Devin McCourty and the Patriots defense must find a way to stop Jets on third down. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Devin McCourty and the Patriots defense must find a way to stop Jets on third down. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

FOXBORO — Before Chris Jones saved the day with a blocked field goal attempt by Nick Folk on the game’s last play, Bill Belichick remembers exactly how the Patriots found themselves in such a precarious position with the lowly Jets on Oct. 16 at Gillette Stadium.

The Patriots allowed Geno Smith and the Jets to convert 9-of-16 third down chances to extend drives.

“Yeah, killed us,” Belichick recalled Friday morning.

Devin McCourty was a bit more expansive.

“Big point [of emphasis],” McCourty said. “They dominated third down and that gave the ability to dominate the time of possession and keep our offense off the field, keep them in long drive, help them really be able to pound the ball against us. We’ve got to play better on third down.

“Every week, we talk about third down and red area being a lot of times the determining factor in a game. I think it’s no different this week and now, coming up to a game where we’ve already played them, they were over 50 percent on third. It was evidence in watching that film, that third down really killed us.”

If there’s one sure way to keep the 3-11 Jets hanging around on Sunday at MetLife Stadium, it’s allowing them to convert 56 percent of their chances on third down, keeping the Patriots’ defense on the field for extended period.

“Third down was a big problem for us in that game on both sides of the ball,” Belichick said. “It’€™s been a problem for us with them. We don’€™t have the ball very long on offense and we’€™re out there on the field too long on defense. It’€™s us converting them and it’€™s us, well, it’€™s converting them on both sides.”

By contrast, the Patriots converted just 6-of-13 chances (46 percent) on that soggy Thursday night. That night in October, the Jets found a way to convert nine third downs, outrush the Patriots 218-63, outdistance the Patriots in first downs (28-16) and outlast New England in time of possession (40:54-19:06). The Patriots somehow found a way to win.

“It’€™s us converting them offensively to stay on the field and it’€™s us converting them defensively to get off the field and get the ball back for our offense and with good field position,” Belichick added. “We haven’€™t made them punt very much. We just have too many, they have too many extended drives and we’€™ve had too many short ones.”

McCourty told WEEI.com that he and the secondary won’t be fooled into cheating up to the line of scrimmage to help with the run game if the Jets get it going early in the game.

“We’re going into a game like this where we know we have to stop the run,” McCourty said. “We also know it’s not going to be 11 guys on the line of scrimmage to stop the run. We all have different responsibilities. We can’t let a team that runs the ball well turn into corners looking into the backfield or the free safety being the guy who’s running forward 10 yards before he realizes the pass because we’ll just get a bunch of play-action passes.

“The hardest thing for an offense to do is try to drive the field on every possession. You make it easy as a defense if you start coming forward and you give up the 50, the 60-yard throw over your head. Now, the offense on one play has gotten them a big chunk. You never want to make it that easy for an offense. You want to make them drive and have eight, 10, 12 consecutive plays to beat you.”

McCourty has played Rex Ryan‘s Jets enough and studied enough film to know what he’s trying to do.

“I don’t think they lull you to sleep,” McCourty said. “I think they just like to run the ball. I think their head coach Rex Ryan running the ball. He believes in that. There are certain teams that like throwing the ball but I think that’s what he believes in. How effective they are running the ball makes you have to try to stop the run. I think maybe 10 years ago, that’s how everybody played: run, run, play-action, throw the ball down the field.

“It’s more the change in the way the game is played now. What they’re doing is now considered different because they are actually trying to get the running game going first to throw the ball. I don’t think it’s like in college when we played Navy or somebody [with the option], I don’t think it’s to that point where they’re trying to catch you off guard with the throws. I think when they’re in passing situations, they do pass the ball. They want to start off by running and getting yardage. When you’ve got Ivory and Johnson over there, it’s a pretty good idea to run the ball and let them pound you.”

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia


FOXBORO — There was a ton of commotion when the reporters were allowed in the Patriots locker room early Friday afternoon. There was Devin McCourty in the middle of everything, yelling and screaming.

He wasn’t trying to fire his team up about finishing the season strong or warning them about the perils of taking the 3-11 Jets lightly Sunday.

No, he was telling everyone within earshot that he leads the fastest group of Patriots on the field. He was willing to race anyone willing, including Jonas Gray, Matthew Slater or even Aaron Dobson.

“It’s matters what we run,” McCourty laughed. “We’re onto the Jets. We’re onto the Jets. You’re going to get me in trouble.”

Once the yelling the settled down, McCourty was asked about the noise coming from New York that some Jets players like Willie Colon and Jeremy Kerley feel disrespected by Patriots players and the entire organization.

“It’d be hard for us to say we don’t respect a team [when] the last three or four games have been decided three points or so and one of them last year, they won. So, I really don’t see how that’s possible. You’ve got two teams that like playing each other,” McCourty said. “You watch the film, you can tell that right away. There was a fight here, scuffle here last year. There’s no love lost between the two teams but I think there’s definitely a good amount of respect definitely coming from our side and I think they respect us, too. And I think that’s why we go out there and we play each other tough and have competitive games. We know how they want to play us, they know how we want to play them and I think that’s why there are so many good games between the two teams.”

To McCourty’s point, the last three games have been decided by three or fewer points. In New England’s 13-10 win in the 2013 home opener, there was a brawl as the Patriots hung on for the win. The Jets got a measure of revenge five weeks later in a 30-27 overtime decision at MetLife Stadium.

On Oct. 16 at Gillette, the Patriots were handed their biggest scare during a seven-game win streak when Chris Jones blocked a Nick Folk field goal on the game’s last play, preserving a 27-25 victory.

“I don’t care if we were both undefeated or both out of the playoffs, they don’t want to lose to us and we don’t want to lose to them,” McCourty said. “I feel like it’s like that every year, twice a year. That’s just how it is. Neither team wants to lose to the other one. To me, it’s probably one of the biggest rivalries in football and that’s how we play, and that’s how they play. Records go out the window in all division games, especially between these two teams.

“There’s no surprises that we can do or they can do. Obviously, the game plans aren’t going to be exactly the same from what we watched on film but we know their personnel so well just like they know us that we know they’re going to do some things but that’s why it always comes to sheer execution and outplaying the guy across from you. We know each other well and they’re playing hard and we’re playing hard and that’s what it comes down to. Each year, it’s come down to a few plays, usually toward the end of the game, who makes one or two more plays has really won the game. I think it’ll be similar this year. To me, there’s no difference between these two teams.”

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia

Tom Brady is the Patriots' old reliable and the team's MVP. (Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)Usually this is a conversation from which I'd abstain.



CHRIS VILLANI

BIO | ARCHIVE


FOXBORO — The Patriots had perfect attendance for the last two days of practice but there remain several question marks when it comes to the health and readiness of the team for Sunday’s game against the 3-11 Jets at MetLife Stadium.

LeGarrette Blount. (Getty Images)

LeGarrette Blount. (Getty Images)

FOXBORO — The Patriots had perfect attendance for the last two days of practice but there remain several question marks when it comes to the health and readiness of the team for Sunday’s game against the 3-11 Jets at MetLife Stadium.

As a matter of fact, 12 players were limited for a second straight day and all 12 are officially listed as questionable (50-50 chance of playing) by the Patriots in their final injury report of the week.

Leading that list is Julian Edelman (thigh/concussion), who apparently received a concussion this week during practice. Edelman played in the closing moments of Sunday’s win over the Dolphins and spoke to reporters, not likely if he had been playing with the suspicion of a head injury. LeGarrette Blount (shoulder), Kyle Arrington (hamstring) and Danny Aiken (finger) are among the 12 players limited.

Quarterback Tom Brady (ankle) remained a full participant.

Here is Friday’s complete practice report:

Limited participation

LS Danny Aiken (finger) QUESTIONABLE
CB Kyle Arrington (hamstring) QUESTIONABLE
RB LeGarrette Blount (shoulder) QUESTIONABLE
OL Dan Connolly (knee) QUESTIONABLE
WR Julian Edelman (thigh/concussion) QUESTIONABLE
OL Cameron Fleming (ankle) QUESTIONABLE
LB Dont’€™a Hightower (shoulder) QUESTIONABLE
DE Chandler Jones (hip) QUESTIONABLE
WR Brandon LaFell (shoulder) QUESTIONABLE
DE Rob Ninkovich (heel) QUESTIONABLE
RB Shane Vereen (ankle) QUESTIONABLE
LB Chris White (ankle) QUESTIONABLE

Full participation

QB Tom Brady (ankle) PROBABLE

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia
Defensive lineman Alan Branch has been a big force for the Patriots. (Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)

Defensive lineman Alan Branch has been a big force for the Patriots. (Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)

FOXBORO — It’s not just Vince Wilfork‘s job to plug the middle anymore.

For years, the Patriots run defense hinged on the ability of the veteran nose tackle to stay on the field, sometimes for the whole game.

With the emergence of Sealver Siliga last year and the addition of Alan Branch this season, the Patriots have some big bodies backing up the big man along the Patriots defensive line.

And with the Jets on deck Sunday at MetLife Stadium, the Patriots have picked a good time to get healthy in the middle of the line where New York loves to run Chris Ivory and Chris Johnson behind Pro Bowl center Nick Mangold.

“I’€™d say the combination of getting Alan and Siliga back,” Belichick said. “It was two weeks ago, right? Well, Branch was longer than that, Siliga and even Chandler [Jones] last week. Those players have definitely given our line more depth and more versatility really.

“Branch is a big guy, Siliga is a big guy, Chandler is more of an edge guy, but when you put them all together, it looks a little different than it did a few weeks ago. The guys that are coming back like Siliga and Branch [has] now been here going on two months, but they have improved. Just like Chandler, his timing and some of the things that he does this week will probably be fundamentally a little better than they were last week.”

Branch, released by the Bills after an August DUI, was considered a project when the team signed him to a one-year deal Oct. 29 after being claimed him off the waiver wire. But now, he is playing on short yardage and early down situations, seeing 16 snaps on Sunday.

“Alan has done a good job. He’€™s had some versatility,” Belichick said Friday. “He’€™s got length, but he’€™s also got size. He’€™s very athletic, [he] runs five flat or whatever. He has good quickness and can move. So, he has the versatility to play some different spots and do some different things along the defensive front.”

But just because he’s playing short yardage and on first and second down doesn’t mean Belichick would hesitate to leave him on the field.

“I wouldn’€™t call him a one-dimensional type of player,” Belichick added. “He’€™s a tough matchup on a lot of guys because of his length and because of his power. He’€™s learned quickly. I think technique-wise there are some things that we do that are probably a little different than some of the things that he’€™s done. But he learns quickly. He’€™s smart; he has a lot of experience. I’€™m glad we have him. I think he’€™s worked hard to try to do the things we’€™ve asked him to do.”

Has Belichick learned anything about his technique and his skill set that he didn’€™t know when he joined the Patriots?

“Yeah, you see a guy on film, but then when you start working with him and, ‘€˜Here’€™s how we want you to do it. Here’€™s what you do against this type of block, that type of block. Here’€™s this technique, that technique.’€™ Some things come pretty quickly because maybe that’€™s what they’€™re used to doing or that’€™s kind of an easy progression from them. Then there are other things with et into the nuts and bolts of that it’€™s hard to get that specific, especially when you’€™ve never coached the some players that, ‘€˜I haven’€™t done that before,’€™ or, ‘€˜I’€™m having a little trouble with that.’€™

“Until you actually get into the nuts and bolts of that, it’€™s hard to get that specific, especially when you’€™ve never coached a player before. The same thing can be true of learning too. Eighty percent of the learning can be pretty quick and I don’€™t want to say easy, but relatively easy, and then there might be 20 percent that, ‘€˜This is a little bit different,’€™ or ‘€˜It’€™s something I haven’€™t done before.’€™ Or trying to break a habit ‘€“ ‘€˜This is the way I’€™ve always done it and now you’€™re asking me to do it a little bit differently.’€™ Things like that.

“I think there’€™s always a little bit of that. I’€™m not saying that in a bad way. It’€™s just a transition and adjustment and you really develop your consistency and fundamentals and techniques in training camp. That’€™s what those training camp practices are for ‘€“ go out there and grind through the individual drills, grind through the 9-on-7s, the one-on-one pass rushes, the sleds, the bags. Do it repetitively day after day four or five days a week for three, four, five weeks and that’€™s how you build that. When you come in in the middle of the season and you don’€™t have all that then you don’€™t have some of the repetition, reaction, the reaction time from those multiple repetitions and multiple looks on smaller scale, but it’€™s a foundation that you need to build. You just don’€™t have that, so you’€™re kind of trying to build without a great foundation. But it is what it is. Every team in the league has guys on their team that weren’€™t with them in training camp. You just have to try to do the best you can.”

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia


FOXBORO — Chandler Jones had no hesitation in returning to game action last Sunday, playing 55 of 78 snaps in a 41-13 win over the Dolphins.

But more to the point and more importantly, Bill Belichick saw no hesitation in his game. His seven combined tackles was third highest on the team and his 1.5 sacks led a revitalized Patriots pass rush that got after Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

A coach can never be certain a player is ready to return, especially after Jones missed six games with a hip injury. But Belichick said Friday he had a pretty good idea.

“I think you usually get a pretty good indication of it in practice, but there’€™s no substitute for game evaluation. I think that’€™s where you really can highlight it. A guy can look good in practice, you could feel like he’€™s ready to go and then you watch him perform in the game and maybe it’€™s not quite what you thought it would be, or maybe it is.

“I think that’€™s when you really know. Some of that is just confidence too. You go out there and a guy hasn’€™t played for a while and he kind of goes out there and tests it a little bit and then as he feels more confident then he becomes more aggressive.”

Jones was subbed in early on in the first half of last Sunday’s game but after watching the way he was playing, Belichick and the coaching staff gave the green light for him to play almost the rest of the way.

“I’€™d say in Chandler’€™s case, I think he didn’€™t have much of a tentative aspect to his game,” Belichick said. “I thought that he really went out and right off the bat, as soon as he got on the field, his playing style was similar to what it was before. I’€™m not saying that’€™s the case for him, but until you actually see it, the player himself might be a little ‘€˜need to see it,’€™ and the coach might need to see it, too.”

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia

FOXBORO — For a second straight day, the Patriots had perfect attendance on a cold, gray day on the lower practice field outside Gillette Stadium.

The 11-3 Patriots are preparing for Sunday’s game against the 3-11 Jets at MetLife Stadium.

FOXBORO — For a second straight day, the Patriots had perfect attendance on a cold, gray day on the lower practice field outside Gillette Stadium.

The 11-3 Patriots are preparing for Sunday’s game against the 3-11 Jets at MetLife Stadium.

The presence of Julian Edelman is a good sign that he could be available after a concussion added to his name on the injury report Wednesday.

Edeman played in the final minutes of Sunday’s win and spoke postgame, leading to speculation that the injury occurred during Wednesday’s practice. Having him present at the start of practice on Thursday and again on Friday is a good sign for his availability Sunday.

The team worked out in sweats and shells.

For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia
Adam Schefter

Adam Schefter

ESPN’s Adam Schefter made his weekly appearance on Middays with MFB on Friday to talk about the Patriots, the Jets and other NFL news. To hear the interview, go to the MFB audio on demand page.

It’s expected that Rex Ryan is in his final days coaching the Jets, who are in last place in the AFC East at 3-11 as they prepare to host the Patriots on Sunday. Schefter said he does not believe Ryan will latch on with another team for the 2015 season.

“I think the chances of Rex Ryan staying in the NFL are slightly better than Jim Harbaugh going to Michigan,” Schefter said after predicting Harbaugh will not leave the pro game to coach his alma mater. “I think Rex Ryan is going to wind up on TV next year. That’s what I’m expecting. I think he’ll be in a studio somewhere. I think he’ll be dishing out opinions. He’ll be about being Rex. To me, just like I’m expecting Jim Harbaugh to be in the NFL, I’m expecting Rex Ryan to be in TV.”

Schefter predicted both Ryan and general manager John Idzik will be fired at season’s end, but he isn’t sure what will happen with inconsistent young quarterback Geno Smith.

“I think that they’re both going to be gone. That’s my read into the situation. I think they’re going to clean house,” Schefter said. “And depending on who they bring in as a head coach and a GM, then they can decide what they’re going to do with the quarterback. But I think that’s the direction that organization is moving right now. When you speak to people around the league, that’s what they believe will happen in New York.”

If the Patriots win Sunday and the Broncos lose to the Bengals on Monday night, that would make New England’s final regular-season game against the Bills unimportant. While it might be good for the Pats to protect some players by having them sit out the final, Schefter isn’t sure that would be the best situation.

“I think Denver wins on Monday night. Would I be surprised if they went into Cincinnati and lost? No. And you know what, I’ve got news for you: I almost think the Patriots are better off that way, with Denver winning,” Schefter said, adding: “To me, the best thing that could happen for the Patriots is that Denver wins out and New England wins out. If Denver loses and New England wins this week and you wrap up the [No. 1 seed], and then essentially you’re not playing for anything next week, and then you get a bye week, that’s three weeks [without a meaningful game].”

Added Schefter: “It just doesn’t come and go. You just can’t turn it on. You’ve got to go play. And the teams usually that fare the best in the postseason are the teams that are just rolling along at the end of the regular season and they just keep rolling into the postseason. And even the teams that start out that first weekend with a wild card win, they get some momentum going and start moving.

“So if you’re the Patriots and you wrap up home-field advantage this weekend and now you’re got a meaningless game next weekend against the Buffalo Bills, that means essentially you’re not playing a meaningful game for the three weeks. I don’t like that. That’s me. Now, Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots, they may want to sit him out, rest him and not give him any opportunities to be hurt. But every game they play is an opportunity for anyone to be hurt. That’s the way it goes. That’s the sport they play.”

Looking to the postseason, Schefter said the Patriots should feel confident against any opponent if the game is in Foxboro.

“The fact of the matter is if you’ve got them in New England, the Patriots should win every playoff game they play in New England,” Schefter said.

For more Patriots news, visit the team page at weei.com/patriots.

Blog Author: 
Jerry Spar