|Patriots ready for the post-Thanksgiving push to begin this weekend||11.23.11 at 3:03 pm ET|
FOXBORO — It has been a constant theme around Gillette Stadium for several seasons — the real season starts after Thanksgiving.
Since 2001, New England has compiled an NFL-best 61-15 (.803) record in games after Thanksgiving. Only once during that time have the Patriots played sub-.500 football after Thanksgiving: 2009, when they split their last six regular-season games and lost in the first round of the playoffs to Baltimore, 33-14.
Most of the time, when the Patriots have enjoyed success late in the regular season and into the playoffs, the seeds for greatness have been planted in November: In their three Super Bowl years (2001, 2003 and 2004), New England was a combined 33-2 after Nov. 1, with only one of those losses in three seasons coming after Thanksgiving. (Those teams were a combined 25-1 after Thanksgiving.)
This year’s Patriots kick off the post-Thanksgiving stretch this year on Sunday against the Eagles in Philadelphia. Asked if this year’s team was ready, quarterback Tom Brady would only acknowledge that the push toward the postseason will begin against a difficult Eagles team.
‘I think this game will … this is a very important game for us,’ he said. ‘We’re putting it all into this week. We have a lot on the line. It’s a very good team. They’re skilled at every position. Going on the road and trying to win a really tough game on the road at the most important time of the year — that says a lot for what we’re looking for as a team.
‘This is the time of year when it’s most important,’ Brady added. ‘There aren’t a lot of games left.
It’s not only the case in New England — most teams who raise the Lombardi Trophy in February start that push toward greatness shortly after the Thanksgiving meal is cleared away. As a group, the last six Super Bowl winners compiled a 42-15 (.737) record following Thanksgiving, including the playoffs. Last year, the Packers were 7-3 after Thanksgiving, with their three losses by a combined 11 points (including a 31-27 defeat to the Patriots on Dec. 19.). As a group, here’s a look at the last six Super Bowl champions and their post-Thanksgiving records:
‘¢2010: Packers, 7-3 (six-game winning streak to end the season).
‘¢2009: Saints, 6-3 (three-game winning streak to end the season).
‘¢2008: Steelers, 7-1 (four-game winning streak to end the season).
‘¢2007: Giants, 7-3 (four-game winning streak to end the season).
‘¢2006: Colts, 7-3 (five-game winning streak to end the season).
‘¢2005: Steelers, 8-2 (eight-game winning streak to end the season).
Of course, a great late season push doesn’t always mean postseason glory. Last year, the Patriots stormed into the playoffs with wins in their final six regular-season games by an average score of 38-12 … and followed that up with a season-ending defeat to the Jets in their only playoff game.
But a look at their schedule reveals that this New England is at least well positioned for a post-Thanksgiving bounce. New England plays Philadelphia (4-6), Indianapolis (0-10), Washington (3-7), Denver (5-5), Miami (3-7) and Buffalo (5-5), a group of opponents that have a combined record of 20-40 (.333). Among playoff contenders, it is the easiest stretch of games between now and the end of the regular season.
In truth, the most compelling matchup left for the Patriots could be this week when the travel to meet the Eagles, who went to Jersey last week and surprised the Giants. Stocked with terrific individual talent on both sides of the ball, they have struggled to mesh, and now face the prospect of having to win out down the stretch just to have a shot at the postseason.
‘When you play a tough team, on the road, that came off one of the biggest wins of their season — we have everything we could ask for,’ Brady said.
|Slow starts continue to vex Patriots offense||11.22.11 at 5:27 pm ET|
While the Patriots finished strong, for the sixth consecutive game they had a bit of a sluggish start offensively. On Monday against the Chiefs, they managed just 10 points over the first two quarters and going punt-punt-fumble-punt over its first four possessions.
Overall, the Patriots didn’t even get into Chiefs’ territory until Kansas City botched an onside kick at the end of the first quarter, and didn’t engage in a sustained drive from their side of the field into the Chiefs side until late in the second when Tom Brady hit Rob Gronkowski with a 52-yard scoring strike to finally get New England on the board.
Including Monday night, the Patriots have now averaged 9.3 points over the first half of their last six games, including a high of 13 points (once against the Cowboys and once against the Jets) and a low of zero (against the Giants).
‘We have to do a better job of starting the game with better plays, with better execution,’ Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien said Tuesday. ‘Before we go any further, you really have to give Romeo [Crennel] and Kansas City, the defense there, a lot of credit. They came in and played a really good game. They came in and did some things that were really good against what we were doing. (But) we have to continue to go out and execute and have good plays and have good practices and start the game faster.’
The Patriots had 24 points in the second half, but the slow starts remain a concern for O’Brien.
‘I believe we adjusted well during the game in the first half, in the first quarter going into the second quarter. And then, obviously, in the second half we played better,’ O’Brien said. ‘We just have to start faster.’
|So what happened to Wes Welker on Monday night?||11.22.11 at 3:59 pm ET|
On Monday against the Chiefs, Wes Welker had his quietest game of the season — he wasn’t targeted by Tom Brady until the quarterback threw a pass his way with 9:59 left in the fourth quarter, and didn’t catch his first pass of the night until he hauled in a short six-yarder with six minutes left in regulation. On the night, he ended up with two catches for 22 yards.
On Tuesday, offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien acknowledged that it wasn’t one of Welker’s best games statistically, but he did a lot of things that didn’t show up in the boxscore.
‘He only had two catches, but he does so many other things that help our offense,’ O’Brien said. ‘I don’t know if you guys watched the tape, but if you go back and watch it, he was blocking extremely well and helping us in the running game. We rushed for 157 yards. Some of that was because of him and how well he blocked.
‘Obviously, the Chiefs had a good game plan and they did a good job for most of the night and we were able to make some plays as the game wore on and it ended up being pretty good.’
Coach Bill Belichick was also asked about Welker, and seemed to hint that even though the wide receiver had just two catches, he would get a positive grade for his work against the Chiefs.
‘We grade players in the game based on them doing their assignment right and performing their responsibility on the play properly — that’s what they’re graded on,’ Belichick said. ‘Whatever a player is supposed to do — run a route, block somebody, whatever it happens to be — if they do what they’re doing properly, that’s really all they can do. The opportunities that they get, then you can evaluate those. If those opportunities go to somebody else or the running play, the production is going to show up with the running back, not the guys who are blocking. That’s the way it is.
‘Wes, he does a good job for us; has done a good job all year in terms of his route running, his assignments, his blocking — pretty much whatever we ask him to do, we can count on him to do it and perform it well. He’s done that consistently; he did it last night.’
|Key Moment: Julian Edelman takes one all the way back for a touchdown||11.22.11 at 12:47 am ET|
FOXBORO — The key play of the Patriots’ 34-3 win over the Chiefs on Monday came midway through the third quarter. With New England holding a 17-3 lead and 9:43 remaining in the quarter, Kansas City’s Dustin Colquitt punted the ball away from the Chiefs’ 16-yard line. Julian Edelman gathered the ball in at the New England 28, and it was off to the races.
The former collegiate quarterback — who also saw time at defensive back on several occasions Monday night — took the ball back 72 yards for the touchdown. It was the first return for a touchdown all season for the Patriots.
‘We held the gunners,’ Edelman said. ‘We got those guys, internal guys did a good job blocking their guys. As a punt returner, you’ve got to make one miss, get back to your return side and we executed the play pretty well. I thought it was good to get one.’
He got several big blocks, including one from fellow receiver Wes Welker.
‘I really didn’t see it. I’ll have to see it, but I saw that we had our gunners,’ Edelman said. ‘That’s what you’ve got to do. (The) internal guys held their guys, and we executed the play.’
‘Our punt return team has been doing a good job,’ said Patriots coach Bill Belichick. ‘Those guys work hard and Julian’s worked hard trying to make it happen. Sometimes, you get frustrated because you’re just a step away, or you get a bad kick when you get good blocking, or you get a good kick and miss a block or whatever it is.
‘But (tonight) it game together. He broke a couple tackles, and we kind of had them sealed off there. So it was a big play in the game and I think it really, I don’t want to say it put it out of reach, but it certainly put a big gap in the game.’
|Halftime analysis: Patriots 10, Chiefs 3||11.21.11 at 10:07 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Two quarters are in the books here at Gillette Stadium, and the Patriots hold a 7-3 lead on the Chiefs. Here are a couple of quick notes on the first half:
‘¢Patriots quarterback Tom Brady finished the first half 8-for-16 for 133 and one touchdown, while Rob Gronkowski had three catches for 77 yards and a touchdown. Meanwhile, Kansas City’s Tyler Palko was 10-for-14 for 111 yards and one pick, while Thomas Jones had seven carries for47 yards.
‘¢The Patriots opened with some interesting wrinkles on defense, including the presence of wide receiver Julian Edelman as a defensive back on several snaps in the first half. (Edelman played four snaps at the position a week ago in the win over the Jets.) The Patriots also utilized Jermaine Cunningham as more of an outside linebacker (he had spent more time at defensive end) throughout portions of the first half, a surprise for someone who had been buried on the depth chart as of late. Edelman was a bit of a mixed bag, making a couple of nice tackles but getting steamrolled on a couple of other plays. (He did a nice job drawing a hold on a running play, getting Kansas City tight end Leonard Pope flagged, which negated a big run for the Chiefs.)
‘¢The defensive highlight of the first half came with just over two minutes left in the second quarter and Kansas City driving. New England cornerback Kyle Arrington stepped into front of a Palko pass for Steve Breaston and returned the ball to the New England 46-yard line. It was Arrington’s sixth pick of the season, which leads the league. (On the play, Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich flattened Palko, which may have affected the throw.) That set the stage for New England’s last drive of the half, an eight-play, 51-yard drive that ended with a 21-yard field goal from Gostkowski to make it 10-3 at halftime.
‘¢Overall, the Patriots were able to hold the Chiefs to just three first-half points, yielding a 26-yard field goal with 1:30 left in the first to make it 3-0. Tyler Palko and the rest of the Kansas City offense wasn’t afraid to take some shots, going downfield on occasion, and even shaking things up with a modified Wildcat on one play. That daring extended to special teams, where the Chiefs tried a surprise onside kick after taking a 3-0 lead. (Of course, that sense of daring was certainly debatable, as Kansas City coach Todd Haley decided not to go for in on fourth and one in New England territory earlier in the half.)
‘¢Meanwhile, the New England offense was sluggish early, as the Patriots first two series ended with punts and the third was halted when Brady was sacked and fumbled the football, giving the Chiefs the ball at their own 27-yard line. The Patriots finally got on the board with 4:18 left in the first half on a 52-yard touchdown pass from Brady to Gronkowski where Gronkowski was able to beat linebacker Derrick Johnson and stay inbounds down the Kansas City sideline for the score. (It was the longest touchdown catch of Gronkowski’s career.)
|Inactive analysis for the Patriots||11.21.11 at 7:20 pm ET|
FOXBORO — The Patriots announced that the following players were inactive for Monday’s game against the Chiefs: quarterback Ryan Mallett, safety Patrick Chung, cornerback Devin McCourty, running back Kevin Faulk and linebackers Dane Fletcher, Jeff Tarpinian and Brandon Spikes.
The biggest names missing are Chung and McCourty, which will leave the Patriots thin in the secondary. This is the second consecutive week that Chung (foot) will sit out, while McCourty suffered a shoulder injury when he collided with teammate Sterling Moore in the first half of last week’s game against the Jets and did not return. Expect more snaps for Moore and James Ihedigbo at safety. (The Patriots do have some depth at the safety spot with Sergio Brown and Ross Ventrone, the latter of whom was re-signed to New England’s active roster earlier on Monday.)
The Patriots will also be without three linebackers in Fletcher, Spikes and Tarpinian. Fletcher (thumb) and Spikes (knee) have already been out for an extended stretch, while Tarpinian (illness) has struggled over the last week to stay on the field. Gary Guyton was banged up last week with a shoulder problem, but should get more work this week because of the injury situation.
Two names on the offensive side of the ball who could get more reps because they’re active are wide receiver Taylor Price and running back Shane Vereen. Both have been used sparingly this season, as Price has struggled to see the field because of a hamstring problem while the rookie Vereen has been squeezed out because of a numbers game. (With Faulk on the sidelines Monday night, it likely gave Vereen the opportunity to at least dress for the game.)
|In the wake of Sunday’s action, five takeaways for Patriots fans||11.21.11 at 12:42 am ET|
Five things for Patriots fans to take away from an entertaining day of football:
1. It’s officially time to write off the Bills. The wheels have come off the Buffalo bandwagon completely, so much so that Miami, which is now at 3-7, could ultimately end up winning more games than the 5-5 Bills. Buffalo, which started the season promisingly and was in first place three weeks ago with a 5-2 record, has now lost its last three games and has been outscored 106-26 while doing so. In addition, the Bills continue to lose players at an alarming rate. On Sunday they lost wide receiver Donald Jones and Terrence McGee to serious leg injuries, and running back Fred Jackson left in the second half with a leg injury. This comes on the heels of recent season-ending injuries to starting center Eric Wood (knee), defensive tackle Kyle Williams (foot) and linebacker Shawne Merriman (Achilles tendon).
2. Should they get themselves a bye and avoid the mess of the opening weekend of the postseason, they Patriots should consider themselves lucky they won’t have to chance it against a team like the Bengals, or perhaps the Ravens. Those two teams went hard at each other on Sunday, and even though legendary Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis missed his first game since 2007 with a toe injury, the Ravens managed to hold off the Bengals, 31-24. The win could end up sending three AFC North teams to the postseason — Baltimore and Pittsburgh are tied for the top spot at 7-3, while Cincinnati is a game off the pace. Even though the Ravens have been maddening at times this year — they’ve lost to Tennessee, Jacksonville and Seattle but also beaten Pittsburgh and Houston — their veteran savvy and solid running game make them a threat.
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