After an epic Patriots comeback over the Saints in Week 6 and a thrilling Red Sox playoff victory, it is a wonder that Boston is still standing.
That said, the future is even more uncertain for this embattled Patriots team. With injuries mounting and the schedule not getting much easier, the Patriots can't rest on their 5-1 laurels.
Here is a complete recap of last weekend in the world of the Patriots.
AFC East Results
|New England Patriots||5-1||.833||Won 1|
|Miami Dolphins||3-2||.600||Lost 2|
|New York Jets||3-3||.500||Lost 1|
|Buffalo Bills||2-4||.333||Lost 2|
Buffalo Bills vs. Cincinnati Bengals Recap
The Bills didn't get the win—losing 27-24 in overtime—but they did land a new quarterback, signing former Raider and Packer Matt Flynn.
Recently promoted off the practice squad, quarterback Thad Lewis filled in nicely for the injured EJ Manuel. However, he suffered a sprained foot in the game and is being labeled "day-to-day." It will be interesting to see if Flynn or Lewis takes the majority of reps in practice this week.
The Bengals duo of A.J. Green and Giovani Bernard proved too much for the Bills to handle, with Green logging 103 yards in the air and Bernard chipping in 100 yards—72 in the air and 28 on the ground.
New York Jets vs. Pittsburgh Steelers Recap
Geno Smith couldn't pull another rabbit out of his hat this week. After leading three game-winning drives in his first five games, Smith was unable to mount much of a comeback against a stiff Steelers defense.
Smith was picked off twice in the game, and the Jets running game was held in check for most of the game. The Jets defense was tough as ever, holding the Steelers to 19 points despite the turnovers from the offense.
The Jets face the Patriots next week.
Miami Dolphins (BYE)
The Dolphins had the week off. They have upcoming games against the Bills and Patriots the next two weeks.
With a 13-10 combined record, the AFC East is certainly not a pushover. However, after the Patriots win this week, they hold a comfortable 1.5-game lead over the idle Dolphins. With divisional games right around the corner, the AFC East landscape could change rapidly.
|Vince Wilfork||Ankle||Injured Reserve|
|Shane Vereen||Wrist||Short-Term IR|
The Patriots are reeling from the four injuries to major contributors Sunday night. While we won't know the severity of the injuries until Wednesday at the earliest, it is safe to say this Patriots team is far from healthy.
While Dan Connolly has a replacement ready to go in Marcus Cannon, Jamie Collins and Logan Ryan—who would replace a lot of the snaps from Mayo and Talib, respectively—are far from experienced.
Austin Collie, however, has shown already that he will answer the bell and provide production from the fourth receiver position.
Story To Watch
The Rob Gronkowski situation—just how ready he is to play and how his teammates feel about his absence—has seemed ready to bubble over at times. Tom Brady, however, was able to cool things down a bit, as he told WEEI's Dennis and Callahan show this morning, per Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald.
Because he’s not being cleared to play, so I don’t know what you can do. He wants to be cleared to play. Believe me, he wants to go out there and be able to play. When we have games out there like yesterday, where you see the excitement of the game, the team, you want to be out there with all your friends. It’s killing him to not be out there with us. We all know that. Rob is a great teammate. Rob is all about the team. He always has been. He’s got to keep rehabbing, doing what he’s asked to do, and when he’s ready to play, he’s ready to play.
If seems like the Tom Brady-led offense has been in survival mode all season. That said, the Patriots have survived without Rob Gronkowski and will continue to do so until he is ready to play. Once he returns, the theme will change from "survive" to "thrive."
What Needs to Improve
Just when it looked like the Patriots might be getting healthier, the training room started filling up at an alarming pace.
If any of the four players injured against the Saints—Mayo, Amendola, Connolly and Talib—misses a significant amount of time, the depth for the Patriots will be tested.
A loss of Mayo would result in Dane Fletcher and rookie Jamie Collins seeing snaps in three-linebacker sets, with Dont'a Hightower and Brandon Spikes absorbing his duties in nickel situations.
Dan Connolly would be replaced by Marcus Cannon. Cannon has a lot of potential and has had his moments, but he has been inconsistent in picking up his assignments in pass protection.
If Talib is out, Alfonzo Dennard has already shown that he can step into his shoes and compete with the best wide receivers in the league. However, Logan Ryan, Kyle Arrington and Marquice Cole would be forced to play out of their comfort zones.
It seems weird, but losing Amendola might be the easiest to bear. Julian Edelman has played well in his stead and Austin Collie looks poised to contribute if called upon.
2. Guard Play
Logan Mankins alternated between phenomenal and poor play—including opening up some big holes for Stevan Ridley and a couple of penalties—while Marcus Cannon just played poorly in Dan Connolly's absence.
Tackles Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer have both played at a high level this year, but the interior has been a problem. Cannon especially needs to do a better job picking up stunts and knowing his responsibility.
3. Defensive Line
The defensive linemen for the Patriots are tasked with holding the point of attack. After Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly's departure, however, they have been playing on ice skates—pushed back with little effort.
Brandon Spikes, Jerod Mayo and Dont'a Hightower can cover up for a lot of issues in the run game, but when the line of scrimmage is being pushed forward three or four yards each play, they are making tackles five and six yards down the field.
The defensive backfield has played exceptionally well this season, but it can't deal with short-yardage situations on second and third down all year long.
The Patriots totaled seven drops against the Saints—three by Julian Edelman, two by Aaron Dobson and one each by Danny Amendola and Brandon Bolden.
Tom Brady isn't allowed a lot of margin with his young group of receivers and injuries in nearly all position groups. Adding drops to the mix isn't a recipe for success.
Dobson's were the most egregious, especially his fourth-down drop that gave the Saints the ball late in the game. He has shown the ability to snag the ball out of the air, but too often allows the ball to get in on his body, typically on slants and angle routes. Once he cleans that up, look for Brady's trust in him to explode.
All stats courtesy of the Patriots official media site.