Why Rex Burkhead's big night in Denver was no fluke


Why Rex Burkhead's big night in Denver was no fluke

The Patriots offensive game plan in Denver last weekend was clear: Find mismatches with Broncos linebackers and safeties in coverage and exploit them. 

The result was a big night for Patriots running backs and tight ends -- those groups accounted for 16 catches, 177 yards and three touchdowns receiving -- en route to a dominating 41-16 win. 


Will they be able to take a similar approach in Mexico City against the Raiders? It would make sense if they tried. 

Jack Del Rio's defense is having a down season, checking in at 23rd in the league in points allowed per game (23.8). And despite having one of the game's best edge defenders in Khalil Mack, as well as talented complementary rushers in Mario Edwards Jr. and Bruce Irvin, Oakland is last in the NFL in sacks (13.0). 

When it comes to Oakland's ability to cover, their weaknesses are similar to those the Broncos showed last weekend. The Raiders, according to Football Outsiders, are 28th in the league when it comes to defending running backs and 30th in the league when it comes to defending tight ends. Against backs they allow an average of 53.6 yards receiving on 7.5 targets, and against tight ends they're allowing 55.2 yards on 6.6 targets. 

Rob Gronkowski, Martellus Bennett and Dwayne Allen should be licking their chops for this type of matchup. Back in Week 9, Dolphins tight end Julius Thomas went off for 84 yards and a score on eight targets. 

The same could be said for New England's receiving backs. That should mean more work for Rex Burkhead, who has emerged as a true dual running and receiving threat, who has continued to see his workload increase every week since returning from a rib injury he suffered back in Week 2. 

Burkhead played 36 snaps against the Broncos, up from the 27 he saw against the Chargers and the 13 he played against the Falcons. He took a season-high 10 carries against Denver (he'd had 10 in his previous two games combined), and caught three passes on three targets, giving him a season-high 13 touches total. He's played only three games in his five-year career (all last season) when he's seen the football that often. 

Add those snaps to his special teams duties -- he blocked a punt and made two tackles on kickoffs last weekend -- and he's been busy. His usage is at the point where he's done a little extra, he explained this week, in order to make sure his conditioning is on point. 

"You know, I have, actually, just doing some things on the side just to make sure I'm in good shape and staying on top of the conditioning," he said, "just because you never know what your work load could be or how the game goes or whatnot . . . I'm just staying on top of that. [Head strength and conditioning coach] Moses [Cabrera] does a great job with us in the strength and conditioning department here, so just making sure I'm on top of that, like I said, because you never know how many snaps you may play, so you've just got to be ready."

Based on how the Raiders defense has looked this season, and where their weaknesses are, Burkhead may have to be ready for another steady workload south of the border.

Devin McCourty responds to Colin Kaepernick rumor: 'I hope that's true for him'

Devin McCourty responds to Colin Kaepernick rumor: 'I hope that's true for him'

FOXBORO -- Devin McCourty isn't looking to make headlines, but also he's not reluctant to talk about Colin Kaepernick when Kaepernick's name comes up.

Kaepernick's name was broached because TMZ caught up with Mark Geragos, Kaepernick's lawyer, and posted the video Thursday. In it, Geragos hinted that there were two NFL clubs that could be interested in signing his client. 

The two franchises at which hinted? The Raiders and the Patriots. New England came up because Geragos was asked about a "Colin Kaepernick anthem" that rapper Meek Mill is planning on. 

"I've heard that," Geragos said. "You know who Meek Mill was visited by when he was in custody?" 

Off camera, someone answered Patriots owner Robert Kraft. "Bingo," said Geragos. 

It's a flimsy connection if that's all it is, and McCourty hadn't seen the TMZ video. But as far as Kaepernick's potential return to the league, McCourty is a supporter of the idea. 

"I would just say I think he's a really good player," McCourty said. "I think he's had a tremendous amount of success in this league. And I've said it numerous times, there's no doubt in my mind that he's one of the top -- whether you want to say 32 or 64 -- quarterbacks that should be in this league. 

"I've said that from the jump. I believe that. I hope that's true for him. Whether it's those two [teams] or someone else, I hope that's true."

McCourty indicated that he didn't feel as though there would be any issues welcoming Kaepernick to the Patriots locker room if that ever came to pass. 

And though McCourty is one of the faces of the Players Coalition -- which has worked to steer the national conversation away from anthem demonstrations to work being done in communities that need it -- he maintained that having the face of the anthem demonstrations in the locker room might actually give Kaepernick an opportunity to highlight the charitable work Kaepernick has done.

According to Business Insider, he's donated over $1 million to various charities in over a year and a half. 

"I think he's still doing positive stuff," McCourty said. "I think him as a player would probably spotlight some of those things. Because right now people only talk about still the same thing. If he had that viewership, as far as the NFL, people would get to see what he does. 

"I think the people who see what he does now are the people that follow him and want to know. Whereas the average NFL viewer, they're not going to see what Kaepernick is doing right now. I think him in the NFL would give people the opportunity to see that. Obviously it would come up. Whatever team he signs to, the first question is going to be, What are you going to do? It's going to come up."

The question is whether there is a team out there willing to take on a player who would generate those discussions and the swirl of media attention that would follow.

For McCourty, that wouldn't be an issue. 

"I've never been opposed to [discussing it]," he said, "obviously."


Patriots again No. 2 in Forbes valuations of NFL teams

Patriots again No. 2 in Forbes valuations of NFL teams

The Patriots were No. 2 in the NFL after losing Super Bowl 52 to the Philadelphia Eagles and they're again No. 2 in Forbes' annual valuation rankings of NFL teams.

For the fourth year in a row, the Pats, at $3.8 billion. have finished second to the Dallas Cowboys ($5 billion, up from $4.2 billion a year ago for Jerry Jones' team). 

Here's the Top 10:

The Patriots were second in 2017 (at $3.7 billion) , 2016 ($3.4B) and 2015 ($3.2B). Not bad when you consider that in 1994, Robert Kraft purchased the team for $172 million. 

The Buffalo Bills at $1.6 billion bring up the rear among the 31 NFL teams for the second year in a row.