James Toscano's 3 things to watch for as Patriots face Rams - Metro US

James Toscano’s 3 things to watch for as Patriots face Rams

Julian Edelman and the Patriots' receivers should have a field day against a weak
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In the fast-paced NFL, rarely is there time to take a look back. The biggest game is always the next game.

Bill Belichick and Tom Brady certainly haven’t rested on their laurels, anyways, and that’s one of the reasons they continue to be such a dynamic coach-player duo. But it will be hard for Patriots fans not to think back to where it all really began in the Brady Era this Sunday when the Rams come to town (1 p.m., Fox).

It was Super Bowl XXXVI that the No. 199pick in the 2000 NFL Draft, along with a strong defense, took down the “Greatest Show on Turf” led by MVP Kurt Warner and Offensive Player of the Year Marshall Faulk.

A dynasty was born in New England. The Rams? Well, it hasn’t gone smoothly since. Since that loss, that franchise has had exactly one winning season (2003). They’ve lost at least 13 games per season four times. This year they moved back to Los Angeles – and the losses followed them. They go into Sunday’s game with a 4-7 record, one loss away from another season without a winning record.

The Patriots have been celebrating the 15thanniversary (has it really been that long?) of the 2001 championship team all season long. The organization recently announced that on Sunday, 40 players from that team will return to Gillette Stadium for the first reunion of the franchise’s first Super Bowl championship team.

Somewhere, Faulk is still kicking rocks.

1. Brady all alone

If the Patriots win on Sunday, it will be Tom Brady’s 201st, which will move him into sole position of first place all-time, ahead of Peyton Manning. The Patriots have the best record at home since 2002 (112-22, .836). They have the best record in December since 2001 (54-10, .844). Do the Rams have a shot? Don’t bet the money line, folks. But there is this: Brady (knee), Martellus Bennett (ankle/shoulder), and Julian Edelman (foot) are all banged up. Oh, and in case you hadn’t heard – Rob Gronkowski is likely out for the next eight weeks as he’ll have back surgery on Friday. The Patriots will need the Brady, Bennett and Edelman close to full strength as they’ll face a stout defense. Before the Rams gave up 49 points to the Saints last Sunday, they hadn’t allowed more than 17 points in their previous four games.

2. Who are the Rams?

The Rams are relatively unfamiliar to the Patriots, much like the 49ers were. The two teams have only met three times since Super Bowl XXXVI, with the last game played in 2012. On top of that, Rams rookie QB Jared Goff has only played in two regular season games, so there’s not a lot to go off of. After a bumpy NFL debut against the Rams, Goff threw three touchdowns against the Saints.

“I think you have to watch the film and see the talent level and see what he’s capable of and be ready for that,” Devin McCourty said of Goff. “You can’t go in there and just think that the guy is going to play bad just because he is young.”

3. Special attention

It’s great for the Rams that their punter is the best in the business, because they sure do need him a lot. All joking aside, Rams punter Johnny Hekker could be the Rams’ MVP this season and is a guaranteed lock to represent them in the Pro Bowl. Hekker leads the league in punts (64), gross punting yards (2,989), longest punt (78 yards), punts inside the 20 yard line (35), fair catches (27), and average return yard on punts (4.5 yards). He’s second in net punting average (44.9 yards). In other words, the Patriots may force a lot of punts, but it won’t often mean good field position. He’s so impressive that he was the first player Belichick mentioned during his weekly Wednesday press conference.

“This guy looks like as good a player as I’ve ever seen at that position,” he said of Hekker. “He’s a tremendous weapon in his ability to punt the ball, punt it inside the 20, directional kick it, involved in fakes, can throw, can run, very athletic.”

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