Friday, October 30, 2015

Patriots Destroy Dolphins 36-7

The Patriots put the wood to the Dolphins last night, crushing them 36-7 in a game that frankly wasn't even that close. The win gives the Pats a stranglehold on the AFC East; a two-game lead over the Jets, and a four-game lead over Miami and over Buffalo. Next up is a 10-day respite before taking on Washington at home.

This game was over before it began. Miami simply was not prepared for what they would face in Foxboro, and the short week of preparation did them no favors. The Patriots played crisper, with more purpose, and their offensive and defensive game plans gave them a decided advantage over the less-talented and still-building Dolphins.

Even though the team scored 36 points, this game was more about their stifling defense. A week after the Dolphins racked up 248 yards on the ground, the Patriots held them to just 15. That might be the biggest one-week drop-off in NFL history. And credit is due not only to the players, who were flying all over the place, but to the defensive coaches, who put together a great plan and also had some perfectly timed mix-it-up calls that confounded Miami.

The defensive line was largely responsible for holding down the Miami running game. They blitzed a fair amount to get pressure on quarterback Ryan Tannehill, ending up in 5 sacks and 10 QB hits (along with 8 tackles for a loss). Chandler Jones led the way with 2 sacks, 4 tackles (2 for a loss), and 2 QB hits. He and Rob Ninkovich (1 sack of his own) also did a great job holding the edge to funnel running plays back inside. And once there, it was gang tackles by the interior linemen (too many to mention here).

Linebacker Dont'a Hightower is playing at an extremely high level. He had 3 tackles, a sack, and 3 QB hits, and he also redirected plays to other defenders. Between him and Jamie Collins, they shut down most everything across the short-middle. Jonathan Freeny continues to get more snaps than Jerod Mayo, and it's curious, as there doesn't seem to be anything special about Freeny. The situation bears watching; we could be seeing either the last days of Mayo or he could be recovering from injury.

Patrick Chung led the secondary again, making plays against both the pass and the run and hitting hard when he tackled. Corner Logan Ryan still is behind too many plays, but he led the team with 7 tackles, knocked down a pass, and got an interception in the game, so it was worth it on Thursday. Safety Devin McCourty's play has slipped a little, and I'm not sure why. But he is extremely valuable in coverage of tight ends and he even got a sack yesterday.

A shoutout to the defensive coaches. They played two-gap on the line all night, and when they needed a big play on third-and-one, they sent everyone one-gap and blew up the run before it could get started. Result: punt. On another play, they had been sending blitzes throughout the game, but this time they dropped eight into coverage and confused Miami. Result: interception by Duron Harmon.

Excellent scheming and play-calling like this gives the Patriots a chance against any team. Their offense already rocks the house, and when the defensive coaches are on their game like they were Thursday, the team is close to unstoppable.

On offense, a week after New England abandoned the run against the Jets, the opening touchdown drive was four pass plays and four running plays. It was amazing to see LeGarrette Blount push and plow his way for 72 yards (on 17 carries), especially given that the bulk of Miami's defensive talent was on the defensive line and the Pats dressed only six offensive linemen.

The offensive line did a great job run-blocking, with assists from two tight ends. Michael Williams mostly helped left tackle Sebastian Vollmer, while Rob Gronkowski hardly split out, mostly sticking with tackle Cameron Fleming on the right side. The O-line still needs work in pass protection, but they are improving -- and would do even better if they could get healthy.

(Note: the close-in alignment gave Gronkowski more free releases, just as I said it would last week. Here's hoping they stick with it; it really takes best advantage of his abilities.)

Going with this lineup also allowed the Pats more options protecting quarterback Tom Brady, and he took full advantage. Brady finished the game 26-38 for 356 yards, 4 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, and a 133.2 QB rating. On the season, he has 20 touchdowns and 1 interception -- almost unimaginable. (Trivia Question: what was Brady's best season-long TD-to-INT ratio, and what year did he get it? Answer below.) And bear in mind that his pass protection wasn't great; his success is mostly due to his quick release and amazing rapport with his receivers.

Speaking of receivers, where o where to start? Gronkowski did most of the damage, 6 catches for 113 yards and a long touchdown to open the game. He also blocked very well on running plays and in pass protection. Julian Edelman caught 7 balls for 81 yards and did a nice job stretching for the end zone on both of his touchdowns. Brandon LaFell caught 4 passes, and running back Dion Lewis had 6 grabs for 93 yards and 1 touchdown (all in the first half), and he always seems to make the first guy miss when he gets the ball outside the numbers.

Special teams gave up one big kickoff return (thankfully it didn't amount to anything), but Stephen Gostkowski set a Patriots record with his 25th consecutive successful field goal -- guess whose record he broke :) The punting was a mismatch in favor of Miami, but that seemed to be skewed by several punts with the wind (one of 70 yards).

The only problem on the coaching front is the number of penalties. The Pats had 8 for 69 yards yesterday, giving them a total of 50 infractions on the year for 456 yards (11th and 7th worst in the league, respectively). There were too many "concentration" penalties Thursday (false starts, illegal man down field, etc.), and sometime soon this could bite them in the ass.

So where does that leave us? 7-0 and rolling is all you can say. Washington has been playing better of late, but expect Belichick's stellar record against the NFC to come to the fore here. Besides, their quarterback, Kirk Cousins, has never faced the Patriots -- and that usually doesn't go well the first game.

Non-Brady MVP of the Week: Dion Lewis emerged from a crowded field to get this award. It was a toss-up between him and Gronkowski, but Lewis' receiving yards in the first half were more important to keeping Miami off-balance.

Statistical Oddity of the Week: Rob Gronkowski has a remarkable 61 touchdowns in 61 starts. Other Hall of Fame tight ends -- don't ask, it isn't even close. G.O.A.T.

Weekly Water-cooler Wisdom: "I expected the outcome, but that was one of the best game-plan games I've ever seen -- offense and defense."

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 7-0!

PPS. Tom Brady had a 9-to-1 ratio in 2010: 36 touchdowns to only 4 interceptions.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Patriots Comeback, Then Hold On For 30-23 Win

The Patriots overcame a fourth-quarter deficit to post a 30-23 win over the division rival New York Jets. The victory gives the Pats a two-game lead in the division and evens them up with two other 6-0 teams in the conference (Broncos and Bengals). Next up is another division tilt, with the Dolphins on a short week, this Thursday night.

Yesterday's game went down to the wire. The Patriots trailed 20-16 early in the fourth quarter. But their next two drives were 10 plays each and resulted in touchdowns, covering 80 and 68 yards, respectively. The defense pitched a shutout during that time, and the 30-20 lead would hold up for the win, as the Jets botched the end-of-game clock management and ran out of time.

From the Patriots perspective, just forget that anything called the "running game" even existed. New England's leading rusher on Sunday was quarterback Tom Brady, who had 15 of the 16 total yards on the ground. The Patriots frankly didn't even try to run, calling just 6 running plays to 60 total pass-play drop backs. (Trivia question: when was the last time the Patriots won a game in which they rushed for less than 20 yards? Answer below.)

I don't remember ever seeing a 10-to-1 pass/run ratio, and I don't expect to see it again any time soon. It was a stunning admission that the offensive line problems, coupled with an injury to their most logical running back for this game (Dion Lewis) meant they just shouldn't bother trying to run. In short, there were no holes to run through and no running back who could make someone miss to get a few yards after contact. So why bother, I guess.

Those offensive linemen had a rough day. The Jets knocked down multiple passes at the line because Patriots O-linemen didn't cut them properly to the ground to open passing lanes. The O-line gave up three sacks (for 18 yards) and five QB hits, and collapsing pockets forced Brady to throw off his back foot multiple times. No wonder he was off-target so often.

Guard Tre' Jackson had an awful game, sometimes blocking no one while Brady was being pummeled by the linemen he was supposed to take on. Tackle Cameron Fleming failed on one of the cut-blocks, and the Pats had to move first one, and then two tight ends in to help with pass protection. Suffice it to say, I already long for the days of Marcus Cannon at left tackle, and I hope he gets healthy soon.

Brady's numbers looked good by the end of the game: 34 of 54 (63%), 355 yards, 2 touchdowns, 1 rushing touchdown, 0 interceptions, and a 94.3 QB rating. But his grit was almost as important as his skill in this game. His 11-yard scramble on third-and-10 near the Jets goal line completely changed the complexion of the game, giving the Pats a first down and eventual touchdown to tie it at 10-10 on his 1-yard plunge. Without that first down and touchdown, it appeared momentum would be going the Jets way. With those plays by Brady, it was clear the Pats weren't knuckling under and it probably raised some doubts in the Jets' players minds.

Then there was the matter of 10 dropped passes by the receivers. If not for those, Brady's stats (and the final score) would look a lot better. Brandon LaFell returned from injury to drop four passes all by himself, and Julian Edelman (2) and Rob Gronkowski (1) pitched in, too. Only Danny Amendola was 100% reliable, putting his body at risk multiple times to catch passes laid out near the sideline or flying through the air about to be crushed by a safety hit.

Amendola ended up with 8 catches for 86 yards and a touchdown; five of those receptions going for first downs and two more setting up short-yardage conversions. Gronkowski had better stats (11 for 108 yards and 1 TD), and Edelman contributed 5 grabs for 54 yards, but no receiver has been better than Amendola the last two games.

One other receiver note: I believe the Patriots are misusing Gronkowski. They split him out wide far too often, trying to get a receiving mismatch. But because of his skills as a blocker, Gronk is better in tight near the O-line. And playing him there would do three things the team needs right now:

  1. Keeps the defense off balance, since they don't if the next play is a run or pass.
  2. Gives the Pats more flexibility in to change pass protection in the face of blitzes.
  3. Gives Gronk a better chance at a free release, especially when the running game is goes well.
The Patriots coaches get paid a lot more than I do to make these decisions. But I'd move Gronkowski back inside until the O-line gets healthy. That will help keep Brady healthy and might restore more balance to the overall offense. And balance keeps other teams guessing -- never a bad thing.

On defense, the early star was returning linebacker Dont'a Hightower. His 10 solo tackles helped slow the Jets running game before it could become dominant. Many times in the first quarter he was the only thing keeping the Jets from ripping off big runs, after the defensive line missed the running back. And he threw in a fumble recover that led to the only Patriots points for the first quarter.

His linebacking mate, Jamie Collins, had a nice stat sheet: 12 tackles, 1 sack (12 yards), and a QB hit. But his play was erratic, with big hits or tackles for a loss being followed by giving up yards after the catch in the passing game. A mediocre effort given his usual dominance. But still miles ahead of Jerod Mayo, who for the second consecutive week was listed as playing but shut out on the stat sheet.

Defensive lineman Rob Ninkovich anchored a group that didn't dominate or get dominated. He did a great job holding the edge against the run, he knocked down four passes at the line, a season's worth for many linemen. Alan Branch played tough and the rest of the line was a team effort, with Chandler Jones, Trey Flowers, Malcolm Brown, and Dominique Easley making important plays. It was no accident that the Pats held the Jets to 89 yards on the ground when they'd been averaging 146 yards a game.

They were all instrumental in disrupting the passing lanes and slowing down the run before it could become a dominant factor in the game. The only problem was, they didn't get nearly enough pressure on the passer, and that exposed the weaknesses in the secondary.

How weak was the secondary? Malcolm Butler was overmatched against the Jets second best receiver, giving up 6 receptions for 94 yards, four third-down conversions, and tons of YAC to Eric Decker. Butler's one nice play was a quick-recovery tackle to stop Decker from converting yet another third-down, but they even had to challenge the play via instant replay to get that call. Overall not a strong game for the Super Bowl hero.

At the other corner, Logan Ryan was getting beaten like a rented mule by #1 receiver Brandon Marshall. Ryan didn't seem to figure out he could get up to jam Marshall at the line, because he had safety help all game long. And that help mostly came from Devin McCourty, who was late on most of the Marshall receptions. This was as bad a bracket coverage as I've seen from the Patriots, and they'll need to get it shored up when they face the better teams, or they'll get smoked.

The one bright light in the secondary was safety Patrick Chung. He did a great job in run support and ended up not only with 8 tackles but also 2 passes defended (both times on passes to the tight end, IIRC). A very good game for Chung, and they needed it with breakdowns at the other secondary positions.

The Patriots special teams were subpar. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski notched 5 touchbacks, but the two returned kicks went for an unacceptably high 29-yard average. And the "hands team" let a late onside kick slip through its fingers (tsk tsk, Jamie Collins). That makes two onsides they should have lost the last two weeks. I suspect they'll be working on that during their ten days of after Thursday's game.

The coaches have to work on the onside kicks and they have to find a better fit to cover slot receivers, too. They did a good job with adjustments in this game, but with all the injuries on the O-line, I would have expected them to go with more tight-end protection earlier in the game.

So where does that leave us? 6-0 and riding high with a two-game division lead is a great place to be. The rejuvenated Dolphins could be trouble on Thursday, so hope for a healthier offensive line and better secondary play.

Non-Brady MVP of the Week: Dont'a Hightower saved the Patriots in the first half. He made up for mistakes by teammates and kept the game close so the Pats could pull out the win late.

Statistical Oddity of the Week: The Jets third-down conversion percentage got better the more yards they needed for the first down. They converted at the following rates:
  • 40% when they needed 4 yards or less (2 of 5)
  • 50% when they needed 5-9 yards (3 of 6)
  • 100% when they needed 10+ yards (3 of 3)
Weekly Water-cooler Wisdom: "The Jets are better with Fitzpatrick at QB, but still not good enough to beat the Pats in Foxboro."

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 6-0!

PPS. Trivia answer: The Patriots beat the Baltimore Ravens in last year's playoffs when rushing for only 14 yards (an NFL record for fewest yards in a playoff win).

Monday, October 19, 2015

Patriots Top Colts, 34-27

The Patriots destroyed decimated pounded slaughtered man-handled pummeled beat the Colts 34-27 last night, running their record to 5-0. The win kept the team in first place in the AFC East, and also helped them keep pace with the other AFC undefeateds (6-0 Broncos and Bengals). Next Sunday it's a showdown with the 4-1 New York Jets in Foxboro.

This game was closer than most though it would be, owing to better offensive play by the Colts. Well, at least for the first half. Indianapolis actually led at the half: 21-20, on the strength of a pick-six (trivia question: what year did the Colts last lead the Patriots at the half? Answer below). But in the second half, it was 14-0 when it counted, with the Colts tacking on a meaningless touchdown late to make the final look respectable.

The Patriots defense shined brightly in this game, nearly pitching a second-half shutout. Defensive Coordinator Matt Patricia and his staff made great adjustments, sending mostly a three-man rush and flooding zones with defenders to confuse and frustrate the Colts. They must have figured that running back Frank Gore couldn't beat them on the ground, so why not just load up to stop the pass. (Note: it couldn't have worked better -- Gore was out-rushed by his own quarterback in the second half, 28 yards to 25 yards.)

Defensive lineman Chandler Jones was close to the Colts QB most of the first half, but his 2.5 sacks (for 17.5 yards) came in the second half, along with most of his 4 QB hits and 4 tackles (2 for a loss). Not bad for a guy the announcers said was being neutralized. The rest of the defensive line was nondescript, but each man made a play or two to contribute to the overall performance.

Linebacker Jamie Collins starred again, not only with five tackles, but by "spying" quarterback Andrew Luck all game, mostly shutting down his running and escaping the pocket. Collins also did a nice job in pass coverage and, when called upon, in getting after the QB. Jonathan Freeney also did a nice job, finishing with seven tackles.

However, middle linebacker Jerod Mayo continues to struggle in his return from injury. He couldn't get off blocks to make tackles, was nowhere to be found in pass coverage, and for perhaps the first time in his career, he was shut out of the stat sheet. If Dont'a Hightower's injury keeps him out for a while (he missed yesterday's game), the Patriots better hope newly acquired Jon Bostic can contribute soon.

Before you kill the secondary for giving up too many yards, consider that the coverage was just a tick late on many throws. Malcolm Butler is no Revis, but his coverage was pretty good most of the game, and he battles on every play like the long, lost Kyle Arrington. He also ended up with 8 tackles and 2 passes defended. For all the slurping Logan Ryan got, he was beaten early and often, forcing the Pats to switch from man-coverage to zone, just to protect him. They also had to drop more people into coverage -- which worked against the Colts but probably won't be good enough against better teams.

The Patriots used three safeties a lot, with Duron Harmon at free safety, Patrick Chung at strong safety, and Devin McCourty in a pseudo-safety/corner combo. Harmon did a decent job making sure nothing got behind him, Chung was quite good in coverage, not so great against the run, and even though McCourty was exposed once or twice, he was good for a guy moving back and forth between positions.

On offense, quarterback Tom Brady was sharp as usual. Indy got decent pressure on him about 1/3 of the plays, which is more than usual. Some of that pressure was immediate; yet Brady went 23-37, 312 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 1 interception -- good for a 104.8 rating. Although he did fail on a third-and-one QB sneak; first time in a long time that happened.

His rating would have been even better if receiver Julian Edelman had hung onto the ball with his usual skill. Edelman took a big hit on a touchdown reception, and it apparently affected him, as he dropped at least three passes, knocking one of them up where it was intercepted and returned for a touchdown.

Danny Amendola was the receiving star of the game, making 7 tough catches for 105 yards and 4 first downs. Tight end Rob Gronkowski was absent the first half, but nabbed 3 passes for 50 yards (and a touchdown) in the second half. Indy was beating up Gronk off the line, and I'd like to see the Patriots go to the running game in situations like that. Defenders trying to jam Gronk are distracted defenders, and having the tight end block them is nearly a guaranteed win on every down.

It was also nice to see tight end Scott Chandler contribute (2 catches for 39 yards, and a called-back touchdown), and Keshawn Martin (1-39) could be the deep threat they need until Brandon LaFell returns. Also, running backs Dion Lewis (3-18) and LeGarrette Blount (1-11, for a touchdown) had key moments in the passing game.

Speaking of running backs, this wasn't nearly the run-run-runfest that the previous meetings were. Blount did most of the damage, 15 carries for 93 yards and a touchdown. And Lewis spelled Blount when necessary (4-21). But a pedestrian total of 116 yards and 1 touchdown owed mostly to improved interior defensive play by Indy.

Problems along the offensive line were the rest of the story in the Patriots running difficulties. They started out short-handed, moving long-time whipping boy Marcus Cannon to left tackle to replace IR-bound Nate Solder. But when Cannon went down, right tackle Sebastian Vollmer moved to left tackle, and signed-two-minutes-ago Cameron Fleming went in at right tackle.

All that shifting around, along with the commensurate drop in talent, meant a tougher time running the bal. If the Patriots get to the playoffs and end up playing Indy again, they might go right back to running it down their throat. But their current O-line just doesn't have the talent or time together to do that. Not in October.

The Patriots made three key special teams plays. First, they recovered a semi-surprise onside kick (reviewed by officials, and upheld). Second, they had the right call for an attempted Colts fake-punt (one that blew up in Indy's faces). And third, Collins leaped over the snapper and blocked the Colts last extra-point attempt (which made it a seven-point game instead of a six-pointer).

Kicker Stephen Gostkowski also hit six of seven kickoffs so deep they weren't returned. And punter Ryan Allen had a 44.8 net average and two kicks ended up inside the 20 yard line. One concern is a potential injury to special teams captain Matthew Slater. He was hurt on an illegal block in the first half, and had to be helped off with a leg injury late in the second half. This bears watching.

The coaching was a complete mismatch. The "surprise" onside kick was telegraphed and showed desperation on the part of the Colts. The "fake punt" was actually a shift into an illegal formation and then a snap into a defense ready to stop it. (Even Colts head coach Chuck Pagano couldn't understand why they snapped it.) Also, the undisciplined Colts had over 100 yards in penalties, and their coaches never properly adjusted to the Patriots second-half defensive changes.

So where does that leave us? 5-0 sounds pretty good. The next game will be difficult; the Jets always play the Patriots tough and they are doing very well under new coach Todd Bowles. The Jets lead the league in takeaways, so protecting the ball will be key.

Non-Brady MVP of the Game: I'm going with Amendola, who starred at receiver and also returned some punts to give Edelman a break after his injury.

Statistical Oddity of the Week: Tom Brady broke Bruce Armstrong's record for most games started for the Patriots: 212 and counting. Since both players were on the team in 2000, that means the last time the Patriots had neither Brady no Armstrong on their roster was 1986!

Weekly Water-cooler Wisdom: "Closer than we wanted but a win is a win."

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 5-0!

PPS. Trivia Answer: the Colts last lead the Patriots at the half on November 2, 2008, when they led 7-6 (and won the game 18-15).

Monday, October 12, 2015

Patriots Corral Cowboys, 30-6

Al (the weather God as Scott refers to me) here filling in for Scott while he's out of town and unable to watch the game until later in the week. Please forgive me if my prose is not as insightful or elegant, my statistics are not as odd or my trivia is not as difficult as you are used to. We will return to our regularly scheduled writer next week, same bat time, same bat channel.

When I was getting ready to watch this game I couldn't envision a way that a Romo-less Dallas team could give New England any sort of trouble. Halfway through the first quarter with the game tied 3-3 a plausible plan was shown to me. Unfortunately for the Dallas Cowboys, they also had to reveal it to Tom Brady and the New England coaching staff who were able to make the necessary adjustments and defuse the situation. Dallas' hard pressure worked early, but it required an unsustainable effort and by half time the Patriots had the game in hand. 
It was a rough day physically for quarterback Tom Brady early as he was sacked five times in the first half, and knocked down or hurried many more. (Trivia question: can you name the last time Tom Brady was sacked five or more times in a game? Answer below.) After the fifth sack New England mixed in a heavy dose of running to relieve some of the pressure, which worked somewhat well, but the Dallas pressure off the ends still caused several hurries, knock downs and an additional fumble. The fumble probably should have been called an incomplete pass, but caused no harm as Julian Edleman was able to cover it up for a small gain. Tom's numbers ended 20/27 with two touchdowns and zero picks mostly thanks to quick releases on short passes, some of which came with excellent yards after the catch. If you only looked at Tom's stat line you wouldn't even know how much pressure he was facing. Tom also rushed for a touchdown on a one yard quarterback sneak, much to the joy of fantasy football fans everywhere I'm sure.

On the offensive line, Dallas caused the front five fits all day off the ends and up the middle. Tom was under nearly instant pressure on most passing plays even after the Patriots mixed in a heavier dose of runs. On run blocking the O-line did slightly better but still got beat on a couple run blitzes. All in all I'm sure there will be plenty of adjustments coming next week in practice.
On the rushing plays, running back LeGarrette Blount did the majority of the heavy lifting, rushing 13 times for a modest 74 yards. Blount got stopped for minor gains a lot but also ripped off an impressive 34-yard rumble. Dion Lewis tossed in an additional 34 yards on six attempts. A majority of the running plays came late in the second quarter and after with New England all but ignoring the run on their first two possessions. Dion Lewis had a couple of good runs after first contact, but the most spectacular play of the game was his 10-yard catch and touchdown run to finish off the Patriots first drive of the second half. Dion caught a Brady pass in the flat and juked, spun and dove past four separate Dallas defenders to secure the score that pretty much put the game away.

Among the other receivers, your usual suspects shined through again today, but in a less-than-characteristic low volume, high yards manner thanks to some great YAC. Julian Edelman grabbed four passes for 120 yards and a TD. Tight end Rob Gronkowski, was quiet early, but ended the game with four grabs for 66 yards, 33 of which came in a single play where he had some good freight train yards after the catch carrying several Dallas secondary players with him. Dion Lewis had 8 catches for 59 yards and Keshawn Martin and Danny Amendola had a pair of catches each. The Patriots receivers got caught on two offensive pass interference pick plays, a trend that seems to be on the rise and worth keeping an eye on.
On defense, New England loaded the box against the run on first and second down playing man coverage on the receivers. This effectively shut down the Dallas running game and put them in to many third and medium to long situations. In those the secondary played a heavy dose of man coverage with safeties over the top. Devin McCourty was seemingly everywhere logging seven tackles. Dont'a Hightower notched four tackles and a sack, but was knocked out of the game in the second quarter with a rib injury and didn't return to play the rest of the game. The defensive eye-opener for me was Jabaal Sheard who only had two tackles, but also added in two sacks in the first half. 
The defensive line played well backed up by the line backers clogging up the middle and holding Dallas' run-heavy offense to minimal yards. The one unfortunate notable event was left tackle Nate Soldier left the game with an undisclosed injury and did not return to play. Rob Nikovich didn't show up big on the stats sheet, but was his usual QB-tracking, end-sealing self and was responsible for at least two blown Dallas plays that won't show up on the stats sheet.

The secondary played well in man-to-man coverage as well as holding four downs in a row in goal-to-go at the end of the game. Logan Ryan was the stand out today with two tackles and a pick. Malcolm Butler continues to impress as the Patriots 'feature' corner.

Special teams played very well. Punter Ryan Allen actually had to work for his paycheck this week and consistently kept Dallas in very poor field position. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski was 3 for 3 on field goals including a new personal best 57-yarder to end the half and his only kickoff that wasn't a touchback was downed at the 10-yard line. Danny Amendola had a very respectable 13-yard average on his four punt returns. 
So where does that leave us? 4-0 and coming off the bye a game ahead of both the Jets and the Bills and light years ahead of the slumping Dolphins. Next week the Patriots play in the 'Revenge Bowl' in the Sunday Night game against the fading Indianapolis Colts. If you're a betting person, take the over on that one!

Statistical Oddity of the Week (Credit to Scott for providing this): The Patriots franchise lost its first seven games to the Cowboys, and won their next five games against them (including Sunday).

Weekly Water-cooler Wisdom:"Dispatching the Romo-less Cowboys was just an appetizer for the Colts revenge game!"

Keep the faith,

- Al, sitting in for Scott

PS. 4-0!

PPS. Trivia answer: The last time Tom Brady was sacked five times in a game was Week 6 in 2013 against the New Orleans Saints.