Patriots

Turning Point: Patriots pounce on Eagles late second-quarter brain cramps

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Turning Point: Patriots pounce on Eagles late second-quarter brain cramps

PHILADELPHIA -- The Patriots defense is too good. The Eagles offense is too depleted. Given the matchup, the self-inflicted wounds from Carson Wentz and his teammates at the end of the first were the kinds of wounds Philly couldn't withstand.

The Turning Point in this one came early. And it came during what Bill Belichick would call a critical "situational football" moment. 

At the end of the first half, following a Patriots field goal that brought the score to 10-6, the Eagles stumbled. Two plays into their drive, with just over two minutes remaining, Wentz was sacked by Danny Shelton and fumbled. It looked like Wentz, dealing with replacements throughout his receiving corps, hesitated for a moment, allowing the pass-rush to get into his space. As the ball squirted loose, Lawrence Guy was there to snatch it.

The Patriots did nothing offensively, gaining just one yard on four plays, but they kicked another field goal to make it a one-score game. Free points. 

The Eagles then had something going during their next drive, which started with just under two minutes left. They completed a pass to Nelson Agholor for 11 (which drew sarcastic cheers from the home crowd because of Agholor's reputation for having inconsistent hands). They completed a pass to Zach Ertz for 12. Ertz caught another for eight. 

Philadelphia was suddenly at the 44-yard line of the Patriots, right on the edge of field goal range. How did they capitalize? 

They allowed an Adam Butler sack for a loss of three, but remained within striking distance of field-goal range. All they needed was a positive play on third down.

What happened next for them was not positive. 

Center Jason Kelce snapped one past Wentz, who went scrambling after it like a toddler chasing a Super Ball. He was touched down by Kyle Van Noy for a loss of seven, and the Eagles were forced to punt from their own 46.

The Patriots dodged a bullet, went into the locker room facing a one-point deficit, and came out swinging in the third. 

Going to the hurry-up style attack that carried them at times in Baltimore in Week 9, the Patriots rattled off 10 plays that covered 84 yards and resulted in a Julian Edelman double-pass touchdown to Phillip Dorsett. 

A 30-yard screen pass to Rex Burkhead -- that required a deft pump-fake-shovel-toss from Tom Brady and a broken tackle from Burkhead -- was the key in getting the Patriots into double-pass territory. And it was a nicely-schemed pass that went from Brady to Edelman to Dorsett, with a fake screen designed away from the play to draw the defense. 

But without those Eagles mistakes going into the half, the game likely has an entirely different feel going into the locker room. The Patriots, inept as they were at times with the football -- they went one-for-three in the red zone and five-for-15 on third down -- capitalized.

Undermanned and overwhelmed offensively for the rest of the game, Wentz and the Eagles couldn't afford to open the door for the Patriots at the end of the second quarter. But they did. And they paid for it.

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NFL Rumors: Patriots would be perfect landing spot for TE David Njoku

NFL Rumors: Patriots would be perfect landing spot for TE David Njoku

Now may not be the best time for the Patriots to be wheeling and dealing, shopping and swapping.

They remain tight to the salary cap (a little more than $1.2M in cap space according to Pats cap expert Miguel Benzan), the number of players who’ll actually be allowed in training camp remains in flux, the NFL is pilfering one of their third-round picks for the videotaping silliness last season … there are just a lot of moving parts right now.

Still, Browns’ tight end David Njoku? That’s an enticing player at a position of need.

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And he’s sitting right there giving the Patriots a chance to take a mulligan on a spot they ignored in the draft for almost a decade.

Njoku, who turns 24 today (July 10) was a first-round pick in 2017, a year when the Patriots should have been drafting a tight end but took Derek Rivers, Antonio Garcia, Deatrich Wise and Conor McDermott.

Last weekend, Njoku’s agent Drew Rosenhaus let it be known Njoku wants out. That stance probably has something to do with the Browns signing Austin Hooper in free agency but it was also reported Njoku’s been unhappy there for a while.

As enthused as we all got over the Patriots finally drafting tight ends Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene in April, Njoku is barely a year older than Asiasi, who turns 23 next month. And Njoku’s already spent three years in the league with 32 catches for 386 yards as a rookie and 56 for 630 in 2018.

Last year, he played in just four games because of a wrist injury — two in September and two in December.

The Browns picked up his fifth-year option in April, meaning they have committed to him in 2021 for about $6M. Njoku’s 2020 base salary is $1.76M which is the cap hit that would travel with him for this season if he were traded.

The Browns, according to longtime Cleveland.com beat writer Mary Kay Cabot, were still very committed to Njoku when they picked up the option in April.

“(Browns GM Andrew) Berry effectively eliminated that uncertainty (over Njoku’s future role) when he stressed that the tight end was an integral part of the team’s future even though they drafted Harrison Bryant in the fourth round out of Florida Atlantic and signed Austin Hooper to a blockbuster, four-year, $42 million free-agent deal that made him the NFL’s highest-paid tight end at $10.5 million a year.

"To David in particular, our perspective remains the same,'' Berry said. "I have been pretty consistent this offseason in terms of we still have a ton of belief in David. He is very talented.

"Obviously, he was not on the field much last year, but he is a guy with outstanding physical tools, he has proven NFL production and we still think the future is very bright with him here. David has always been and continues to be in our plans, and we are going to continue to add competition all across the roster.”

Njoku, who missed 10 games last season with a broken wrist that required surgery, returned late in the year only to be a healthy scratch for two of the last four games after Freddie Kitchens lost faith in him. In four games, he caught five passes for 41 yards and one touchdown. But the Browns believe that Njoku, 23, still has plenty of upside and will be a big playmaker in Kevin Stefanski’s tight-end-friendly offense, which most often utilizes two tight ends and sometimes three.

The Patriots weren’t able to provide a capable tight end option for Tom Brady in his lone post-Gronk season with the team. And they didn’t do anything of consequence to plan for that period either. But even before signing Cam Newton, the team realized how deficient they were at the position and grabbed Keene and Asiasi.

As committed as the Browns GM sounded in April, there’s no doubt the asking price for Njoku right now will be high. Probably too high for any team to spend on a guy with just this year and next at $6M left on his deal.

But, like Tampa Bay tight end O.J. Howard, Njoku is now a former first-rounder who feels like he’s soon to be on his way out of his present situation.

Despite the drafting of Keene and Asiasi, tight end is a position that shouldn’t be seen as sewn up. It’s going to be critical to the success of a Newton-led offense and the Patriots can make up for lost time if they can convince Cleveland to cough Njoku up.

NFL players rip league's postgame jersey swap policy for next season

NFL players rip league's postgame jersey swap policy for next season

A tradition that became popular in international soccer has become a staple of NFL postgames in recent years, but it might not be allowed during the 2020 season.

Swapping jerseys with an opponent is now commonplace in North American professional sports leagues. We often see younger players swap jerseys with veterans who they grew up watching. Former New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is a sought-after player for the postgame jersey swap. Multiple players from the Washington Redskins asked for his No. 12 jersey after a Week 5 game last season.

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Well, unfortunately for NFL players, swapping jerseys could be banned in the upcoming season as the league tries to implement social distancing measures amid the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the NFL and NFLPA have not yet agreed on all of the medical protocols for gamedays. NFL Media's Tom Pelissero reported the latest information Thursday:

Players were not pleased with this development, to say the least.

One of the most outspoken players was San Francisco 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman, who tweeted the following message. It earned a retweet from Patriots running back James White, among other players.

Many other players were not afraid to share their displeasure with the jersey swap potentially being banned. Here are some of those reactions:

With opposition so strong and coming from several of the league's stars, it'll be interesting to see if the league eventually eases up and allows jersey swaps to happen as normal next season.