Morning Huddle 12/17 - New England Patriots News, Notes, and Links

Ian Logue
December 17, 2013 at 08:52am ET

Patriots practice report: Brian Hoyer struggles during OTA session
Patriots safety Duron Harmon says he's learned from Costa Rica incident
Patriots defensive end Derek Rivers happy to be healthy
Belichick mum on Brady and Gronk OTA absences
No Brady or Gronk, but plenty of storylines at Patriots OTAs

One bright spot to take away from Sunday's game against the Dolphins was the fact the Patriots' defense saw one of their better performances of the last three weeks getting after the quarterback, finishing with four sacks along with five quarterback hits on quarterback Ryan Tannehill during their 24-20 loss in Miami.

Chandler Jones is having a terrific year with 11.5 sacks thus far.
(USA TODAY Images)

Going back to week 11, the Patriots finished with 2, 1, 1 respectively in terms of sacks coming into Sunday's contest, so the fact they were able to get after Tannehill as much as they did as well as bring him down four  times was a big improvement.  Sealver Siliga, Kyle Arrington, Chandler Jones, and Joe Vellano each accounted for a sack in contributing to that total.

However, they've also done a good job at putting hits on opposing quarterbacks in recent weeks, and Sunday was no exception.  The defense had five hits on Tannehill, with Chandler Jones getting two, while Vellano, Arrington, and Siliga each had one.

Jones' sack total this season is up to 11.5, which is nearly double the 6 he finished with in 2012.  He was banged up last season and played in just 14 games, although he's clearly ahead of last year's pace through 14 games.  The sack he had Sunday was his first since week 12 against Denver.

Overall with the way it stands right now, Jones currently leads the team with 21 total quarterback hits on the season, with Rob Ninkovich coming in next with 15.  Ninkovich didn't register one on Sunday, the first time since going back to their week nine match-up against Pittsburgh that he failed to get a hit on the opposing quarterback.  He has six sacks on the season, but was blanked in that category Sunday against Miami.

Getting pressure and disrupting Joe Flacco is going to likely be a big key to this weekend's contest, especially playing on the road.  Baltimore's a loud place to play and it's a building where the Patriots have struggled in recent years, including a 31-30 loss on the road there last season.  That ended up being a memorable night for Ravens receiver Torrey Smith, who fought back the emotion of the loss of his younger brother less than 24 hours after he died in a motorcycle accident.  Smith went out and scored two touchdowns and caught six passes for 127 yards during the Ravens' win, which dropped the Patriots to 1-2, putting them below .500 for the first time since Week 1 of 2003.  Baltimore also finished with 503 total yards offensively.


That game also featured the replacement referees, which fans may recall ended on a game-winning kick that had followed a controversial pass interference call against Devin McCourty.

There were 28 penalties called that night, 10 on New England, 14 on the Ravens.

“I’m not going to comment about that," said Belichick after the game when asked about the officials.  "You saw the game, what did we have, 30 penalties called in the game?”

As the officials were leaving the field, Patriots coach Bill Belichick grabbed one of them by the arm with the intention of trying to get his attention to question whether Ravens kicker Justin Tucker's game-winning field goal, which was barely inside the right upright, was under review.  That ultimately led to a fine of $50,000.


One of the critical plays in Sunday's game was Miami's conversion on a 4th-and-5 that ultimately allowed them to win the game, and Belichick called it a close play that the Patriots were inches away from stopping.

"Well, it's close. It's close," said Belichick during his conference call.  "Obviously we just have to play it a little bit better. They didn't get the first down by much, but they got it. We just need to do a little better job on that play."

"I think it definitely could have been played better. Like I said, we were there. We had two guys there making the tackle right there at the sticks and he was able to fall forward for the yard. I mean, had we gotten there a step quicker, it was obviously a close play – that they made – but we were pretty close. We just need to play a little bit better. There were several things on the play that we could have just been a tiny bit better, might have made a difference. It just wasn't quite enough."


Shalise Manza Young of the Boston Globe caught an interview by Jim Gray on the Westwood One/MNF pregame show with Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.  During the interview Brady apologized for his language following New England's road loss in Miami on Sunday.

"It was a word I wouldn't want my sons to use," said Brady regarding his comment.  "I was still pretty frustrated when I went to the podium."

Brady walked out of the interview room shortly after making the comment after Sunday's game, which got on live TV before they could censor it.


ESPN'S John Clayton had some positive things to say about former Pats QB Matt Cassel, who had a big outing against Minnesota on Sunday.

Said Clayton, "It's starting to look as though Matt Cassel is the best quarterback to emerge in Minnesota this year. Cassel completed his first nine attempts in blowing out the Eagles and he has had the five longest completions of the season for the Vikings. Cassel threw for 382 yards and two touchdowns Sunday."

Cassel has had a tough year in Minnesota, but has fought through it and now appears to have the job firmly in his grasp with two games left this season.


After leaving Sunday's game with another concussion, Bill Belichick revealed on Monday that the injury happened in the fourth quarter, where Solder may have been kicked or taken a knee to the head.

"It looked like he got either kicked or kneed or something at the end of the play down there in the fourth quarter," explained Belichick. "Kind of down there on our end, maybe around the 25-yard line, something like that. We'll take a look at everybody today, see where everybody's at the day after the game and go from there."

When asked if Solder flew home with the team, Belichick didn't have any comment.

"I don't think I really want to make any comment about what anybody did or didn't do," said Belichick.  "That gets into another area."

ESPN BOSTON's Mike Reiss caught the play on film and gave his take on what happened:

"On Solder's final play, he was blocking end Olivier Vernon on an outside rush, and as Vernon bended around the edge, Solder got low and pushed him to the ground," writes Reiss.  "In the process, Solder fell to the ground and Dolphins end Cameron Wake, coming from the other side, appeared to make contact with his helmet as he fell"

"Solder took himself off the field and was seen on the CBS broadcast speaking with team doctor Thomas Gill and members of the team's athletic training staff."

Logan Mankins moved over from his spot at left guard to left tackle in his absence, while rookie Joe Kline filled in at left guard in Mankins' place.


Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski has yet to have surgery on his right knee after tearing his MCL and ACL during New England's battle with the Browns last weekend, but it sounds like the timetable is finally in place to move forward to get that taken care of.

According to the Boston Globe renowned orthopedist Dr. James Andrews will be performing the procedure in about two weeks, with surgery reportedly having been delayed to this point due to swelling in his knee thanks to the brutal hit Browns safety T.J. Ward put on him on that fateful third quarter play.

If everything goes according to plan, it sounds like Gronkowski should be ready for the start of the 2014 regular season.



Even Tom Brady falls short - Jeff Howe - Howe has an article on Brady, who even after five game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime this season wasn't able to pull it off again in Miami.

Callahan: Patriots face ugly reality - Gerry Callahan - Callahan has some doom and gloom this morning, declaring the Patriots dead and saying, "They're doomed".

Get riled up again, it's Pats-Ravens - Mark Daniels - Daniels looks at the upcoming match-up between the Ravens and Patriots, which historically has always been a battle.


Rob Gronkowski surgery near; likely ready for '14 - Shalise Manza Young - Manza Young files her notebook this morning, and writes that the timetable for Rob Gronkowski's knee surgery is set, and the tight end will reportedly undergo a procedure at the start of the new year.

Patriots' margin for error is razor thin - Christopher Gasper - Gasper files writes that, "The scales of football justice tipped back to even for the Patriots on Sunday in Miami. The balance between truth and fairness restored at their expense."

5 takeaways from the Patriots-Dolphins second game  - Zuri Berry - Berry has five takeaways from Sunday's loss, with one big one being the state of the defense.


Getting to know the Ravens - Field Yates - Yates has his weekly look at the opposing team, with the Ravens obviously in the spotlight this week.

Belichick on red zone, key plays on D -  Mike Reiss - Reiss has comments from Belichick's conference call on Monday, where the coach talked about their red zone woes and what happened on Miami's go ahead-drive.

Revisiting Nate Solder's head injury - Mike Reiss - We highlighted this entry above, but Reiss has more on how Solder sustained his second concussion and comments from Belichick on what may have happened.

Picked-up pieces from 1st-quarter review - Mike Reiss - Reiss begins his film review from Sunday and takes a look at how the Patriots decided to match-up against Miami personnel-wise.

Picked-up pieces after 2nd quarter review - Mike Reiss - Reiss looks back at the 2nd quarter and writes that one interesting wrinkle is the fact the Patriots used Aqib Talib more on the inside part of the field, and Ryan Tannehill answered the challenge.

Picked-up pieces from 3rd quarter review - Mike Reiss - Reiss looks back at the third quarter and points out some sloppy tackling by cornerback Alfonzo Dennard.

Picked-up pieces from 4th quarter review - Mike Reiss - Reiss has his look at the fourth quarter,  which highlighted an overall tough day for Patriots safety Steve Gregory.


What we learned: Missed opportunities lead to surprising loss to Dolphins - Christopher Price - Price has this week's "What We Learned", including the fact that receiver Julian Edelman is on an amazing pace so far this season.


New England Patriots' 2013 season a test for fanbase that ranks 2nd in loyalty, but 3rd most unstable, according to study - Nick O'Malley - O'Malley has some interesting data from a recent fan study.


New England Patriots' struggles continue on the road - Rich Garven - Garven looks at the Patriots' season-long struggles on the road after they missed an opportunity to clinch the AFC East title.

Patriots' defense falters in loss to Dolphins - Rich Garven - Garven files his notebook this morning which leads off with note on New England's defense, which failed to produce a turnover for the second straight week.


PATRIOTS NOTEBOOK: More concerns for injured Nate Solder - Glen Farley - Farley writes that for the second time in as many weeks, the Patriots have concerns about the health of Nate Solder.