Dec 10, 2020; Inglewood, California, USA; New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick looks at different plays during the first half against the Los Angeles Rams at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Bill Belichick declines Presidential Medal of Freedom

New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick announced Monday night that he will turn down an invitation to the White House to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Belichick explained his decision in a statement that did not mention President Donald Trump by name but alluded to the events of the past week, when a mob of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol. Five people, including a police officer, died.

“Recently, I was offered the opportunity to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which I was flattered by out of respect for what the honor represents and admiration for prior recipients,” Belichick said. “Subsequently, the tragic events of last week occurred and the decision has been made not to move forward with the award. Above all, I am an American citizen with great reverence for our nation’s values, freedom and democracy.

“I know I also represent my family and the New England Patriots team. One of the most rewarding things in my professional career took place in 2020 when, through the great leadership within our team, conversations about social justice, equality and human rights moved to the forefront and became actions. Continuing those efforts while remaining true to the people, team and country I love outweigh the benefits of any individual award.”

Trump has drawn support from Belichick, Patriots owner Robert Kraft and ex-Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in previous years. During his 2016 presidential campaign, Trump boasted about a receiving a letter of support from Belichick.

Belichick said Trump ran a “tremendous campaign” and called the media “negative” and “slanted,” Trump said at the time.

According to Trump, Belichick wrote, “Hopefully tomorrow’s election results will give the opportunity to make America great again.”

The support was in line with the Patriots’ owner, whose Kraft Group reportedly donated $1 million to the Trump inaugural committee.

Trump recently reappointed Belichick to the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness and Nutrition. The Patriots coach first was appointed in 2018.

Belichick holds NFL records among head coaches for most Super Bowl victories (six) and most Super Bowl appearances (nine).

–Field Level Media

Jan 3, 2021; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots running back Sony Michel (26) rushes against New York Jets free safety Marcus Maye (20) during the first quarter at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

Newton’s 3 TD passes rally Patriots past Jets

Cam Newton threw three touchdown passes Sunday and caught a fourth as the New England Patriots rallied in the second half for a season-ending 28-14 win over the visiting New York Jets.

In what is likely his last game of his only season with New England (7-9), Newton enjoyed one of his best performances. He completed 21 of 30 passes for 242 yards while adding 79 yards on 11 carries.

But the Patriots will miss the playoffs for the first time since 2008. They officially were eliminated from contention Dec. 20.

Newton snapped a 14-14 tie just 1:04 into the fourth quarter with a 26-yard scoring strike to Devin Asiasi. The score came four plays after J.C. Jackson intercepted Sam Darnold and returned it to the New York 45.

As snow started falling, Newton applied the decisive blow with 11:42 left, flipping a short pass that Sony Michel took 31 yards for a touchdown to made it a two-score game. The Patriots scored more points Sunday than in their previous three games, when they managed 24.

Darnold was effective for the Jets (2-14), hitting 23 of 34 passes for 266 yards and a touchdown but had two interceptions. New York saw its two-game winning streak snapped in what is expected to be coach Adam Gase’s last game. Multiple reports have indicated that Gase will be fired.

The Jets took a 14-7 lead just 3:20 into the third quarter when Josh Adams powered over from the 1-yard line to cap a 75-yard drive. But their offense went silent after the score early in the second half.

New England tied the score with 2:22 left in the third quarter with a perfectly executed trick play. Jakobi Meyers pulled up after a reverse handoff to the right and found Newton leaking out of the backfield for a 19-yard touchdown.

New England initiated scoring with 11:23 remaining in the first quarter on Newton’s 7-yard scoring strike to James White. New York equalized just 1:40 before halftime when Darnold and Chris Herndon connected for a 21-yard touchdown.

–Field Level Media

Dec 28, 2020; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick watches from the sideline as they take on the Buffalo Bills in the first quarter at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Patriots in rare position against Jets in final contest

This is new territory for the New England Patriots.

When they finish the season Sunday at home against the New York Jets, it will mark the first time since 2008 that the last game of the regular season won’t be a tune-up for the playoffs.

At 6-9, New England will endure its first losing year since 2000, the first year Bill Belichick coached the team.

“Let’s finish what we started,” said Patriots special teams captain Matthew Slater. “We started a race and obviously, we’re not going to win that race, but if we have that ability to do so, let’s finish that race and let’s finish it the right way.

“Let’s go out and represent ourselves in the best way possible, and not just ourselves: all the people that made the season possible for us.”

As recently as Week 14, it appeared there might be a path for New England to play January football. After a 45-0 shellacking of the Los Angeles Chargers, it was 6-6 and appearing to peak when Belichick teams tend to.

But the Patriots’ offense, a source of concern all year, simply petered out in the last three games. New England has scored just one touchdown — Cam Newton’s 9-yard run in the second quarter of Monday night’s 38-9 blowout loss to Buffalo — and 24 points.

That was the lone highlight for Newton, who was pulled in the third quarter after throwing for just 34 yards on 5 of 10 accuracy. Jarrett Stidham took over and wasn’t much better, going 4 of 11 for 44 yards.

Speculation is rife on whether Stidham will start against the Jets, although one might have better luck stopping Michael Jordan in his prime than getting Belichick to reveal the identity of his quarterback in Week 17.

“I think it’s a combination of things that we can all do better,” Belichick said about the offense.

Meanwhile, New York (2-13) may have disappointed those that were hoping for an 0-16 finish, but it’s pleased itself with back-to-back wins over playoff contenders.

After getting the bagel out of its win column with a 23-20 decision at the Los Angeles Rams in Week 15, the Jets kept Cleveland from clinching last week with a 23-16 verdict in the Meadowlands.

The consecutive victories aren’t likely to keep coach Adam Gase from getting fired after the season ends. And they kept New York from possibly drafting Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence with the top overall pick, but they’ve given rookies like wide receiver Denzel Mims hope for the future.

“I think we just sat down, watched film and saw all the mistakes we were making,” he said. “We saw all the plays we left on the field. We’re just trying to do everything we can to get better.”

In the wins, quarterback Sam Darnold has looked like the guy capable of propelling the Jets to contention. After going 22 of 31 in his return to Los Angeles, the former USC star hit two crucial touchdown passes against Cleveland. And in both games, the mistakes that have consistently derailed this offense didn’t occur.

“Winning cures everything,” Darnold said. “When you win, the guys have more energy throughout the week.”

New York will play without starting running back Frank Gore (chest/lung) and backup La’Mical Perine (COVID-19). Ty Johnson will get most of the carries in New England.

–Field Level Media

Dec 19, 2020; Denver, Colorado, USA; Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen (17) stiff arms Denver Broncos linebacker A.J. Johnson (45) during the third quarter at Empower Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Troy Babbitt-USA TODAY Sports

QB Allen leads surging Bills into matchup vs. Patriots

The Buffalo Bills likely could be forgiven if they find themselves looking past Monday’s opponent and toward the playoffs.

Then again, the AFC East champion Bills (11-3) might be more interested in making a statement against the New England Patriots (6-8) in Foxborough, Mass. After all, the Patriots essentially have owned the division since Bill Belichick brought his hoodie to their sideline, and Buffalo hasn’t swept its AFC East rival since 1999.

“To go against a division opponent and be able to beat them both times, that’s a big deal,” Bills cornerback Tre’Davious White said. “I guess this year’s the year of breaking streaks or whatever. So I hope that’s the case.”

New England’s 11-year reign atop the division effectively came to an end at the hands (and feet) of Josh Allen, who recorded four touchdowns (two passing, two rushing) in a 48-19 win in Denver on Saturday. The performance allowed Buffalo to capture its first AFC East title since 1995 and land Allen his fourth AFC Offensive Player of the Week honor of the season.

With Allen at the controls, the Bills boast the NFL’s second-ranked passing offense (278.5 yards per game) and fifth-ranked scoring offense (29.1 points).

Fellow first-time Pro Bowl selection Stefon Diggs has done his fair share in opening up the offense for Allen.

Diggs’ 111 receptions lead the NFL while his career-high 1,314 receiving yards trail only Arizona’s DeAndre Hopkins (1,324) and Kansas City’s Travis Kelce (1,318) for most the league. Diggs had 11 catches for 147 yards versus the Broncos.

Diggs was listed as a full participant in Thursday’s practice despite injuring his foot against Denver. The same held true for Allen (knee, ankle) and White (neck), but offensive tackle Ty Nsekhe (groin) did not practice on Thursday.

Although Buffalo enters Monday’s contest with momentum, coach Sean McDermott was quick to pump the brakes should his team entertain the notion of looking past the Patriots.

“It’s the defending AFC East champs that have held that position for multiple, multiple, multiple years,” McDermott said. “It’s one of the greatest — if not the greatest — coach ever to coach our game. They’re going to be prepared, they’re going to be well-coached, and they’ll be ready to go.”

But which quarterback will be ready to go? Belichick hasn’t tipped his hand whether Cam Newton or Jarrett Stidham would be under center, although Newton appeared focused on the Bills on Thursday.

“We have to stay on schedule offensively, not only moving the ball but actually executing even more in the red zone and actually scoring touchdowns,” Newton said. “We can’t just settle for field goals, we have to make sure that we maximize our scoring opportunities.”

Newton was held without a touchdown pass for the eighth time this season in New England’s 22-12 setback to Miami on Sunday. The former NFL MVP found the end zone with his legs in a 24-21 loss at Buffalo on Nov. 1.

The Patriots listed 20 players as limited in Thursday’s practice, including leading rusher Damien Harris (ankle) and special teams ace Matthew Slater (knee). Reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore was placed on injured reserve earlier in the week.

–Field Level Media

Dec 20, 2020; Miami Gardens, Florida, USA; Miami Dolphins free safety Brandon Jones (29) forces New England Patriots quarterback Cam Newton (1) to fumble the ball during the first half at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Tagovailoa scores twice to help Miami get past New England

Rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa ran for a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns as the host Miami Dolphins defeated the New England Patriots 22-12 on Sunday.

Tagovailoa passed for 145 yards (one interception), keeping Miami (9-5) on track for its first playoff berth since 2016. The Dolphins are guaranteed to make the playoffs with wins in their final two regular-season games.

New England (6-8) was led by Nick Folk, who made four field goals. Quarterback Cam Newton passed for 209 yards.

However, the Patriots had their streak of 19 consecutive winning seasons snapped.

In addition, the Patriots lost cornerback Stephon Gilmore — the NFL’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year –to a knee injury in the second quarter; he did not return.

New England also lost starting linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley (arm injury).

Miami played without four of its top offensive playmakers: wide receiver DeVante Parker (hamstring), tight end Mike Gesicki (shoulder), running back Myles Gaskin (COVID protocol); and kick returner Jakeem Grant (hamstring). Starting guard Erect Flowers (ankle) was also out, and his backup Solomon Kindley (leg) left in the third quarter.

There were no scores in the first quarter, but Miami had a 95-yard drive that ended with J.C. Jackson’s eighth interception of the season. On third-and-goal from the three, Tagovailoa, pressured by defensive end Chase Winovich, tossed the pass that was picked by Jackson, ending a drive that took 9:11 off the clock.

Folk made two field goals in the second quarter, from 45 yards (with 8:55 left in the half) 36 yards (with 4:19 left), giving the Patriots a 6-0 halftime lead.

The Dolphins nearly had a big play with 4:36 left in the second. Newton scrambled toward the right sideline and was tackled by rookie safety Brandon Jones, who helped force a fumble. Cornerback Xavien Howard stayed in bounds and ran 86 yards for an apparent touchdown.

However, the play was nullified on video review because the ball touched Dolphins defensive lineman Christian Wilkins while he had one foot out of bounds.

Miami’s forgettable first half finished with Jason Sanders missing a 52-yard field goal wide left.

The Dolphins finally got on the board with 10:32 left in the third quarter, taking a 7-6 lead on Salvon Ahmed’s one-yard run and Sanders’ extra point.

New England headed to the fourth quarter with a 9-7 lead thanks to another 45-yarder by Folk.

However, the Patriots failed to get into the end zone for the third straight game, and they could not rally. Tagovailoa scored a 3-yard, go-ahead TD with 12:55 left before Folk kicked a 42-yard field goal with 9:07 left to cut the Miami lead to 15-12. Tagovailoa put the game away with a 1-yard quarterback sneak with 3:17 remaining.

–Field Level Media

Oct 18, 2020; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore (24) leaves the field after warming up before a game against the Denver Broncos at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Patriots CB Gilmore exits with knee injury

New England Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore left Sunday’s game against the Miami Dolphins after sustaining a non-contact left knee injury.

The Patriots said the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year was doubtful to return.

The injury happened with about three minutes left in the second quarter as he was covering receiver Mack Collins. Gilmore was backpedaling and his feet slipped on the grass when he attempted to put on the brakes. He immediately grabbed his lower left leg.

Gilmore, 30, was evaluated in the sideline medical tent and then helped to the locker room.

The three-time Pro Bowl selection entered Sunday’s game in Miami with 35 tackles, three passes defensed and one interception this season.

–Field Level Media