Patriots

Tom E. Curran's Takeaways: Uneven offensive performance a sign of the times for Patriots

Tom E. Curran's Takeaways: Uneven offensive performance a sign of the times for Patriots

FOXBORO – When the Patriots started the final drive of the first half on Thursday night, their offense consisted of wide receivers Gunner Olszewski, Jakobi Meyers and Julian Edelman. Their tight end was Ryan Izzo. Their left tackle was Marshall Newhouse. Their center was Ted Karras.

Injuries pushed several of those players into the spots they were in. Phillip Dorsett’s hamstring went last week and Josh Gordon’s ankle went while he was trying to make a tackle after Brady was strip-sacked. Newhouse is in because of Isaiah Wynn’s turf toe and Karras is in because David Andrews is lost for the year with blood clots. Tight end Matt Lacosse left with a knee injury in the first half and N’Keal Harry hasn’t played since the first preseason game because of a lower leg injury.  

But the why of it is somewhat moot. The Patriots offense hasn’t been charging up and down the field since the first quarter of the third game against the Jets.

On their first drive of the night, their drive stalled after they got stacked up on second, third and fourth down.

Later, after a Duron Harmon pick put them in business at the Giants 20, Brady found Meyers (who had an encouraging game) with a back-shoulder throw down to the Giants 2. It took three tries before Brandon Bolden crammed it in from the 1.

That Bolden was taking those short-yardage carries instead of Michel indicates that the more urgent and aggressive running style of Bolden is worth a shot since the more patient Michel isn’t a pile-moving back when there’s no room to operate.

And Bolden was getting offensive snaps, in part, because Rex Burkhead was out.

Brady wasn’t great. On the strip-sack, Izzo’s man made the play but he did the right thing running his man upfield and Brady probably could have stepped up a bit to avoid it. He also threw a pick on a pass intended to Edelman down the seam when he threw on the opposite side of the wide receiver.

The 2018 Patriots were – on both sides of the ball – incredibly healthy. That was one of the underappreciated reasons behind their run to the Super Bowl. Right now, they aren’t. The injuries are impacting the offensive performance and the offensive performance wasn’t so hot before that.

The Patriots are 6-0 but the offensive travails don’t have a chance to get better until some of their players get better. And even then, it may be a labor.

***

The numbers for Brady – 31-for-41 for 334 with two rushing touchdowns (and five carries for six yards) wound up being decent but the way they were arrived at is not what the Patriots are looking for. They clearly came out hoping to show the same kind of effectiveness on the ground they showed last week in the second half against Washington but they just couldn’t clear room for Michel who – while despite all my protests that he’s not the issue – seems to be getting more and more tentative. Hence the reps for Bolden. But the ineffectiveness of the running game (17-for 53 in the first half) meant the Patriots had to use the short passing game to augment the ground attack. And that meant a ton of throws for Brady who was 25-for-34 by the end of the first half. 

In addition to the pick and the strip-sack, there were a number of misfires. One to Meyers on a screen that Meyers came up with. Another to Izzo on a little throw out to the flat. A low throw to Edelman. Wide throws to Edelman and Izzo on the first drive of the second half. Protection and separation. Without them, a quarterback looks kind of normal. That’s what the now-deposed coach of the Redskins, Jay Gruden, said in the days before they played New England. And that’s what Brady is experiencing as well which is causing him to be less decisive.

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Bill Belichick declared there was no room at the inn when the Patriots released Benjamin Watson. But watching Ryan Izzo get walked through with great frequency was alarming. The second-year tight end is barely a speed bump on some plays. The Patriots' third-down run early in the fourth when they tried a toss to James White around the left end was a perfect example. Safety Jabril Peppers discarded Izzo and dropped White for a 2-yard loss.

***

Between the wind and the fact they had a new kicker, the Patriots decided to roll the dice on fourth down a couple of times. They got stuffed on their first attempt at the end of their first drive. On their first possession of the second half, an incompletion by Brady on fourth-and-7 from the Giants 29 was wiped out by a defensive holding penalty. When they moved five yards closer, they let Mike Nugent give it a go. His attempt from 40 hit the left upright. The laces were facing Nugent thanks to the hold from rookie punter Jake Bailey.

***

A slew of injuries hit the team Thursday night. In addition to the ones mentioned – Lacosse and Gordon – Donta Hightower left with a shoulder injury, Patrick Chung hurt his chest, Jakob Johnson hurt his shoulder. All were down for the rest of the game. J.C. Jackson and Devin McCourty both missed some time but returned.  

***

In his maiden voyage as a FOX analyst, Rob Gronkowski said he’d “leave the door open” on a return. That statement followed a comment by Patriots owner Robert Kraft who noted Gronk hadn’t filed his retirement papers and that “We can always pray and hope. There is hope for us still with Gronk.” 

The filing of retirement papers is a formality. It just starts the process of players getting their post-career benefits. On one hand, you hear Kraft stirring the pot about a Gronk return when the player was clearly at wit’s end by the time he called it quits seems tone-deaf. Leave the guy alone. But if Gronk’s going to keep pushing the notion he might come back – whether he’s serious about it or just doing it to keep people showing up when he holds a press conference – then all bets are off. For what it’s worth, sources have told me several times that Gronk is not coming back.

***

Meyers and Gunner Olszewski combined to catch six of the seven balls they were targeted with for 88 yards. For Meyers, in particular, it was an encouraging performance. He may not have the offense down pat but the hands he showed in camp when everything near him he pulled in was very much in evidence Thursday night.

***
After Julian Edelman’s highlight reel diving catch that set up the Patriots final score, Giants head coach Pat Shurmur ended up on the field for some reason. Edelman, seeing Shurmur well out near the numbers, pointed at the coach and gestured at him as if to say, “What are you doing out here?” Shurmur chirped back. Edelman returned fire. Shurmur chirped back … and then they wandered away from each other glancing over their shoulders at each other.

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Gary Tanguay: I was wrong to doubt Bill Belichick

Gary Tanguay: I was wrong to doubt Bill Belichick

I should have known.

I should have known that Bill Belichick would address the senseless murder of George Floyd with his team.

Belichick had remained silent on the matter when other notable coaches and owners like Brad Stevens, Gregg Popovich, and Wyc Grousbeck had spoken out publicly. The Patriots had released a statement, but we heard not a word from the Hoodie. His players were another story.

Mike Giardi of NFL Network reported that the coach held an extensive session with his team regarding the matter. Patriot captain Matthew Slater told Phil Perry on The Next Pats Podcast that his coach, “has a healthy understanding of the situation and the times we’re living in. I think he’s done of good job of trying to listen, trying to learn from his players and try to navigate this as best he can.”

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Of course. Shame on me for doubting him.

Belichick is a "my way or the highway” kind of guy. We know that. However, he has consistently changed “his way” during his coaching tenure.

Known as a defensive-minded coach, he took the reins off of Tom Brady to 2007 as his one-time game manager threw 50 touchdowns that year.

This no-nonsense coach brought in one-time problem players like Corey Dillon and Randy Moss and made them into extremely productive Patriots.

A military-minded fellow has had no problem with a player’s facial hair, hair length, or how they dress.

His training camps have become more about field trips to the movies than two-days as he adapts to the ways of managing a player’s health in today’s NFL.

As my friend and colleague Steve DeOssie has told me thousands of times, “Bill, does business as business is done.” There is not a better example of this than the coach’s virtual session with his team. He tossed football aside and was there for his players.

How could Belichick look Slater or the McCourty twins in the eye and not address this situation?

How could he pass Andre Tippett in the hallway in Foxboro and remain silent? He shouldn’t, he couldn’t, and he didn’t.

Belichick knows his players need him right now and did the right thing and spoke up. He just didn’t need to tell us about it, which is OK with me.

Next Pats Podcast: Matthew Slater reflects on social unrest within U.S. and NFL

Next Pats Podcast: Matthew Slater reflects on social unrest within U.S. and NFL

As much as we'd love to talk football, it has taken a back seat to the conversations that need to be had about George Floyd's murder and the racial injustices that remain prevalent in the United States.

The "Black Lives Matter" movement has spread across the country with protests advocating for justice and racial equality. It has impacted the world of sports, with countless athletes using their platforms to let their voices be heard. NFL players even sent a strong message to the league with a video stating what they wanted to hear it say regarding the oppression of African Americans.

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On a brand new episode of the Next Pats Podcast, New England Patriots special teams captain Matthew Slater joined Phil Perry to discuss the state of the nation.

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Slater covered a variety of important topics in the episode. But one that particularly stood out was his explanation of how if the country operated like an NFL locker room, it would be a more inclusive place.

"It is a very unique place. A locker room setting -- you know, if our country operated and moved like a locker room, man it would be a beautiful thing," Slater said. "I'm not saying it's perfect, I'm not saying we've got it all figured out, but what a unique space where people from all different walks of life, different belief systems and things of that nature to work toward a common goal.

"And there's automatic respect that comes with the fact that you have a jersey and a helmet, and you're one of us. So I'm appreciative of that and I think now is a time for us to maybe forge those bonds even deeper. Guys that maybe hear personal stories and maybe experience this from their teammates have a different appreciation for why that guy is the way he is, why he does the things that he does. And I think ultimately that's going to lead to deeper and more fruitful relationships."

If anyone knows what a healthy, inclusive locker room environment looks like, it's Slater. The 34-year-old has been a captain for the Patriots for nearly a decade and has been an admirable leader throughout his stellar NFL career.

Slater also discussed how head coach Bill Belichick has been involved in the team's discussions about recent events, his experiences living as a black man in America, and much more.

Check out more of the Next Pats Podcast on the NBC Sports Boston Podcast Network or watch on YouTube below: