|How have Patriots played it in past when they’ve wrapped up top seed before last week of regular season?||12.23.14 at 1:02 am ET|
With the Patriots’ win over the Jets on Sunday and the Broncos’ loss to the Bengals Monday night, New England clinched home field advantage throughout the playoffs for the fifth time under head coach Bill Belichick. Previously, they held the top spot in the conference entering the playoffs in 2003, 2007, 2010 and 2011.
However, this year will mark the first time since 2010 where New England will have wrapped everything up before the last week of the regular-season. How have Belichick and the Patriots utilized their personnel in years’ past when they’ve been locked into the top spot entering the last week? With the understanding that every year is different and playing time will be dictated by a variety of things, history says the starters will likely get the call early, but expect the Patriots to give backups and other youngsters some time as well as the afternoon continues. Here’s a year-by-year look at what has happened.
— In 2011, the Patriots clinched the No. 1 seed in the regular-season finale with a 41-23 win over the Bills.
— In 2010, the Patriots clinched in Week 16 with a 34-3 win over the Bills in Buffalo on Dec. 26. In the regular-season finale the following week against the Dolphins in Foxboro, New England started the regulars, but yanked many after about a half. Quarterback Tom Brady actually left the game briefly in the second quarter for Brian Hoyer, but Brady was re-inserted after a few plays. Ultimately, Brady gave way to Hoyer for good with 10:15 left in the third quarter and the Patriots holding a 31-0 lead. New England ended up winning in a runaway, 38-7, as Brady went 10-for-16 for 199 yards and two touchdowns, while Hoyer ended up 7-for-13 for 122 yards and a touchdown.
One thing that certainly stood out about that game was the fact that the Patriots were really trying to help BenJarvus Green-Ellis to the 1,000-yard rushing mark on the season. Green-Ellis ended up hitting the plateau in the second half (he ended with 1,008 yards), and was removed from the game after reaching the mark. That’s certainly something that could come into play for a variety of starters on Sunday who might be nearing personal records or other meaningful statistical milestones.
— In 2007, New England clinched home field earlier than ever under Belichick with a 20-10 win over the Jets in a cold, wet rain at Gillette Stadium on Dec. 23. However, the Patriots kept their foot on the gas for the duration of the regular-season, as they were chasing a 16-0 record. Accordingly, New England played its regulars for the bulk of the last two regular-season contests, wins over the Dolphins (28-7 at home) and Giants (38-35 in North Jersey).
— In 2003, New England clinched home-field advantage with a 31-0 win over the Bills in the regular-season finale at Gillette Stadium.
|5 thoughts on return of LeGarrette Blount, state of Patriots running game||11.21.14 at 12:12 am ET|
1. In stark contrast to the nasty words that were coming out of the Pittsburgh locker room in the wake of what happened with LeGarrette Blount over the last week, on Thursday, the vibe around the Patriots was all good when it came to the newest Patriot. Special teams captain Matthew Slater called him a “great teammate,” while fullback James Develin said it was “good” to have him back. Meanwhile, Jonas Gray — who likely will see his role shrink some with the addition of Blount — said he had no problem with the move, adding that the veteran is is a “great guy to learn from.” As for what sort of role awaits him, it’s likely he’ll split duties with Gray as the primary between-the-tackles back, as well as serve as some sort of insurance policy if the stage gets too big for the youngster, or if he puts the ball on the ground at some point. It’s also possible he sees time as a part-time kick returner — with the occasional exception of Danny Amendola, no one has really done much to distinguish themselves in the position. With his background last year, it certainly makes sense for the Patriots to give him a shot back there.
2. Few teams have seen the type of turnover at the running back position as New England. With the injury to Ridley, if form holds, the Patriots will have their sixth different back lead the team in rushing in 2014 over the last decade — only four other teams (Saints, Browns, Broncos and Cardinals) have had more. Corey Dillon (2004-2006), Laurence Maroney (2007, 2009), Sammy Morris (2008), BenJarvus Green-Ellis (2010-2011) and Stevan Ridley (2012-2013). And now, with Ridley on the shelf the rest of the year, this season it figures to be either Vereen, Gray or Blount. That could change again next year, as Brandon Bolden, Ridley and Shane Vereen are all in the final year of their contracts, while Blount, Gray and rookie James White are all under contract for 2015. (In addition, Tyler Gaffney, who was claimed by the Patriots this summer but is spending the year on injured reserve because of a knee issue, is still a possibility to be a part of the mix next season.) Regardless, even with all the changes, things could still change between now and the start of next season.
3. As forward thinking as the Patriots offense — and the passing game in particular — has been the last few years, there’s something impressively retro about what New England might be able to do this season. If we operate with the idea that a “running back by committee” includes a team with four backs with at least 40 carries, it appears that for the second straight season, the Patriots will attempt to be the first team to win a Super Bowl using the “running back by committee” approach since the 1987 Redskins, who won Super Bowl. Right now, the Patriots three different backs reach with at least 69 carries (Ridley with 94, Vereen with 70 and Gray with 69). While some of those numbers are borne out of necessarily since Ridley went down, if Blount is able to click down the stretch for New England — and it’s entirely possible he can hit the 40-carry mark, given his experience in the system — he would be a fourth. If the Patriots could take the title, it would represent the greatest cross-section of work for running backs for any Super Bowl champion since that Washington team emerged with a win in Super Bowl XXII. (Of course, that Redskins team could be discounted on a penalty, as that was a strike year and one of the backs was a scab who rushed 80 times in three strike games but never played another down. If you disqualify them on a technicality, them the last true RBBC team to win a Super Bowl in a non-strike year was the 1981 Niners, a team that had five different backs finish with 40 carries or more: Ricky Patton, Earl Cooper, Johnny Davis, Walt Easley and Paul Hofer.)
|Rob Ninkovich, Jerod Mayo on M&M: ‘Frustrating loss for us’||10.07.13 at 12:36 pm ET|
New England lost its first game of the season on Sunday. Much of the consternation surrounded the offense, which failed to score a touchdown and accumulated just 248 yards, in addition to turning the ball over twice.
The Patriots defense allowed just one touchdown, but it came in the fourth quarter, and it proved to be the game-winning points.
‘It’s a frustrating loss for us as a defense, because you play well early in the game, you have some big stops and turnovers, you keep them from scoring,’ said Ninkovich, who recorded three tackles and half a sack in the game.
New England forced Cincinnati into a pair of turnovers, and the defense sacked Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton four times.
But the defense faltered on the most important drive of the game. At the end of the third quarter, the Patriots trailed 6-3 and had Cincinnati stuck in a third-and-15 from its own 2-yard line. Dalton pulled off the improbable, as he connected with wide receiver Marvin Jones for a 28-yard gain to move the chains.
The Bengals marched the ball up the field, and former New England running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis punched a touchdown in from a yard out.
“Obviously we didn’t play well enough,” Mayo said. “Our job is to go out there and hold them from scoring any points at all. Unfortunately they scored more than us yesterday. We had some good plays, but we also had a lot of plays where we just weren’t ready to go. That’s my fault. I’ve got to get the guys ready.”
Said Ninkovich: ‘With us giving up 13 points, it was too much and we lost. I’m not one to make any excuses, so I think that we’re going to get better, we’re going to continue to progress as a defense the younger guys are going to continue to mature and get better.’
One of those younger guys to show up on Sunday was defensive tackle Chris Jones, who filled in admirably for the injured Vince Wilfork. The rookie recorded 1½ sacks. Jones must continue to step up with Wilfork out for the season, and the other defensive tackle, Tommy Kelly, possibly sidelined as well with a knee injury.
‘You don’t really have to communicate as much with those older guys because they kind of know the situation and they know kind of what to expect,’ Ninkovich said. ‘But the younger guys, you’ve just got to make sure that, ‘Hey, expect this, play it this way.’ So you just kind of have more communication.’
The Patriots play host to Drew Brees and the high-powered Saints offense next Sunday.
‘I think Drew, his track record kind of speaks for himself as far as the things he’s done in his career,’ Ninkovich said ‘It’s going to be a good challenge for us, and I’m happy we’re going to be playing at home and not the [Superdome], because that’s a hard place to play, kind of similar to Georgia when you’re down there playing the Falcons, similar atmosphere.’
|BenJarvus Green-Ellis on his former team: I wouldn’t ‘want to go back and change anything’||10.02.13 at 9:57 pm ET|
BenJarvus Green-Ellis made a living running hard for the Patriots for four seasons between 2008-11. He also made a small fortune when the Cincinnati Bengals, in need a of running back heading into 2012, signed him to a three-year deal worth $9 million.
Green-Ellis earned a reputation as one of the most reliable short yardage backs in the game, averaging 4.1 yards per carry, not fumbling once and scoring 29 touchdowns in his four seasons. The Bengals thought they had a red zone force when Green-Ellis punched it into the end zone 13 times in 2010 and 11 more in 2011.
Green-Ellis hasn’t been quite the same player with the Bengals. He had just six touchdowns in 2012, his first season in Cincinnati. Most alarmingly, he actually fumbled for the first three times in his NFL career, losing two of them. He did set career highs in carries (278) and yards (1,094). This season, the “Law Firm’s” production is way down, averaging just 2.7 yards per carry, more than 1.4 yards below his career average.
While not saying he made a mistake signing in Cincinnati, Green-Ellis could not help but rave about the “Patriot Way” he learned while he was in New England and what it meant to him. How did the “Patriot Way” Green-Ellis learned in New England help him in Cincinnati?
“I could never go back and change anything that happened in the past, and nor would I want to go back and change anything, but the things that I learned in New England not only helped me on the football field but also in life,” Green-Ellis said Wednesday in a conference call from Cincinnati. “How you approach your business and how you go about being a professional at whatever you’re doing, not just a professional football player but just a professional in life, doing things the right way. The Patriot way has helped me tremendously throughout my career, not only throughout my career but coming into the league as a young man and also growing into a full-fledged adult now and having a family of my own. It’s things like that that I think the Patriot way helped me tremendously.
Is there a difference between the Patriot way and what he’s experienced in Cincinnati with the Bengals?
“No, it’s the same thing here,” Green-Ellis said. “Guys are working extremely hard and going about their business the right way, and I’m here also mentoring some younger guys that have just come into the league and just teaching them some of the things that I know as well. But we’re all about business as well over here; it’s been same thing since I left New England. It’s strictly business every time we step into the building, and we’re just trying to win games.”
Adding to the drama this season in the Bengals backfield is the emergence of Giovani Bernard, a 2013 version of former Pro Bowl back James Brooks, a smallish, tough-as-nails back who helped lead the Stripes to Super Bowl XXXIII.
How will it turn out Sunday? Stay tuned.
|Fantasy Football: Week 14 starts, sits||12.07.12 at 9:24 am ET|
Welcome to the Week 14 starts and sits. It’s a high-stakes week and I have found some matchups worth highlighting, but a lot can change between now and Sunday, so stop by our Sunday morning chat if you need any last-minute help or a second opinion on a lineup decision. We’ll kick off the chat at 11 a.m. I hope to see you there. We also have full lineup rankings at Rotobahn.com and I will update them over the weekend, so check that out, too.
Freeman will get back on track after a few rough weeks of tough matchups. The Eagles at home looks like a get-well game to me. Start the Bucs QB if you normally would.
Matthew Stafford, Lions at Packers
Don’t overthink. Stafford has a few red flags, like injuries to his receivers and a road matchup against Green Bay, but he also has a piping-hot Calvin Johnson to work with, and Stafford himself has played a bit better recently. The Lions also have solid depth players like Tony Scheffler, who can replace guys like Titus Young and Ryan Broyles in the slot. Unless you have a really strong second option, just roll with Stafford in Week 14.
He was OK last week despite the medium statistical output. Look for Manning and the Giants to post better numbers at home against a weak Saints defense. I have him ranked 12th overall this week in our preliminary rankings.
Chad Henne, Jaguars vs. Jets
Henne is likely to be playing without Cecil Shorts and already has lost Laurent Robinson for the year. The Jets play solid defense, so this is a situation to avoid for Week 14.
Philip Rivers, Chargers at Steelers
He’s going bad and his team is in turmoil. Throw in a bad road matchup against a very motivated team and you have a reason to look elsewhere. Rivers is viable but very risky and he lacks the upside he’s had in recent years. Avoid him if you can.
|Patriots’ running backs find new role early on in preseason||08.21.12 at 4:05 am ET|
FOXBORO ‘ The most dynamic offense in the NFL is adding more options.
For years, it’s become expected that the Patriots offense is revolved around the air attack, with quarterback Tom Brady at the helm of some of the most potent offenses in team history. And for better or worse, the rushing attack has got a bit of a shaft because of that.
In two preseason games, however, it’s starting to become apparent that the running game is getting a makeover, with a little help from the passing game.
In an offense that, last year, was so centered around its depth at wide receiver and even more notably, tight end — where Rob Gronkowski had the most prolific season by someone at the position — it appears that the Patriots are trying even harder to make that offense more potent. In the first preseason game, running backs were actually used more in the passing game than tight ends. Danny Woodhead, Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden combined for seven catches on nine targets, bettering their tight end counterparts, who had just four catches on seven targets.
On Monday night against the Eagles, it was more of the same. While the backfield couldn’t quite get it going on the ground, mustering just 71 yards on 28 carries as a unit, it was the way it seemed to be more comfortable catching balls out of the backfield that comes off as the most encouraging sign. And with the departure of BenJarvus Green-Ellis to free agency in the offseason, it’s an important sign, considering the experience and production left behind.
|Stevan Ridley taking lead in battle for starting running back role||08.03.12 at 8:28 pm ET|
FOXBORO — With the departure of BenJarvus Green-Ellis to Cincinnati via free agency, the Patriots entered training camp with a group of young, largely unproven backs each looking to take the helm as the new feature back for the offense. But in the early showings of camp, it appears that second-year back Stevan Ridley is outpacing fellow sophomore Shane Vereen and presumptive third down back Danny Woodhead for the starting job.
The 23-year-old Ridley enters camp as the team’s top returning rusher after finishing his 2011 regular season with 87 carries for 441 yards and one score. However, the focal points of Ridley’s rookie season heading into camp remain his two fumbles he recorded late last year: one in the season finale against Buffalo and another in the Patriots playoff victory against Denver. It was the second fumble that effectively ended Ridley’s season, as he remained inactive for the rest of the Patriots’ post season run, apparently losing the coaching staff’s confidence to hold onto the ball
‘I’m not a coach. I’m just a player and I went out there and played the best I could,’ Ridley said of his ball-handling after practice Friday. ‘Unfortunately, as a running back, you can never have the ball on the ground and that’s something that I know and that’s been since Pee Wee football.
‘I have to put that behind me and focus on what’s ahead of me. That’s the future and that’s me holding onto the football. So I’m just going to go out there every day and run hard, tuck the ball and keep it high and tight and be the best that I can so I don’t repeat any mistakes.’
With his size, the 5-foot-11, 225 pound Ridley is the obvious candidate to handle the bulk of the running between the tackles, particularly as a short-yardage back, a role he’s ready to take up, but not as his sole identity in the offense. Read the rest of this entry »