Setting the Scene from chilly Gillette as Patriots put wrap on regular season home schedule

Mike Petraglia
December 20, 2015 - 5:36 am
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[caption id="attachment_103159" align="alignright" width="375"]Devin McCourty is on the cover of the Patriots GAMEDAY program for the home regular season finale. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)Devin McCourty is on the cover of the Patriots GAMEDAY program for the home regular season finale. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)[/caption] FOXBORO -- The Patriots look to put everyone in New England in a festive mood with a win that could clinch a first-round bye for the upcoming playoffs. It will be seasonably cool for the Sunday before Christmas as temperatures will only reach into the low 40s. But a stiff wind out of the west at 20 MPH could be a factor as wind chills will be in the upper 20s. There are two scenarios by which the Patriots will wrap up a first-round bye with a win. If the Broncos lose in Pittsburgh or if the Bengals lose in San Francisco and Denver ties the Steelers, the Patriots will get that much-need first week of rest to heal up for the playoffs. Tom Brady (illness) and Rob Gronkowski (personal) are both expected to suit up and play against Tennessee, according to WEEI's Chris Price. Brady was spotted in the facility over the weekend while Gronkowski was reportedly absent due to the death of a close personal friend. As for Julian Edelman, according to NFL Media's Ian Rapoport, the wide receiver is targeting a Week 17 return to action in Miami. Edelman hasn't played since breaking a bone in his left foot against the Giants on Nov. 15. The 11-2 Patriots are shooting for their sixth straight season of at least 12 wins. If they win, they will match Denver (10) for the third-most 12-win seasons since the 1970 merger. When the schedule came out, this was projected as the game between the McCourty Twins. But injuries have put a damper on that showdown. Devin McCourty is a question mark for the Patriots with a high ankle sprain while Jason McCourty went on season-ending injured reserve in November with a second surgery on his injured groin. After the game, the NHL will take over the stadium and begin the process of turning Gillette into a Winter Wonderland for the Winter Classic on Jan. 1 between the Bruins and Canadiens. Chris Price has an in-depth scouting report on what to expect from the 3-10 Titans while Ryan Hannable has 10 fun facts on the game. This could be a huge game for the Patriots pass rush, a pass rush that has sacked the quarterback 42 times and is on pace for 54 sacks this season, which would be the most in the Bill Belichick era in Foxboro. (The 2013 team had 48). Titans rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota has already been sacked 44 times this season. "Team defense is always a function of in the passing game, pass rush and pass coverage, so they play off each other," Bill Belichick said on Friday. "One without the other really can be negated, so what you need is both at a competitive to high level. The better our coverage, the better our rush, the better our rush, hopefully the tighter our coverage, so they go hand in hand. A lot of times guys make pass breakups or get interceptions and the perception is it'€™s all about the coverage, but that'€™s usually not the case. "A lot of times when there is pressure on the quarterback, the perception is it'€™s all about the pass rush, but a lot of times that'€™s usually not the case either. It'€™s team defense. They all tie hand in hand; they go together. The better you rush, the better you cover. The better you cover, the better you should rush. We'€™ve been fortunate in a lot of games we'€™ve been ahead so at some point the game kind of becomes a one-dimensional game and that'€™s a lot easier to defend than when you have to defend everything for 60 minutes. So there have been points in some games where we haven'€™t had to do that, which is always where you want to be. "Again I'€™m really a lot more interested in wins than sacks. But the offense playing good, scoring points, playing from ahead puts the defense in a better position. Coverage helps the pass rush, pass rush helps the coverage, run defense helps the pass rush. I mean nothing helps the pass rush more than a good run defense. They'€™re all tied in together. In the end, it'€™s a part of a winning formula. I think we talk about just straight numbers and all that, honestly I don'€™t really even pay that much attention to them. I mean I'€™m happy when we hit the quarterback. I'€™m happy when we tackle them, don'€™t get me wrong, but that'€™s all part of a lot of other things that are going on, too. Just like I'€™m happy when we score a touchdown, that'€™s great, and the guy who scored it, that'€™s great, but there are a lot of other components that lead to that that are important as well. I don'€™t think we want to overlook those." For more Patriots news, visit weei.com/patriots. DraftKings DraftKings has your shot to play for FREE in the $1 Million Fantasy Football Contest THIS SUNDAY! First place takes home $100,000! FOR FREE ENTRY, CLICK HERE.