Archive for December, 2011

Where They Stand: Patriots Playoff Scenarios

With only two weeks left in the NFL season, the playoff picture is beginning to come into focus. ESPNBoston’s Mike Reiss broke down the Patriots playoff scenarios with two games remaining. –

New England clinches a first-round bye with:
1) NE win + HOU loss or tie OR
2) NE win + PIT loss or tie + BAL loss or tie OR
3) NE tie + HOU loss OR
4) NE tie + PIT loss + BAL loss

New England clinches home-field advantage throughout AFC playoffs with:
1) NE win + HOU loss or tie + PIT loss or tie + BAL loss or tie


Reiss and the ESPNBoston staff do a great job of cleaning up the very murky playoff picture.

Ideally, the Patriots beat the Dolphins on Saturday while the Texans, Steelers and Ravens all lose. Given that the Steelers and Ravens return home to face the Rams and Browns respectively, I do not see this scenario working out.

All the other scenarios, which result in the Patriots clinching a first round bye, require a loss by the Texans on the road against the Colts or losses by both the Ravens and Steelers.

Overall, it starts with New England getting a win this Saturday. The Dolphins should put up a fight, but I still believe the Patriots will get the victory at home. I will be posting more on this game shortly.

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

Report: Patriots to Sign DB Vincent Fuller

Late Tuesday evening, Shalise Manza Young of reported the New England Patriots would sign veteran defensive back Vincent Fuller.

After officially placing defensive end Andre Carter on Injured Reserve and releasing defensive end Eric Moore earlier on Tuesday, the Patriots have two roster spots to fill on their 53-man roster.

Fuller, a fourth-round pick of Tennessee in 2005, has played in 76 games over the course of his career. The 6-foot-1, 192-pound defensive back has experience playing nickel/slot corner and can also play safety. The 29-year-old adds a versatile and veteran presence in a suspect New England secondary struggling to defend the pass this season.

With Fuller expected to sign, the Patriots will have one more roster spot to fill on their active roster. Either Markell Carter or Alex Silvestro from the team’s practice squad could be an option for the Pats. My guess is Carter will be promoted after the team doubled his salary earlier in the week.

The sixth round draft choice has been making strides on the practice field and bulked up to around 268 pounds. Carter saw a raise in his salary to more than 300, 000 after another NFL team offered to sign him to their roster. Perhaps he is ready to make the jump this week to fill the team’s roster void. In any case, the other roster transaction should also be announced today.

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

REPORT CARD: Patriots Rise Up to Mile High Challenge

The New England Patriots defeated the Denver Broncos on Sunday afternoon 41 – 23. After the Broncos came out running the ball down New England’s throat early, the Patriots made the necessary adjustments to get the victory. Here is my report card for week 15. –

Offense Grade: A

Chad Ochocinco had his first touchdown as a Patriot on Sunday. (FILE:Icon/SMI)

It’s amazing for the Patriots to put up the type of offensive numbers they have this season and still have areas where they can improve. To me, the running game is still an issue for this team and has been for weeks. BenJarvus Green-Ellis looks slow and the team is not giving the ball enough to rookie tailback Stevan Ridley. I know Green-Ellis is solid, but I would love to see Ridley carry for of the workload for the rest of the season. I feel he is more of a threat to opposing defenses and has the skill set to make a play when he has the ball.

One week after Rob Gronkowski had six receptions, 160 yards and two touchdowns, Aaron Hernandez had the best game of his young career. He finished the game with nine receptions for 129 yards and two touchdowns. It appeared as if the Broncos did not game plan for the second year Florida TE, who seemed to pick up the slack left by Deion Branch who was inactive for the game. His performance highlighted just how many weapons New England has in their arsenal.

Tom Brady, who has struggled to this point of his career in Denver, had another fantastic game on Sunday afternoon. The future Hall of Fame signal caller seemed fired up and he was spectacular. He carved up the Broncos defense for over 300 yards and led the offense to their first 40 plus point of the season. It’s truly amazing to get the opportunity to watch him play for the Patriots week in and week out.

Defense Grade: B –

The defense had a rough start to the game, but the unit made strong adjustments after an abysmal first quarter. After allowing 167 rushing yards and two touchdowns in 15 minutes of game play, they contained the Broncos for the remaining portion of the contest.

The one aspect of the game that really bothered me, was the poor tackling. It seems the Patriots have struggled with some basic fundamentals throughout the season and this game was no different. With many teams running the ball more as the weather gets colder, the defense must do a better job setting the edge and wrapping up opposing players.

The loss of Andre Carter during the game was very significant. Reports are he will be placed on Injured-Reserve today and will be lost for the year with a quad injury. Mark Anderson came in and played exceptionally well, forcing a fumble and sacking Tim Tebow twice. I would expect Anderson to see an increase in playing time and perhaps the Patriots defense could be going with more of a 3-4 look for the rest of the season.

Special Teams Grade: A

This grade would be an A+, but the Patriots continue to struggle on kickoff and punt returns. I would love to see more of a threat in that area.

Stephen Gostkowski hit a pair of field goals in the second quarter and Zoltan Mesko had another solid day. Near the end of the first half, Denver return man Quan Cosby muffed a punt return and Dane Fletcher made a heads up play to recover the ball. This allowed the Patriots to add three points going into the break and the momentum carried into the third quarter.

Overall Game Grade: A-

I believe Sunday was one of the team’s best wins of the season. They played a complete game, with contributions from all three phases. Yes the game started ugly, but Patriots did a lot of things well. The atmosphere in Denver resembled a playoff game, and after the team got punched in the mouth by a red-hot opponent, their ability to adjust was outstanding.

With two weeks left in the regular season, New England finds themselves in the driver seat for the AFC’s top seed going into the playoffs. The next two games will be must wins and there will be plenty to discuss in the coming weeks. Stay tuned.

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

Score Prediction: Patriots at Broncos

The New England Patriots visit the Denver Broncos in the highly anticipated week 15 match up. Even though the Pats have struggled in Mile High in the past, I believe they can get the win this week.

The Broncos will probably keep it close early, but the Patriots should make their move in the second and into the third quarter. When it comes down to “Tebow Time” at the end of the game, I believe New England will be too far ahead for any miraculous comeback attempt.

My prediction for the game is Patriots 34, Broncos 16.

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

Help Patriots Fan Kara in Super Bowl Contest

Kara Hancock bleeds red, white and blue. She has been representing Patriots Nation in Payson, Utah, and now she needs your help!

Hancock is one of 32 finalists in the Vicks Nyquil Most Dedicated Fan Contest.

Hancock is one of 32 finalists in the Vicks Nyquil Most Dedicated Fan Contest. The 29-year-old hopes to win a trip to this year’s Super Bowl in at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

Even though she does not live in New England, Hancock cheers for the Patriots from afar and does not miss a game. She even painted her ’68 VW Beatle with a giant Pats logo. But what drives her love for the team? Why the Patriots?

“Why the Patriots? Well… why NOT the Patriots? I love this team. There is such a passion for the game from the players, an amazing connection on and off the field. They play with conviction, power, and enthusiasm,” Hancock said. “There’s always outstanding talent on the team that shines every week during game time. Not to mention we have the best QB in all NFL history, my personal hero, Tom Brady. Love watching him work on the field! He gets it done. My dream is to someday meet him and shake his hand.”

In October she submitted a photo of herself as a Pats fan “in action” to Vick’s Nyquil’s Most Dedicated NFL Fan contest. The contest committee only selected 32 finalists, one per NFL team, to compete for the grand prize; a VIP trip to Super Bowl XLVI & be named the Most Dedicated NFL Fan. Out of the entire nation, Hancock was selected to represent the Patriots.

In order for her to achieve her goal of winning the NFL’s Most Dedicated Fan, she now needs your help. The Dedicated Fan contest is based on a point system between Facebook and Twitter.

For those of you who have a Facebook – the heavier weighted of the fan voting process –  go to On the left side is “MDF Contest;” once you click there you will find all 32 finalists, including Kara Hancock’s profile. From there you will be able to vote for each challenge posted.

For all of you who use Twitter, Hancock will get a point each time the hashtag #VicksMDFNewEnglandFan is tweeted out. You can also follow her on Twitter: @KaraThePatriot.

For now, Hancock needs all the help she can get, as the voting process is closed on Dec. 29. So get out there Patriots Nation and vote for Kara!

PatsFans on Twitter and Facebook

Like what you have read on the site? Stay in touch with the writers on Twitter and / or Facebook. Whether you want links to all the content and analysis, or Patriots updates in an instant. The writers of PatsFans are the ones to follow! Main Twitter Channel – @PatsFans

Ian Logue on Twitter – @IanLogue

Derek Havens on Twitter – @PatriotsHaven

Russ Goldman on Twitter – @Russ_Goldman

Steve Balestrieri on Twiter – @SteveB7SFG

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Patriots Practice Report

The New England Patriots were back at practice Wednesday, outside in sweats and shells, as the team continues to prepare for the Denver Broncos.

Patrick Chung’s foot injury has held him out of six games, but only five practices this season. (FILE:Icon/SMI)

Sebastian Vollmer and Patrick Chung were the only players absent from practice, as both continue to deal with injuries. Tom Brady and Vince Wilfork were listed as limited at practice for non-football related reasons. Linebacker Brandon Spikes was limited, but he was wearing a brace on his right knee. Here is the full practice report. –

Did Not Participate:

OT Sebastian Vollmer (back, foot)
S Patrick Chung (foot)

Limited Participation:

QB Tom Brady (not injury related)
DT Vince Wilfork (not injury related)
CB Kyle Arrington (foot)
S Patrick Chung (foot)
C Dan Connolly (groin)
WR Julian Edelman (back)
LB Dane Fletcher (thumb)
S James Ihedigbo (shoulder)
CB Devin McCourty (shoulder)
LB Brandon Spikes (knee)
WR Matthew Slater (shoulder)
RB Shane Vereen (hamstring)
WR Wes Welker (knee)
C Ryan Wendell (calf)
RB Danny Woodhead (abdomen)

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

Tale of the Tape: Patriots and Redskins

Each week, I have decided to do a new post called “Tale of the Tape” a few days after the previous week’s game. Sometimes, it is beneficial to let the emotion and high or low wear off to offer a more accurate analysis. This entry will include several thoughts and insight on the game.

The New England Patriots traveled to the Nation’s Capital to face the Washington Redskins on Sunday, resulting in a 34 – 27 Pats victory. Here are a few thoughts and game analysis left over from the contest. 

Three minutes into the game (12:06), the Redskins were backed up at their own 4-yard line. With Washington’s left tackle Trent Williams suspended for the rest of the season, back-up Willie Smith was in his place to defend quarterback Rex Grossman’s blindside. Former Redskin Andre Carter ripped around Smith with a swim move and blasted Grossman causing a fumble. Vince Wilfork got to the ball at the bottom of the pile, resulting in his first career touchdown and the Patriots took an early lead 7 – 0.

Rookie tackle Nate Solder has been tremendous throughout the season. (FILE:Icon/SMI)

– Washington’s rookie running back Roy Helu had success early, displaying his dangerous skill set from the very beginning. He finished the game with 27 carries for 126 yards. The Patriots defense has been shaky this season, but their run defense has been solid. With the Denver Broncos on the schedule next week, New England’s rush defense will need to be ready as the Tim Tebow led option offense is averaging a league leading 156.2 yards-per-game.

– Rob Gronkowski had an unbelievable game. Six catches for 160 yards and two touchdowns has almost become the norm for the potential All-Pro tight end. The second-year man out of Arizona made a few outstanding plays on Sunday; Including a diving catch followed by him breaking two Redskins tackles as he tip toed down the sideline.

Aaron Hernandez also had a solid game at FedEx Field, adding another 84-yards off 5 catches. The Patriots have arguably the best tight end duo in the league right now. At this point in the season, the two have combined for 119 catches, 1451 yards, and 18 TD’s.

– Defensive end Mark Anderson played 20 snaps in the first half and only nine in the second half. The career sub rusher played standing up as an outside linebacker role, in nickel and dime defensive packages. In the second half, New England went with their base defense this season, a traditional 4-3 look. Defensive lineman Brandon Deaderick, who only played seven snaps in the first half, played 20 snaps in the final 30 minutes of the game. If I had to guess, I would say Bill Belichick made a defensive adjustment because of Washington’s early rush success.

– The most embarrassing play I have seen in quite some time for an NFL defense, was at the start of the second quarter. Washington was at mid-field and ran a reverse from RB Helu to WR Brandon Banks. As Banks comes around to the left side, he throws the ball approximately 38-yards to WR Santana Moss. Patriots safety James Ihedigbo caught up to Moss, as the pass was a bit short, but could not make the tackle. Mathew Slater, who made his second straight start at safety for the Patriots, ran over to make the tackle and tripped over Ihedigbo. Poor tackling, bad angles and inexperience really hurt the New England secondary on this creative trick play.

– Thanks to Chad Ochocinco, there have been several Patriots players playing poorly that have had the spotlight taken off them; one of which is defensive lineman Shaun Ellis. The former Jet made his way into the Patriots base defense for the first time in weeks, but still only played 12 plays the entire game. In previous games, Ellis has only played goal line defense reps. Considering the eleven -year veteran will make about 4.5 million this season, that’s an expensive price to pay for virtually no production.

– Devin McCourty has struggled all season, and Sunday’s game was no different. The second-year cornerback was in coverage on Donte Stallworth’s 51- yard completion in the first quarter, was later called for pass interference on third-and-18, and also lost Redskins WR Jabar Gaffney in zone coverage on a 9-yard touchdown pass. McCourty almost had his first interception of the year mid-way through the second quarter, but Andre Carter’s personal foul call negated a great read by the pro bowler.

He did, however, finish the game strong after a rough first half. I do not want to say his struggle are injury related, because he was in the game and has played mediocre all season, but he still does not look healthy to me. Hopefully, he can build off his second half momentum for the rest of the year.

– Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan are one of the most feared outside linebacker pairs in the NFL, but the Patriots’ offensive line had a great day. Orakpo and Kerrigan each finish with only one tackle and one quarterback hit, but no sacks. Rookie left tackle Nate Solder was matched up against rookie LB Ryan Kerrigan for the majority of the game and played exceptional. Matt Light was on the left side, but had to face pass rushing terror Orakpo. While Light did have one holding call, the Patriots tackles played great and helped Brady stay upright.

– New England’s running game needs to produce more. I do not expect the team to put up big numbers on a weekly basis, they are a passing team after all, but they need to have more of an impact in the playoffs. For the second straight week the team struggled to run the ball, totaling only 79 rush yards on the day. Danny Woodhead had one of his better games on the year, with 41-yards off eight carries. I know New England uses a committee approach, but one of the team’s running backs needs to gain some momentum as the weather gets colder.

– With 6:30 remaining, a very heated sideline exchange between Tom Brady and offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien ensued. After Brady made an uncharacteristic mistake in the redzone, you know he was upset because he holds himself to such a high standard. He might appear to harsh on some of the guys around him, but he also pushes them to a higher level of play.

I loved what O’Brien did in that situation though. The offensive coordinator is often over looked between Belichick and Brady, but he held his quarterback accountable in that situation. O’Brien showed Brady, as well as everyone else, it doesn’t matter who you are, even MVP quarterbacks are held to the same standard. The best part, however, was the resolution. Emotions run high on the field, but all people involved handled it well and moved on after the game.

– With :22 seconds left in the game, the New England defense had been pushed deep into their own territory. Defensive captain Jerod Mayo went four years without making an interception, but he now has two in the last two games. Mayo and LB Tracy White saved the Pats at the end of the game.

As Redskins WR Santana Moss caught a pass over the middle, White hit Moss as he tried to bring in a third-down pass. As the receiver bobbled the pass, Mayo swooped in to intercept it. While the defense has given up yards this season, they have been solid in the redzone and made a play when they needed to most.

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

REPORT CARD: Patriots Escape Redskins Comeback Attempt

The New England Patriots defeated the Washington Redskins on Sunday afternoon 34 – 27. While the team did get the victory, this team still has work to do in the last month of the regular season. Here is my report card for week 14. –

Offense Grade: B –

For starters, New England’s running game needs to produce more. I do not expect the team to put up big numbers on a weekly basis, they are a passing team after all, but they need to have more of an impact in the playoffs. For the second straight week the team struggled to run the ball, totaling only 79 rush yards on the day. Danny Woodhead had one of his better games on the year, but no one seemed to get into a rhythm.

Devin McCourty’s second half performance may be something to build off moving forward. (FILE:Icon/SMI)

Second-year tight end Rob Gronkowski is an absolute monster and he had another great game on Sunday afternoon. He finished the night with six receptions, 160 yards and two touchdowns. His first touchdown reception breaks the NFL record for TD catches by a tight end in a season and he would add another one later; giving the potential All-Pro player 15 on the season.

Not only was I unhappy with the play calling yesterday, I thought the execution was poor too. A lot of the plays were made by players after the fact and the unit continues to look for a viable third receiver option. One positive for the game, however, was the offense started faster than previous weeks.

Defense Grade: C –

Thanks to Jerod Mayo and his recent play making ability, the Patriots escaped FedEx Field with another win on Sunday. After four years with no interceptions, the defensive captain now has two in as many weeks. The game as a whole was not pretty by any means, but the team made plays when it absolutely needed too, which is obviously great to see.

I was shocked to see Roy Helu have the type of success he did against a solid Patriots run defense. The unit had been solid against opposing rushers all season, but the rookie from Nebraska torched New England for 126 yards. Hopefully this was a fluke than something that will continue as the weather gets colder and teams turn more to the running game heading into January.

I thought Dane Fletcher made a great debut after being out for several weeks with a thumb injury. The injury reportedly took multiple surgeries to correct and the second-year linebacker wore a hard plastic brace over his glove during the game. He finished with eight total tackles and a quarterback hit.

The secondary put on one of their worst performances of the season Sunday. Devin McCourty had a terrible first half, but played better in the second portion of the game. His performance could have a big impact on the unit as a whole in the playoffs, so hopefully the pro bowl corner can bounce back as the team makes a title run.

One thing I picked up from the game though, Bill Belichick does not seem to know his exact personnel grouping that will start in the secondary come playoff time. He continues to experiment on the defensive end and it will be interesting to see how the defense looks next month.

Special Teams Grade: A-

Pats kicker Stephen Gostkowski hits two field goals, and Zoltan Mesko had three solid punts, averaging 45 yards per attempt. I would love to see more from Patriots returners moving forward, but that might be an area to be addressed in the off-season.

Overall Game Grade: C

Overall, I thought the Patriots played mediocre for the majority of the game, but like I previously mentioned, this team still has work to do moving forward. Never the less, a win is always great to have as the team is vying for the top overall seed in the AFC.

The offense continues to put up solid numbers, but there are concerns. The defense is what it is at this point, but the unit is still banged up and made a play when they needed too. Next week is another tough road match up in Denver as the Pats go up against Tim Tebow and the Broncos. I will have more on both games later in the week.

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

Patriots vs Redskins Replay

For those of you who would like to watch the Patriots and Redskins game from this past weekend, it will be replayed on NFL Network tonight.

The NFL Network will be airing the contest at 8 p.m. eastern time in their “replay” format. I wanted to let fans know for those of you who would like to watch the game again or if you did not get a chance to watch the game on Sunday.

I will be posting my “Tale of The Tape” entry on Wednesday morning with left over thoughts from the 34 – 27 victory and then I will be moving on to my Denver Broncos coverage.

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