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Patriots vs 49ers keys to the game: New England needs to kickstart its passing game

Related: Patriots vs 49ers preview: How New England’s defense will find success against San Francisco

Denver Broncos Vs. New England Patriots At Gillette Stadium Photo by Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

It’s been a long week here in New England following the Patriots’ 18-12 loss to the Denver Broncos in Week 6. It was a lot of negativity, over-reactions and what we’re used to around here after an ugly, early season loss. However, with an entirely new offense and a lot of moving pieces on defense, the upcoming Week 7 matchup against the San Francisco 49ers is a must-win.

The Patriots haven’t started 2-4 since 2000 and with the AFC East-leading Buffalo Bills playing the lowly New York Jets this week, you don’t want to go into that matchup next weekend two-and-a-half games out of first place.

The Patriots are back to their normal game week schedule and are much healthier than they were a week ago with David Andrews, Shaq Mason and Byron Cowart all back. With a week of preparation and normality for the players and staff, this weekend’s game should go much better than we have seen from New England the last few weeks. We know head coach Bill Belichick and the guys inside that locker room heard all the chatter this week, so you have to expect they will come out ready to go here this afternoon.

Get the passing game going early on

The Patriots’ passing attack hasn’t been efficient since its Week 2 loss in Seattle: it struggled versus the Las Vegas Raiders, the Kansas City Chiefs and last week against the Broncos. How bad has it been? James White has missed two games and is still second on the team in receptions and fourth in receiving yards.

N’Keal Harry and Julian Edelman combined for just two catches for eight yards a week ago. Now, with the offensive line back to full strength and the Patriots having a normal week for once, as mentioned above, I’m sure they will be much better today than what we have seen the last few weeks. However, it won’t be an easy task as even with their injuries up front, the 49ers sure know how to get to the quarterback and disrupt New England’s timing and rhythm through the air.

Get an early lead

For the last three weeks, it’s been real tough for the Patriots to get a lead and maintain one. They have trailed for almost the entire game in their last two losses versus the Chiefs and Broncos. Getting out to a hot start and putting the Niners — they also have a must-win game this week sitting at 3-3 in a tough division — on their heels early can help the Patriots settle in and play their “bully ball” style and dictate the game from the opening kick.

Forcing the Niners to have Jimmy Garoppolo throw themselves back into the game is what the Patriots want to do.

Keep George Kittle in check

Obviously this task is a lot easier said than done, but the Patriots defense has shut down other top tight ends in the league Travis Kelce and Darren Waller in the past: in back-to-back weeks, the Patriots held both Kelce and Waller to a combined five catches for just 79 yards.

This week may be arguably their toughest challenge against the ultra-talented George Kittle Kittle, who is a true do-it-all tight end that is dangerous after the catch and serves as an extra offensive lineman on rushing plays. Kyle Dugger, Adrian Phillips and Joejuan Williams have all chipped in to fill that Patrick Chung role that took on tight ends that are physical at the line of scrimmage and dangerous with the ball in their hands.

Taking Kittle out of the game will make life difficult for Jimmy Garoppolo, who has struggled finding his open receivers this year with a banged up ankle.

Prediction: Patriots 24 - 49ers 20

Did you know?

  • Cam Newton needs just 88 passing yards to eclipse 30,000 passing yards for his career.
  • Even after missing two games, James White enters Sunday second on the team in receptions (18) and 4th in receiving yards (133).
  • Bill Belichick will look to improve to 12-4 when facing quarterbacks that he’s coached in the past.
  • Damiere Byrd (17 catches for 272 yards) is on his way to a career year. He has more catches this year than he did in his three seasons in Carolina combined. His best line (32/359/1) was last year in Arizona.
  • Chase Winovich (8 sacks in 21 career games) is on pace to become one of the fastest players drafted by Belichick to reach ten career sacks. To compare, Chandler Jones reached 10 sacks in his first 20 games.
  • The Patriots haven’t started 2-4 since 2000.