Columnists, Sports

First and Goal: New England is a power-run team?

Before I even start with the topic I want to talk about this week, I must start with what I wrote about last week because it happened again.

The Atlanta Falcons are allergic to holding leads. It is a loser franchise and will always have that reputation because of the last few years. On Sunday, the Falcons were up 16 points heading into the fourth quarter before imploding once again against a Chicago Bears team that is so much worse than their 3-0 record implies.

It’s comical that this keeps happening and I truly hope it continues just so 31 other fanbases can continue laughing in unison.

Now that we’re past laughing at the pain of the Falcons, we can move on to what I wanted to talk about: the sudden development of New England’s power-run game.

Sunday’s 36-20 victory over the Las Vegas Raiders proved Cam Newton doesn’t have to be a star under center for the Patriots to win.

The New England running game sliced and diced the Vegas defense up and down the field as the trio of Rex Burkhead, Sony Michel and J.J. Taylor racked up the majority of the offense’s 250 rushing yards.

Burkhead and Michel were ridiculously efficient as they rushed for 166 yards on only 15 carries. Burkhead received most of the headlines as he scored three touchdowns during the afternoon — one coming on a vicious juke of a Raider defender before vaulting into the endzone — but Michel had one of the best regular season performances of his career.

Many local media members criticize Michel for not accumulating many yards during the regular season, but they seem to have quickly forgotten that he was the work-horse of New England’s Super Bowl LIII run.

One thing I noticed about Michel’s running game is that he’s as good as any running back when powering through the hole. But it seems like his second-gear in the open field is just not that fast, as shown by a linebacker catching him on his 38-yard run and being caught again on his 48-yarder. Despite the lack of breakaway speed, the way Michel hits those cuts in the open field shows great signs for the future.

The run game was spectacular for New England and that was without its most dangerous threat. James White has missed the past two games after a Sept. 20 car crash killed his father and seriously injured his mother.

White obviously plays a big role on the field, but you can tell by the way his teammates have been talking about him that he is central to the locker room and they truly love him.

New England’s run game is one of the few ways that it can hope to contain Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs this weekend. The Chiefs rank sixth in the league for rushing yards allowed per game while the Patriots are first in the league in rushing yards gained per game.

With how shaky the Patriots’ defense has looked in recent weeks, long possessions that keep Mahomes off the field is key, and it’s been done before. Looking back at the 2019 AFC Championship Game, New England was able to shut out the Chiefs in the first half, giving them a 14-point cushion before Mahomes exploded for 31 points in the second half.

New England held the ball for nearly 45 minutes that game, and a similar effort will be needed to slow down the reigning MVP.

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