FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — A three-day break gave the New England Patriots time to savor three straight wins.
Now they can focus on fixing the problems the winning streak couldn’t hide.
A suspect run defense. A mediocre offensive line. Replacing injured players.
The Patriots returned to practice Tuesday hoping to solve all that — and soon.
After a home game against the Chicago Bears on Sunday, the Patriots face one strong team after another — Denver, Indianapolis, Detroit, Green Bay and San Diego in succession. And three of those games, against the Colts, Packers and Chargers, are on the road.
The Patriots (5-2) squeaked by the lowly New York Jets last Thursday night, 27-25, when Nick Folk’s 58-yard field goal attempt on the final play was blocked. It was the Jets’ sixth straight loss, but they had a more than 2-to-1 advantage in time of possession.
“That’s something, as an offense, that we would like to have more control over the football,” running back Shane Vereen said Tuesday. “A lot of that comes into the running game, which we’re going to have to do a very good job of this week.”
After Stevan Ridley suffered a season-ending injury to his right knee the previous Sunday, Vereen had a busy night against the Jets. He was on the field for a season high 80 percent of the Patriots offensive plays, caught two touchdown passes and rushed 11 times for 43 yards.
“I would say it’s a slight adjustment” to play without Ridley, Vereen said. “I wouldn’t say it’s anything major. They always prepare us for anything and so, therefore, when something does happen like Stevan going down, everyone’s ready to go.”
The defense still has a way to go without star linebacker Jerod Mayo. He also was sidelined for the season with a right knee injury sustained in the same game as Vereen.
His absence contributed to the Jets gaining a season-high 218 yards rushing.
“It was a lot of communication problems, so it wasn’t just (Mayo) not being there,” defensive tackle Casey Walker said. “Of course, we missed him being there, but it was a lot of communication, a lot of stuff that we did wrong, not as much as what (the Jets) did right.”
Walker expects the Patriots to improve in time for Sunday’s game when they’ll face Matt Forte, fifth in the NFL in rushing and first in receptions.
“He does an excellent job of burst and explosion through the line of scrimmage,” New England defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said. “He has incredibly quick feet and some good quickness to get to the edge. … They’ve also extended him out a little bit and put him in different positions where they can now feature him and give him the ball out in space.”
The Bears (3-4) lost to Miami 27-14 last Sunday in Chicago. But they’re 3-1 on the road and tied for fifth in the NFL in takeaways. “They’re known for being ballhawks,” Vereen said.
Titans trade Akeem Ayers to Pats
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee has traded linebacker Akeem Ayers to the New England Patriots in what coach Ken Whisenhunt says gives the linebacker a fresh start.
“A situation that was probably the best for both parties,” Whisenhunt said Tuesday night on his weekly radio show. “Somebody that was interested and we got something out of it. It’s good for us, it’s good for Akeem, and wish him the best.”
The Titans traded Ayers and their seventh-round draft in 2015 to the Patriots and will receive New England’s sixth round draft pick pending a physical, according to multiple reports.
Ayers had been scratched five of seven games this season in Tennessee where the Titans switched to a 3-4 scheme under coordinator Ray Horton. A second-round draft pick in 2011 out of UCLA, Ayers started 44 of 48 games his first three seasons, including all 16 as a rookie.
He led the Titans with 110 tackles and was second with a career-high six sacks in 2012.
But he had surgery to repair the patella tendons in both knees this offseason. With the Titans bringing in veterans Wesley Woodyard and Shaun Phillips along with the scheme change, the 6-foot-3 Ayers fell down the depth chart. He had three tackles this season, all in the 29-28 loss to Cleveland on Oct. 5.