It’s been a very interesting short week in Patriots Nation. After a surprising loss in Miami, The Patriots welcomed a new face, watched a valued contributor end his season, and put the league’s hottest team in its crosshairs. It’s all here in this latest edition of Patriots Dispatches.
So Long, South Beach
Credit should always be given where credit is deserved. Therefore, credit the Miami Dolphins on their 27-20 victory at Hard Rock Stadium on Monday Night. The Dolphins dominated all three phases of the game. The Patriots, on the other hand, looked ill-prepared and confused. Once again, the hate mongers gleefully lined up to declare the demise of the “overrated” Patriots and their “old,” “cheating” and “sulky” quarterback, Tom Brady.
Oh…they are having fun.
Well..go ahead folks…have your moment. Because, as history has taught us. It will not last long.
The Patriots will turn the page. They do it better than anyone. After New England’s loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on opening night, many were preparing the team’s obituary with a happy tear in one eye, and a stale chicken wing in the other. However, the Patriots have since compiled the second-best record in the Conference and still have a chance to secure the AFC’s top seed. This, despite a dismal performance on Monday night. Simply put, the Patriots ignore the negativity and persevere. Now, they must do it again.
Much to the chagrin of the vultures…oops… I mean “respected, unbiased journalists”..the Patriots are on to Pittsburgh. Sunday’s game will be the Pats biggest test of the season. Their total focus must be on the Steelers. Rest assured, head coach Bill Belichick and the coaching staff will ensure that. In doing so, they bid farewell to Miami.
They got beat. It was one game. It’s time to move on.
Cannon to IR
On Wednesday, the Patriots received yet more bad news on the injury front. Offensive tackle Marcus Cannon has a severe high ankle sprain that has landed him on season-ending Injured Reserve.
Cannon injured his ankle in the second quarter of their win over the Los Angeles Chargers on Oct. 29. Since then, he has remained in a walking boot. Cannon had played through a similar ankle injury in 2016. However, he is apparently headed for surgery, with the hope that he will be ready in time for 2018 OTAs.
Coach Belichick said earlier this year that the team was fortunate to have quality depth at offensive tackle. The team will now have to rely on it. In early November, offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia had referred to both five-year veteran, LaAdrian Waddle, and fourth-year player Cam Fleming as starting-caliber players. However, the loss of Cannon leaves a gaping hole in a suspect offensive line. With the playoffs approaching, protecting Tom Brady is of the highest importance. Unfortunately, Cannon’s loss makes certain that the task has become much more difficult.
A Patriotic Britt??
The Patriots signing of wide-receiver Kenny Britt is yet another low risk, high reward move by a franchise that seems to have mastered that art. That is not to say that every one of them has been successful (i.e. Albert Haynesworth, Michael Floyd, et.al). However, the Pats enter the deal with limited financial risk. They essentially get a chance to see how well Britt fits into their culture and catches on to their system. Once that has been determined, they can decide whether they want to continue with him in 2018 at reasonable financial levels.
Britt participated in his first practice with the Patriots on Wednesday and is wearing No. 85. His former Rutgers teammate, Devin McCourty, shared his enthusiasm for Britt’s arrival on Wednesday, but Britt himself wasn’t available to reporters.
Although new Cleveland Browns General Manager, John Dorsey, recently questioned his football character, it appears that a change of scenery may be beneficial to Britt. In fact, he is receiving praise at one of the highest levels.
At the conclusion of Thursday’s practice, quarterback Tom Brady praised Britt’s effort to fit in, on short notice.
“You know, he’s just kind of come in and worked hard the last couple days and trying to understand all the things we’ve got going. Hopefully, we can add something to the mix here in a short period of time. It’s always challenging for a guy to come in late and pick up everything at once, but hopefully, he can figure out a role. He’s had a lot of production and he’s going to have to go out and earn it, earn everybody’s trust to get out there, but he’s done a good job the first couple days.”
What a difference a culture of winning can make? One wonders whether John Dorsey considered that before choosing to criticise Kenny Britt?
This week, nothing’s bigger than Pittsburgh Steel
In case you haven’t heard, the AFC will showcase its two top teams on Sunday. The Patriots travel to the ‘The ‘Burgh” to take on Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, and the Pittsburgh Steelers.
At 11-2, the Steelers hold the best record in the AFC and are tied with the Philadelphia Eagles for the best record in the NFL. With an explosive offense and much-improved defense, the Steelers are a nightmarish matchup for almost any team. Normally, this is where one would say…’except for the Patriots.’ In years past that may have been the case. The Pats always seem to hold the Steelers’ ‘kryptonite’ However, this year might be a different story.
It can be said that Pittsburgh is a flawed 11-2 team. It can also be said, however, that the Patriots are a flawed 10-3 team. They still employ the league’s best quarterback in Tom Brady. They still have the genius of Bill Belichick stalking the sidelines. Therefore, the Pats will always have a chance to win each and every game they play. However, the Pats have struggled in two major areas this year: protecting their quarterback and preventing big yardage plays.
In an ironic twist, the Steelers have been quite adept at pressuring the quarterback on defense and gaining yards on offense. If Brady is pressured in a similar fashion to which he was against Miami, it could be a long day in the Steel City. Although Pittsburgh’s pass rush might have taken a step back following the tragic injury to Ryan Shazier, they still have formidable rushers in defensive ends, Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt, and linebacker Sean Spence.
Consequently, the Patriots defense might face its toughest task, as well. The Steelers boast one of the NFL’s most prolific offenses. Ben Roethlisberger is enjoying a stellar second half of the season. He will enter Sunday’s game, fresh off of a performance in which he passed for 506 yards and two touchdowns against the Baltimore Ravens. Antonio Brown leads all wide receivers with 1509 passing yards. Le’Veon Bell has returned to form as one of the most dangerous runners in the league. However, the Patriots have seen this before.
Here’s where the plot thickens…
The Steelers have two major weapons on the field this year, which were absent last year. Wide Receiver Martavis Bryant has returned from injury and provides Big Ben with an explosive target, should Antonio Bryant be blanketed by either Malcolm Butler or Stephon Gilmore, in the backfield. Also, the Steelers rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster is a tough receiver with big-play capability. For a team that has struggled to contain the big play, the Patriots could find themselves in an insurmountable hole, if they show any signs of struggle on defense.
In his Wednesday morning press conference, Bill Belichick used the following words to describe the Pittsburgh Steelers: “talented, well-balanced, tough, physical, hard-nosed, strong, and great” With the top spot in the AFC up for grabs, Belichick and the Patriots know how important it is to be focused on winning this game. It’s no easy task. It seldom is. However, no team has risen to that challenge as often as the New England Patriots in recent NFL history. They will be ready. It’s the Patriot Way. The Steelers will be ready as well. They are waiting. The time for the talk is just about over. It’s the Patriots versus the Steelers. It doesn’t get much better than this.
–Mike D’Abate is a Managing Editor and National Columnist for Full Press Coverage Sports Media. He covers the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Chargers. Follow him on Twitter @mdabateFPC