NFL Wire News

Pats know playoff bye week is not time off

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The New England Patriots have been to three straight AFC title games, five Super Bowls since 2001 and were in the postseason party 12 of the last 14 years.

But this is nothing they take for granted.

So while Bill Belichick and Tom Brady will be doing the same thing this winter they do almost every January for more than a decade, the New England coach will spend the bye week making sure his team knows exactly what to expect when it returns to action Jan. 10 for a divisional matchup at Gillette Stadium.

“I think the message is pretty much the same for everybody,” Belichick said Monday. “We all know, no matter how many times we’ve done it — single elimination, you put everything you have into it. There’s nothing to save it for, nothing to hold back. You compete with all you’ve got. I think that’s true for everybody.

“I don’t take it for granted. I’ve seen plenty of times young players go out there and sometimes they step up to the competition better than guys who are more experienced. I’ve seen it the other way too. I don’t know that there’s any set formula. I think we’re all in the same boat.”

As the No. 1 seed, the Patriots (12-4) will face the lowest remaining seed in the AFC when they return to the field in two weeks. That could mean a rematch with either the Bengals or Colts, teams New England blew out in the regular season, or a playoff rematch with a Ravens squad that has traveled to Foxborough in the postseason three times since 2010, winning two of those battles.

A portion of the bye week in New England will be spent laying the scouting foundation of preparation for each of the three would-be opponents. But there will also be a focus on self-scouting and cleaning up any issues Belichick sees with his team after 17 weeks of regular season action.

New England finished the year with the NFL’s No. 11 offense and No. 13 defense in terms of yards. Based on scoring, the Patriots ranked No. 4 on offense and No. 8 on defense, while leading the league in point differential. The team also tied for second in the league with a plus-12 turnover differential.

Still, the Patriots offense struggled at times down the stretch, especially early in games.

That’s one of the areas the team could look to upgrade with the extra time it has, in addition to simply enjoying the week off and getting healthy.

“In the short run, we’ve got to try to balance the looking at ourselves with looking ahead at what we’ll need to do, no matter who we play and then specifically once we know who we’ll play, how we want to play them,” Belichick said. “I’d say that’s really the emphasis for us this week, is to figure out certainly a condensed version of self-scouting and self-evaluation; projecting that going forward on a general term and then projecting it specifically once we know who we’re playing.

“Just from our standpoint, no matter who we play, there are things that we’re going to need to work on and need to do and want to improve on.”

While the Patriots offense will hope to be more productive and more of a fast-starter when playoff action kicks off in a couple weeks, the New England defense will be looking to maintain some of the momentum it’s built in recent weeks.

The defense hasn’t allowed a second-half touchdown in the last six games and has held the opposition to 17 or less in the last four contests.

“Well obviously you know we are going to take a look at ourselves and see where we’ve got to improve and try to get better first and foremost,” Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said. “We are going to try to divide our time up in a reasonable manner to make sure we have our avenues covered for the potentials that lie ahead. We’ll try to clean up and improve ourselves first and then take a look at the potentials that could come and put ourselves in position to be able to handle that situation when it declares itself.”

The playoffs might be old hat in New England but a decade without a Lombardi Trophy being added to owner Robert Kraft’s trophy room creates a hunger. And with the team utilizing a well-deserved week off, Belichick will be pounding home the importance of what’s to come on Jan. 10.

“This should be the best we all have,” Belichick concluded.

Meanwhile, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is once again a hot name as a potential candidate to earn a second chance as a head coach. McDaniels, who spent a year-plus as the Denver Broncos head coach from 2009-10 after leaving New England following the 2008 season is expected to be a considered for openings in San Francisco and Atlanta.

ESPN has reported that the 49ers will seek permission to interview McDaniels during New England’s bye this week.

REPORT CARD VS. Bills:

–PASSING OFFENSE: D — Whether it was Tom Brady in the first half or rookie backup Jimmy Garoppolo in the second half, neither New England quarterback found much comfort or rhythm against the Bills. Brady completed just eight of his 16 attempts for 80 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions for a 64.6 rating. Playing without top targets Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman, Brady led the Patriots to a mere two field goals in his playing time. The second-round pick Garoppolo hit on 10 of his 17 attempts in the second half for 90 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions for a 73.2 rating.

–RUSHING OFFENSE: C – The Patriots utilized a slew of backups on the offensive line and faced a solid Bills front, but still New England was able to put together a reasonably decent effort on the ground after a slow start. LeGarrette Blount returned from a shoulder injury to lead the way with 10 attempts for 62 yards, a big chunk coming on a 34-yard run down the right sideline in the second half.

–PASS DEFENSE: B-minus — Playing without starting corner Brandon Browner (groin) New England allowed a few too many Buffalo receivers to run open in the early going on Sunday. Darrelle Revis matched up with Sammy Watkins and allowed the rookie to notch a 43-yard catch-and-run on the Bills opening drive. Overall veteran Kyle Orton completed 16 of 23 throws for 176 yards with the one touchdown and no interceptions for a 106.4 rating.

–RUSH DEFENSE: B-minus — The final statistics for the Buffalo running game aren’t overly impressive. The Bills ran the ball 33 times for 104 yards for just a 3.2-yard average with a long run of a mere 8 yards on the afternoon. But playing against the bulk of the Patriots starters on the front seven, Buffalo was able to move the ball with some consistency on the ground early in the game on the way to the 17-6 halftime advantage.

–SPECIAL TEAMS: B-plus — As has been the case all season, New England’s special teams units closed out the season with an impressive performance against the Bills. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski hit his three field goal attempts (24, 44, and 35) for New England’s only points on the day, while also putting all two of his four kickoffs for touchbacks. The Pro Bowler also saved a touched with a tackle on Buffalo returner Marcus Thigpen on a 49-yard kickoff return. Ryan Allen handled a couple off-target snaps on his four punts, averaging 43.5 yards with one downed inside the 20.

–COACHING: B — The Patriots managed their personnel and left the regular season finale with key stars Brady, Revis and Gronkowski healthy. That mattered probably more than a win. Belichick certainly used caution by keeping plenty of guys with minor injuries — Dan Connolly, Julian Edelman, Dont’a Hightower, Sebastian Vollmer and Brandon Browner — out of the finale. He also chose to sit a healthy Gronkowski.


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