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Positions the Patriots Need to Upgrade this Offseason


Despite Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich returning next year, the Patriots should add another pass rusher in the offseason. (USA TODAY Images)

While New England is still celebrating the 28-24 Super Bowl victory over the Seattle Seahawks, the Patriots are onto the offseason.

Teams around the league are gearing up for the NFL Combine in Indianapolis and the time is rapidly approaching for free agency. The Pats have some big decisions to make on their own free agents,¬†but it’s time to start thinking how the team can improve for next season.

Here are some positions of need the team should evaluate as the offseason begins. —

*Quick note: No specific order

Interior Offensive Line: The Patriots drafted Bryan Stork in the fourth-round of the 2014 draft. With hindsight being 20/20, from this viewpoint he was far-and-away the best draft selection last year as of now.

New England needs to upgrade on the interior. Adding more youth, size, power and toughness to the offensive front. When Stork or Dan Connolly — who’s a free agent and will be 33 when next season begins — were injured last season, the line struggled.

Ryan Wendell and Connolly are decent options, but it’s time for the team to start looking forward. A prospect in rounds one-three should be used targeting the guard position.

Edge Rusher: Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich have been the starters, but a rotation of pass rushers can benefit any team. In a league that hinges on an effective passing game, the Patriots should target a third and fourth option on the edge.

Akeem Ayers did a solid job after a mid-season trade brought him to the team, but now he’s a free agent. If he can be re-signed at a good value, that helps with depth, but¬†would anyone protest adding another player who can attack the opposing quarterback?

Jones has only played one full season since being drafted in the first round, and while he’s been effective when healthy, he has not quite reached the level many expected. Adding another rusher, either through the draft or free agency, would take more pressure off Jones and Ninkovich while allowing players to be more fresh in obvious passing situations.

As much as the Patriots defense improved in 2014, there were many situations opposing signal-callers had too much time in the pocket.

Interior Defensive Line: The Patriots defense struggled at times against the run last season. While the team used a rotation of players last year, questions surround nearly every one of them.

Vince Wilfork isn’t getting any younger and the team may need to trim his salary yet again. Dominque Easley had¬†a disappointing rookie year, but expectations will be high next season. Sealver Siliga and Chris Jones have played well at times, but neither seem to be starting caliber players, but instead rotational pieces for a defense. Alan Branch is a free agent, but could return if the money is reasonable.

The Pats may look for a younger player in the draft or a veteran option in free agency as a way to upgrade. Even if the team decides to keep the majority of their defensive line together for next year, it might be time to groom younger players down the line.

Cornerback: Darrelle Revis’ contract situation is at the top of New England’s offseason list, but let’s assume he is on the roster for next year. Going into the 2014 season, there was a lot of talk about how much depth the Patriots had in the secondary. But was that the case?

Alfonzo Dennard was placed on injured-reserve and it’s hard to determine if he was injured or had fallen out of favor with the coaching staff. Logan Ryan had an up-and-down second season, but does not seem like the ascending talent he was thought to be at this time last year.

Kyle Arrington played well for the majority of the season, but is his roughly four million salary figure too high? Brandon Browner will be 31 at the start of next season. And while Malcom Butler made one of the greatest plays in Super Bowl history a few weeks ago, the question remains if will he be able to grow and improve into his second season.

So, while there are questions about each of the these players and it’s always smart to develop secondary prospects in today’s NFL, should the team draft or add a veteran to the mix? Seems like a strong possibility, even if Revis returns.

Running back: The Patriots have leaned towards a running back-by-committee approach under Bill Belichick, and that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere for the near future. LeGarrette Blount took the lions share of the carries down the stretch, but Shane Vereen was a heavy part of the offense as well.

With Vereen a free agent, along with Stevan Ridley who is also coming off a season-ending knee injury, the team might move on. Jonas Gray flashed when given the opportunity, but was not a big part of the rotation. Brandon Bolden was given an extension, but is primarily a special teams player.

So will the team be able to retain Vereen or turn the job over to James White? White only received 14 touches (9 carries, 5 receptions) in his rookie season. It depends how the coaching staff views White. If the team doesn’t make any significant roster moves, they could be looking at White as a key contributor.

If they choose to draft a prospect or add one in free agency, that could be your answer. But regardless, this position has a lot more questions than answers.

Safety: Devin McCourty is another big priority for the Patriots this offseason. He’s a leader in the locker room and loved by the coaching staff, so it’s hard to see him going elsewhere.

Aside from McCourty, the team could look to upgrade over Patrick Chung or their depth overall. Chung played much better than expected in his second stint with the team, but was exposed in pass coverage at times. Duron Harmon and Tavon Wilson have mainly filled reserve and special team’s roles.

If McCourty re-signs, which seems likely, there are still a lot of questions surrounding the other players at the position. It won’t be a shock if another safety or two is added before next season.

Wide receiver: Brandon LaFell joined the team last season and came on strong during the year. With he and Julain Edelman under contract, the focus shifts to the other players at the position.

Aaron Dobson was an afterthought in his second year, and while he shouldn’t be counted out completely, it’s hard to have strong expectations he’ll be an impact player with what we have seen so far. Training camp will be big for him.

Danny Amendola was brought up as a possible cut in lat year’s offseason, but his contract kept him around. He contributed throughout the year, but was a big factor in the post-season. Will the team ask him to restructure? If he declines he could be on the way out.

The Patriots could look to develop a young receiver in a prospect-heavy draft class, but their track record isn’t great. Adding another veteran to compete for a spot as a third or fourth option seems like a strong possibility.

Do you have a Twitter account? Be sure to follow me: @PatriotsHaven!

Listen to our ‚ÄúPatriots 4th¬†and 2 Podcast‚ÄĚ on Blog Talk Radio as writers Russ Goldman, Steve Balestrieri¬†and I from¬†PatsFans.com¬†discuss the latest Patriots news on Wednesday.

Breaking Down the Patriots 2015 Free Agents


Patriots safety Devin McCourty could be looking to cash in when free agency begins next month. (USA TODAY Images)

The offseason has begun. Many New Englanders and Patriots fans around the world are still on a high from their 28-24 Super Bowl victory over the Seattle Seahawks on Feb. 1. But now that we are more than a week removed, it’s time to turn the page.

Here’s a look at the Patriots free agents, with some thoughts on each player. —

Quick Note: Cornerback Darrelle Revis is not a free agent, but the team has a $2o million option on him for next season. If the team picks up the option, Revis will count $25 million against New England’s salary cap.

Revis is a key factor this season, obviously. Ideally the Patriots and Revis agree to a new, long-term contract that not only lowers his salary cap hit for 2015, but also keeps him on the team going forward. This will be one of the biggest offseason stories over the next several weeks.

Devin McCourty: The Patriots safety, like Revis, is another huge key for New England this offseason. McCourty could be an option for the franchise tag, but that would make his salary $9.5 million next season.

Is McCourty an elite level safety? Some may put him in that level, but he’s probably in the second tier from this viewpoint.¬†The NFL has a shortage of very good safety play, however, so if he hits the open market, there’s a good chance he gets paid.

Regardless, he’s developed within Bill Belichick’s system and has been a positive figure around the team. The Pats cannot let him walk after struggling to build their secondary for so long.

Stephen Gostkowski: The the 31-year-old is coming off a very strong season, ranking second in the NFL in field goal percentage and¬†becoming New England’s all-time scoring leader in the process.

Gostkowski was a core component of a strong special teams unit for New England and the Patriots will most likely bring him back. He could be franchise tagged, if the sides fail to agree on a new deal.

Dan Connolly: A smart, talented and versatile lineman will always have a job in the NFL. Connolly was one of the team’s most consistent offensive lineman this year and has an opportunity to come back next season. With that being said, it will most likely come down to how much he’s worth.

Connolly will be 33 when the 2015 season begins, so don’t expect the Patriots to offer a long-term deal. If the lineman wants to return for one or two years worth a reasonable, but team-friendly salary, he’ll be back. If another team offers a bigger more lucrative deal, the team will likely move on.

Shane Vereen: Coming off a solid year, Vereen could draw some interest around the league. More polished as a receiver than running back, Vereen offers an intriguing option on offense.

Free agent running backs have not been highly paid in recent years, but it will be curious to see if the Pats will match another teams bid or if they’ll be content moving on to the second-year tailback, James White. While New England may want him back, there’s a chance he’ll get more money from another team.

Stevan Ridley: After suffering a knee injury that ended his season, Ridley is now a free agent. While durability or production aren’t major concerns,¬†his value will be low because of his medical status.

Ridley has proven he can be a NFL starting running back, but will the Patriots want him back or are they set with LeGarrette Blount and Jonas Gray? Time will tell, as the market could dictate his future.

Akeem Ayers: Acquired from the Tennessee Titans in a midseason trade, Ayers put together a solid season for the Patriots. While his playing time and production dipped towards the end of the year, he totaled four sacks in nine games.

Ayers could get some attention on the free agent market, as pass rushers are a valued commodity. How much do the Patriots value his services? That will be determined in the coming weeks. And while the team would¬†likely welcome him back, don’t expect them to break the bank to do so.

Jonathan Casillas: Another core special teams player for New England this season, acquired from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers midseason. Casillas was solid in a backup role, fitting in seamlessly in the transition. There’s a good chance both sides come to an agreement for next season.

Alan Branch: After joining the team midway through the season, Branch filled his complementary role well. A big-bodied, veteran defensive lineman with toughness was exactly what Belichick envisioned when he was signed.

Don’t expect a long-term deal, but a one-year deal for 2015 would be good for both sides. That is, of course, if Branch was happy with his role this season and another team doesn’t hand the 30-year-old more money next month.

Chris White: Primarily a special teams player and depth linebacker, White has developed within the Patriots system. He won’t command a big contract on the open market, which makes his return to New England very possible.

Danny Aiken: Despite a few shaky moments, Aiken did a solid job long snapping for the Pats last season. The question is, does the team want to upgrade or move on?

They have brought in players to challenge Aiken, such as Charley Hughlett in training camp. To Aiken’s credit, he won the job. Expect the¬†Patriots and Aiken to agree on a new deal, giving him an opportunity to fight for his job next season.

Do you have a Twitter account? Be sure to follow me: @PatriotsHaven!

Listen to our ‚ÄúPatriots 4th¬†and 2 Podcast‚ÄĚ on Blog Talk Radio as writers Russ Goldman, Steve Balestrieri¬†and I from¬†PatsFans.com¬†discuss the latest Patriots news on Wednesday.

Brady Delivers in the Clutch Yet Again, as Patriots Win Their Fourth Super Bowl


Tom Brady was dominant on the final two drives Sunday night, leading the team to victory for their fourth Super Bowl trophy in franchise history. (USA TODAY Images)

12:10 left on the clock, down 10 points in the biggest game of the year.

The New England Patriots had battled all game, but the Seattle Seahawks had a 24-14 lead into the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl Sunday night.

Tom Brady and the offense took over at New England’s 32 yard line. On the first play, Seattle’s Bruce Irvin got to No.12 for the sack. The Patriots could have been rattled, facing an uphill battle versus one of the best secondary units the NFL has seen in recent history.

Then, Brady found Brandon LaFell, Julian Edelman and Shane Vereen on consecutive downs. Three plays, 34 yards and add another 15 for an unnecessary roughness penalty. They were rolling now.

Five plays later, Brady found Danny Amendola in the back of the end zone. The Patriots were right back in it, down 21-24 with eight minutes to play.

On that drive, Brady went 5-for-7, 59 yards and a touchdown.

The Seahawks took over at their own 20, then proceeded to go three-and-out. The Pats defense did their job. Seattle punted to New England’s 36 and Edelman received the kick with a fair catch.

Down three points, Brady and the offense had 6:52 left in the fourth quarter.

Working primarily from the shotgun formation, No. 12 spread the ball around to Vereen, Edelman, LaFell and Rob Gronkowski on eight different plays. Brady hit Edelman in the end zone from three yards out and gave the Patriots their first lead since the end of the second quarter. 28-24 New England.

Of the ten play drive, eight were passes and New England connected on each. On this drive, Brady went 8-for-8, 64 yards and a touchdown.

Patriots fans have seen Brady elevate his performance in the playoffs in years past, and saw it once again in this game.

Over the final two drives, Brady was 13-of-15 for 123 yards and two touchdowns.

The final Seahawks possession resulted in a roller coaster of emotions, generating some of the most incredible plays in Super Bowl history. While undrafted rookie, Malcolm Butler, ultimately sealed the victory, Brady brought the team down the field twice for touchdowns.

Prior to Sunday, the Seahawks defense had allowed only 14 points in the fourth quarter of their previous eight games. The Patriots scored 14 to give them the lead, including the go-ahead touchdown for the franchise’s fourth Lombardi Trophy in team history.

When the Patriots needed it, Brady delivered in the clutch once again.

Do you have a Twitter account? Be sure to follow me: @PatriotsHaven!

Listen to our ‚ÄúPatriots 4th¬†and 2 Podcast‚ÄĚ on Blog Talk Radio as writers Russ Goldman, Steve Balestrieri¬†and I from¬†PatsFans.com¬†discuss the latest Patriots news on Wednesday.

The Patriots Did Their Job, Finished the 2014 Season as NFL Champions

Exhale.

The New England Patriots are champions once again.

Has it set in yet? The season feels like a blur. Back in training camp, myself and other staff contributors Steve Balestrieri and Russ Goldman watched the team put in work day-in-and-day-out. They never stopped.

Seven months later, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick hoisted their fourth Lombardi Trophy in Glendale, Az.

New England’s roster was much more balanced than years past. The defense, with the addition of Darrelle Revis, improved dramatically and gave the team a new edge.¬†Rob Gronkowski had an All-Pro season and his health throughout the year was critical in the team’s success.

You can name a few players for their individual performances, but this was about 53 guys coming together with one goal in mind. Really, more than 53 — with the practice squad players, coaches and front office personnel executing at a high level.

There were a lot of ups-and-downs during the season. The first four weeks were shaky and the Pats meltdown in Kansas City was a true turning point for the franchise.

With the country and national media questioning the team’s future, the Patriots never wavered. New England won seven-straight games and finished the regular season with 12-4.

After incredible performances against the Baltimore Ravens and Indianapolis Colts at Gillette Stadium, the Pats punched a ticket to the Super Bowl.

New England defeated the Seattle Seahawks 28-24 Sunday night, receiving the franchise’s fourth Lombardi Trophy in team history.

So exhale, fans. They did it, you did it.

We did our job.

Do you have a Twitter account? Be sure to follow me: @PatriotsHaven!

Listen to our ‚ÄúPatriots 4th¬†and 2 Podcast‚ÄĚ on Blog Talk Radio as writers Russ Goldman, Steve Balestrieri¬†and I from¬†PatsFans.com¬†discuss the latest Patriots news on Wednesday.

Three Keys to a Patriots Victory Over Seahawks

The New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks lay it all on the line this Sunday.

Super Bowl Sunday is less than two days away and both teams are gearing up for the premier sporting event of the year. The Patriots and Seahawks, both holding a 14-4 record to this point, have been the best in their respective conferences for the majority of the season.

The Patriots fought their way back from two separate 14-point deficits against the Baltimore Ravens in the Divisional Round, becoming the first team in NFL history to do so, before defeating the Indianapolis Colts 45-7 to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.

The Seahawks have not lost since Nov. 16, falling 24-20 to the Chiefs in Kansas City. Since then, Seattle has won eight-straight games, including a thrilling overtime finish over the Green Bay Packers to punch their ticket for this weekend.

Here’s three keys for New England to come away with a victory Sunday evening. —

Run Game in Focus: New England must find a way to establish the run and stay balanced on offense this week. Tom Brady cannot drop back 50-plus times Sunday. If the Patriots can generate some momentum on the ground, it will open up opportunities in the passing game and keep the unit balanced.

In Seattle’s four losses this season, they allowed an average of 139 yards on 33 rush attempts. Compare those numbers to their 14 wins, when their opponent averaged just 73 yards on 22 ground attempts.

On the other side, the Pats defense will focus on Marshawn Lynch. The NFL’s fourth leading rusher gained over 1,300 yards on the ground this year.

Quarterback Russell Wilson’s ability to run is also a concern. Wilson rushed for more yards than any other signal-caller in the league this season, and his read-option with Lynch will test New England in a variety of ways.

Jamie Collins could take on a “spy” role, shadowing Wilson and keep him in-check. Dont’a Hightower will be responsible for setting the Pats defense and minimizing Lynch’s impact on he ground.

Red Zone Offense, Scoring Key: In the NFC Championship Game two weeks ago, the Green Bay Packers had the Seahawks on the ropes. In Green Bay’s first three scoring opportunities, however, they had an interception and settled for two field goals.

Seattle has an efficient offense, but won’t generally light up the score board. The Patriots must capitalize on every opportunity in the red zone, finding a way to score touchdowns and not settle for three points.

The winner of the last four Super Bowls has scored first in those games. In fact, teams who score first are 32-16 in the Super Bowl. The Patriots scored first in 10 of their 18 games in 2014, winning each of those contests.

Scoring first and finishing drives with touchdowns will go a long way Sunday.

Short Passing Game: The Seahawks have one of the best defensive back units in recent NFL history. Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor lead the “Legion of Boom” secondary.

While Seattle’s secondary gave up a league low only 190.4 passing yards-per-game this season, there are still holes for New England to exploit.

With the Seahawks presumably focusing on Rob Gronkowski, other receivers will have to step up. Sherman will stay on the defensive left side, with Byron Maxwell on the right. Seattle’s cover-3 defense, will play the Pats close to the line of scrimmage, in an attempt to disrupt timing with Tom Brady.

Brady could look at Julian Edelman, Brandon Lafell or Gronkowski at times, but Danny Amendola could be the surprising x-factor. The Pats will be looking to get the ball out of Brady’s hands quickly, and Amendola could be the best option with other players grabbing more attention.

New England will likely use a lot of “stacked” formations, crossing routes and pick plays to create space underneath Seattle’s defense, letting their wide receivers pick up yards after the catch.

Do you have a Twitter account? Be sure to follow me: @PatriotsHaven!

Listen to our ‚ÄúPatriots 4th¬†and 2 Podcast‚ÄĚ on Blog Talk Radio as writers Russ Goldman, Steve Balestrieri¬†and I from¬†PatsFans.com¬†discuss the latest Patriots news on Wednesday.

Patriots Must Find Success on the Ground, Stay Balanced Versus Seahawks


The New England Patriots could look to attack the Seattle Seahawks on the ground Sunday. (USA TODAY Images)

The New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks are less than a week away from kickoff.

While much of the attention has been aimed off the field in the past week, it’s time to focus back on the game. At first glance, many would look to Seahawks tailback Marshawn Lynch and how the Patriots will try to stop the league’s fourth leading rusher. And, yes, that’s a big task for New England this week.

However, New England’s ability to run Sunday could determine which team hoists the Lombardi Trophy at the end of season.

Seattle posted a 12-4 record during the regular season, adding two more victories in the post season versus the Carolina Panthers and Green Bay Packers.

In their four losses this season, Seattle allowed an average of 139 yards on 33 rush attempts. Compare those numbers to their 14 wins, when their opponent averaged just 73 yards on 22 ground attempts.

Obviously, finding success against the Seahawks tough defense is easier said than done. After all, Seattle was second in the NFL this season in yards-per-carry allowed, averaging 3.4 ypc to opponents, behind only the Detroit Lions.

Seattle’s defense is a fast and swarming unit, illustrated by their league-leading 1.37 yards-after-contact to opposing ball carriers¬†this season. On the other hand, Pats running back, LeGarrette Blount, led the NFL this season with 2.57 yards-after-contact.

Something has to give.

Tom Brady cannot drop back 50-plus times Sunday. If the Patriots can generate some momentum on the ground, it will open up opportunities in the passing game and keep the unit balanced.

Seattle’s run defense has softened up in the post season, allowing 132 yards rushing to the Panthers and 135 yards to the Packers. If the Seahawks fail to tighten up their rush defense, New England will take advantage.

Do you have a Twitter account? Be sure to follow me: @PatriotsHaven!

Listen to our ‚ÄúPatriots 4th¬†and 2 Podcast‚ÄĚ on Blog Talk Radio as writers Russ Goldman, Steve Balestrieri¬†and I from¬†PatsFans.com¬†discuss the latest Patriots news on Wednesday.

Game Rewind: Five Key Moments in Patriots Victory Over Colts


Tom Brady, LeGarrette Blount and the Patriots made a statement defeating the Colts 45-7 on Sunday night. (USA TODAY Images)

The New England Patriots are headed to the Super Bowl. The Patriots defeated the Indianapolis Colts 45-7 Sunday night, punching their ticket to Arizona.

New England dominated the game on both sides of the ball, winning their one-one-one match-ups consistently and Indy didn’t have any answers. The Patriots played one of their best all-around games of the season and it couldn’t have come at a better time to this point.

Here are five key moments from Sunday’s contest. —

The Colts Blew It Early: The Pats were strong favorites heading into the contest, but Indy had some chances early on in the contest. New England won the toss, deferred and gave Andrew Luck the ball to start.

The Colts offense went three-and-out, after Luck missed Dwayne Allen and Reggie Wayne on consecutive passes following a two-yard run on first down by Dan Herron.

Then the Pats took the ball, but the Colts defense made a stop and did not allow New England to get a first down. Good start for the Colts, until Josh Cribbs fumbled the ensuing punt and gave Tom Brady the ball at Indy’s 26.

Six plays later, the Pats scored the first of their six touchdowns on the evening and never looked back.

Blount Goes Off… Again: Talk about deja vu. Last year in the divisional round, the Patriots defeated the Colts 43-22 behind running back LeGarrette Blount’s 24 carries for 166 yards and four touchdowns.

On Sunday evening, Blount took control of the game yet again, carrying the ball 30 times for 148 yards and three touchdowns.

Talk about stepping up in a big spot, Blount delivered this week.

His final touchdown run late in the third quarter summed up the contest. He ran up the middle, running through two Colts defensive backs at the five yard line and still got in the end zone to put New England up 38-7. What a performance by Blount and the Pats offensive line.

Pats Were Bigger, Stronger and Better: New England has handled Indy easily the past several meetings, and some things have not changed throughout each game. For starters, the Patriots are bigger, more physical and overall more talented in the trenches.

The Patriots controlled the line of scrimmage, something they struggled with the week prior against the Baltimore Ravens, bullying their way to a lopsided victory.

The Colts struggled to get off blocks and bring down New England ball carriers Sunday, allowing the Pats to rack up 419 total yards.

Watching Indy periodically¬†during the season, twice against the Pats, it’s clear they need to add more talent and size in the trenches. Until they do that, there’s a good chance they will not get “over the hump” and take the next step, even with the talented Luck under center.

Revis Takes Away Comeback Hope: Up 31-7, after Brady found Rob Gronkowski for a touchdown, the Patriots were in good shape with 18 minutes and 19 seconds to play Sunday.

Still, Luck and the Colts sixth-ranked offense has shown the ability to put up points in a hurry throughout the regular season.

Four plays later, Luck was faced with a third and five, looking for his No. 1 receiver T.Y. Hilton to make a play on a shallow out-route.

Revis was lined up on rookie wideout, Donte Moncrief, pressing him at the snap, but recognized Hilton’s route and stepped in front of Luck’s pass. Revis returned the interception for 30 yards, setting up the offense with 13 yards to go before the end zone. The very next play,¬†as aforementioned at the top, ¬†Blount powered up the middle for the score.

A bang-bang sequence of plays for New England and Gillette Stadium went crazy.

Brady’s Curtain Call was Well-Deserved: With the Patriots minutes away from victory, many were wondering why Brady trotted back onto the field with a 38-point lead.

Bill Belichick kept Brady on the field for the team’s first play on their last fourth-quarter drive with just under four minutes to play. Brady handed the ball off to Jonas Gray and trotted to the sideline as the stadium erupted with cheers.

The standing ovation was a great touch by Belichick and well-deserved for Brady, who had a great game and beloved by his fans. Brady got the crowd going even more, fist-pumping and screaming while on the jumbotron. Great moment for Brady, the team and fans.

Do you have a Twitter account? Be sure to follow me: @PatriotsHaven!

Listen to our ‚ÄúPatriots 4th¬†and 2 Podcast‚ÄĚ on Blog Talk Radio as writers Russ Goldman, Steve Balestrieri¬†and I from¬†PatsFans.com¬†discuss the latest Patriots news on Wednesday.

Rob Gronkowski Wins PFWA Comeback Player of the Year


Rob Gronkowski was named the Comeback Player of the Year by the PFWA Friday afternoon. (USA TODAY Images)

New England Patriots tight end, Rob Gronkowski, was awarded the Comeback Player of the Year, voted on by the Professional Football Writers of America.

After a devastating knee injury ended his 2013 regular season, Gronkowski was one of two unanimous All-Pro selections in 2014 (J.J. Watt was the other) and had a terrific statistical year.

Gronk finished the regular season with 82 catches for 1,124 yards and 12 touchdowns. All three categories were the second-highest of his career, falling short of his 2011 season when he posted 90 receptions for 1,327 and 17 touchdowns.

The last member of the Patriots to win the award was Tom Brady in 2009. Randy Moss also won the award in 2007.

Do you have a Twitter account? Be sure to follow me: @PatriotsHaven!

Game Rewind: Ravens and Patriots Trade Haymakers, Brady Leads Team to Victory

The New England Patriots defeated the Baltimore Ravens 35-31 Saturday evening at Gillette Stadium.

The Ravens came to play, putting the Patriots in two separate 14-point deficits throughout the game. New England did not quit, though, fighting their way back and made enough plays to advance in the postseason.

With both teams laying it all on the line, this will be one of the most memorable postseason games for some time. While Baltimore did their talking leading up to the contest, the Pats had the last laugh when it was all said and done.

Here’s a few thoughts on the game. —

Brady Out-Duels Flacco: Leading up to the game, the narrative was how good Joe Flacco has been in the playoffs. While that statement isn’t necessarily wrong, Tom Brady had something to say on Saturday night.

No.12 led the Patriots offense to one of their best offensive performances in weeks, completing 33-of-50 passes for 367 yards, three touchdowns an interception. With Brady spreading the ball around to seven different players, New England kept pace with a surprisingly efficient Ravens offense.

While recent history said Brady would struggled against the Baltimore defense, his competitive nature shined through in a strong performance. His 23-yard go-ahead touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter to Brandon LaFell was a thing of beauty.

Pats Defense Underwhelmed: Going into the contest, there was a fair amount of fans more confident in the defense than the offense based on recent weeks.

New England won the toss Saturday, deferred, then let the Ravens march down the field for a touchdown in less than three minutes of gameplay. The following Baltimore drive, the Ravens had more success and the Patriots defense looked reminiscent of a unit fans watched take the field in year’s past.

What happened? One of the biggest misleading stats from the contest, Baltimore was 1-of-9 on third down. So how did they do it? Success on earlier downs, starting with their ability to keep Flacco clean in the pocket (zero sacks allowed on the day) and Justin Forsett’s 5.4 yards-per-carry.

The Patriots lost the battle in the trenches on¬†defense. New England’s front seven was washed out of the play far too often and Chandler Jones, facing rookie James Hurst, was a non-factor. If the Pats hope to win a championship this season, the pass rush has improve.

Sour Grapes for Harbaugh:¬†John Harbaugh is one of the best coaches in the NFL, but he sounded more like his bother, Jim, after the loss Saturday night. The Ravens coaching staff was upset about the “deception” New England used on a few plays.

The formations featured four offensive linemen alongside a normally eligible receiver, Shane Vereen, who was lined up as ineligible. Vereen informed the referee before the snap that he was an ineligible receiver, but the Ravens complained that they weren’t given sufficient notice by the officials, allowing them almost no time to adjust.

Harbaugh thought the league would, “look into it”, but there’s not much to look into. The Patriots thought outside the box, followed the rules and the head referee even announced Vereen as ineligible before the play began.

After the game, Brady said, “Maybe those guys should study the rule book and figure it out. We obviously knew what we were doing.”

He’s right, but Baltimore wasn’t happy.

The Pass: Back in training camp, the Patriots worked on the same trick play the team executed flawlessly on Saturday. Brady threw to Edelman, Baltimore’s defense collapsed and Danny Amendola caught the pass in stride to tie up the game at 28.

Ok, so maybe it wasn’t bookmarked for November, but they had it in their back pocket.

The Ravens scored a field goal shortly after, but this is certainly one of the plays of the game. Great call by Josh McDaniels, who did a tremendous job in the game’s entirety, but even better execution.

Do you have a Twitter account? Be sure to follow me: @PatriotsHaven!

Listen to our ‚ÄúPatriots 4th¬†and 2 Podcast‚ÄĚ on Blog Talk Radio as writers Russ Goldman, Steve Balestrieri¬†and I from¬†PatsFans.com¬†discuss the latest Patriots news on Wednesday.

First Take: Patriots Host Colts in AFC Championship Game


Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski might have a little extra motivation this week as the team hosts the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship Game. (USA TODAY Images)

The New England Patriots will host the Indianapolis Colts at Gillette Stadium this Sunday.

The Colts traveled to Denver, pulling off the upset to defeat the Broncos 24-13. The Patriots took care of business Saturday, in a 35-31 victory over the Baltimore Ravens, setting up the second meeting between the teams this season.

These two teams last met Nov. 16, with the Patriots winning 42-20 behind a 201-yard rushing performance by Jonas Gray.

Here’s a few early thoughts on the contest. —

– The Patriots have handled the Colts with relative ease in their last three meetings, averaging 26 points-per-victory and outscoring Indianapolis 144-66.

– Colts quarterback Andrew Luck has struggled against New England: 70-for-130, 968 yards, 6 touchdowns, 8 interceptions and a 67.7 QB rating in his career.

– The running game for both teams is an obvious focus for this contest. New England has shredded Indy with the run over the past two meetings. Last year, the Pats and LeGarrette Blount ran the Colts into the ground, same story two months ago with Gray in the backfield.

The Patriots did not have LeGarrette Blount for November’s contest, as he was still a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Colts on the other hand totaled four yards on 13 attempts with Ahmad Bradshaw, now on injured-reserve, and Trent Richardson, whose been an afterthought after a disappointing season. Dan Herron is now the starter, carrying the ball 23 times Sunday evening for 63 yards and a touchdown.

– The Jones brothers will be an easy storyline this week, as the Colts’ Arthur and Pats’ Chandler, were both unavailable for the last meeting.

– Remember when Colts defensive back, Sergio Brown, tweeted post-game that he “put straps” on Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski? Well he does, too. Needless to say, Gronk will be ready for this week’s contest as he, and the rest of Patriots Nation, remembers it a little differently. When the All-Pro tight end “threw (Brown) out of the club”, it cost him $8,268 in league fines.

Overall, it’s a given the majority of Pats fans will be highly optimistic this¬†week. Based on the last few meetings, it’s justified. With that being said, Bill Belichick will focus on getting the team locked in. It’s a one week season, and before you plan your trip to Glendale, AZ, ¬†we’ll see if New England can get the job done this Sunday.

Do you have a Twitter account? Be sure to follow me: @PatriotsHaven!

Listen to our ‚ÄúPatriots 4th¬†and 2 Podcast‚ÄĚ on Blog Talk Radio as writers Russ Goldman, Steve Balestrieri¬†and I from¬†PatsFans.com¬†discuss the latest Patriots news on Wednesday.


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