But after a lockdown start to the 2019 season, the “12” that has everyone buzzing is something altogether different: The Patriots haven’t allowed a touchdown in 12 straight quarters, dating back to Super Bowl LIII, which is the longest streak in team history.
As No. 12 said himself in a social media post, the Patriots’ defense is “balling.” Brady also noted how that takes pressure off the offense.
— Tom Brady (@TomBrady) September 16, 2019
Yes, it’s still early. And yes, the first two wins came against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Miami Dolphins, two teams that aren’t currently in the NFL’s upper echelon. But it’s also not completely outside the hashmarks to wonder if this might be the best defense of coach Bill Belichick’s 20-year tenure, with the units in 2001, 2003, 2004 and 2006 part of that conversation.
Now, the defense has a chance to rewrite history as it sets its sights on third-string-quarterback-turned-starter Luke Falk and the visiting New York Jets on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET (CBS). According to Elias Sports Bureau, the last team to not allow a touchdown in each of its first three games of a regular season was the 1937 Chicago Bears.
This is exactly the type of goal that Patriots safety Devin McCourty, now in his ninth year as a captain, might have been referencing when talking about raising the bar from where it has been in the past.
“Through the years, we’ve always put up good games, but we’ve been challenging each other to make it a weekly thing,” he said. “I think everyone’s playing very selfless.”
Because so many players return from last season, McCourty said the secondary has started this year further ahead. The only newcomer is free-agent signing Terrence Brooks, a safety whose primary contributions have come on special teams. There are a lot of interchangeable parts, and the coverage has mostly been tight.
Meanwhile, the versatility and depth of the front seven has been showcased through the first two weeks with two distinct game plans — a sub-package plan that focused more against the pass versus Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers, and then more of a sturdy base 3-4 package early to take away the Dolphins’ running game.
The free-agent loss of Trey Flowers (Detroit Lions) has been offset by the addition of veteran Michael Bennett as the front has been swarming. Linebacker Jamie Collins, in particular, has made his presence felt (team-high 11 tackles, a half-sack, two interceptions).
“That’s the good thing about having veteran guys who have been in the system for a long time,” noted seventh-year safety Duron Harmon, who credited inside linebackers coach Jerod Mayo and safeties coach Steve Belichick for handling the coaching calls.
“We got guys who can play corner, nickel, safety. We have safeties who can play a little corner, some in-box safety. [Patrick] Chung can play a little linebacker. We have versatile guys, and when you have that type of versatility in the secondary and you also have it in the front seven, it’s a good recipe for having a pretty good defense.”
It might be even better than that.
Consider that the Patriots’ three points allowed is their fewest in franchise history through two games and the fewest by any team since the 1981 Buffalo Bills, according to research from ESPN Stats & Information. Also, the Patriots’ record for fewest points allowed through three games is 33, in 1979.
The Patriots have a plus-73 point differential, the highest ever by a defending Super Bowl champion through two games and the highest for any team since the 1975 Washington Redskins (plus-74).
As Belichick noted after Sunday’s 43-0 walloping of the Dolphins, “If you don’t let them score, you can’t lose.”
It’s been a long time, especially this early in the season, when that has even been part of the conversation.
Saints DE Noah Spence tears ACL while training away from team
Spence was placed on the reserve/non-football injury list since the injury did not occur as part of New Orleans’ offseason training program — which was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. That means he can’t play for the Saints this year and won’t count against their 90-man roster. The NFL Network was the first to report the nature of Spence’s injury.
Situations like this could add another wrinkle to these unusual offseason circumstances. Teams aren’t required to pay salaries in the cases of “non-football” injuries. But they could decide to work out injury settlements or place players on injured reserve when rosters are trimmed in September and continue paying them.
Spence, 26, was scheduled to make $910,000 on a one-year deal if he made the Saints’ 53-man roster. He would have counted $750,000 against their salary cap as part of the veteran minimum salary benefit.
The fifth-year pro originally joined the Saints last December after being released by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Washington Redskins earlier in the 2019 season. He was a healthy inactive for all four games with New Orleans, including the playoffs. But he had a chance to earn a roster spot this year to provide depth behind starters Cameron Jordan and Marcus Davenport.
Spence (6-foot-2, 251 pounds) began his career as a second-round draft pick with the Buccaneers in 2016 and had a terrific rookie season with 5.5 sacks and three forced fumbles.
His production has tailed off since then, however, in part because of a nagging shoulder injury that limited him to six games in 2017. He had another sack and forced fumble with the Bucs in 2017 and one sack with the Redskins in 2019.
Miami Dolphins to open drive-in theater at Hard Rock Stadium
The Miami Dolphins will soon let fans drive their cars inside the stadium where football players typically play every weekend in the fall.
The Dolphins announced Tuesday that they are launching an outdoor drive-in theater inside Hard Rock Stadium that will be used to show marquee games in team history, classic movies, commencement ceremonies, concerts and more. They are also hosting an open-air theater which can host small groups for an intimate viewing experience in the complex plaza.
The Dolphins have mocked renderings of the drive-in venture, which they say can host up to 230 cars. They are promoting it as a family-friendly event that people can participate in amidst the coronavirus pandemic.
Food and beverage can purchased through an online system and delivered to cars. Restrooms will also be made available for use. Fans can put their name on an email list via the stadium website to be notified when tickets are available.
“We’ve spent several weeks planning this to be able to provide people with a safe option to go out and enjoy movies, classic Dolphins content, concerts, and celebrate 2020 graduates,” said Dolphins and Hard Rock Stadium vice chairman and CEO Tom Garfinkel. “It’s a fundamental human need to physically experience and celebrate events and experiences together, and we’re trying to provide options for everyone where they can be safely socially distant and socially present at the same time.”
Hard Rock Stadium became the first public facility to earn the Global Biorisk Advisory Council’s STAR accreditation, the standard used for facilities to implement cleaning, disinfecting and infectious disease prevention work practices to control risks involved with infectious agents like the coronavirus.
Garfinkel and the Dolphins have been proactive and innovative in ways to function during the pandemic. They released mock-up plans earlier this month for what it could like to host approximately 15,000 fans in the stadium for NFL fans if the NFL and the government allows it in the fall. Owner Stephen Ross also said on CNBC Tuesday that there will “definitely” be a football season this fall and the plans as of now is to include having fans in the stands.
Hard Rock Stadium was the host for Super Bowl LIV. It also has hosted Miami Open tennis tournaments, several multiple large music festivals, college football championship games and international soccer games.
Ravens’ Lamar Jackson to host informal workouts for teammates
With the Baltimore Ravens facility unavailable to players due to the coronavirus pandemic, reigning NFL MVP Lamar Jackson is hosting his Baltimore Ravens teammates for some informal workouts in south Florida next week.
Wide receiver Miles Boykin told reporters in a video conference call that he is scheduled to run plays with Jackson, wide receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown and others in what is believed to be the team’s largest gathering this offseason.
“We’re still finalizing it,” Boykin said Tuesday. “There are going to be a lot of guys down there. There’s only so much you can do in [virtual] meetings without being able to go out on the field.”
And while the Ravens announced Tuesday that they have re-opened their training facility under Phase 1 of the NFL process, it is still closed to players and coaches. Like many other teams, Baltimore’s offseason training activities would’ve begun by now.
What works in the Ravens’ favor is their continuity and familiarity on offense. Baltimore returns 11 of 13 players who caught a pass from Jackson last season in what was the NFL’s highest-scoring offense (33.2 points per game).
Boykin said there are plans for additional workouts with Jackson beyond next week. Jackson’s recent throwing sessions appear to have been limited to Brown, who also lives in Florida. Based on social media posts, it looks like Jackson and Brown have been working on routes at a local park.
— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) May 23, 2020
Boykin isn’t sure of the exact details of the workouts.
“Right now, we just have the plan to go down there and be able to run through some plays on offense and just play football a little bit to get back to something that we love doing,” Boykin said. “It’ll be exciting for us to be together, just work on that chemistry.”
This is the second straight year that Jackson has gotten together with teammates in the offseason, which had been a point of contention with the Ravens’ previous starting quarterback. Joe Flacco only held private workouts twice in his 11 seasons in Baltimore.
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