NFL

NFL AM: Pats Drop Another Game, Lose 2 Spots In AFC

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Costly Loss For New England

Coming off their first lost of the year, the Philadelphia Eagles coming to Foxboro should have been exactly what the doctor ordered for the New England Patriots.

What followed was an epic debacle against a bad football team as New England lost their second straight game, 35-28.

The Patriots allowed a pair of special teams scores, one on a blocked punt and the other on a Darren Sproles punt return touchdown, along with a 99-yard pick six by Malcolm Jenkins.

“It takes those things to win in this stadium, against that coach and that quarterback,” Eagles head coach Chip Kelly said.

Although they put up 28 points, the Patriots offense hasn’t looked the same since Julian Edelman went down.  In the first nine weeks of the season, all wins, New England averaged 33.7 points per game.  In their last three games, which they’ve lost two of, the Pats average has dropped to just 24 points per game.

“We’d love to have everybody healthy. I think everybody would love that,” Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said. “It’s just not the reality at this point.”

The loss moves New England to 10-2, and they’ve fallen from the top seed in the AFC to the third-seed right now.  Not only would they have to go on the road for a possible date against Cincinnati or Denver, or possibly both, but they’d have to play an extra game against a team like Kansas City or Pittsburgh in the first round of the playoffs.

The Patriots closing schedule features three road games, at Houston, at the New York Jets and at Miami with a home date against the Tennessee Titans sandwiched between the Texans and Jets games.

Current No. 2 seed Denver’s closing schedule includes home games with Oakland, Cincinnati and San Diego, with a road date at Pittsburgh sandwiched between the Raiders and Bengals games.

The current No. 1 seeded Cincinnati Bengals closing schedule includes a home game against Pittsburgh, followed by road trips to San Francisco and Denver, before closing the season at home against Baltimore.

If the Patriots win out, they’ll be the No. 2 seed at worst, which will be necessary if New England expects to get back to the Super Bowl.

Jets Win Battle of New York

The last two times the Jets and Giants met in the “battle of New York,” the Giants not only won the game but went on to win the Super Bowl.

The G-Men lost on Sunday, 23-20 in overtime, and they’re going to need some sort of miracle if they’re going to play in Santa Clara in February.

The Giants went scoreless in the second half and their offense looked pretty much like a one-hit wonder starring Odell Beckham, Jr. all afternoon.  The second-year superstar from LSU had slightly more than half of New York’s receiving yards (149 of 297) and caught the only touchdown the Giants scored on offense.

Normally, if you can slow down Beckham, you can beat the Giants.  Right now the Giants are so bad you don’t even need to slow him down to win.

With the victory, the Jets improved to 7-5 and took one step closer to becoming a Wildcard team.  Gang Green won the battle in the trenches and Ryan Fitzpatrick had another mistake-free football game, going 36 for 50, for 390 yards with a pair of touchdowns.

“Fitz did a great job,” Jets head coach Todd Bowles said. “Obviously he had more poise, which we talked about this week, all we talked about was poise and doing the right things in the fourth quarter. He was under control. The guys followed him. He made some good throws. Those guys made some good catches.”

Bowles continued the praise of his quarterback when asked if this was the best he’s seen him.

“I thought it was great last week as well, so I don’t know if it was the best I’ve seen him, but it was the most poised I’ve seen him in these situations,” the Jets head coach explained.  “We had Buffalo in a big game. We didn’t get it done. We had New England, we didn’t get it done. So to come out in a meaningful game, for them to get it done in the fourth quarter we obviously learned some things.”

Although Beckham gets most of the headlines as the best receiver in New York (or anywhere else), it was his counterpart, veteran Brandon Marshall that made the big plays on Sunday.  Marshall caught a nine-yard touchdown pass with just 27 seconds left that tied the game.  The catch capped a huge day for “The Beast,” as he finished with 12 catches for 131 yards.

The duo of Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning seem to have “nine lives,” but it feels like this year is different, and it will likely be the end for the two-time Super Bowl winning head coach.  Coughlin isn’t entirely to blame, as injuries have depleted a paper-thin roster set up by general manager Jerry Reese.

The Giants have always been New York’s team, just like the Yankees in baseball.  This year we saw New York’s “other” baseball team, the Mets go all the way to the World Series.  It looks like the younger brother’s in football have also taken over the mantle as New York’s best team.

Vikings Lose To Another Winning Team

Now that we’re in the final quarter of the season, we’re seeing the legitimate contenders step up, while the pretenders are toiling in mediocrity.

The team that nobody wants to play in the NFC playoffs is obviously the two-time defending NFC champion Seattle Seahawks.  Playing in their first game this year without tight end Jimmy Graham, who was lost for the season in last Sunday’s win with a torn patellar, Seattle dominated from kickoff to gun in a 38-7 win over the Minnesota Vikings.

“It wasn’t very good on any phase of our football team,” Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer said. “Seattle did a good job, I give them credit for the way they played, beat us in every phase.”

As good as Seattle looked, this game showed why the Vikings aren’t a contender.

With the Atlanta Falcons loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Minnesota may be a first place team but they still haven’t defeated a winning team all season long.

“Well, we kind of got away from who we are a little bit once the score got to 14-0,” Zimmer explained. “Then threw an interception, it was a poor throw by Teddy [Bridgewater]. Then it was 21-0 at halftime. We still couldn’t get anything going offensively. We didn’t block good, we didn’t throw the ball good today.

The Vikings are simply a one-dimensional team that’s very easy to defend, and among the three starting second-year quarterbacks, Teddy Bridgewater is clearly the worst.  Even if you add this year’s rookie class to the mix, Bridgewater would be selected fifth of the five signal callers.

Rookie QB’s Lead Their Teams To Wins

Speaking of this year’s rookie class of quarterbacks, both Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota found victories on the same day for the first time in their NFL careers.

We suspect that it won’t be the last time.

Winston kept his flare for the dramatic going as he led the Bucs on a game-winning drive as he found Mike Evans for a six-yard score with 1:39 left to give Tampa a 23-19 victory over the Atlanta Falcons.  The first-overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft wasn’t great for much of the game, but he was when he needed to be.

“I think he’s a ball player,” Bucs head coach Lovie Smith said after the game. “I think he can throw the ball. When you say the look you would like for the quarterback throwing the ball – to me, Jameis. Tell me a better running quarterback in the league right now than Jameis Winston right now. After that run, I’d say he’s a pretty good runner too. I think he fits the profile. Right up until the end there was confidence that he had that we can go down and score again even after that fumble that we can’t do.”

The victory evened the Bucs record at 6-6, and likely ensures that head coach Lovie Smith will be returning for a third season.

Meanwhile in Nashville, Mariota was nothing short of spectacular as his Tennessee Titans beat the Jacksonville Jaguars in a 42-39 shootout.

Mariota shouldn’t be judged on team success, because the Titans haven’t had much, but he was tremendous on Sunday.  The second-overall pick completed 20 of 29 throws, for 268 yards with three touchdowns and an interception, which was the result of a perfectly thrown, dropped pass.  Mariota also used his legs as a weapon as he scampered for an 87-yard touchdown, en route to a nine carry, 112-yard rushing performance.

“It’s going to be hard to catch him,” Titans interim head coach Mike Mularkey said when he was asked what he was thinking on Mariota’s touchdown run.  “Again, I think I said, this is about as healthy as he has been since week two in Cleveland. It was a great effort by a lot of guys, last one I can remember was Kendall Wright, there was one more guy that had a chance to make a play, there was a linebacker down there. I know there’s guys in pursuit, but we’ve got guys in pursuit too. I mean that is what they have done, they have made the effort to finish plays 80 yards down the field to spring a touchdown, that’s a good thing to show these guys what it takes. That’s making a play.”

Make no mistake, this is not a Peyton Manning-Ryan Leaf situation.  Both Winston and Mariota are very good and both teams are fortunate to have hope at the most important position in the game.

 


About Charlie Bernstein

Charlie Bernstein

Charlie Bernstein is the managing football editor for Football Insiders and has covered the NFL for over a decade.  Charlie has hosted drive time radio for NBC and ESPN affiliates in different markets around the country, along with being an NFL correspondent for ESPN Radio and WFAN.  He has been featured on the NFL Network as well as Sirius/XM NFL Radio and has been published on Fox Sports, Sports Illustrated, ESPN as well as numerous other publications.