25/06/2024

Ezekiel Elliott one of few bright spots for 1-5 Patriots - ESPN

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Ezekiel Elliott one of few bright spots for 1-5 Patriots - ESPN

Elliott scored his first TD with the Patriots last week and hopes to parlay that into more success against a susceptible Bills defense Sunday.

Elliott scored his first TD with the Patriots last week and hopes to parlay that into more success against a susceptible Bills defense Sunday.

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:

1. Zeke's mindset: When running back Ezekiel Elliott signed a one-year contract with the Patriots in August, the last thing he believed was that he'd be part of a team entering Week 7 with just one victory.

He thought the Patriots would be a playoff contender, and true to his always-upbeat personality, he isn't ready to concede it won't happen despite a 1-5 start.

"No second thoughts based on the way it's gone," Elliott said last week in a quiet moment in the locker room after practice. "You make a decision and you ride it out. I chose to be a part of this team and I'm going to do everything I can to help us turn this thing around and get us going."

Elliott scored his first touchdown as a Patriot last week and projects as a key player alongside No. 1 running back Rhamondre Stevenson in Sunday's home game against the Buffalo Bills (1 p.m. ET, CBS), as the Bills rank 31st in the NFL in average yards allowed per carry (5.4).

Bright spots have been in short supply for the Patriots' offense, but the 6-foot, 228-pound Elliott is one of them. He's totaled 193 rushing yards on 49 carries (3.9 YPC.), notably getting stronger with each passing week, while playing behind a mix-and-match offensive line.

Elliott's combination of positivity and confidence was on display last week when asked about the importance of creativity and motion to spark the running game.

"I think creativity works, but you get inside the 5, I don't think you have to be very creative. I think we have two really good backs. I think you just got to feed us," he said, flashing a smile.

When it comes to feeding himself when he's away from Gillette Stadium, the 28-year-old Elliott said he has discovered two favorite restaurants -- Capital Grille and Legal Sea Foods, where his go-to choices are clam chowder and oysters.

It's all been part of embracing a new chapter in his life. Growing up in Missouri, playing at Ohio State, then spending the first seven years of his NFL career with the Dallas Cowboys, he had little exposure to the Northeast other than as a visiting football player.

Elliott has settled just west of Boston -- "I love the area; it's super quiet" -- and experienced his first traffic jam in the city coming from Logan Airport during his free agent visit. One notable difference to him from what he's been used to traveling into the city is that "there aren't many highways; some of them are just two lanes. It takes a little bit longer to get where you want to go."

But the roads are generally clear when he heads to the Patriots' facility in the suburb of Foxborough early each morning. He's hoping for similar open lanes on the field as the Patriots work to gain continuity on the offensive line and reverse a trend of playing from behind so they can lean more on the run.

Despite the team's disappointing start, Elliott's approach hasn't wavered. He's always smiling, which he says he learned from watching his mother, Dawn.

"I just feel like, control what you can control. It doesn't help to be negative," he said. "Eventually things are going to get going.

"This is a great locker room with a lot of really good dudes. I really like the running back room. We're super close. I've had a good experience."

2. Tuesday change: Patriots coach Bill Belichick made a notable change to the team's schedule each of the past two weeks, adding a Tuesday practice so players were on the field one additional day. The message has been clear -- they need the extra work. "Practicing on Tuesday has been new for us, for me personally, but I think it's good for us," receiver Kendrick Bourne said. "Everybody is coming out with the right mentality. Two days of good work."

3. Strange on cusp: Starting left guard Cole Strange has missed the past three games due to a knee injury but was feeling closer to being ready to return by the end of the week, even though he was officially listed as questionable. While Strange had been struggling to find his groove in the two games he played this season, getting him back in the mix would be ideal for the team to ease the burden on rookie Atonio Mafi.

4. They said it: "They're fighting. There have been some injuries up front; there's some young guys playing there. These aren't excuses. These are facts. There are times the run game looked really clean and there are times the protection looked great. Consistency is the big key and that's what we're working on." -- Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien, on the much-maligned offensive line.

5. Mood check: For a 1-5 team, the Patriots' locker room was anything but a morgue this past week when reporters were present. The energy level was high and players seemed to be making it a point to not let the record define them. "The mood changes every time we get in the building," linebacker Jahlani Tavai said. "When we're around each other, we know to uplift everybody."

6. Speed trap: The Patriots had hoped to slip 2023 sixth-round pick Ameer Speed through waivers late last week and bring him back on the practice squad, a move necessitated by needs at other positions on the roster due to injuries. But the Colts surprisingly thwarted that plan by claiming Speed, a core special teamer. Just an unfortunate numbers crunch for New England.

7. Patriots Hall: The Patriots always put on a first-class Hall of Fame induction ceremony and this year's -- for linebacker Mike Vrabel and offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia -- was no exception, even as it moved inside (for the first time in its history) due to rain. How about three-time Super Bowl champion guard Stephen Neal (2001-10) making the cross-country flight from San Diego to be there for Scarnecchia? A true reflection of the long-lasting impact a coach can have on a player. And Belichick brought the house down with his humor and storytelling.

8. Did you know? Part I: The Patriots are 8.5-point underdogs at home, marking the first time they've been at least 8.5-point underdogs since Sept. 30, 2001 -- which was Tom Brady's first career start. The Patriots were 12.5-point underdogs that week against Peyton Manning and went on to win 44-13.

9. Did you know? Part II: The Bills have won four straight games against the Patriots by double-digits, which is tied for the longest all-time streak of double-digit wins against New England.

10. Did you know? Part III: The Patriots, who are looking to avoid a 1-6 start for the first time since 1993, are the only team in the NFL without a point off a turnover this season. Last season, they led the NFL with 114 points off turnovers.

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