Patriots

Turning Point: James White's long jaunt just what scuffling Patriots offense needed

Turning Point: James White's long jaunt just what scuffling Patriots offense needed

FOXBORO -- The Patriots' offense had a hard time moving the football at times Sunday. Their run game was stuck in neutral, continuing a season-long trend. Their pass game had issues finding consistency with a new wide receiver in the mix and a backup right guard starting.

But on a third-and-10 play early in the third quarter, the Patriots' offense found a spark. Or was it that the Browns defense took a sedative? Either way, James White's 59-yard screen catch-and-run was this game's turning point.

You could argue that Jonathan Jones' hustle sprint-and-strip of Nick Chubb was the game-changer. Or that Lawrence Guy's interception of Baker Mayfield's shovel pass was what definitively turned the tides.

🏈 PATRIOTS 27, BROWNS 13

Yet before the first Patriots drive of the third quarter, the Browns trailed their hosts by only a touchdown, 17-10. That subsequent drive started with Tom Brady throwing incomplete under pressure and then incomplete again when Mohamed Sanu's hand was pinned down by a Browns corner as the ball approached.

On third down the Patriots went with their 10 personnel package. They turned to that four-receiver, one-back set quite a bit against Cleveland despite the fact that the Browns were actually better against "sub" offensive packages coming into the game than they were two-tight end or two-back sets.

Perhaps the Patriots — going into the game with no true fullback and without their two top tight ends — felt as though the spread-it-out offense would have a better shot of helping them move the football. Certainly in a third-and-10 situation like the one they faced early in the third quarter, having more receivers on the field made sense.

🏈 PATRIOTS 27, BROWNS 13

But it wasn't a receiver who came through with the big play in that spot. It was White. The Browns forgot about White leaking out to the right side of the offensive formation and he had almost half the field to navigate one he caught Brady's pass in the flat.

One of the team's best runners with the ball in his hands, White decided to reverse the field about halfway through his jaunt in order to out-run the Browns defenders in pursuit. He could've had a hellacious block laid for him by Phillip Dorsett in the open field, but Dorsett made the heady play not to unload on the potential tackler he had sized up. He might've been called for a blindside block moving parallel to his own end line had he made forcible contact with his forearm or shoulder.

That play got the Patriots into Browns territory. They followed up with another successful scree to Rex Burkhead, a Sony Michel third-and-short conversion, and a Brady touchdown pass -- also out of 10 personnel -- to Julian Edelman.

That made the score 24-10 and gave the Patriots some breathing room as one of the best defenses in the history of the league through eight games went back to work against another young quarterback in the middle of a day he'd like to forget.

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Awesome NFL video highlights all 36 turnovers forced by Patriots defense in 2019

Awesome NFL video highlights all 36 turnovers forced by Patriots defense in 2019

The New England Patriots defense ranked among the NFL's best in 2019, and a huge reason for this unit's success was its ability to force turnovers.

The Patriots forced the second-most turnovers in the league with 36 during the regular season. They also led the league with 25 interceptions and a plus-21 turnover differential. Veteran cornerback Stephon Gilmore tied for the league lead with six interceptions and was named AP Defensive Player of the Year.

It's safe to say the Patriots defense was aggressive and opportunistic throughout 2019, and it certainly helped overcome some of the team's offensive struggles during the second half of the campaign.

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Check out all of the turnovers forced by New England's defense last season in the video below:

The Patriots' Super Bowl title defense ended surprisingly early with an AFC Wild Card loss to the Tennessee Titans at Gillette Stadium. The defense played pretty well, holding the Titans to just 13 offensive points. Tom Brady and his offense couldn't generate much of anything versus the Titans defense, though, and the Patriots lost 20-13.

New England's defense could look much different in 2020. The unit has several key players eligible for unrestricted free agency, including safety Devin McCourty, linebackers Jamie Collins and Kyle Van Noy, and defensive tackle Danny Shelton, among others.

Curran: Where things stand for Brady, Pats a month from free agency

Chris Simms' Tom Brady-Ryan Tannehill take may grind Patriots fans' gears

Chris Simms' Tom Brady-Ryan Tannehill take may grind Patriots fans' gears

We can understand Derrick Henry supporting Ryan Tannehill amid speculation that Tom Brady may consider joining to the Tennessee Titans.

Tannehill is Henry's quarterback, after all. He's not going to throw him under the bus.

But Chris Simms has no stake in the game -- and still believes the Titans would be better off with Tannehill than the six-time Super Bowl champion in 2020.

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Here's Simms on Wednesday's edition of NBC Sports PFT Live with Mike Florio:

 

"Everybody out there: You're crazy!" Simms said. "Tom Brady is not better than Ryan Tannehill right now! I'm just sorry! 

"I know Tom Brady is arguably the greatest quarterback ever, certainly the most accomplished. (He's) the man. But that doesn't mean he's the best in 2020."

Simms didn't stop there, suggesting the Titans may not have defeated the Patriots in the AFC Divisional Round if Brady was under center instead of Tannehill.

"The Titans weren't a team that had weapons galore," Simms said "They didn't have great weapons (either). We didn't really know about A.J. Brown until Ryan Tannehill got in there."

Got all that, Patriots fans?

This kind of take is nothing new from Simms, who ranked Brady as the NFL's ninth-best quarterback last summer and put Matthew Stafford ahead of the 14-time Pro Bowler at the midseason point.

He's also not wrong that Tannehill was excellent last season, leading the NFL in yards per attempt (9.6) and ranking second in touchdown percentage (7.7 percent) while going 7-3 as Tennessee's starter.

But 10 starts do not an elite quarterback make -- especially a QB who had the NFL's 2019 leading rusher (Henry) taking the heat off him.

Were Brady's numbers worse than Tannehill's in 2019? Sure. His 6.6 yards per attempt were the second-lowest of his career, while his 3.9 touchdown percentage represented his lowest rate ever.

As Patriots fans will tell you, though, Brady also helped a team with a revolving door of mediocre offensive weapons score the seventh-most points in the NFL while finishing 12-4.

All debates aside, the money could prove Brady's worth compared to Tannehill: The former may command north of $30 million in free agency, while the latter might be several million below that number.

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