Frustrated Patriots players come to grips with team being a playoff long shot – NFL Nation
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. Three games and out: Blunt and honest, Patriots players acknowledged their frustration with where they stand over the past week. For many longtime members of the organization, it’s a spot they aren’t used to — three games remaining and the likelihood their season will be over after that, with ESPN’s Football Power Index putting their playoff chances at 3%.
Usually the talk has been about championship division hats and T-shirts, or first-round playoff byes.
Instead, players have been faced with a “challenging” situation as they fill up their tank for what they hope will be a strong finishing kick to the season, starting Sunday in Miami against the Dolphins (1 p.m. ET, CBS). If the Pats lose, they’re officially out of the playoffs for the first time since 2008, while guaranteeing their first non-winning season since 2000.
“We just have to go out and represent ourselves the best we can the last three weeks of the season,” said New England captain Matthew Slater, the team’s longest-tenured player (since 2008).
Another longtime captain, Devin McCourty, added: “My time’s going to be limited in this league, so in my 11th year, I’m not going to take any game for granted, no matter what happens this season. As an older guy, we all have that approach, and we’re going to pass that down in this locker room.”
McCourty described players and coaches as frustrated, highlighting a lack of consistent execution as the primary reason for a 6-7 record. Meanwhile, some players who have been in this spot before with other teams shared their approach.
“Any time you step in between those lines, you’re playing for the guy beside you, so that’s the mindset I’m going to have,” said cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who never qualified for the playoffs in his first five NFL seasons with the Buffalo Bills (2012-16).
“I’ve been in this position a few times, and it’s always the same message: Just control what you can control and let the chips fall where they may,” added veteran safety Adrian Phillips, who spent the first six years of his career with the Chargers. “We want to end with the best record possible. We’ve got three games left; go out there and win them [and] you never know what can happen around the league.”
Veteran running back James White noted that despite the long playoff odds, the Patriots are still playing to keep them alive. That, in and of itself, is a reason “to go out there and fight.”
“All I know is if we go out there and win the rest of our games, we give ourselves a chance,” he said.
2. McCourty’s last crack at award: Devin McCourty has been nominated as the Patriots’ Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award for the fourth time, which makes him a top contender to win the league’s prestigious honor. He relayed that he told Patriots owner Robert Kraft this is the last year he should be nominated because he wants others to have the opportunity. That reflects how McCourty, 33, is thinking of extending his career beyond this season — he is under contract for 2021 — and also how selfless he truly is.
3. Edelman and the future: The Patriots didn’t activate Julian Edelman off injured reserve Saturday, making him ineligible to play Sunday at Miami. That sets up his possible return for Week 16 at home against the Bills … unless the Patriots lose to Miami, eliminating them from the playoffs, and then decide the more prudent decision is to shut Edelman down instead of risking his knee in a game that doesn’t have any playoff implications. It doesn’t seem like a stretch to say the chances of seeing Edelman again on the field this season are tied, in some part, to what happens against the Dolphins.
4. Cam ‘weathers’ New England storm: Patriots quarterback Cam Newton is from College Park, Georgia. He went to college at Auburn. And he spent the first nine seasons of his NFL career with the Carolina Panthers. Everything about living in New England has been new to him. Asked in his weekly radio interview what has surprised him the most, he didn’t hesitate.
“The weather,” he said. “New England has gave me days where I was just anticipating the frigid cold air, and boom! It was like a spring day. Then there were times I was caught without a jacket and then, my goodness, the cold shivers through the bones.”
Newton stressed he was speaking in a “jokingly manner” but summed it up this way: “You have to get all materials — from coats, jackets leggings and long johns and everything from here — to be prepared for the weather for here.”
Stephen A. Smith isn’t confident Cam Newton can still get the job done for the Patriots, while Max Kellerman thinks it’s an unfair judgment.
5. Asiasi’s disappointing season: The Patriots traded up in the 2020 draft to select UCLA tight end Devin Asiasi late in the third round — making him the second tight end taken overall — but the early returns have been disappointing. It was eye-opening this month that the team’s other rookie tight end, Dalton Keene, was activated to the roster off injured reserve before Asiasi despite both being ready to go. Asiasi has played 104 snaps in six games, has been targeted once and has zero receptions. His most notable contributions have come as a blocker. The Patriots have three games to play, and Asiasi is among those who should be at the top of the list in terms of showing urgency that the team’s significant draft-day investment in him was warranted.
6. Telling turnover differential: Coach Bill Belichick has said there is no statistic that correlates more to winning than turnover differential, and this season once again reinforced it. Entering Week 15, the only team with a negative turnover differential that would currently quality for the postseason is Washington (minus-2), and that’s because they play in the worst division in football, the NFC East. The Patriots are plus-1 (19 takeaways, 18 giveaways), while their opponent on Sunday, the Dolphins, are third best in the league at plus-10 (25, 15).
7. Bailey’s hands a key: Punter Jake Bailey has arguably been the Patriots’ most valuable player this season — he is fourth in the NFL in average (48.8 yards) and first in net (46.1 yards) — and special-teams coordinator Cam Achord highlighted an often-overlooked part of what makes him successful: His hands.
“You have to have good hands as a punter, because when you catch the ball, then you have to spin it and find the laces and make sure you’re hitting the side part and not spinning it and hitting the laces,” Achord explained. “So a lot goes in to that hand-eye coordination, with catching the ball, spinning it and setting your drop table right there.”
Achord has been doing a lot of teaching on his weekly video conferences with reporters, and this is another example of him sharing coaching points to help fans understand more about special teams.
8. Harry as the ‘Chance Man’: Patriots wide receiver N’Keal Harry had a reputation at Arizona State as a marvel in competitive catch situations, but that hasn’t always shown up in his first two NFL seasons. He has said multiple times over the past two weeks that playing a more physical brand of football is something he is stressing. Belichick noted Harry has been “coming on” the past couple weeks, and the way he came down with a 30-yard jump ball in a Week 14 loss to the Los Angeles Rams is one example of it.
Newton explained the throw and catch in his own unique way, highlighting how he thinks Harry could be effective as a “Chance Man.”
“It’s just a chance,” Newton said of that type of play. “In essence, a slogan or a saying that you give a receiver is a ‘Chance Man.’ Just give him a chance, man. That was a ‘Chance Man’-type throw, and he came down with it.”
9. Clarity on final 2021 opponents close: If the Patriots lose at Miami, it will lock them in to a third-place finish in the AFC East and move them one step toward to filling out the final pieces in determining their 2021 opponents. They will host the AFC North team that finishes in the same spot in the standings (currently Baltimore Ravens) and visit the AFC West team that finishes in the same spot in the standings (currently the Denver Broncos and Los Angeles Chargers are in a tie at 5-9).
10a. Did you know, Part I: The Patriots are 9-11 on the road against the Dolphins under Belichick, which is the only team New England has a losing road record against since 2000 (minimum 5 games).
10b. Did you know, Part II: Newton has 16 straight games with one touchdown pass or less, which ties for the longest such streak in the NFL over the past 20 seasons.
10c. Did you know, Part III: This marks the sixth time the Patriots close out a regular season with at least three straight contests against division foes: 1971 (four straight), 1975 (five straight), 1981 (three straight), 1987 (three straight) and 2014 (three straight).