According to our friend Sarah Wroblewski of Fox 25, it should be clear and cool for Sunday’s contest between the Patriots and Rams in Foxboro.

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price
November 20, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; New England Patriots running back Dion Lewis (33) during the second quarter against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium. The Patriots defeated the 49ers 30-17. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Dion Lewis has hit the ground running in his return to the NFL this season. (Kyle Terada/USA Today Sports)

FOXBORO — Dion Lewis is ready to show everybody he’s back for real.

In two games back, the running back who led the 2015 Patriots in yards from scrimmage before his ACL tear on Nov. 8, 2015, has eased his way back into the rhythm of the Patriots offense. Now with Rob Gronkowski out for the season following back surgery, it’s Lewis who might be called upon to finally get up to speed and pick up some of the slack.

Against San Francisco, he played 21 offensive snaps. Last week against the Jets, he played 23. Against the Niners, he carried the ball five times for 23 yards. In the passing game, he was targeted five times, caught three passes for 26 yards.

Last week, he carried the ball six times for 24 yards. He was targeted by Tom Brady seven times, catching four passes for 34 yards. Perhaps most telling is how Lewis has been used in the red zone. Inside the 20, he ran three times. He’s been targeted in the passing game in the red zone once each against San Francisco and the Jets.

“I think Dion has gotten better progressively each practice, each week,” Bill Belichick said. “Based on watching him practice for a couple weeks before we activated him, we felt comfortable playing him, and that’s part of his game, obviously, is his quickness, his change of direction, his acceleration. I think all of those things were evident. I think they’ve gotten better, but I think they were all evident when he returned to practice after the original – I’d say the initial break-in period.”

Lewis jokes about his 5-foot-8 stature and his ability to take the hits in the NFL game.

“I wouldn’t say survival. I would say survival for them,” Lewis joked this week. “Nah, I don’t mind getting hit but I’m not going to let somebody get me. If I can avoid getting hit, I’m definitely going to try and do that. I try to use my lower center of gravity to my advantage.”

Ironically, it wasn’t a hit that ended his 2015 season. He made a cut back to the inside on a run to the right edge against the Redskins in the first half. His left knee gave and he went down. A year later, he’s ready to finally pick up where he left off.

“If I didn’t think I was ready to go, I wouldn’t play in the game,” Lewis said. “If I didn’t think I can make anybody miss, I wouldn’t play in a game because that’s what I do and that’s how I protect myself so just a lot of hard work,” Lewis said. “Just happy to be back out there with my teammates. It was a tough road. But it made me, it didn’t break me. I stayed positive, kept working and knew that what I had to do was going to be tough but everybody can’t do it. If it was easy, everybody would do it and everybody can’t do it. I like to think of myself as a competitor and I like to go out there and try to make things happen and try to be the best player and person I can be.

“I feel good. I’m getting better every week, getting back in my rhythm. The past two weeks I’ve felt pretty good and trying to build on that. A little bit but I feel good when I’m out there so I just got to get used to playing football again. That’s pretty much the biggest part of it.”

Several times, the Patriots have also gone with a two-back look of Lewis and James White.

“It’s just a different look, gives the defense something to worry,” Lewis said. “Just trying to get matchups. We work great together.”

Against the Rams, Lewis will be facing someone on the other side of the line with whom he’s very familiar. Defensive tackle Aaron Donald was a freshman at Pitt when Lewis was a senior. Now Donald is considered one of the very best defensive linemen in the NFL.

“He’s an explosive player. He works really hard and we’re going to have to focus on him,” Lewis said. “He’s a great player. He was a freshman. Very explosive, very powerful, very quick. Not even that big, really, but he’s one of the best linemen in the league.”

 

 

Lewis admitted that it was difficult watching his teammates.

“Yeah, it’s tough watching, rooting for these guys every week as much as I can,” Lewis said. “It just made me want to work harder so I could get out there and help the team win. I just try to make the defender make the first move and I just react off what he does. Just stay patient and force his hand and then just react off what he does.”

Any other secrets to conditioning for Lewis?

“I’ve got a couple of secrets,” Lewis said. “Nah, I can’t tell you that. It won’t be a secret anymore.”

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia

The Patriots officially ended all doubt when it came to Rob Gronkowski on Saturday, placing him on injured reserve and officially ending his 2016 season.

The tight end, who suffered a back injury, finishes his year with 25 receptions for 540 yards with three touchdowns.

Rob Gronkowski

Rob Gronkowski

The Patriots officially ended all doubt when it came to Rob Gronkowski on Saturday, placing him on injured reserve and officially ending his 2016 season.

The tight end, who suffered a back injury, finishes his year with 25 receptions for 540 yards with three touchdowns.

To take his spot on the roster, the Patriots activated running back D.J. Foster. The 23-year-old Foster was released from the 53-man roster on Nov. 28, 2016 and signed to the practice squad on Nov. 20. The 6-foot, 195-pounder, was originally signed by the Patriots as a rookie free agent out of Arizona State on May 6 and made the 53-man roster out of training camp. He played in three games and accrued 24 yards rushing on seven attempts for a 3.4 average and caught one pass for two yards.

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

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price

On Friday night, Rob Gronkowski posted a video on Instagram following his back surgery earlier in the day.

On Friday night, Rob Gronkowski posted a video on Instagram following his back surgery earlier in the day.

A day later, the Patriots tight end posted the same video to Facebook, but with the caption: Succesfull surgery!!! Went as planned. Starting rehab now. #PimpWalker

It’s expected Gronkowski will miss the remainder of the season.

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable
It could be a record-setting game for Tom Brady. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

It could be a record-setting game for Tom Brady. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

After a busy week with Rob Gronkowski needing back surgery and missing the rest of the season, the Patriots will need to put the news behind them and focus on the task at hand of beating the Rams. Los Angeles comes in with a 4-7 record, while the Patriots are 9-2.

Here are 10 things to know heading into the contest.

(As always, thanks to the Patriots media relations staff for the help with some of these from this week’€™€™€™€™€™s media guide.)

1. The Patriots haven’t lost two straight home games since 2008. Since 2001, New England is 104-21 at home during the regular season.

2. New England has the best winning percentage in the NFL since 2001 in the month of December. The Patriots are 54-10 (.844) in the month, while the Steelers are next-best at 46-19 (.708)

3. There’s a huge difference for Tom Brady with Gronkowski in the lineup. Since 2010, Brady is 69-17 with a 65.5 percent completion percentage and is averaging 290.8 passing yards per game. Without Gronkowski, Brady is 12-5 with a 57.5 completion percentage and is averaging 257.8 passing yards per game.

4. The Rams are 20th in the NFL in rushing defense, allowing 112.3 yards per game. Since 2001, when outrushing their opposition in the regular season, the Patriots are 125-16.

5. The Patriots are second in the NFL with a 8.7 point average scoring margin. They are right behind the Cowboys, who are at 8.8. Conversely, the Rams are -6.

6. Since 2008, the Patriots lead the NFL with 55 games without turning the ball over. They are 50-5 in those games.

7. James White is fourth in the entire NFL in yards after the catch with 403. Le’Veon Bell leads the league with 491.

8. Since Brady returned, the Patriots have scored in 26 of 28 quarters.

9. With a win, the Patriots will have double-digit wins in 14 straight seasons, joining the 49ers from 1983-98 (16 seasons) as the only teams to have at least 10 straight double-digit win seasons.

10. The magic number is 23. Including the playoffs, New England is 172-15 when scoring 23 or more points under Bill Belichick.

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable
Tom Brady and Martellus Bennett have the Patriots holding firm at the No. 2 spot. (Ken Blaze/USA Today Sports)

With no Rob Gronkowski in the lineup, Tom Brady and Martellus Bennett will be working closely together down the stretch. (Ken Blaze/USA Today Sports)

Here’s everything you have to know about Sunday’s game between the Patriots (9-2) and the Rams (3-8) at Gillette Stadium.

WHEN THE PATRIOTS RUN THE BALL

New England now features three primary backs, not counting “Brandon” and “Danny,” as part of its ground game. The between-the-tackles work will continue to be done by LeGarrette Blount (212 carries, 869 yards, 12 TDs), while Dion Lewis (11 carries, 47 yards) and James White (28 carries, 112 yards) will offer support, as well as a third-down option for Tom Brady. Blount still figures to be the man, especially if the game gets out of hand early. He’s 138 yards from tying his career-high for yards in a season, and while he probably won’t reach the milestone Sunday against Los Angeles, he’s got a good chance of at least nearing the mark. Look for the occasional two-back set of White and Lewis. We saw it occasionally last week against the Jets, and could be an intriguing combo going forward. Overall, Los Angeles is 20th against the run (112.3 rushing yards allowed per game), and has struggled as of late, allowing an average of 149 rushing yards per contest in the last three games. That includes yielding a season-high 209 rushing yards last week in a loss to the Saints.

WHEN THE PATRIOTS PASS THE BALL

With no Rob Gronkowski in the lineup anymore, Brady (68 percent completion rate, 2,201 yards, 18 TDs, 1 INT, 116.7 passer rating) and the Patriots passing game will change its focus to more of a spread look with an emphasis on multiple (three and four) receiver sets. That’s not to say we won’t see plenty of work for Martellus Bennett (42 catches, 54 targets, 540 yards, 4 TDs), who will be asked to continue to produce at a high level in the wake of the loss of Gronkowski. It’s only to suggest that it’ll be the likes of Julian Edelman (64 catches, 100 targets, 617 yards, 2 TDs), Danny Amendola (20 catches, 25 targets, 213 yards, 4 TDs), Chris Hogan (23 catches, 35 targets, 461 yards, 2 TDs) and Malcolm Mitchell (16 catches, 27 targets, 235 yards, 3 TDs) will get more targets going forward. That doesn’t even begin to take into account the White/Lewis combo, which caught eight passes last week out of the backfield and will continue to account for a sizable portion of the passing game the rest of the way.

Los Angeles is actually pretty good when it comes to pass defense (seventh in the league at 227.5 passing yards allowed per game). Aaron Donald is a terrifying pass rushing presence along the interior, and one of the best young linemen in the league. The 6-foot-1, 285-pounder will present a sizable challenge for New England’s offensive line — he has 35 tackles (28 solo) this year, to go along with a team-high six sacks. Defensive end Robert Quinn has four sacks on the year, while ex-Patriot Dominique Easley has 2.5 sacks of his own. Los Angeles is middle of the pack when it comes to forcing turnovers (13 takeaways are tied for 19th in the league). Linebacker Mark Barron leads the team with two picks.

WHEN THE RAMS RUN THE BALL

Todd Gurley (200 carries, 641 yards, 4 TDs) is going to get his shot against the Patriots on Sunday. Gurley is pretty much the only back worth mentioning, other than Benny Cunningham (20 carries, 102 yards, 16 catches, 91 yards), who is basically a changeup/third-down guy. Overall, the Rams are 29th in rushing (83.1 yards per game). New England’s run defense has improved over the next few weeks since allowing 167 yards on the ground against the Bills at the end of October, and when you look at this matchup, it certainly appears that the Patriots have an opportunity to take another step in the right direction. Overall, New England is 13th in the league against the run, allowing an average of 99.5 rushing yards per game.

We’re not sure if it’s more appropriate to blame the passing game or the running game, so we’ll just leave this here because there’s little to talk about when you’re discussing the Los Angeles running game: The biggest problem with the Rams’ offense is the fact that they can’t score. Los Angeles is dead last in the league in points per game at 15.5 points per game. Blame Jeff Fisher, blame his reticence to go to Jared Goff, blame the playcalling or the personnel. In six of their 11 games this year, the Rams have scored 10 points or less. That’s astounding to me. That, combined with the Patriots elite-level scoring defense, means that Los Angeles will struggle to hit 15 points on the afternoon.

WHEN THE RAMS PASS THE BALL

Predictably, Goff — who will be making just the third start of his professional career Sunday in Foxboro — is still pretty raw. In his two starts, he’s a combined 37-for-63 (59 percent) for 348 yards, three touchdowns, one interception and a passer rating of 83.3. He was kind of all over the place in his first start, but there were flashes of positivity from last week against the Saints, when he tossed three touchdown passes in a 49-21 loss. The leading offensive options for Goff in the passing game are wide receiver Kenny Britt (54 catches, 81 targets, 788 yards, 4 TDs) and wide receiver Tavon Austin (44 catches, 79 targets, 401 yards, 3 TDs). Overall, the Rams are 29th in passing (212 yards per game), but most of those numbers came with former starter Case Keenum under center instead of Goff, so take them for what it’s worth.

On the other side, the Patriots are 18th in the league when it comes to pass defense, allowing an average of 253.6 yards per game. The pass defense numbers have been pretty good over the last two months or so, as the Patriots have allowed just three quarterbacks (Landry Jones, Russell Wilson and Ryan Fitzpatrick) to top 250 yards in the last nine games. Pay attention, because there will likely be some new looks thrown at the rookie, who is still so green he doesn’t know what he doesn’t know yet.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Stephen Gostkowski is 16-for-20 on field goals and 31-for-34 on extra points. Punter Ryan Allen’s 44.2 average is 25th in the league, while his 40.9 net is ninth. New England has had a bunch of different kick and punt returners this year, and the Patriots are 27th in the league in kick returns (19.1 yards per return) and 17th in punt returns (8.6 yards per return). New England doesn’t have a return for touchdown this season.

Put Johnny Hekker on Bill Belichick’s crush list right now. The Rams would be well served to keep someone with the punter at all times while they’re here, lest Belichick thinks about abducting him. He averaged averages 46.7 yards per punt (eighth in the league) and has a 44.9 yard net (second in the league). Kicker Greg Zuerlein is 15-for-18 on field goals and 17-for-17 on extra points — he’s one of eight kickers with at least 15 extra-point tries who is perfect on the year. Austin has been their primary punt returner (eight yards per return), while Cunningham has worked as their primary kick returner (18 returns and an average of 28.2 yards per chance).

THE PATRIOTS ARE IN TROUBLE IF… the Rams are able to break at least two special teams plays and can figure out a way to generate consistent pressure on Brady with just Donald, Quinn and Easley.

THE RAMS ARE IN TROUBLE IF… Goff plays like most rookie quarterbacks have against Belichick since 2001. In that time, no rookie quarterback in his first or second start against the Patriots has beaten Belichick in New England. Overall — both home and away — Belichick has faced 22 quarterbacks in that time, and he’s 17-5 against them.

UNDER THE RADAR PERFORMER: We used to love putting tight ends here, because so many relatively anonymous guys at that spot would manage a big catch or two in a big moment against New England. Now, we’ve moved on to speedy receivers who aren’t necessarily the first or second option, but have the ability to get behind a defense. This week, that’s Brian Quick (30 catches, 50 targets, 445 yards, 3 TDs). The Rams will likely play it cautious this week offensively — that was one of the reasons that Goff looked better against the Saints than he did in his first start against the Dolphins. But when Goff looks deep, he’s going to be looking for the 6-foot-3, 218-pound Quick, a sizable target who lives up to his name. Tops on yards per catch among the Los Angeles regulars, his 14.8 yards per reception is a terrific indicator of his ability to stretch the defense. One to watch for on Sunday.

BY THE NUMBERS: 7 — Goff, one of the youngest quarterbacks in the league this year, was seven years old when Brady and the Patriots won Super Bowl XXXVI.

QUOTE OF NOTE: “Well, they’re all different. I have a place in my heart for LeGarrette [Blount], because I gave him a start [with Tennessee], and I have great respect for him. He’s a big back, and he’s hard to get down. And as they rotate through, different guys play in different situations, and they do a good job with it. He knows where the ball’s going to go, and the guys are very, very disciplined. I’ve been impressed with Brandon and what he’s done out of the backfield. You’ve got to deal with him, in addition to Danny. You’ve got playmakers all around, so we have to play sound defense.” — Fisher, answering a question about the New England ground game. For the record, Brandon could be Brandon Bolden, but he hasn’t played on a regular basis since 2012. The Patriots do not have a running back named Danny.

PREDICTION: When you consider the matchups on both sides of the ball, the Patriots should dominate this one. The Rams have done a few really nice things defensively, and the Los Angeles front four is very impressive. But in the end, it’s not going to be enough to keep up with New England. Expect the Patriots to go small and lean on their undersized crew of pass catchers, as well as a sizable dose of Bennett and Blount. On defense, this is the last chance to really fine tune things before a key back-to-back against the Ravens and Broncos. My take? Brady gets his record-setting win, Mitchell and Blount each get touchdown passes and Bennett says something noteworthy after the game. Patriots 31, Rams 14.

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price

It doesn’t look like the Patriots will be playing without Alan Branch after all.

According to Field Yates of ESPN, Branch has won his appeal for violating the NFL’s drug use policy and he will not be suspended four games.

Alan Branch

Alan Branch

It doesn’t look like the Patriots will be playing without Alan Branch after all.

According to Field Yates of ESPN, Branch has won his appeal for violating the NFL’s drug use policy and he will not be suspended four games.

Branch was originally suspended early last week for allegedly using marijuana, but appealed the suspension and thus was able to play against the Jets.

Now that he has won his appeal, he will play on.

The defensive tackle is having one of his best seasons as he currently has 39 tackles and a sack.

New England did add a defensive tackle earlier this week in Darius Kilgo, claiming him off waiver from the Broncos.

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

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable