Sports Centralby Cian Fahey
- We've moved to The Sports Central
- Avery Bradley's stuttering start to Boston Celtics career is no more
- New England Patriots - a case for keeping Brandon Lloyd
- Tom Brady's contract extension puts pressure on New England Patriots to perform in short-term
- Jeff Green's approach epitomizes Boston Celtics Post-Rajon Rondo
Last year's Bills outfit was hopeful, but after a season of investment and a seemingly excellent slate of draft picks, this year's version entered the season with high expectations.
Although they were emphatically beaten on opening day against the New York Jets, the Bills have won two games in a row since to reach 2-1 after three games. This despite the consecutive injury losses of Fred Jackson, David Nelson and CJ Spiller. Spiller and Jackson could play today, and Spiller's emergence into a superstar talent is a new dimension for the Patriots to handle. Along with Spiller, the Patriots also will have to handle the Bills' new defensive line additions.
Injuries are beginning to take a toll on the Patriots roster. This week Kellen Winslow, the tight end signed to ease the loss of Aaron Hernandez, was released for reasons unknown. Along with Winslow's departure, Julian Edelman has missed substantial practice time while Hernandez, despite walking comfortably, still remains sidelined by an ankle injury.
Most significantly however, Logan Mankins has missed practice all this week with a hip injury. Considering that Mankins played through last season with a torn ACL, he is very unlikely to miss time this weekend but that may not actually be a good thing.
While the Ravens game was drowned in controversy over the performance of the replacement referees and many will point to the Cardinals as being beneficiaries of a lucky performance, the Patriots' main problem lies with their own performances.
The Patriots are under .500 for the first time since 2003, when they started the season 0-1.
After destroying the Cincinnati Bengals in their home opener, the Ravens are looking to beat another potential AFC playoff team and go to 2-1. The Patriots are in a similar situation as they are trying to avoid having a losing record for the first time since 2006.
The Cardinals outlined a perfect blueprint for the Ravens defense to follow entering this game, however the Patriots will likely adjust their approach after last week's struggles. Without Aaron Hernandez, and with the issues the Patriots have had in pass protection, Bill Belichick is likely to turn to Stevan Ridley more this week. That could be a tainted cure for the offense's poison however.
The Winslow signing is a peculiar one despite him being a very reputable tight end. In fact, that is why it is peculiar.
Winslow was deemed surplus to requirements by new Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano this off-season. Even though Winslow had 75 receptions for 763 yards and two touchdowns last season, the Buccaneers brought in veteran Dallas Clark to take his starting spot. Winslow was subsequently traded to the Seattle Seahawks where he never played a game. Winslow was cut before the beginning of the season and not signed to any roster.
Considering that the Cardinals entered the game as the underdogs and were starting backup quarterback Kevin Kolb as John Skelton was sidelined with an ankle injury, the Patriots were justifiably 13.5 point favourites. Patriots fans were left to wonder while Gostkowski's kick sailed wide left of the goal-posts.
Was it all on Gostkowski? A player who had kicked already kicked four successful field goals in the game. Was losing Aaron Hernandez early on too much? Hernandez's injury definitely hurt the Patriots, but considering the dearth of difference between each teams' respective level of talent, his loss alone shouldn't have been enough to decide the game. Maybe the Patriots were simply caught on a down day to the point that even Kevin Kolb could beat them? That one is a bit of a stretch.
Despite missing his final attempt of the game, Gostkowski mostly carried the Patriots' offense during the game with four successful field goals. Tom Brady was stifled by the Cardinals' defense who were led by big performances from Daryl Washington, Patrick Peterson and Calais Campbell. Brady finished the game with 316 yards, but had only one touchdown and one interception.
That touchdown came in the fourth quarter when the quarterback led a drive that ultimately saw Rob Gronkowksi catch a touchdown pass in the endzone. Gronkowski couldn't catch the two point conversion to tie the game at 20.
That victory came at a price however as starting quarterback John Skelton will miss the trip to Boston with an ankle injury. Skelton's place will be taken by former starter Kevin Kolb who carried the team to victory last week. Kolb lost out in a quarterback competition with Skelton during the preseason, but finished his first game of the season with a 138.5 quarterback rating.
Kolb completed six of eight passes for 66 yards and a touchdown. Critically, he didn't turn the ball over against a very talented Seahawks' unit. The Patriots will fancy their chances at forcing Kolb into mistakes this week however. The much maligned quarterback has thrown more career interceptions, 22, than touchdowns, 21, and has never succeeded in trying to inspire an efficient offense since the Cardinals acquired him in a blockbuster trade with the Philadelphia Eagles.
With the Titans starting second-year quarterback Jake Locker, that ambiguity is thickened. Locker showed flashes as a rookie, but played very few snaps. Locker completed 34 of 66 passes with four touchdowns and zero interceptions. Since then he has supplanted veteran Matt Hasselbeck as the team's starting quarterback.
It came as no surprise that Locker won the battle, as the Titans had been crafting an offense to suit his skill-set. The addition of rookie receiver Kendall Wright brought in a dynamic play making receiver to pair with the deep threat of Nate Washington and Kenny Britt. Washington and Britt are big physical receivers who can beat defenders for the football while Wright has the ability to adjust to the ball in the air to make difficult receptions. That should help Locker with his accuracy issues while receiving tight end Jared Cook is one of the more difficult bodies in the NFL to stick with.
Despite some sections seeing another undefeated regular season on the horizon, the Patriots have some significant holes on their roster that need to be addressed entering the season. The strengths remain there, but not until the questions are answered will we know if this team can take one more step over last year and lift the Lombardi Trophy in February.
State of the Offense:
When Tom Brady is your quarterback, there is generally little else you need to worry about on offense. This year Brady has as more weapons than he has had throughout his career, save for maybe 2007, but some question marks over his pass protection. Brady's interior offensive line protection is vital for his success. Even though Brian Waters is seemingly retired, Dan Koppen was released and Logan Mankins missed a substantial chunk of the off-season, the Patriots still figure to have good enough protection upfront. The addition of Brandon Lloyd diversifies the offense, while Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen coming into the backfield adds even more explosion.
Regardless of Navy's efforts before and after the half, quarterback Trey Miller led an incisive touchdown drive to open the third quarter that cut the lead to 17, Notre Dame's lead was insurmountable. Touchdowns from running back Theo Riddick(2), George Atkinson(2), Tyler Eifert, Stephen Tuitt and Robby Toma allowed Notre Dame to finish the game on the half-century mark. Winning by 40 points in the process.
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