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5 takeaways from the Patriots-Eagles game

Here are some thoughts and observations from the Patriots second preseason game, a 42-35 win over the Philadelphia Eagles.

1. Nothing is safe at safety — Kyle Arrington started at safety for the Patriots opposite Devin McCourty. Arrington’s play and toughness has often been referenced by Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who he has used both as a starting cornerback, a slot corner and now back deep, a new and different look for all involved. Belichick actually addressed Arrington’s possible use at safety early on in the week.

“I think Kyle has a really good skillset to play anywhere back there,” Belichick told reporters Monday. “He’s fast, he’s tough, [and] he’s a good tackler, which your safeties need to be. Not that your corners don’t need to be, but I’d say it’s even more important at safety. He tackles well, he runs well, he’s a very athletic player. So I’d say his toughness and his tackling are similar to Devin [McCourty], same type of player who played corner to safety with similar type skills – speed, range, toughness. Those assets you need at safety, and Devin has them and Kyle has them.”

Arrington, who is waiting to see how he looks on film before declaring whether or not he was comfortable, has disrupted the training camp competition at the position. Along with Logan Ryan, who got his first snaps at safety Friday, the Patriots appear to be uncomfortable with Duron Harmon (two tackles, one interception), Patrick Chung (one tackle), and Tavon Wilson. Wilson sat out of Friday’s game with an injury after starting last week against Washington.

What’s more, with the integration of Alfonzo Dennard into the Patriots lineup after his injury, the emergence of cornerback Malcolm Butler, and both Arrington and Ryan’s versatility, the Patriots may not need the plethora of defensive backs they have now. The select few — McCourty, Arrington, Dennard, Ryan, Butler, Darrelle Revis, and Brandon Browner — are ahead of the rest of the pack. And now, it appears the coaches view an all cornerbacks secondary (including McCourty) as an option that can’t be passed up. Others will certainly feel the squeeze.

2. Ryan Mallett shows growth — Call it baby steps. But it did appear that backup quarterback Ryan Mallett improved over his last outing, finishing 7 of 11 passing for 92 yards and a touchdown Friday against the Eagles. His touchdown strike, a 17-yard pass on a fly route to Brian Tyms, was precisely the kind of bold decision making that he had lacked in previous outings. And for once, he put the ball in a position where a number of receivers could make plays. (Tyms had another opportunity to catch a pass from Mallett in the end zone that was dropped.) And then he gave us some added value by showing off his (limited) mobility. He ended up with nine yards rushing after taking two sacks. But he also had a 6-yard rushing touchdown. It was a win-win for Mallett on Friday despite entering the game after rookie quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (who continued to impress). Mallett’s journey is all about small wins now. He needs to have as many good outings as possible for his next job and he’s got only two more opportunities left.

Read the rest of my takeaways on Boston.com’s Extra Points blog.

5 takeaways from the Patriots preseason opener

LANDOVER, Md. — The Patriots lost to Washington 23-6 Thursday night in their preseason opener.

Here’s five takeaways from the team’s first exhibition game:

1. Hello Jimmy Garoppolo — First and foremost, wow. (Stands and claps at computer.) In 12 training camp practices, I had yet to see Garoppolo look as impressive as he did on Thursday night against Washington. He showed some escapability, scrambling for opportunities to throw and pick up some yards, and he showed touch on his deep ball, something we knew he was capable of from his time at Eastern Illinois. But he also showed us that he can make anticipatory throws, the kind that NFL starting caliber quarterbacks are required to make on a regular basis. He hadn’t given us a whiff of any of that in practice. He had been struggling in 11-on-11s, operating indecisively, and throwing off the mark way too often. Typical rookie stuff. But Thursday night, he hit the out routes in stride, placed his deep balls with pinpoint accuracy, and found a rhythm that wasn’t apparent before. He was fantastic.

2. Brian Tyms’s chances haven’t changed much — Before everyone wakes up in the morning and starts looking to buy Brian Tyms’s jersey, take note that he still will not likely make the Patriots 53-man roster, barring some unforeseen injury or cosmic disturbance. Tyms was fantastic as Garoppolo’s wingman Thursday night. He caught five of six passes thrown his way for 119 yards, including the 26-yard touchdown he took with him all the way into Washington’s stands. His 53-yard catch was a beauty. But it was the one pass he didn’t get, the 38-yard touchdown that was called off after he was interfered with, that was the gem of the night. Tyms bobbled the pass after hauling it in before catching it again on his way down to the ground with Chase Minnifield all over him. It was a highlight play and likely could’ve been overturned had Belichick been interested in challenging the call. (No need with the pass interference, but still.) But all of his success Thursday night, and going forward in the preseason, won’t mean diddly squat because he has at least seven receivers ahead of him on the depth chart: Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Brandon LaFell, Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins, Josh Boyce, and Matthew Slater. Somebody has to go for him to make this team. And more than likely, two of those somebodies have to go with the talent on the roster. But hey, he’d be great for the practice squad.

See the rest of my takeaways on Boston.com’s Extra Points blog.

5 takeaways from the Patriots-Bills second game




FOXBOROUGH — The Patriots finish the season on a strong note, downing the Buffalo Bills, 34-20, while securing a first-round bye in the playoffs.

Now, the Patriots can rest up and get healthy for their next opponent, either the Indianapolis Colts, Cincinnati Bengals, or Kansas City Chiefs.

Here are our five takeaways from the game:

1. Bullish on Blount — It’s not too often that one player can affect a game so dramatically in at least two phases, offense and special teams. LeGarrette Blount, with his punishing running style and ability to gain yardage after contact, was able to do just that. He ran for a career-high 189 yards on 24 carries and added 145 return yards for a team record 334 all-purpose.

“I’m feeling good,” said Blount, with a crowd of reporters leaning on his every word. “I mean, especially after getting the win and performing like that. I’m feeling amazing. I don’t have words to explain it.”

The Patriots ran a season-high 43 times with Blount and Stevan Ridley (17 carries, 64 yards) getting the bulk of the load. The team finished with 267 yards, a season high. But it was Blount whose mix of speed and power that stole the show, breaking away for touchdowns of 36 and 35 yards.

While for the span of the season observers of the Patriots have considered Stevan Ridley as the most talented running back on the team’s roster, Blount’s increased role as the starter has given those same observers cause to re-think that assertion. Because of injuries and Ridley’s benching, Blount was at one point the de facto lead running back. But now, after such a vivid performance, he can truly be considered the featured back.

2. Whatever is needed, any given game — The Patriots have an ever-changing offense, geared weekly for each opponent. That ability to game plan, using a motley crew of receivers and running backs, has allowed the Patriots to flip from being a running-dominated team, like Sunday against the Bills, to a pass-happy team whenever necessary.

There were doubts at different points this season whether the Patriots could stick with the running game, but with the rain on Sunday, they had to force themselves to feed Blount and Ridley. The results just happened to be fantastic.

“It was tough to throw the ball, tough to catch it,” Belichick said. “We saw a bunch of balls on the ground, more so than usual. That was definitely a factor. It got worse as the game went along. Yeah, it was definitely a running game.”

That kind of flexibility, to rely on different aspects of the offense and players each and every week, makes the Patriots a dangerous opponent in the playoffs.

See all of my takeaways in the original post on Boston.com’s Extra Points blog.

Video: Are the Patriots ready for the Ravens?




In the latest Patriots midweek report, the Patriots (10-4) get ready to visit the Baltimore Ravens (8-6) Ravens on Sunday. With a win, the Patriots can clinch the AFC East and secure a playoff spot. It’s also a rematch of the last two AFC Championship games and, according to Patriots coach Bill Belichick and the team’s players, comes at a time when the Ravens are on the rise. Interviews with Belichick, Tom Brady, Steve Gregory and Logan Mankins.

Video: Patriots move on without Rob Gronkowski




The 10-3 Patriots visit the 7-6 Dolphins on Sunday. Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, Sealver Siliga and Dont’a Hightower all spoke on Wednesday. Boston.com’s Zuri Berry reports from Patriots practice.

5 takeaways from the Patriots-Browns game

FOXBOROUGH — Continuing a streak of faulty first halves and extraordinary comebacks, the Patriots beat the Cleveland Browns 27-26 Sunday night in what I’ll personally term as an instant classic.

Any time you have a successful onside kick recovery — which was the first in Patriots franchise history to lead to a game-winning touchdown — you have to consider where the particular contest in question rests on the pantheon of great wins. In this case, for a team as lauded and trophied up as the Patriots, we’ll just wonder aloud where Sunday’s game ranks in terms of regular season victories.

So far this season, they’ve had a number of compelling candidates, including the team’s thrilling come-from-behind victory over the New Orleans Saints. But that was two months ago. There’s been plenty of excitement since then.

Sunday’s comeback comes on the heels of superb wins over the Denver Broncos (34-31) and Houston Texans (34-31).

While the talent and expectations of the competition has varied, each win has inserted a level of football titillation that only those sensitive to cardiac arrest might disapprove.

It’s just been that kind of season. And Sunday’s game was no different.

With that in mind, here’s my five takeaways:

1. Losing Rob Gronkowski only seemed devastating — Gronkowski’s loss to a leg injury in the third quarter was profound for a number of reasons. There was the instant worry of his health, which is still in question, and then there was the long-term concerns for the Patriots’ offense, which struggled mightily this season without him despite winning five of six games. His presence in the red zone has been the most striking, with the team boosting its touchdown rate from 40.9 percent to 67.9, no doubt because defenders have to account for him.

But on Sunday, the Patriots seemed to find poise in dealing with the aftermath of his dramatic injury. At the time, they were down 12-0 to the Browns. But on the team’s very next offensive series, they marched 68 yards down the field for their first points, a 33-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski. On their next series, they took only three plays before Shane Vereen ran in a 6-yard touchdown. The Patriots would go on to score on their next three drives, five in a row in all, to take the game.

After enduring such a devastating injury to one of the team’s integral players, the Patriots flashed what appeared to be the mental composure of a championship contender. There was mettle and there was grit. And even a little luck on their side. That’s got to count for something as the team goes forward.

2. The role falls to James Develin, Matthew Mulligan — Right away, the Patriots needed to find out if they had dependable tight ends that can get the job done with Gronk out. They won’t be asked to perform at his high level of offensive production, but they have to be capable and handle the not-so-glamorous role of blockers and check-down options in the passing game. It appears that Mulligan and Develin are up to the task. The duo have already been primarily used as blockers, but each has shown flashes of their other talents. Develin caught a 31-yard pass and Mulligan added a 15-yard reception.

“Honestly, I’m kind of surprising myself a little bit,” Develin said of his receiving skills. “I haven’t done these things since high school. It’s been kind of fun discovering that as well.”

The two take the loss of Gronkowski seriously, with Mulligan saying he would pray for his teammate. But Gronkowski’s injury provides an opportunity that neither can ignore.

“Having Gronk go out like that in the game was tough,” Develin said. “He’s a huge guy in our offense. But the NFL is such a next-man-up kind of thing and so when my number was called I just knew that I had to go out there and do the job. I’m thankful that our coaches prepare us for any situation, so I felt comfortable going in there and trying to do the thing.”

Patriots fans will have to get comfortable with it, too. The team’s only other experienced tight end, Michael Hoomanawanui, is still out with a knee injury.

See all of my takeaways from the game on Boston.com’s Extra Points blog.

5 takeaways from the Patriots-Texans game




HOUSTON – The Patriots snapped a three-game road losing streak, which is probably the most notable side accomplishment for a team that just clinched its 13th straight winning season.

Beating the Houston Texans (2-10) certified New England’s status as a team with no quit. They outscored their opponents 27-14 in the second half to win 34-31 at Reliant Stadium in Houston. That’s two weeks with come-from-behind wins. The networks must love the Patriots.

As usual, there were a number of interesting tidbits from the game. Here are some that I thought were most noteworthy.

1. Defense when it matters — It’s not shocking that the Patriots are giving up an alarming amount of rushing yards in these games. The Texans managed 121 against the Patriots, with Ben Tate accounting for 102 on 22 carries to go along with three touchdowns. It’s an improved effort from last week, when the Patriots defense allowed a whopping 280 yards on the ground. But what can you expect from a team that has lost its top two defensive tackles to injured reserve as well as the team’s top linebacker. Those are legitimate excuses. But what we’ve seen instead from this team, outside of the glaring running lanes for opposing backs, is a candid ability to stop the big play at the most timely moments. The Patriots were able to hold the Texans to a three-and-out with 6:54 left in the fourth quarter and follow it up by forcing Houston quarterback Case Keenum into making three bad throws, including one under pressure from Andre Carter and Chris Jones. Moments like these, which came with a little more than two minutes left, are pivotal in one-possession games. The Patriots excel in this environment.

2. Edelman over Amendola — Julian Edelman is at it again, usurping the luster over another coveted receiver. While he is sometimes overlooked because of the allegedly more talented and experienced slot receivers in front of him (see Wes Welker), he’s built a steady rapport with Tom Brady over his five seasons that has made him invaluable to this offense. So when you see that he has 12 targets Sunday, while Danny Amendola has five, there should be a clear understanding of who is a larger part of this Patriots offense and identity.

Edelman, who officially got the start Sunday, now has 70 receptions this year for 711 yards and four touchdowns. On Sunday, he caught nine passes for 101 yards. Because he has 70 receptions on the season, he has hit his contract incentive for an extra $250,000, maxing out his 1-year deal to $1.015 million. What a bargain.

See the rest of my takeaways on Boston.com’s Extra Points blog.