Welcome to Season 12, Episode 7 of the Unconventional Preview, a severe but lighthearted, nostalgia-tinted take a look at the Patriots’ weekly matchup . . .
The Buffalo Payments have despatched the Patriots into the offseason in every of the final two seasons. In January 2022, the Payments ended Mac Jones’s promising rookie yr — appears like means longer in the past than that, doesn’t it? — with a 47-17 throttling within the wild-card spherical of the playoffs.
Final yr, the Payments beat the Patriots within the emotional regular-season finale during which Nyheim Hines took again the opening kickoff 96 yards for a landing. That was Buffalo’s first play since security Damar Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest after absorbing a blow to the chest the earlier week in opposition to the Bengals, a recreation that was canceled after the close to tragedy. The Payments superior to the playoffs. The Patriots retreated to the golf course.
This yr, it feels just like the Patriots season is over earlier than the AFC East opponents have even performed one another. The hapless and bland Patriots are 1-5 after a aggressive however usually error-prone loss to the Raiders final Sunday, and with 20 gamers on the harm report as of Thursday, they’re neither wholesome nor good as they attempt to finish a three-game shedding streak during which they’ve been outscored, 93-20.
The 4-2 Payments have been removed from flawless. They required a goal-line stand with no time remaining on the clock (a move interference penalty preceded the bizarre circumstance) to beat the lowly Giants, 14-9, final Sunday. Quarterback Josh Allen threw for a modest 169 yards and two touchdowns, and in addition tossed his sixth interception of the season, only one fewer than Jones. Hey, that counts as a optimistic notice, virtually.
Kick it off, Ryland, and let’s get this one began . . .
Three gamers to look at apart from the quarterbacks
Stefon Diggs: If there may be one other receiver in latest seasons who has tormented the Patriots as usually as Diggs, the identify is eluding me now like he eludes Patriots cornerbacks. In seven profession video games in opposition to the Patriots — throughout which his workforce is 5-2 — Diggs has 45 receptions for 618 yards and 6 touchdowns, or a median of 6.4 catches for 88.3 yards per recreation. Over a 17-game schedule, that works out to 109 catches for 1,501 yards and 15 touchdowns. Within the Week 18 matchup final season, Diggs had seven catches for 104 yards, together with a 49-yard landing within the fourth quarter during which he ditched Patriots cornerback Jonathan Jones.
After some offseason drama that indicated there may be a rift between Diggs and Allen, they’ve resumed dynamic duo standing. Diggs has 49 catches for 620 yards and 5 touchdowns this season, and has surpassed 100 yards in 5 of his final six video games. He stays by the far Allen’s favourite goal, although Gabe Davis (21-341-4) can also be harmful.
Diggs has had specific success in opposition to J.C. Jackson, who returned to the Patriots two weeks in the past after rookie stalwart Christian Gonzalez went on injured reserve after struggling a shoulder harm in opposition to the Cowboys. Jackson is a ballhawk — he has extra interceptions (26) than some other NFL participant for the reason that begin of the 2018 season, and he has made occasional performs in opposition to the Payments, choosing off two passes in a September 2019 matchup. Nevertheless it’s onerous to fathom that the Patriots will decelerate Diggs Sunday. Invoice Belichick’s longstanding strategy of making an attempt to remove an offense’s finest ability participant has a protracted historical past of being unsuccessful in opposition to Diggs.
Rhamondre Stevenson: One of the best hope for the Patriots’ Thirty first-ranked scoring offense (12 factors per recreation, higher than solely the Giants at 11.8) is . . . let’s see . . . for Tom Brady to come back out of retirement, and their linemen to show into modern-day variations of John Hannah, Bruce Armstrong, and Jon Morris. Since all of that’s unlikely to occur, the best and most real looking hope is that the Twenty sixth-ranked working recreation (83.7 yards per recreation) involves life. Although the Patriots didn’t run a lot in opposition to the Raiders, falling into their regular double-digit deficit early, the working recreation was comparatively efficient. Stevenson and Ezekiel Elliott mixed for 80 yards on simply 17 carries, with every choosing up a landing and averaging over 4 yards per carry. (Elliott might have tacked on 74 yards and one other landing had what would have been the largest offensive play of the season not been known as again by a ticky-tack Hunter Henry holding name.)
Stevenson — who went over the 1,000-yard mark in final season’s finale in opposition to the Payments, gaining 54 yards on simply six carries — confirmed extra burst in opposition to the Raiders than he has at any level this season. There’s a official likelihood that he has his finest recreation of the season, maybe by far, in opposition to the Payments. The Payments have allowed 133.7 dashing yards per recreation (twenty fifth within the league), and it’s onerous to foresee enchancment with excellent former Boston School linebacker Matt Milano sidelined with a damaged leg.
Malik Cunningham: The previous Louisville star quarterback and temporary sensation within the preseason performed six snaps in opposition to the Raiders in his anticipated-mostly-out-desperation-and-boredom debut — two at quarterback, two as a slot receiver, and two as an out of doors receiver. He was sacked for a 5-yard loss, didn’t throw or catch a move, however did play a supporting function within the direct snap to Elliott on his landing run. Cunningham wasn’t precisely paying homage to Kordell “Slash” Stewart’s much-hyped multipurpose function as a rookie with the 1995 Steelers. However hey, it even took Slash time to get going — he was inactive his first 5 video games as a rookie and didn’t see the sphere in his sixth earlier than Invoice Cowher and offensive coordinator Ron Erhardt began deploying him in a triple-threat function. The Patriots workers appears happy with Cunningham’s progress; the three-year deal he signed the day earlier than the Raiders recreation and his elevation (with some danger) to the backup quarterback function are affirmation that he’s doing one thing proper. He’ll in all probability by no means throw precisely sufficient to be a beginning quarterback (insert your individual Mac Jones joke right here), however I’m trying ahead to seeing extra from him within the coming weeks within the multipurpose function. He’s one of many few fascinating gamers on this workforce.
Grievance of the week
It’s extraordinarily simple to neglect now, however DeVante Parker seemed like all the pieces he’s speculated to be the final time the Patriots performed the Payments, within the 2022 regular-season finale. Parker hauled in two of Mac Jones’s three landing passes, a 2-yarder to knot the rating at 14 with lower than 4 minutes left within the first half. With rather less than 12 minutes to play within the recreation, Parker made a sensational leaping seize for a 26-yard landing to chop the Payments’ result in 28-23. He completed with six receptions, 79 receiving yards, the pair of touchdowns, and a glimmer of hope that he may very well be a dependable contributor in 2023.
That has not occurred. He has hardly ever been a contributor in any respect, and infrequently a detriment. He had an honest recreation (six catches for 57 yards) in his season debut in Week 2 in opposition to the Dolphins. Within the 4 video games since, he’s been roughly as productive in sum as he was in Week 18 final season, catching seven passes on 14 targets for 79 yards. The low level got here in opposition to the Raiders, when he had one catch for 7 yards, dropped a pinpoint deep throw late within the recreation, then excused his inexcusable drop by saying the throw hit his fingertips, the implication being that it wasn’t fairly excellent sufficient. We might fill this complete area rehashing doubtful Belichick personnel strikes over the previous couple of years, however signing Parker to a three-year extension in late June is rocketing towards the highest of the checklist.
I suppose the much-needed feel-good strategy to this is able to be to focus on one of many Patriots’ 15 straight victories over the Payments from 2003-10, which started with the season-opener-avenging 31-0 victory the ultimate recreation of the ‘03 common season and led to Week 3 in 2011, when Rian Lindell hit a 28-yard discipline purpose as time expired in a 34-31 Payments win. However let’s set these apart for an additional time and go old-school right here, remembering a time when Patriots followers celebrated the sort of achievements that had been simple to take as a right throughout the dynasty’s twenty years of dominance.
The Patriots entered the second to final recreation of the 1978 common season with a easy directive. Defeat the Payments, and they might clinch their first division championship within the franchise’s 19-year historical past.
The Payments, of their first post-O.J. Simpson season, got here in at 4-10. However they proved a nuisance, holding a 17-7 lead within the third quarter and retaking the lead, 24-21, within the fourth. The Patriots closed the margin to a degree on a Tim Fox security, and with 11 seconds left, kicker David Posey lined up for a 21-yard discipline purpose to win the sport.
Chip shot and cue the celebration, proper? Hardly.
Posey, the third kicker utilized by the Patriots that season, had been 9 for 20 — sure, 9 for 20 — on discipline targets to that time, lacking 4 of his earlier 5, together with three the earlier week in opposition to the Cowboys. The sport was performed 18 days earlier than Adam Vinatieri’s sixth birthday, and he would have been a extra reliable choice at that time.
However Posey nailed it, “sending Schaefer Stadium right into a full-grade cartwheel,” as Globe columnist Leigh Montville wrote.
Within the giddy Patriots locker room, Posey instructed a reality that few athletes would dare admit: “There are guys who would have stated they had been hoping to get into that one state of affairs the place it’s all or nothing, a complete season sitting on prime of their shoulder pads,” he instructed Montville. “Any man who says that’s both loopy or he’s mendacity.”
The kick that made the Patriots division champions for the primary time was the second-to-last discipline purpose of Posey’s profession.
Prediction, or the place have you ever gone, Roland Hooks? . . .
The Payments have crushed the Patriots in six of their final seven conferences, with the Patriots win — a 14-10 victory within the wild-wind recreation in Buffalo — score as each an outlier and a fluke. It could be silly, given their penchant for careless penalties and mind-numbing turnovers, to imagine Sunday is the day the Patriots lastly remedy the Payments once more. Payments 26, Patriots 16.
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