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New England Patriots turning their season around, with key stretch ahead – New England Patriots Blog



LOS ANGELES — New England Patriots safety Adrian Phillips had made the play of the game Sunday by returning a fourth-quarter interception 26 yards for a touchdown, and the screams of joy from the pro-Patriots crowd at SoFi Stadium stood out to him.

“It was crazy. I love the fan base and I’m glad they’re traveling with us and supporting us still, because it’s been a frustrating season,” he said. “I know they planned to see the season go a totally different way than it’s been going right now, so it’s true love.”

Such faith is being rewarded as the direction of the Patriots’ season has taken a decisive turn the past two weeks with a blowout win against the Jets and then Sunday’s 27-24 win against the Los Angeles Chargers. Don’t bury them just yet.

The Patriots are 4-4, and in the words of outside linebacker Matthew Judon, “everything is out in front” of them now.

Immediately ahead is a defining three-week stretch — at the Carolina Panthers (4-4), home against the Cleveland Browns (4-4), and at the Atlanta Falcons (3-4) on a Thursday night — in which they could be favored in each game.

The margin for error is thin after some disappointing early season slip-ups, but confidence isn’t.

“We feel like if we just keep working week in and week out, show up and prepare the right way, and come out and play our style of football, we know we’re a good team and we can play with anybody,” running back Damien Harris said.

Indeed, the Patriots took two of the NFL’s best teams — the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-2) and Dallas Cowboys (6-1) — down to the wire in recent weeks. What was missing in those games — the inability to come through with the few plays in the critical situations to close things out — finally showed up Sunday.

“We made the plays that we needed to make in the fourth quarter, which is something that we hadn’t done as well earlier in the year,” acknowledged coach Bill Belichick.

It was an important step for his club, led by Phillips.

“Great teams win the close games,” Phillips said. “We need to keep stringing these along. Early in the season, we were losing those. It was a mistake here or there. But we knew that if we wanted to take the season where we want to take it, we have to win those close games.

“Each year, the teams that don’t make the playoffs look back at it and say ‘There were three plays in each game that easily could have went the other way and we would have been in the playoffs.’ We don’t want to look back at the end of the season and say, ‘We left it out there.'”

The Tennessee Titans (6-2) are currently atop the AFC, followed by the Las Vegas Raiders (5-2) and Baltimore Ravens (5-2) and Buffalo Bills (5-2). The Cincinnati Bengals (5-3), Pittsburgh Steelers (4-3) and Chargers (4-3) are next in line.

That’s where the playoff line would cut off with a seventh team qualifying this year, but it opens the door for the Patriots (4-4), Browns (4-4), Denver Broncos (4-4) and Kansas City Chiefs (3-4 entering Monday night’s game vs. the New York Giants) to be in the postseason conversation.

“We can’t let the two big wins have us walking around here like we’re the kings of the AFC,” safety and longtime captain Devin McCourty said. “We have four wins. It doesn’t guarantee you anything. It doesn’t put you anywhere.”

Another point that Belichick made was how the Patriots’ past two wins came against fresh teams coming off their byes. The Chargers, in particular, opened Sunday’s game with a lot of energy, but the Patriots outlasted them.

That resolve and mental toughness has helped turn their season around.

“What’s happened in the past is behind us, and I think the last two games have showed we’ve started fresh,” Harris said.

“We know what type of team we have. We just have to go out there and prove it,” Judon said.

Captain David Andrews, the seventh-year center, added: “We can see ourselves getting better. I think we’re building confidence in each other. That’s not given. That’s earned.”

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers left guard Ali Marpet (abdomen) downgraded to out vs. Indianapolis Colts



INDIANAPOLIS — The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be without starting left guard and arguably one of their best offensive linemen, Ali Marpet, when they face the Indianapolis Colts Sunday, the team announced.

Marpet, who sustained an abdominal injury in the second quarter of Monday night’s game against the New York Giants, was downgraded to out Saturday prior to the team’s departure for Indianapolis.

He was initially going to be a game-time decision, but was listed on Friday’s injury report as doubtful.

Marpet was replaced in the game by Aaron Stinnie, who filled in for Alex Cappa last year during the playoffs when Cappa suffered a broken leg in the wild-card game at Washington.

In 51 snaps against the Giants, Stinnie surrendered one sack, and last year, he surrendered only one sack in the postseason — in the NFC Championship game against Kenny Clark.

Marpet’s 74.6% run block win rate is the highest of any offensive lineman on the team, as is his 92.5% pass blocking win rate.

The Colts, meanwhile, have given up 19.5 points per game over the last six games — eighth-best in the league.

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Short-handed Pittsburgh Steelers will take on Cincinnati Bengals without cornerback Joe Haden



PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers placed two players on the injured reserve list Saturday, and downgraded another to out for Sunday’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals.

The Steelers ruled out cornerback Joe Haden, downgraded from questionable with a mid-foot sprain, and they put tight end Eric Ebron and center/guard J.C. Hassenauer on IR.

Ebron injured a knee last week against the Los Angeles Chargers, apparently during his fourth-quarter touchdown. He is expected to miss extended time with surgery, a source told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler earlier this week.

Ebron was a co-starter along with rookie tight end Pat Freiermuth. He has had a reduced role this season with just 12 catches for 84 yards and a receiving touchdown as well as a rushing TD.

Hassenauer, who was starting in place of guard Kevin Dotson, injured a pectoral muscle early in the loss to the Chargers. Tackle Joe Haeg replaced Hassenauer a week ago, but the Steelers are likely to turn to B.J. Finney, a veteran interior offensive lineman, to replace him in the long term.

With both Dotson and Hassenauer now on IR, the Steelers signed practice squad offensive lineman John Leglue to the active roster.

The team also elevated defensive lineman Daniel Archibong and wide receiver Anthony Miller ahead of Sunday’s game, and signed kicker Sam Sloman to the practice squad.

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Tennessee Titans place wide receiver A.J. Brown on injured reserve



The Tennessee Titans placed wide receiver A.J. Brown on injured reserve on Saturday ahead of their matchup with the New England Patriots.

Brown suffered chest, rib and hand injuries during last week’s 22-13 loss to the Houston Texans. He played 40 offensive snaps and finished with five receptions for 48 yards on nine targets.

“Walking by faith as always. GOD makes no mistakes,” Brown posted on social media after the news broke that is headed for IR.

Brown will now be out for the next three weeks. The earliest that Brown will be able to return is when Tennessee faces the San Francisco 49ers on Dec 23 on Thursday night football.

In 10 games, Brown has 46 receptions for 615 yards and three touchdowns. He also missed Tennessee’s Week 4 loss to the New York Jets because of a knee injury.

The Titans signed veteran free agent receiver Golden Tate to their practice squad last Tuesday. But they did not elevate him to the active roster after he practiced with the team on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

The Titans will likely turn to rookie Dez Fitzpatrick to start in place of Brown. Tennessee utilized the COVID elevation to make receiver Cody Hollister available to them on Sunday against the Patriots.

Hollister joins Fitzpatrick, Nick Westbrook-Ikhine and Chester Rogers as the wide receivers that will be available for quarterback Ryan Tannehill on Sunday.

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