Julian Edelman figures to be busy against the Bills Sunday at Gillette Stadium. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Julian Edelman figures to be busy against the Bills Sunday at Gillette Stadium. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

FOXBORO — When it comes to the Bills defense this Sunday at Gillette Stadium, Bill Belichick is telling his team to expect the unexpected.

And the players are buying in.

One such player is Julian Edelman. The receiver has certainly had his chances against Ryan over his eight-year career. Last year, in the 40-32 win at Orchard Park, Edelman was targeted 19 times by Tom Brady. He caught 11 passes for 97 yards. That was easily his most active game in 11 career matchups against Ryan’s defense.

In 10 games against Ryan’s Jets (2009-14), Edelman caught 38 passes on 60 targets for 367 yards but just one touchdown.

Edelman has seen all sorts of coverages, man, press, zone, brackets with all different kinds of pressure combinations off those coverages.

“I see a spin-the-dial defense,” Edelman said Friday. “They bring a lot of everything. A well-coached team and a team that always plays us well. They’ve got a veteran group in the secondary that we’ve played a bunch. They know us. We know them. It’s going to be one of those games where you have to execute. The best team that executes will have a better chance of going out and winning.”

“They give a bunch of different looks. So, you’ve just got to lean on your fundamentals of the play and the scheme of what you have to do on certain looks. This [Buffalo] is one of the best teams at doing those types of things.”

Dennis Thurman is the defensive coordinator in Buffalo. Thurman is a former NFL corner for the Cowboys and Cardinals in the 1970s and 80s. But when it comes to the exotic nature of the Bills defense, Belichick has little doubt who’s making the final calls.

“I’d say it depends on who the person is and what the system – I mean I think we know where a lot of the decisions on defense with Buffalo are coming from,” Belichick said Friday, clearly referencing Ryan. “And I’m sure there’s certainly a team effort and a group effort and group ideas and so forth, but I think we also know where some of these are coming from and so to me its whoever the decision maker is.

“I know as a defensive coach where I’ve put the game to those guys because of the confidence that I have in them and their ability to see things on the field a lot later and that are a lot more accurately than you could see them on the sideline when you’re calling the defense based on down and distance and what players they have in the game. You don’t know what formation they’re in, you don’t know how big their splits are.

“Now once a team comes out there and gets in a certain look then that’s more information. There are times, a lot of times, where we give our players a lot of responsibility to run the defense at that point or run the offense at that point once they see how the defense is deployed. Again, it just depends on who the decision maker is. I don’t think there’s any right or wrong to it. It’s just figuring out who it is and trying to really compete against that person.”

While Ryan has been know to blitz or bring different pressures from different spots on the field in the past, he’s also shown blitz many times and dropped in coverage at the last minute. The most famous case of this came in the 2010 playoffs against Tom Brady when he showed as many as seven players around the line of scrimmage and disguised them in an effort to slow Brady’s recognition. The Jets won that game, 28-21, at Gillette.

Whatever defense Ryan throws out there, (and the Bills do have 10 sacks and four interceptions), Edelman says there’s no magic formula – just read and react and make a play.

“The X-factor is just going out and trying to do your job,” Edelman said. “If everyone does their job, that’s when things go right. When you miss doing your job, that’s when something can go wrong. If we focus on going out and playing good situational football, good complementary football, [that’s] how to put our team in the best scenario to win the game.”

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia

The Patriots are mourning the death of a member of their 1976 team that came so close to beating the Oakland Raiders in the playoffs.

The team announced Friday evening that former defensive tackle Richard Bishop died this week in Miami, Fla. at the age of 66. Bishop was with the Patriots for six seasons, starting in ’76 and ending in 1981.

Bishop started 51 of the 85 games played during his six seasons with the Patriots after joining the organization as a free agent in 1976. He appeared in every game for the Patriots in 1976 and 12 games of the 14 games in the 1977 season.

He earned a starting role at defensive end in 1978, starting 15 of 16 games for the eventual AFC East division champions. That season, he led the team in quarterback pressures (27), finished second in sacks (7) and third in tackles (75). His 1978 performance earned him the Jim Lee Hunt Memorial Award as the team’s most outstanding lineman.

Bishop originally entered the NFL when he was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in the fifth round of the 1974 draft out of Louisville. He spent two seasons in the Canadian Football League with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and the Ottawa Rough Riders before signing with the Patriots as a free agent in 1976.

Bishop is survived by his son, Bryce, and his three daughters, Renata, Beatrice and Rachelle. Memorial services are tentatively scheduled for Saturday, October 8 in Miami, Fla. Services are being coordinated by the Stanfill Funeral Home in Miami. Details are expected to be finalized early next week. For service times and obituary information, visit the Stanfill Funeral Home webpage.

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia

According to WEEI’s Kirk Minihane, Patriots quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo will start Sunday against the Bills.

Jimmy Garoppolo

Jimmy Garoppolo

According to WEEI’s Kirk Minihane, Patriots quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo will start Sunday against the Bills.

Garoppolo suffered a reported sprained AC joint in his right shoulder the second quarter of the Week 2 win over the Dolphins, but didn’t play last week against the Texans. Sunday would be two weeks from suffering the injury.

The quarterback was limited in practice all week and officially listed as questionable. Last week, he was listed as doubtful.

“It’s coming along,” Garoppolo said Wednesday. “Day-by-day right now, trying to get to the best of my ability on Sunday,” he said. “Just trying to get better every day, That’s all that you can ask for with this. … We’re just taking it day-by-day, really.”

Jacoby Brissett started last week in his place and injured his thumb. He too was limited all week and listed as questionable.

Tom Brady will return from his suspension in Week 5, so Garoppolo is really only needed as a starter for this week.

For more Patriots news, visit weei.com/patriots.

Blog Author: 
WEEI

It appears the guessing game with the Patriots quarterback situation will continue throughout the weekend.

Jimmy Garoppolo

Jimmy Garoppolo

It appears the guessing game with the Patriots quarterback situation will continue throughout the weekend.

Both Jimmy Garoppolo (right shoulder) and Jacoby Brissett (right thumb) were listed as questionable for Sunday’s game against the Bills at Gillette Stadium. Both quarterbacks practiced all week but were limited in their participation, as listed by the Patriots.

This represents an improvement for Garoppolo, who was doubtful going into the Houston game. He injured his right shoulder against the Dolphins on Sept. 18 and did not dress for the game against the Texans four days later. Brissett sprained his right thumb against the Texans in the second half and finished the game, a 27-0 win over Houston.

The Patriots did not work out or sign a quarterback this week, a strong sign they believe one or both will be ready to dress up.

All eight players on the Patriots injury report are officially questionable, including Rob Gronkowski and Dont’a Hightower. Gronkowski (hamstring) made his return against Houston after missing the first two games while Hightower (knee) has missed the last two games after tweaking his right knee against the Cardinals.

A designation of questionable indicates the team believes there’s a 50-50 chance a player will be available during the game. The Patriots had perfect attendance all week at practice. The Bills are not as fortunate, as receiver Sammy Watkins is one of four players ruled out for Sunday.

Here is the complete injury report:

QUESTIONABLE

QB Jimmy Garoppolo (right shoulder, limited)
QB Jacoby Brissett (right thumb, limited)
LB Dont’a Hightower (knee, limited)
TE Rob Gronkowski (hamstring, limited)
CB Eric Rowe (ankle, limited)
OL Jonathan Cooper (foot, limited)
LB Jonathan Freeny (shoulder, limited)
OL Marcus Cannon (calf, limited)

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia
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Blog Author: 
WEEI

The defensive task just became somewhat simpler Sunday for the Patriots.

The Bills Friday ruled out star third-year receiver Sammy Watkins with a left foot injury.

Sep 15, 2016; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Buffalo Bills wide receiver Sammy Watkins (14) during the game against the New York Jets at New Era Field. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Bills wide receiver Sammy Watkins will miss his second straight game with a foot injury. (Kevin Hoffman/USA Today Sports)

The defensive task just became somewhat simpler Sunday for the Patriots.

The Bills Friday ruled out star third-year receiver Sammy Watkins with a left foot injury.

It will be the second straight game Watkins has missed since a teammate stepped on his surgically repaired foot during a walk-through after the loss to the Jets. The fourth overall pick of the Bills in 2014 has just six catches for 60 yards and no touchdowns this season as the Bills have focused on getting their run game going with LeSean McCoy and quarterback Tyrod Taylor.

The Bills more than made up for his absence against the Cardinals last week in a 33-18 win, totaling over 200 yards rushing.

On Thursday, Bills coach Rex Ryan wasn’t ready to rule out Watkins from playing at Gillette on Sunday after the receiver missed his second straight practice on Thursday because of the injury. That changed on Friday.

Also ruled out were back up tackle Cyrus Kouandijo (ankle), offensive lineman Patrick Lewis with a knee injury and receiver Greg Salas with a groin problem.

Ryan said he is hopeful starting left tackle Cordy Glenn can return after missing two games with a sprained left ankle. Glenn practiced on a limited basis for a second consecutive day.

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia
Rob Ninkovich is eligible to return to the Patriots after Sunday's game. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Rob Ninkovich is eligible to return to the Patriots after Sunday’s game. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

1. Tom Brady isn’t the only notable name set to return to the Patriots after Sunday’s game. Edge defender Rob Ninkovich is also scheduled to come back to Gillette following a four-game ban for a PED violation. While it’s debatable how long it might take Ninkovich to round back into form, it will certainly mean some personnel changes when it comes to New England’s front seven. When’s ready to roll — and when Dont’a Hightower is also back to 100 percent — there are a variety of spots where he could play. With Jabaal Sheard and Chris Long doing very well over the course of the first three games at defensive end, the Patriots could start by working Ninkovich in as an extra rusher on third downs and other passing situations. (New England could fundamentally move Ninkovich into the role currently occupied by Trey Flowers, and then move Flowers to the backup interior rush role that was held by Anthony Johnson before he was moved to the practice squad.) Despite the fact that he still holds up well against the run, Ninkovich could also be part of a modified “NASCAR” package that features a four-man front of Long, Flowers, Ninkovich and Sheard used solely on passing downs. If Hightower remains on the shelf, Ninkovich also has the sort of versatility that could lend itself to some inside linebacker work in place of Shea McClellin or Jonathan Freeny. Ultimately, while he starred on the edge the last few years, Ninkovich’s versatile skill set will be put to good use as the Patriots look to get him back up to speed as soon as possible.

2. One question we’ve gotten here multiple times over the course of the last week-plus is who is released to make room for Brady and Ninkovich when they do return. From this viewpoint, the Patriots would love to retain some roster flexibility, which would mean waiving a young player at a position where they have good depth that could be snuck through to the practice squad. From this perspective, the likeliest candidates — in no particular order — are linebacker Elandon Roberts, tight end A.J. Derby and running back D.J. Foster, all of whom have practice squad eligibility. None of this is to suggest that the three young players haven’t done everything that was asked of them. It’s just that they appear to be part of a numbers crunch with the return of Brady and Ninkovich.

3. With so many other storylines over the first three weeks of the season, it’s been easy to overlook the contributions of someone like Long, but the veteran has clearly surpassed expectations in his short span in New England, stepping in to provide depth at a needed position following Ninkovich’s suspension while playing 71 percent of all defensive snaps through the first three games. He has a sack and a pair of passes defensed, and has helped author a nice redemption story after battling injuries the last two years with the Rams. (That’s in addition to offering some wisdom and context to the Colin Kapernick debate.) He’s been hailed by Pro Football Focus as one of 10 free-agent additions who have already made an impact, and has certainly impressed Bill Belichick. “With Chris, all the positive things I knew and heard about Chris are certainly true. I think it’s just more evident when you see it on a day after day basis. Every day [he’s the] first one in, ready to go, pencil sharpened, taking notes, alert to just trying to get things right, questions about how he can do it better or how exactly we want it done, goes out there and really tries to do it the way that we’ve coached it,” Belichick said. “I think he has earned everybody’s respect; the players, assistant coaches, like I said, trainers, all of the people in the organization. He has just done everything right.”

4. We made plenty of LeGarrette Blount/Corey Dillon comparisons over the course of the last week (check both of them here and here), but Blount stands on the verge of being able to accomplish something that no Patriots back has done since Dillon did in 2004: rush for 100 yards in at least three straight games. Blount, who heads into Week 4 as the leading rusher in the NFL, rushed for 123 yards against Miami on Sept. 18, and followed that up with a 105-yard outing against Houston on Sept. 22. If he tops the century mark Sunday against Buffalo, he’d be the first to go back-to-back-to-back since Dillon did it four games in a row in 2004. (In that stretch, Dillon actually hit 100-plus yards six times in a seven-game series that ran from Oct. 17 to Dec. 5. And in that seventh game? He finished with “only” 98 yards. Not a bad two-month stretch.) For what it’s worth, Buffalo is tied for 14th in the NFL in rushing defense, having allowed an average of 98 yards per game over the first three games of the year. And in five career games against the Bills, Blount has averaged 12 carries and 65 yards a game for a whopping 5.53 yards per carry. Maybe more carries that usual this time around?

5. Michael Irvin made some headlines last week when he proclaimed that if Belichick could find a way to beat the Texans with a third-string quarterback in Jacoby Brissett, the Lombardi Trophy should be renamed in honor of Belichick. The former Cowboys receiver expanded on his feelings for the Patriots coach this week on “Inside The NFL,” saying that Belichick has a unique way of being able to “partner” with his players. “We’ve had some great coaches in this league, but what this guy is doing is off the charts,” Irvin said. “We don’t have the control of money controlling the players anymore. You’re giving guys 30, 40, 50 million dollars guaranteed. So no more, ‘I got dominion over you.’  I have to now make sure I partner with you.  And this dude knows how to partner with those players and bring the best out of each of those guys that he gets.”

6. A quick check of CFL rosters reveals that eight former Patriots (of recent vintage, anyway) are currently playing up north, a group that includes cornerback V’Angelo Bentley. Bentley saw extensive time in camp with the Patriots this summer, working as a defensive back and kick returner. He returned three kickoffs for 61 yards and one punt for 12 yards against the Saints, then returned one kickoff for 20 yards against the Bears before being released as part of the initial round of cuts on Aug. 22. Bentley is currently on Hamilton’s practice roster. Other recent members of the Patriots who up north include running back Roy Finch (Calgary), defensive lineman Ja’Gared Davis (three sacks and 20 tackles, also with Calgary) and wide receiver Tiquan Underwood, who was released by Hamilton but managed to catch on with Montreal’s practice squad earlier this week. Underwood played played 20 games with the Tiger-Cats, catching 56 passes for 865 receiving yards and three touchdowns.

7. For many years, one of the arguments from critics of the Patriots was the fact that they had a Hall of Fame quarterback and a coach with a Super Bowl title on his resume working together for several years. With that kind of continuity at those positions, of course they’re going to succeed. But what’s playing out right now in New Orleans is a prime example of the fact that team-building goes beyond that. The Saints have lost several key players to injury, but at 0-3 and with almost no financial flexibility, there are plenty of big-picture problems that can’t be erased, even if they were at full strength. The Drew Brees/Sean Payton combo always gives them a fighting chance, but the current state of the Saints goes to show you that even if you have rock-solid continuity at two of the most important spots in the franchise, nothing is guaranteed, especially if you don’t pay attention to the bottom line.

8. One of our favorite out-of-left-field stats is the worst-to-first phenomenon that’s taken place in the NFL in 12 of the last 13 years, where at least one team has gone from last to first place in one season. Last year, the Redskins turned the trick, as Kirk Cousins helped take them from the basement to a division title. However, of the eight teams that finished last in 2015 — Miami, Cleveland, Tennessee, San Diego, Dallas, Chicago, Tampa Bay and San Francisco — none are among the division leaders three weeks into the 2016 season. However, as we approach the quarter-pole, the Cowboys appear to be best-positioned among that group to make a run at first place. Dallas is 2-1, tied with the Giants for second place and a game off the blistering pace set by the Eagles. Philly appears built for the long haul, but if the Cowboys and Dak Prescott continues on his current pace, the Cowboys could have the best shot.

9. The Colts and Jags will play the first game of the year in London on Sunday, and if his holds, the chances are pretty good that the losing coach won’t be flying home with his players. Immediately following the first London game in 2014 — a 38-14 win for the Dolphins over the Raiders — Oakland fired coach Dennis Allen. Last year, the Jets beat Miami 27-14, and the Dolphins canned Joe Philbin. This time, it’s Gus Bradley and the Jaguars (one of four 0-3 teams) against Chuck Pagano and the 1-2 Colts. Could one of them get the gate if their team loses? It’s unclear at this point, but the idea of falling into last place in the woeful AFC just four games into the season probably doesn’t mean good things for any coach down the road.

10. Through three weeks, I’m 34-14. (Follow my stats over at the WEEI.com Pick ‘Em Challenge.) My picks this weekend: Miami, Indy, Houston, Washington. Seattle, New England, Carolina, Baltimore, Detroit, Denver, Arizona, San Diego, Dallas, Pittsburgh and Minnesota.

11. “NFL Sunday” is back in your ears this weekend from 9-noon, with me, Pete Sheppard, Tom E. Curran, Field Yates, Christian Fauria and Pete “Rotobahn” Davidson. On a personal note, the move from Gary Tanguay to Pete will make it seven different “NFL Sunday” co-hosts I’ve worked with over the last year. Anyway, listen live at 93.7 or WEEI.com/listen.

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price