Philip Rivers

NFL Trade Deadline: Several trades we wish had happened

NFL Trade Deadline: Several trades we wish had happened

The NFL trade deadline has passed, and this was a step in the right direction for a league that's getting more and more active trade-wise. But still, there were only two trades on deadline day: Aqib Talib to the Dolphins and Leonard Williams to the Giants.

Sure, there were a bunch of players traded leading up the deadline, including Mohamed Sanu, Emmanuel Sanders, Jalen Ramsey, and Marcus Peters, but Tuesday? It was more dudline than deadline.

That said, the league could have been a hell of a lot more exciting with these moves. 

Philip Rivers to the Bills

Or really any quarterback to the Bills, for that matter. Buffalo is one of the teams that's a player or two away from being a serious contender, but when that player is a quarterback, you might as well be 10 players away. Imagine Philip Rivers in the AFC East for a couple of months, and the defensively stout Bills suddenly having an offense. 

O.J. Howard to the Patriots

The Bucs' handling of their 2017 first-round pick has been confusing. They've used him primarily as a blocker, killing his trade stock. Then, when approached by teams that would actually like to throw Howard the ball, Tampa's price was sky-high. Sure, it hurts PR-wise to sell low, but if you don't think the guy fits with your offense, what other choice do you have? Something tells me the Patriots would have found a better use for him. 

A kicker to the Patriots

The Super Bowl favorites spent deadline day swapping out kickers from the trash heap. NFL teams generally don't trade kickers, but if they did the Patriots might have a quality one. 

Melvin Gordon to the Lions

The Lions were a pleasant surprise after their 2-0-1 start, but they're just 1-3 since. They also have a doozy upcoming schedule, so if Matt Patricia wants to push for the playoffs in his second year he could use an upgrade to a backfield that lost Kerryon Johnson to IR. In case you've missed it, the Chargers are a disaster this season and Gordon hasn't exactly helped them since returning from his holdout. 

Any quarterback to the Bears

Apply everything I wrote earlier about the Bills to the Bears. 

Larry Fitzgerald to the Ravens

The Ravens had barely any cap space after trying for Marcus Peters, so they would have had to do more than just give Willie Snead a new contract. Say they figured it out, though. Lamar Jackson would have another weapon and the 36-year-old Fitzgerald would be able to take another crack at a title run late in his career. 

Jamal Adams to the Cowboys

This one was rumored leading up to the trade deadline. I don't really care about the Cowboys getting a really good safety; I just like seeing first-round picks traded, and if such a deal went down, two AFC East teams would have multiple first-round picks in 2020. Potential competition!

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Curran: Chargers come undone in spectacular fashion against Patriots

Curran: Chargers come undone in spectacular fashion against Patriots

FOXBORO – The Chargers started complaining when they got off the buses at Gillette Stadium on Sunday morning. And they never … ever … stopped.

A team whose 2018 trademark was resilience, a team that was 8-1 on the road coming into the AFC Divisional Playoffs.

A team that won at Pittsburgh, Kansas City and Baltimore. A team that had consecutive road games at Cleveland, in London against the Titans, at Oakland and at Seattle and won them all.

This vagabond team San Diego didn’t want and L.A. was mostly indifferent to, this team that humbly played its home games in a soccer stadium and lost just four games while never getting blown out.

By the end of the day this team was Jets West, a puddle of incompetency and resigned “we’ll get ‘em next year” promises.

The first indicator the Chargers resilience had lost its resilience? About 11 a.m.

When SUVs carrying the Chargers owners forced the team buses to idle in the Gillette Stadium parking lot, players and coaches on the buses overheated. They had no idea why they waited. Just that the Patriots were probably behind it.

And so began an epic day of Chargers rock-kicking. In the cold and in the spotlight, the 2018 Chargers went from poised to a puddle. They played like a West Coast version of the Jets. They came undone.

At the epicenter of the meltdown was the Chargers unquestioned leader, Philip Rivers.

A very good quarterback who’s had an outstanding career, Rivers is a wide-eyed, hand-waving delight to talk to and an upstanding family man.

But once the stuff started hitting the fan early in the second quarter, Rivers sprayed curse-free bile in every direction after nearly every snap. Teammates. Refs. Patriots. The Patriots sidelines. His own sidelines.

Competitiveness is terrific. Going to the whip has its benefits IF it’s done in the name of marshaling attention and getting a better effort.

But the 37-year-old Rivers seemed like he was picking up where the 25-year-old Rivers left off in the 2006 playoffs – wild-eyed, raging and a guy whose frustration was doing more harm than good.

The juncture when Rivers’ head started doing 360s came with the Patriots leading 21-7. The previous drive ended with Rivers being chased out of bounds by Dont'a Hightower. He was fumed.

Then came a third-and-2 with 10:55 left in the half. Rivers let the play clock run down, took the snap and threw just as officials whistled the play dead and Hightower smashed him in the ribs. Rivers raged. The Chargers took a 5-yard penalty.

Two plays later, Rivers was again flushed, this time by Trey Flowers. Flowers put his hand on Rivers' back to gain balance as Rivers threw the ball away. Rivers flailed at Flowers like he was being attacked by a bird.

On the next hurried throwaway to end that drive, Rivers walked toward the Patriots sideline and screamed at nobody in particular before returning to his bench.

On Rivers’ final incompletion of the half, he wanted a flag for pass interference. He didn’t get it. So he walked down the sideline from his own 25 to the Patriots' 30 upbraiding the side judge as the Chargers got ready to punt.

How much did Rivers’ first-half tongue-lashings help?

So much that, on the first drive of the second half, Chargers center Mike Pouncey allowed Patriots defensive tackle Adam Butler to run right past him and whack Rivers. In other words, not a bit.

I asked Rivers after the game whether his competitiveness became frustration.

“No, I don’t think so,” he said. “One thing I know … we’re never going to quit. I don’t care what the score is, we’re going to play until that last second ticks to zero. So I think that was it. Maybe there’s a little more emotion coming out at the end because you just hate that it’s over. …

“That’s part of it, that’s the way I play my best. In many ways, that wasn’t my best today. Obviously when you don’t score more points than the other team, you’re not. But we’re going to fight until the end and I thought at least we can say we did that.”

Then it would be unfair, I asked, to say he hurt his team with a loss of composure. 

“You can decide whether that’s unfair or not,” he said. “I know that’s not the case in any – not at all.”

While answering another question during his press conference, Rivers circled back.

“I do want to go back to your question about the composure because there was never a lack of composure,” he said. “I think sometimes my demonstrative movements may look that way but I was just poised as could be. The whole time. … If you’ve watched me for 210 games, as you’d see for all 210, it’s served me well for the most part.”

It didn’t seem to on Sunday, but he’d know better than me, I suppose. And so would his coaches and teammates.

What the Chargers frustration really betrayed was a sense that they were screwed.

A sense that they’d gotten the Patriots team that they feared they would get. The one that came in healthy and with a pristine game plan designed to feast on the spots that it always does when it faces this Cover-3 defense the Chargers use and the Falcons and Seahawks also use. It was something we started talking about last Sunday when the Chargers beat the Ravens. And it held true in this game. The Chargers had no answer for the short passing game that utilized James White and Julian Edelman. The ball came out too fast for them to bother Tom Brady. And their multiple-DB defense was ripe to be run over by the Patriots running game.

It all came to fruition much to the Chargers frustration. Meanwhile, Rivers couldn’t find anyone to throw to as the Patriots put together their best defensive performance of the season with pressure coming from every angle.

By the time it was done, the Chargers had given up a touchdown when they had 10 men on the field, taken two delay of game penalties, burned two timeouts to avoid two more delay of game penalties, had their punter screaming at the Patriots sidelines, muffed a punt that led to a touchdown and had social media rallying to their cause because the Patriots were throwing the ball in the fourth quarter and Tom Brady was still in.

Around here, we’ve been looking for cracks in the Patriots foundation and moving the hands on their Doomsday Clock for over a year. A fool’s errand?

On this Sunday, it looked like it. The aura, mystique and maddening efficiency of the Patriots was alive and well.

Can it carry them through another AFC Conference Championship and into another Super Bowl? We’ll know in a week.

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Phil Perry's Takeaways from Patriots' 41-28 playoff romp over Chargers

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USA TODAY Sports photo

Phil Perry's Takeaways from Patriots' 41-28 playoff romp over Chargers

FOXBORO -- Here are five quick-hitting takeaways from what transpired between the Patriots and Chargers in their AFC Divisional Round playoff game on Sunday...

RIVERS ON THE RUN
The Patriots knew they would be able to take advantage of Chargers backs in pass protection if they ever had the chance to take them on. Perhaps sensing a mismatch there, the Chargers didn't leave their backs in to protect, which would seemingly give Rivers a quicker safety valve option if he sensed pressure. Good concept. Didn't work, though. Rivers was hassled for most of the day and the Patriots had no fear of getting creative with their pressures. They went "blitz zero" with no safety help and brought players from the second level. They sent Patrick Chung on a third-down blitz to help force an incompletion. They went with their "Amoeba" package -- both with one down-lineman and two -- and confused offensive linemen regularly. Through the early part of the third quarter, the Patriots had 18 combined quarterback pressures, including three each from Trey Flowers, Dont'a Hightower and Adam Butler.

BRADY STANDING TALL
Tom Brady would be hard-pressed to remember a touchdown pass where he was allowed to be as cool, calm and collected as he was during his second-quarter touchdown throw to Phillip Dorsett. Allowed to stand tall throughout the first 30 minutes, Marcus Cannon and Trent Brown held up their ends of the bargain in pass protection, showing heavy hands against the lighter duo of Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa. Through three quarters of play, Cannon had a clean sheet, meaning no hurries, hits or sacks. Brown had only one pressure allowed. It was a dominant day for the two behemoths on the edges for the Patriots -- as it was for their teammates on the interior who prevented LA to get any kind of push up the middle. The first hit Brady absorbed was in the third quarter when Ingram got by Dwayne Allen one-on-one. 

SCHEME WINS
While the blocking was exceptional, the Patriots scheme was able to pick apart Gus Bradley's defense. Just look at how the first drive of the game played out for New England. The Patriots ran 14 plays for 83 yards and ran 7:11 seconds off the clock. They mixed things up, working from under center and from out of the shotgun. They showed signs of being able to run it (Sony Michel had 100 yards before the half), and they moved efficiently with their passing game. And when Brady did pass, the football was out quickly. They used the screen game consistently -- as we thought they might -- and they hit their backs out of the backfield early and often. They even worked a shuffle pass in. Anything they could do not to let Bosa and Ingram tee off and get up the field on deep Brady dropbacks, they did. 

GRONKOWSKI THROWING HIS WEIGHT AROUND
Rob Gronkowski is what he is at this point. What's that? An occasional down-the-field threat who can still do some serious damage as a blocker. It was what he did in the running game Sunday that made him one of the best players on the field for the Patriots offense. On Michel's 11-yard run on the game's opening drive, he threw Derwin James out the club. On the next play -- same call, opposite side of the field -- he might've gotten away with a hold, but he controlled James again. In the second quarter, helped push the pile on Michel's five-yard touchdown run, and he executed a nice combo block with Trent Brown on Rex Burkhead's six-yard score. Gronkowski broke two tackles and carried a third defender on his lone catch of the day for 25 yards. But what he did in the trenches was his best work. 

WHAT A DIFFERENCE A LEAD MAKES
I asked Tom Brady on Friday if he'd like to take the football to start the game if the Patriots won the toss. He said it wasn't his decision. But based on his comments (and the comments of many of his teammates and coaches during the week), the Patriots knew they had to play from ahead. They knew they had to make LA's defense guess their intentions -- made easier when playing with a lead -- and they knew they had to make Philip Rivers and his offense more predictable. The Patriots did take the kick to start the game. They scored. And they never lost the lead. Along the way, the Chargers had to abandon the run game, but when they did run, the Patriots held them to a measly 1.7 yards per carry. The Patriots' ability to defend the run -- particularly out of their sub packages -- has been one of the weakest areas of their team for much of the season. But by playing with a lead, forcing the Chargers to throw, and eliminating the run altogether as a viable threat, they made themselves tougher to play against. The Chargers had just 15 rush attempts through the game's first 50 minutes. 

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