Patriots Notes: Breaking Down James White’s Historic Start For New England

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October 5, 2018

FOXBORO, Mass. — Let’s run through some notes and nuggets from the New England Patriots’ 38-24 victory over the Indianapolis Colts on Thursday night at Gillette Stadium:

— Running back James White has been a major part of the Patriots’ passing game for years now. But the pace he’s setting this year is almost unprecedented.

After catching a 6-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady late in the second quarter of Thursday’s win, White now has four touchdown catches through five games, nearly matching his single-season career high of five.

How impressed should you be by that stat? Consider this: The last running back to catch four touchdown passes in his team’s first five games was Detroit’s Mel Farr way back in 1968.

White’s latest touchdown caught the attention of Los Angeles Rams star Todd Gurley.

White was Brady’s favorite target Thursday, tying his regular-season career with 10 catches on 14 targets for 77 yards and one score. He’s surpassed 10 receptions just once in his career: his MVP-worthy 14-catch performance in Super Bowl LI.

This season, White leads all Patriots pass-catchers with 32 receptions (nine more than tight end Rob Gronkowski, who’s second with 23) for 270 yards and four touchdowns. He’s on pace for 102.4 catches, which would tie Matt Forte’s single-season record for a running back and shatter White’s current career high of 60.

— In a surprise move, the Patriots cut Kenjon Barner before the game to make room for wide receiver Julian Edelman, leaving them with just two running backs on their 53-man roster. As it turned out, two was all they needed.

White carried the load as a pass-catcher, while rookie Sony Michel turned in another productive performance on the ground. He rushed for 98 yards on 18 carries (5.6 yards per), including a 34-yard touchdown run that iced the game in the fourth quarter.

Michel, who missed the preseason and Week 1 with a knee injury, continues to show improvement after a rocky start to his rookie campaign. After managing just 80 yards on 24 carries over his first two games, he totaled 212 yards and two touchdowns on 45 totes in Weeks 4 and 5.

“Those guys did a great job,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said of Michel and White. “Both of them did a great job. We were dependent on them for quite a bit and they came through. They both carried a heavy load and very productively. They did a great job with ball security and making the plays that were available, and also making some plays on their own.

“They made some guys miss, broke some tackles, gained some extra yards. I thought it was a great job by both of those guys. They really came through for us.”

— The Colts made the questionable decision to stage an elaborate, multi-player celebration after safety Matthias Farley intercepted a Brady pass during the third quarter.

Indianapolis trailed 24-10 at the time, and although they picked off Brady again one drive later and proceded to closed the gap to seven points, things eventually went downhill for the visitors — and for Farley in particular.

During the final quarter, Farley was one of the players covering Josh Gordon on his 34-yard touchdown catch, and he also took a stiff-arm to the face from Michel on his score. Adding injury to insult, the third-year pro also suffered a hamstring injury on that play and did not return to the game.

You tell ’em, Brian Billick:

— Speaking of injuries, it’s downright incredible the Colts were able to remain within striking distance considering the sheer number of players they were missing.

Seven Indianapolis players were ruled out more than 24 hours before the game — including Pro Bowl receiver T.Y. Hilton, top tight end Jack Doyle, running back Marlon Mack and cornerbacks Kenny Moore and Quincy Wilson — and news broke shortly before kickoff that star rookie linebacker Darius Leonard and corner Nate Hairston wouldn’t suit up, either, leaving the Colts with just 44 active players.

Then, they proceeded to lose linebacker Anthony Walker, safety Clayton Geathers, defensive lineman Denico Autry and Farley.

“I want to give them kudos,” Patriots special teams captain Matthew Slater said. “They’re playing man down over there. I don’t even know if they dressed 46 guys. Coach (Frank) Reich and that group, you’ve got to tip your hat. They competed.”

Thumbnail photo via Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports Images
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