive, Michel had carries of 11 and five yards before his one-yard touchdown plunge. 


Both came against six defensive backs.

Michel's 12-yard run -- highlighted by a hard cut back across the grain almost as soon as he touched the football -- on New England's second drive helped spark another touchdown drive. His 40-yard scamper -- following big blocks from Rob Gronkowski and David Andrews -- eventually led to a Rex Burkhead score. 

Both came against six defensive backs. 

"When you do get that, when you get a lot of defensive backs out there, you've got to run the ball," Gronkowski said. "You've got to put your hand down and make yards the old way, the old-fashioned way, and that's by running the ball. We did a lot of that."

The Patriots scored 31 points unanswered between the first and third quarters, draining clock all the while in part because the Chargers had no consistent answer to the Patriots running game. Against the Ravens in the Wild Card round, not only did the speed of Bradley's defense help them defend the run, but his big bodies up front man-handled the Baltimore line, meaning that some run plays never even sniffed the smaller defenders at the second level.


The Patriots had that aspect of the Chargers defense mostly figured out as well, utilizing combination blocks -- like the ones that cleared the way for Burkhead's touchdown run -- to create double-teams at the point of attack that created an initial running lane. Once things got to the second level, and once those double-teams worked their way to the diminutive defenders waiting for them, there were freeways to travel. 

On Michel's 40-yarder, Gronkowski and Cannon opened things up to get it going while David Andrews chugged out Phillips. The 300-pounder sealed off the 210-pounder with ease, and Michel was gone.

Patriots offensive linemen would never admit it after the game -- ever the students of their 70-year-old position coach Dante Scarnecchia -- but their eyes had to widen at the sight of so many defensive backs on the field. They were invited to run, and they gladly accepted. 

"You would like to come out with that outcome every time but every team is different," Cannon said. "These guys are going to be different than KC, and we're going to have to go back to the drawing board and do everything that we can. Film study, making sure our technique is right. We gotta dot all the is and cross all the ts to make sure we keep doing what we need to do to make sure our run game's going."

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Buccaneers WR Chris Godwin describes introductory FaceTimes with Tom Brady

Buccaneers WR Chris Godwin describes introductory FaceTimes with Tom Brady

Tom Brady is already making a point to get to know his new teammates in Tampa Bay.

The former New England Patriots quarterback had one request after signing with the Buccaneers last week, and that was all of his teammates' phone numbers. One particular player he's already reached out to is one of his new favorite targets, Chris Godwin.

In a recent interview with Ros Gold-Onwude of The Boardroom, Godwin detailed the dynamic of his first FaceTime conversations with Brady.

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“Really it’s literally just getting to know each other,” Godwin told Gold-Onwude. “Just early introductory things. Just trying to get a feel for who we are as people more than anything else. Like we didn’t talk ball or anything, really just about how excited we both are to play with each other.”

“For me, I’m just going to learn," he added. “You know, learn as much as I can from somebody who’s arguably the G.O.A.T., and I’m just ready to roll.”

The learning curve probably won't be all that steep for Godwin, who broke out in a big way last season for the Bucs. The 24-year-old was one of the top wide receivers in all of football, tallying 121 catches for 1,333 yards and nine touchdowns.

Godwin went on to describe his initial reaction to Brady -- who's been in the league since Godwin was four years old -- becoming his new QB.

“At first it was a little weird, cause it’s like I feel like it’s someone I’ve watched my entire life, Godwin said. "Like you said, he’s my colleague now so past the initial interaction it’s like alright, cool. This is starting to feel a little more normal now.”

You can watch the full interview below:

Godwin happens to wear No. 12 for the Bucs, but recently said he'll give it up to TB12 if the six-time Super Bowl champion asks for it.

Patriots WR N'Keal Harry already seems to be embracing the underdog role

Patriots WR N'Keal Harry already seems to be embracing the underdog role

Over the course of the New England Patriots' dynasty, NFL fans learned a valuable lesson: never count the Patriots out.

But with Tom Brady leaving after 20 years to sign with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, that has quickly changed. Suddenly, the Pats are perceived as underdogs.

It isn't difficult to see why. The quarterback position now is a real area of concern, and several key contributors from 2019 have departed in free agency.

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Pats wide receiver N'Keal Harry, however, doesn't seem worried. The 2019 first-round pick took to Twitter on Saturday with a message for the doubters.

The 22-year-old certainly isn't lacking in confidence.

If the Patriots are to exceed expectations without Brady, Harry will be counted on to be a focal point in the offense. New England's wide receiver depth chart currently consists of Harry, Julian Edelman, Mohamed Sanu, and Jakobi Meyers. There's also a strong chance the position is addressed again via the draft, which takes place next month.

The real question is who will be throwing the ball to Harry when the 2020 NFL season kicks off. Right now, 2019 fourth-rounder Jarrett Stidham is the odds-on favorite to be Brady's successor.

Harry tallied 12 receptions for 105 yards and two touchdowns in seven games during his rookie campaign.