Tom Brady and the Patriots will need to play better than they did on Saturday in order to beat Pittsburgh. (James Lang/USA Today Sports)

Tom Brady and the Patriots will need to play better than they did on Saturday in order to beat Pittsburgh. (James Lang/USA Today Sports)

FOXBORO — Clearly, the Patriots did not play their best football in Saturday’s win over the Texans at Gillette Stadium. While they won by 18 points — 34-16 — it was about as poorly as a team could play and still win by that much.

As Bill Belichick noted to his team after the game, if it plays like that again, the season will likely be over.

Here are five things the Patriots need to clean up when taking on the Steelers Sunday in the AFC title game.

1. Turnovers

The Patriots turned the ball over three times in the divisional round game against the Texans. If they do that again, there’s almost zero shot of them winning. Besides Tom Brady throwing two interceptions, Dion Lewis put the ball on the ground twice, but luckily the Patriots recovered one of them. Belichick constantly preaches to the team to play turnover-free ball, as that is the No. 1 stat that correlates to winning.

New England is 20-1 in the postseason when winning the turnover battle and also, since 2001 when not turning the ball over the Patriots are 91-10. If the Patriots don’t turn the ball over there’s a good chance they will be going to Houston for the Super Bowl, but if they do multiple times, there’s a good chance they will be watching the game from the couch.

2. Red-zone efficiency

There’s nothing more frustrating than leaving points on the board in the postseason. When the Patriots reach the red zone, they need touchdowns. Even further, when the Patriots have goal-to-goal situations, they really need touchdowns. Including Saturday against Houston, the Patriots have scored touchdowns in 11 of their last 16 red-zone opportunities, but have only eight touchdowns in their last 12 goal-to-goal chances.

The possession that stands out most was at the end of the first half against the Texans. The Patriots had first-and-goal from the two-yard line and came away with a field goal. Sometimes the offense tries to get too cute in these situations instead of handing it off to the NFL’s rushing touchdown leader in LeGarrette Blount. When the Patriots have a goal-to-goal situation, they need to come away with a touchdown.

3. Protect Brady

If there’s a way to beat Brady and the Patriots offense, it’s to frustrate the quarterback and opponents can do that by hitting him. Just look at what Denver did to the Patriots in last year’s AFC championship game when he was hit 20 times. Against Houston, Brady was sacked twice, but hit eight times, the most in a game since Week 8. While the Steelers won’t be able to do some of the things Houston did on defense, when given the chance, the Steelers can deliver a big hit — just look at Matt Moore two weeks ago on wild card weekend. Keeping Brady protected is one of the biggest keys to the offense against Pittsburgh.

4. Defending running backs

If there is one thing the Patriots defense has struggled with over the course of the season it has been stopping opposing running backs, particularly out of the backfield. New England’s linebackers have had issues in coverage, especially Elandon Roberts and Shea McClellin. Roberts could be used more in this game because of his ability to stop the run, but then it leaves the defense vulnerable if the Steelers were to have Bell run routes out of the backfield. Bell also is one of, if not the best back in the league, and his patient running style is nearly impossible to stop. In the earlier meeting this season, Bell ran for 81 yards on 21 carries, while also catching 10 passes on 13 targets for 68 yards. In order to win, they will need to keep Bell in check.

5. No more bad penalties

New England committed five penalties for 50 yards in the win over the Texans, which is more than it would have liked. The biggest occurred on the third drive of the game for the Texans when they went three-and-out for a third straight possession, but cornerback Eric Rowe pulled Houston tight end Ryan Griffin out of a pile by his legs, which was a 15-yard penalty and gave Houston its first, first down of the game. The Texans had zero life to that point, but the penalty gave them a first down and eventually their first points of the game on a field goal. The play showed how much penalties can swing momentum in playoff games and the Patriots can’t afford to make the same mistake again.

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable

FOXBORO — Mike Tomlin is not pleased with his wide receiver.

After Antonio Brown posted a Facebook Live video from the locker room after the win over the Chiefs where Tomlin is seen calling the Patriots a-holes, Tomlin responded Tuesday.

Mike Tomlin addressed Antonio Brown's video on Tuesday. (Kirby Lee/USA Today Sports)

Mike Tomlin addressed Antonio Brown’s video on Tuesday. (Kirby Lee/USA Today Sports)

FOXBORO — Mike Tomlin is not pleased with his wide receiver.

After Antonio Brown posted a Facebook Live video from the locker room after the win over the Chiefs where Tomlin is seen calling the Patriots a-holes, Tomlin responded Tuesday.

“I’ll be bluntly honest here: It was foolish of him to do that,” Tomlin said to reporters on Tuesday. “It was selfish for him to do that. And it was inconsiderate for him to do that. Not only is it a violation of our policy, it’s a violation of league policy, both of which he knows. So there are consequences to be dealt with from his perspective. We will punish him. We won’t punish us. And we will do so swiftly, and we will do so internally.”

Tomlin added: “I’d imagine that there are consequences associated with the National Football League in that regard. I’m sure that he’ll appropriately absorb all of those things as he moves forward. But larger than that, he’s got to grow from this. He has to. He works extremely hard. He’s extremely talented. And those things get minimized with incidents such as this.”

Tomlin was not done there.

“You wear on your teammates when they have to routinely answer questions about things that aren’t football-related,” Tomlin said. “It’s our desire for him and everyone to be great teammates as well as great players. And he’s a great player, he’s a hard-working player. He is respected largely in the locker room for those things, but incidences such as this don’t help him in that regard, and that’s just the reality of it. In a nutshell, that’s going to be the gist of the conversation we have. And the reality is, those things don’t apply exclusively to Antonio. It’s a global thing in regards to professional sport. I think that’s oftentimes why you see great players move around from team to team. And I definitely don’t want that to be his story. I’m sure he doesn’t want that to be his story, so he has to address these things.”

While the team continues to say what happened wasn’t a distraction, Tomlin needing to spend this much time on it Tuesday of AFC championship certainly says otherwise.

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable

Roger Goodell will be in Atlanta for the NFC title game on Sunday. (Gary A. Vasquez/USA Today Sports)What an embarrassment.



Roger Goodell is not coming to New England.

A league spokesman told WEEI.com the NFL commissioner will attend the NFC championship game in Atlanta on Sunday, and not the AFC championship game at Gillette Stadium.

Roger Goodell won't be in New England on Sunday. (Brett Davis/USA Today Sports)

Roger Goodell won’t be in New England on Sunday. (Brett Davis/USA Today Sports)

Roger Goodell is not coming to New England.

A league spokesman told WEEI.com the NFL commissioner will attend the NFC championship game in Atlanta on Sunday, and not the AFC championship game at Gillette Stadium.

This will be the second straight weekend Goodell has been to Atlanta as he was there for the Falcons-Seahawks game last Saturday. He attended the Steelers-Chiefs game Sunday night and was in Seattle on wild card weekend.

Goodell hasn’t attended a game at Gillette Stadium since Deflategate began.

On Kirk & Callahan Monday, Tom Brady said he would be OK with Goodell coming to the game.

“He’s the commissioner, so obviously whatever he wants to do, he can do,” Brady said. “If he wants to come, that would be — yeah, he can come.”

The Boston Globe was first to report the news.

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

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable

On the Monday night midnight edition of SportsCenter with Scott Van Pelt, former Steelers defensive back Ryan Clark went on to help Van Pelt understand why Antonio Brown would post a Facebook Live video from the locker room after their win over the Chiefs.

Ryan Clark inferred Antonio Brown was selfish. (Jason Bridge/USA Today Sports)

Ryan Clark inferred Antonio Brown was selfish. (Jason Bridge/USA Today Sports)

On the Monday night midnight edition of SportsCenter with Scott Van Pelt, former Steelers defensive back Ryan Clark went on to help Van Pelt understand why Antonio Brown would post a Facebook Live video from the locker room after their win over the Chiefs.

Instead of defending him, he made him look worse by making him out to be a selfish player, who only cares about himself and building his brand.

Here is the exchange and you can be the judge.

SVP: This genuinely bothers me. I’m using words like locker room treason to describe what Brown does in this circumstance. Am I wrong?

Clark: Well, let me calm you down. I don’t want you to be bothered. I know for you right now you’re thinking to yourself he understands the rules of the locker room, he cares what is being said in the locker room, the team is more important than he is so for him to do this he had to knowingly make this mistake.

You’re wrong. Calm down. He’s in his own bubble. It’s about his brand. It’s more about how many followers I have and what do they think about me than what do my teammates and coaches think about me.

SVP: This is worse, all you’ve done now is make me more upset. … If my coach is speaking to me and my team after that victory I at least want to be present for that. So you’re telling me he doesn’t even care, because clearly Tomlin is speaking and Brown doesn’t even know or care he’s speaking.

Clark: To say that he doesn’t care about him speaking is to say he intentionally wants to disrespect Coach Tomlin. I don’t believe that. When we hear Coach Tomlin in the back, that is what we focus on. When we hear those words, when we hear those comments some of us get excited like me, some of us say, ‘I can’t believe Coach Tomlin said that because I’ve never seen him in that manner.’ … The person that does not hear it, the person that does not retain or listen to those words is Antonio Brown and at that point it is about him, it’s about what is on that phone and what people on that phone see. And so for us, we understand that now Coach Tomlin has given people a glimpse to his soul that he unknowingly gave them because of Antonio Brown’s Facebook Live. That is what infuriates us. When Antonio Brown did it, that wasn’t his thought process.

SVP: He’s been there long enough and is as good of player in the league. What I am hearing is, he’s ungovernable. No one can reach him and say, ‘Put the phone down.’

Clark: I think he will understand now, but my point is more to in the heat of the moment he saw nothing wrong with it. The thought process that you and I would go through that would be, ‘OK, if I do this, what else is happening?’ To even say to myself, I have friends getting out of the shower, teammates and players who aren’t dressed. I have a coach that is speaking. All of those things would go into our thought process of figuring out what is our next move.’

I’m saying Antonio Brown’s thought process didn’t go that way. Antonio Brown’s thought process went, ‘I have a ton of commercials. I’ve been on Dancing With the Stars. I understand this brand I have built. I’ve been on Ballers. I do all these things and here is how those were built.’ The problem is those were built because he is a heck of a football player. He grinded his butt off from a sixth-round draft pick to be where he is. Life has changed.

It’s changed from you and I. I saw a great tribute you did to your dad awhile back. It’s changed from wanting those people we love that way to compliment us — to say job well done, son. Job well done, Scott. Job well done, Ryan — to total strangers being more of a validation than like our family tells us.

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable

Facebook and Twitter crap never happens on Bill Belichick's watch. (Brian Fluharty/USA Today Sports)Bill Belichick once joked about MyFace.



Jan 8, 2017; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Miami Dolphins quarterback Matt Moore (8) passes against pressure from Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker Bud Dupree (48) during the second quarter in the AFC Wild Card playoff football game at Heinz Field. The Steelers won 30-12. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Bud Dupree (48) gets ready to lay out Dolphins quarterback Matt Moore during the second quarter in the AFC Wild Card playoff football game at Heinz Field. (Charles LeClaire/USA Today Sports)

The Patriots aren’t going up against the Steel Curtain Sunday in their mission to get to a record ninth Super Bowl. They are going up against a different type of Steeler defense – a type that’s been around for the better part of three decades.

And it’s a defense that’s been getting better and more aggressive as the season has progressed.

No team had more sacks in the second half of the season than the Steelers, who recorded 30 in the final nine games of the regular season. Their eight sacks against the Browns kicked off a seven-game winning streak to end the season. They continued it in the wild card round against the Dolphins with five sacks of Matt Moore.

They had just one against the Chiefs Sunday night but it was one by the ageless James Harrison. The Texans had the top-ranked defense in the NFL in terms of yards allowed but the way the Steelers are attacking the quarterback, they might be the most fearsome defense left in the playoffs.

“Yes, most players are playing at a very high level right now, and seem to get better as the year goes on,” Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said Monday.

“They’ve always had an element of those experienced veteran players really helping those younger players come along, and learn the system, and learn what it means to play the way they play in their scheme and their system. I think those are two good examples right there of guys that [are] much different in terms of their age and experience, but both physical guys, both very difficult to handle in the running game, set the edge in the running game and they do a good job of trying to knock people back.

“And then [they] can create pressure on the quarterback, whether it’s with speed or power, and they do it both. So, they fit into their scheme nicely, they’ve always done a great job of integrating young players into their scheme, because they know very specifically what they’re looking for. I think those two guys are a good example of what they’ve had for a long time and how they develop these young guys to play really well and integrate them into their system and into their defense.”

When the Steelers added Kevin Greene to the likes of Greg Lloyd, Levon Kirkland, Jason Gildon and Chad Brown in the mid-90s under Bill Cowher, “Blitzburgh” was born. In the 2000s, there was Joey Porter, James Farrior, LaMarr Woodley, Larry Foote and a young James Harrison out of Kent State.

Now, the Steelers have bookended the 38-year-old Harrison (in his second stint in Pittsburgh) with 23-year-old Bud Dupree, the 6-foot-4 beast out of Kentucky that laid out Moore with that devastating hit to the jaw in the wild card round. Throw in Ryan Shazier and Lawrence Timmons, and you have a group that is just as imposing as the group in the mid-90s.

“They have a lot of guys that can do different things,” McDaniels said. “Their down guys are not just run stoppers. [Stephon] Tuitt is a very active guy, and he’s created a lot of pressure on the quarterback from the spots that he plays. They’ll pressure people with pressures, so with linebacker blitzes, so guys like Timmons and Shazier and those types of guys, they all have sacks, they all have quarterback pressures. And then the edge rushers, the Harrison’s and the Dupree’s, those guys, I mean they’re constantly involved in the rush as well. It’s not just one guy; that’s the biggest thing.

“It’s the entire front, plus you’re going to get secondary pressures, their nickel back, their safeties are all involved in the blitz packages, which has kind of been a hallmark of their defense over many years. Those guys are going to get hits on the quarterback, and you’re going to have to pick them up in blitz pick-up and make sure that you don’t give them any easy plays there, too.

“So, you can’t really focus your attention on one or two guys. That’s not really what this defense is built on. They’re going to come at you in waves. Different people are going to come on different plays, and you’ve got to be ready to handle them all. And they’re all physical, athletic and they know exactly how to execute in their system and in their scheme. They’re extremely well-coached; [defensive coordinator] coach [Keith] Butler does a great job. I know [head coach] coach [Mike] Tomlin has always done a great job with them. We have a ton of respect for them, and like I said before, this is going to be a great challenge this week.”

This Pittsburgh defense has evolved over the years from the “Steel Curtain” of the 1970s that featured the most famous 4-3 personnel of all-time. On the line it was L.C. Greenwood and Dwight White on the outside and Joe Greene and Ernie Holmes on the inside. Behind them were Jack Lambert, Jack Ham and Andy Russell.

For perspective, Bill Belichick reminded everyone Monday where the seeds for dominant Pittsburgh defensive dominance were sewn. It was Belichick, in his first year in Cleveland in 1991, who coached against Chuck Noll in his final game in the NFL.

“I have great respect for what they’ve done through the years,” Belichick said. “Coach Noll was a tremendous coach. [He] did a great job of I’d say developing a certain style of play on that team, both offensively and defensively. Really he’s kind of the founder of Cover-2 with Bud Carson and the stunt 4-3 defense that they ran, which is a 4-3 – it’s similar to what we did in Cleveland. It has some principles to it. Spacing is different, but it has a lot of the same principles that I’ve used in coaching 3-4 and those types of defenses throughout my career, as well as the Cover-2 foundation that Coach Noll laid. And then Coach Cowher came in there and had tremendous success with their blitz-zone scheme.”

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia