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Monday Patriots Notebook 8/3 – Dobson off to a Strong Start

The Patriots get to enjoy a day off on Monday after four strong days of practice, and here’s a quick rundown with some news and notes from this morning.

Dobson off to a strong start:

After returning an already talented receiving core in 2015, the Patriots have seen noticeable improvement from Aaron Dobson, who has impressed so far during training camp.  He’s been one of the players who have stood out early on, including a play on Sunday where he out-leaped Malcolm Butler on a deep pass play when it appeared that Butler might have a shot at picking it off.

Those are the types of plays New England needs out of their third year receiver, and Dobson sounds like he’s starting to gain some confidence, which if he continues to shine could give Tom Brady another strong option in the offense.

“It’s always fun just to make plays like that,” Dobson told the Boston Herald. “He threw the ball up for me, and I’ve got to make a play. He’s trusting me to be consistent.”

At 6’3″, Dobson joins Brandon LaFell and Brian Tyms as the biggest receivers on the team.  LaFell obviously had a strong performance last season and is expected to be a big contributor again this season, and Dobson working his way back into the mix will only make this group better.

“I owe it to myself,” Dobson said. “I’m just trying to come out here and make every single play I can. Every ball that comes my way, I’m just trying to grab it. However it is, bad throw, good throw, uncatchable, catchable. I’m just trying to make plays.”

Butler Looking Good So Far:

Patriots’ cornerback Malcolm Butler has looked good so far during camp, although he’s had some tough battles that have included some one-on-one match-ups against Julian Edelman.  On Sunday the two went at it on several occasions, and while Butler got the best of him at times, the veteran receiver had moments of his own including one where he made a terrific catch over Butler, spinning the ball at his feet as Tom Brady came over to celebrate.

Those are the types of battles that are fun to see, and Butler has enjoyed the in-team rivalry that goes along with his role at this time of year.

“When we’re at practice, I tell Tom, ‘Throw the ball, throw the ball, throw at me,’ ” Butler told the Boston Globe. “But when he gets me, he’s going to let me know he threw it. So he let me know he threw it.”

One interesting tidbit pointed out by the Herald was the fact that Butler practiced one day earlier in camp iwth his fingers taped together.  The apparent reason was to work on trying to avoid drawing a penalty.  “Holding, it hurts you,” Butler said. “Trying to prevent that from happening.”

He and Brady have gone back and forth, adding a little intensity to the workouts.  Butler enjoys the competitive banter, and enjoys the fire the veteran quarterback brings to the team.

“It makes us feel good,” Butler said. “He lets us know he wants to come after us and get us better. At the same time he’s getting his players better.”

Edelman also had some encouraging words about his teammate, telling the newspaper of Butler, “Most people talk and can’t back it up. That’s one of the guys that can back it up. That’s all I’ve got to say about that.”

Mason and Jackson Getting Some Important Reps:

One interesting note is the fact that the Patriots obviously have confidence in rookie guards Shaq Mason and Tre’ Jackson, with the two getting a lot of reps with the first team offensive line.  Mason has been at left guard, while Jackson has been at right guard.

Ryan Wendell remains on PUP while Dan Connolly has retired, and that’s allowed the two to earn an opportunity for themselves so far during camp, and so far it appears they’re both playing well.  It’s early, but definitely something to keep an eye on if they continue to improve.


Rookie long-snapper Joe Cardona is settling in well so far.

Cardona Adjusting Well:

As a member of the Navy long-snapper Joe Cardona has had an interesting offseason, with Shalise Manza Young of the Boston Globe writing a good piece about him this morning.  Cardona has had a tough road to get to this point, having to balance his responsibilities and the military during this offseason, which was difficult.  However, Cardona said that the team has been flexibile and they’ve been supportive, which has made the transition easier and so far things are going well.

“As of right now, there’s a lot of people supporting me. My command in Newport is super supportive of me, the Patriots are supportive of being flexible, and it’s been evident through OTAs and everything,” Cardona said. “So as far as I can tell, everything seems smooth and I just have to show up and do what I’m told, do my job, and we’ll see what comes of it.”

Cardona has also earned the respect of teammate Steve Gostkowski and so far the chemistry has been great, which is good news as the two are certainly two key components that need to work well together heading into 2015.

“He’s come in and worked hard and done well with us, and that’s what training camp is for, to go through the ups and downs, the bumps,” Gostkowski said. “They try to tire you out and wear you out mentally and the coaches are doing a good job of doing that to him. He’s handling it well so far and we’re just excited to form a lot of chemistry and make a lot of kicks and keep special teams doing really well.”

Manza-Young Gives an Inside Look:

Speaking of Manza-Young, there was an interesting article on SI.com about women in sports, and she was highlighted for what it’s been like to be a pregnant female reporter covering the team.

The Boston Globe reporter spent the 2015 season pregnant with their third daughter and she’s just a couple of weeks away from her due date.  She was also pregnant for the entire 2013 season, which is a challenge for a female reporter but one that brought some fun moments.

She provided some insight into what it’s been like for her, and pointed out some encounters with players that have made it enjoyable.

“Two moments stick out from that season: in September, when I wasn’t quite to the halfway point but starting to show, defensive end Chandler Jones says to me, “Hey, Shalise—​you’re starting to look big. Can I say that?” I assured him that yes, in that situation, I was OK with him saying that.”

“In December, Tom Brady remarked that I looked good. Now, when you’re around 30 weeks pregnant, you don’t always feel like you look great. But to have a man who’s married to Gisele Bundchen, one of the most beautiful women in the world, remark that I looked good, well, I gladly put that little feather in my cap!”

Manza-Young said that Jones has had some additional fun with her this time around.

“Chandler is having even more fun with my pregnancy this time. Twice over the opening days of training camp he’s mocked my waddle, spreading his feet, pushing his belly out and trying to imitate my walk. Running backs coach Ivan Fears has offered to come to my aid if I go into labor while I’m at practice sometime in the coming days.”

Good stuff.

Patriots Make A Couple of Roster Moves:

New England released defensive backs Justin Green and Derek Cox on Saturday night, with Green opting for retirement and that ultimately lead to his release.

According to ESPN’s Field Yates the team claimed offensive lineman Harland Gunn off waivers from the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. With Gunn listed as a guard, he’ll add some additional depth as the team continues evaluating that position.  They currently have two open roster spots to start the week.

Morning Notebook – 7/31: Patriots Get Back to Work

The Patriots will be back at work this morning, with their second public practice scheduled for 9:15am at Gillette Stadium.  They received quite the turnout on Thursday for their first public session, taking the field in front of a packed house on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium as they began preparations for the 2015 Regular Season.

As we get set for another busy day, here’s a quick rundown with some notes from yesterday and some additional tidbits for this morning.

– So far after one day both quarterbacks were solid and Tom Brady was all business.  He looked focused and sharp Thursday, which had him taking all the first team reps.  According to Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald, he was pinpoint accurate on the day, finishing 27-of-30, with two of those incompletions being drops by the receivers.  Jimmy Garoppolo also had a decent outing but did get picked off by second-round pick Jordan Richards, although he had several good plays to wideout Brian Tyms.

– For those who were in attendance, it was tough for fans and media to follow the action as Bill Belichick had his players in numberless jerseys and helmets, making it tough to tell many of the players apart.  Guys like Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski, and Scott Chandler were easy to spot (and Chandler is massive), but it was a little tougher with some of the other players considering the distance from the sideline to where they were.

But one moment that was kind of fun was a red zone play that saw Tom Brady go out for a pass, with the veteran quarterback making a one-handed grab on a pass from Julian Edelman before taking off for the endzone, reaching over the pylon as he scored.  Overall he had a good outing, with Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald reporting Brady finished practice 17-of-20 in 11-on-11 drills, including a perfect 10-of-10 on 7-on-7s.

– With Brandon LaFell sidelined and on the physically unable to perform list, the 6’3″ Aaron Dobson was noticeable and got a lot of work in, including hauling in a touchdown during practice.  He remains one of the key players to watch in the weeks ahead, as he has the capability of adding quality depth to an already talented and deep group of receivers.

– According to the Herald, Chandler Jones, Dont’a Hightower, Jamie Collins and Sebastian Vollmer were limited, while Jerod Mayo and Sealver Siliga participated in full, with Mayo’s return a pleasant surprise after being lost for the season in 2014.

Offensive lineman Ryan Wendell missed the session, which opened up some opportunities for Tre’ Jackson and Shaq Mason.

Garoppolo Staying Grounded:

Jimmy Garoppolo wouldn’t get into his potential role as a starter if Brady doesn’t start the season, saying he’s got a lot of work still ahead of him.

“There’s an endless amount of things that I have to work on,” Garoppolo said via Patriots.com. “We’re all out here just trying to get better every day; take it one day at a time. There are little things every day that you focus on. You’ve just got to take it day by day, really.”

Hightower Upbeat:

After spending this offseason recovering from shoulder surgery, Dont’a Hightower sounded pretty upbeat and having avoided PUP, the veteran said everything looks good with his health so far.

“Not where I want to be,” Hightower told reporters Thursday, “but everything’s going in the right direction. It’s another good day in the books.”

“I’ve had surgery before. That’s just part of it. There’s good days, there’s bad days. There’s days you do really well and days where you take a few steps back. It’s just all about how you come back when challenged with adversity and just keep your head down and do it. Right now I feel good where I’m at. I’m making strides in the right direction. I’m out there with those guys, we’re in the meeting rooms and stuff. It just feels good to get back to football, talk and communicate and stuff.”

OBSERVATION LINKS FROM DAY ONE:

Patriots practice observations: Tom Brady comes out firing – Boston Herald

– Patriots Day 1 training camp blogservations – Patriots.com

– All eyes on Garoppolo; 7/30 camp notes – Patriots.com

– Patriots Training Camp Observations: Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo Shine – NESN

– Training camp observations: Fans show support as Tom Brady stands out – Providence Journal

– Tom Brady’s one-handed catch highlights action at first day of Patriots camp – ESPN Boston

– Patriots Training Camp Report: Super Bowl Champs Open 2015 – PatsFans.com

– Thursday Patriots Training Camp Observations: 7/30/15 – PatsFans.com

VIDEO: Robert Kraft ‘Unequivocally Supports’ Tom Brady

Patriots owner Robert Kraft came out firing on Wednesday, expressing his disappointment in the NFL’s handling of Brady’s suspension and apologized for his decision in May where he accepted the league’s penalties. Check out the video above.

Brady Finally Speaks Out, “I Did Nothing Wrong”

Tom Brady finally spoke out against the allegations against him this morning, releasing a strongly worded statement on his Facebook page where he defended himself and the equipment personnel regarding the accusations against them.

Here’s what Brady had to say:

I am very disappointed by the NFL’s decision to uphold the 4 game suspension against me. I did nothing wrong, and no one in the Patriots organization did either.

Despite submitting to hours of testimony over the past 6 months, it is disappointing that the Commissioner upheld my suspension based upon a standard that it was “probable” that I was “generally aware” of misconduct. The fact is that neither I, nor any equipment person, did anything of which we have been accused. He dismissed my hours of testimony and it is disappointing that he found it unreliable.

I also disagree with yesterdays narrative surrounding my cellphone. I replaced my broken Samsung phone with a new iPhone 6 AFTER my attorneys made it clear to the NFL that my actual phone device would not be subjected to investigation under ANY circumstances. As a member of a union, I was under no obligation to set a new precedent going forward, nor was I made aware at any time during Mr. Wells investigation, that failing to subject my cell phone to investigation would result in ANY discipline.

Most importantly, I have never written, texted, emailed to anybody at anytime, anything related to football air pressure before this issue was raised at the AFC Championship game in January. To suggest that I destroyed a phone to avoid giving the NFL information it requested is completely wrong.

To try and reconcile the record and fully cooperate with the investigation after I was disciplined in May, we turned over detailed pages of cell phone records and all of the emails that Mr. Wells requested. We even contacted the phone company to see if there was any possible way we could retrieve any/all of the actual text messages from my old phone. In short, we exhausted every possibility to give the NFL everything we could and offered to go thru the identity for every text and phone call during the relevant time. Regardless, the NFL knows that Mr. Wells already had ALL relevant communications with Patriots personnel that either Mr. Wells saw or that I was questioned about in my appeal hearing. There is no “smoking gun” and this controversy is manufactured to distract from the fact they have zero evidence of wrongdoing.

I authorized the NFLPA to make a settlement offer to the NFL so that we could avoid going to court and put this inconsequential issue behind us as we move forward into this season. The discipline was upheld without any counter offer. I respect the Commissioners authority, but he also has to respect the CBA and my rights as a private citizen. I will not allow my unfair discipline to become a precedent for other NFL players without a fight.

Lastly, I am overwhelmed and humbled by the support of family, friends and our fans who have supported me since the false accusations were made after the AFC Championship game. I look forward to the opportunity to resume playing with my teammates and winning more games for the New England Patriots.

Patriots Easley Among Eight Players Who Will Start On PUP

The Patriots appear to be exercising a little caution heading into training camp, and it appears that Dominique Easley will be a player who won’t be a full participant when the team gets back to work this week.

According to ESPN’s Mike Reiss, after missing all of the team’s offseason workouts, Easley will start the year on the PUP list for New England.

The Boston Herald reports that there were eight players total who were placed on PUP, with Brandon LaFell, Ryan Wendell, Matthew Slater, Dane Fletcher, Vince Taylor, Chris Jones, and Chris White among players who will Easley to start camp.  Quarterback Matt Flynn is reportedly on the non-football injury list, meaning that whatever ailment he’s dealing with isn’t related to anything pertaining to the club.

Most critics believed Easley was a risky selection when the Patriots took him last year, but the return could be huge for a team that could use another big presence inside.  The former Florida Gator had previously torn both ACLs before New England took him with the 29th overall pick and it ended up being a knee injury that ended his rookie season.  However, the fact they took a chance on him wasn’t a complete surprise given Easley’s potential and the team obviously felt strongly enough to exercise the risk.

After opting to part ways with veteran Vince Wilfork this offseason, it’s obvious the Patriots are trying to start getting younger at the position, especially after following up his pick by selecting Malcom Brown in the first round with the 32nd overall pick this year.

For now it will be a little longer before we get to see him in action.  But under that designation, players who are on the active/PUP list can come off of it at any time.

The surprising news is Dont’a Hightower isn’t among this group, which after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery is encouraging heading into camp.  Hightower had said last month that things were going well and he was ahead of schedule.

“Honestly, I don’t have a target date,” said Hightower at the time. “I’ve seen doc, and everything is going great right now. I’m right on track, if not a little ahead of schedule. It’s something that’s going to take time. I can’t say ‘three weeks’ or whatever. It feels great. I’m doing good. Doc loved everything. He said I’m ahead of schedule, so I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing.”

Looks like it worked out, because at this point it seems he’ll be out there later this week.

As the madness surrounding DeflateGate continues, it appears there are some other NFL Owners out there that want to keep Patriots quarterback Tom Brady off the field as long as possible in 2015.

According to ProFootballTalk.com there are reportedly a “handful of influential owners” that want NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to hold firm on the original four-game suspension that was handed down and not to reduce it.  The obvious issue is the fact that Brady and his camp want the suspension wiped out completely, which all signs seem to point to an inevitable meeting in federal court between the two sides.

The site also reports that settlement discussions have occurred, but so far no progress has reportedly been made toward a deal at this point.

Peter King of MMQB recently suggested that the NFL should wait until 2016 before making a ruling, allowing them to have an opportunity to measure game balls in adverse weather conditions to see for themselves how the footballs are actually affected, which would give them an opportunity to make a more educated decision.

“I think it takes a leader to stand up and say, ‘We’re going to be measuring the air pressure in football for the first time ever this season, before and during and after games,” wrote King. “And this is too important an issue to not have all the evidence in-house before we make a ruling.”

That would seem to be the logical route if the Goodell really wants to get this one right.  But for now, the battle continues.

We recently teamed up with four AFC East independent media sites to discuss which team in the AFC East has the best defensive line. Here’s what Matt Barbato of New York Jet Fuel, Steve Saslow of Bills Daily, Luis Sung of Phin Maniacs and myself had to say about who has the more dangerous defensive line and secondary in the Division heading into 2015.

Matt Barbato (@NewYorkJetFuel): The AFC East is loaded on the defensive line. Leonard Williams fell to the Jets at the sixth pick of the draft, the Dolphins made a major splash by signing Ndamukong Suh, the Bills hired Rex Ryan to run an already excellent unit led by Mario Williams and Marcell Dareus while the Patriots said goodbye to iconic nose tackle Vince Wilfork.

So guys, after an incredibly busy offseason around the division, who do you think possesses the best defensive line in the AFC East?

Ian Logue (@PatsFans): The Jets were already pretty tough last season, ranking fourth in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game (93.1) and also fourth in the league in sacks per pass attempt (8.44%). They drafted DL Leonard Williams sixth overall and still seem to have a pretty solid group. Former Patriots coach Pepper Johnson was promoted to defensive line coach, and any fans in New England who remember how good he was should realize he’ll have that group ready to go. Add in Darrelle Revis – who was a clear difference-maker in New England and he really did make guys around him better – and it’s quietly a defense to worry about. They’re the best defense in my mind.

Buffalo’s defense hasn’t been the problem there for awhile, they just can’t put together an offense to score any points. The Bills were fourth in the league in total yards-per-game allowed in 2014, and third in the NFL in passing yards per game given up. The most surprising number is the sacks-per-pass-attempt, which was 9.66% (1st) and the Bills actually were tops in the NFL in 3rd down pct (33.18). Factor in the arrival of Rex Ryan and this is a unit that is going to be a problem, and if the Bills can figure out a way to score points, they have a defensive line and secondary that should be able to keep them in football games and make them competitive.

The Dolphins added Ndamukong Suh this offseason, who joins an already pretty disruptive group. Suh’s addition is going to be interesting to watch because guys with egos typically don’t thrive in Miami, but there’s no questioning how talented he is and when added to a defense that already has guys like Cameron Wake, they’ll be tough. As for their secondary, Miami was sixth in the NFL in passing yards per game in 2015 so it’s not like they’re a bad group. But the Bills edge them out because of how good Rex Ryan is as a coach at getting his guys ready to play, and Philbin hasn’t seemed to bring that same fire to his own defense.

Obviously losing Revis is huge and they also lost defensive back Brandon Browner, who was a physical player and did a good job in his one season. Vince Wilfork departed to Houston as the team starts transitioning to a younger group, and they’re definitely going to start the year with some relatively new faces. They drafted first round pick Malcom Brown and have last year’s first-round pick Dominique Easley relatively healthy after coming off of an ACL injury.

On the outside, Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich are both good at getting after the quarterback and in the secondary the Patriots have just Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan returning at cornerback from 2014, with plenty of question marks from there. Safety Devin McCourty is one of the top safeties in the league, and Patrick Chung also played well in his return to the Patriots last season.

New England’s #4 ranking in this list is primarily because they’re probably going to need some time early on for this new group to come together, and history has shown they probably won’t be good to start the year and may struggle in the early going. However, what will matter is how they’re playing in December and January, and that will be one of the biggest keys during the Patriots 2015 title defense.


DE Rob Ninkovich will likely, once again, be a big key to the Patriots success in 2015.

Luis Sung (@PhinManiacs): Well, I could be biased toward my team and say that the Dolphins have the best defensive line in the NFL. Signing Ndamukong Suh, drafting Jordan Phillips, hanging on to Earl Mitchell, still having Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon who are set to excel with Suh attacking the middle. All of these things point to the Dolphins having an elite defensive line.

But the issue with the Dolphins is not their front seven, it’s actually their depth, specifically at defensive end. While Wake and Vernon are the clear-cut starters, the players after that start to become somewhat of a question mark. Derrick Shelby is clearly talented and can play on either side of the line, but the next man up after that is currently Terrence Fede, who – while talented – is extremely raw and will require quite a bit of development before he can be counted on.

My choice for top defensive line in the AFC East has to go to Buffalo. With the return of starters Marcell Darius and Kyle Williams – who were both Pro Bowl DTs last season – and the return of DEs Jerry Hughes and star pass-rusher Mario Williams, Buffalo is clearly a team to be reckoned with. For their part, Hughes and Williams have combined for more sacks in the league than any other duo, including Wake and Vernon.

On top of all that, Rex Ryan is now the head coach for the Buffalo Bills, and as everyone is well aware of, defense is his passion. With the powerhouses on Buffalo’s D-Line, Rex is likely going to turn the already deadly Bills defense into something far worse to face off against…I’m open to suggestions as to exactly what kind of a picture comes to mind with that statement.

Steve Saslow (@BillsDaily): I hate to be a homer but I have to go with the Buffalo Bills as the best defensive line in a division that has very strong defensive lines on the three teams without Tom Brady at quarterback.

The Bills are returning with the same four defensive linemen for a third straight year. Mario Williams, Kyle Williams, and Marcell Dareus are all coming off pro bowl years. Jerry Hughes is the only member of the starting unit that did not make the Pro Bowl last year and he had double digit sacks. Mario and Hughes lead the NFL as defensive ends in sacks over the past two seasons.

Add to that the addition of Rex Ryan who will use the blitz to get the most out of the linemen and keep them from getting double-teamed too often. Keep in mind that at times Super Mario or Hughes may not have their hand on the ground and may line up at outside linebacker but they are all defensive linemen.

The backups are mostly returning solid role players as well with Corbin Bryant, Stefan Charles, and Jairus Wynn all returning. They also signed Alex Carrington as a free agent. He excelled two years ago in Buffalo.

Some will say the switch from Jim Schwartz’s 4-3 to Ryan’s 3-4 will hurt them but they essentially ran the same defense two years ago when Ryan’s protégé Mike Pettine was the defensive coordinator.

MB: You can argue the Dolphins, Bills or Jets have the best defensive lines in football.
The Dolphins have arguably the best defensive tackle in the league in Suh, while Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon make a strong pass rushing tandem on the outside. The Jets have an already tremendous 3-4 defensive end in Muhammad Wilkerson along with a player many are comparing to Wilkerson, Richard Seymour and even Reggie White in Leonard Williams. The Bills have four outstanding defensive linemen, but one of them may have to play a stand-up outside rusher role in Rex Ryan’s 3-4 scheme.

The Patriots don’t exactly stack up in the defensive trenches with the latter three teams mentioned, but got a great value pick in defensive tackle Malcom Brown at the end of the first round. At 6-foot-2, 319 pounds, the Patriots have their replacement for the iconic Wilfork, who is now a Houston Texan. If Dominique Easley can show some flash in his second season, the Patriots could have a budding unit along the line of scrimmage. New England was ninth in the NFL against the run, which speaks to the ability of the unit. For now, they don’t come close to the other teams in the AFC East.

I took a look at last year’s sack totals to see how much production came from the defensive line. The Bills led the NFL with 54 sacks last season with 39.5 of them came from their starters. The Jets finished sixth in the league with 45 sacks, but only 13.5 of them came from starting defensive linemen. Miami recorded 39 sacks, with 20 of those coming from starters.

Buffalo’s defensive line is clearly the most explosive when it comes to pass rushing and that shouldn’t change under Rex Ryan. His 3-4 defense thrives on confusing blitz schemes and the firepower along the defensive line will only make the Bills defense that much more volatile. The linebackers may steal a few more sacks due to Ryan’s aggressive play calling, but the line will be tremendous again. I’m curious to see if Ryan moves Mario Williams or Jerry Hughes to a stand-up edge rusher position, or uses a rotation among the four starters from last year.

The Jets’ sack numbers reflect Ryan’s scheme. Wilkerson had a down season by his standards, but is more of a run stopper rather than an elite pass rusher. Richardson brings the explosiveness, but is suspended for the first four games of the season. Damon Harrison is a plug at nose guard and is a two-down run stopper. New head coach Todd Bowles may dial down the blitzing a bit, but his defense shouldn’t be much different from Ryan’s. Leonard Williams will be the key player to watch as he steps in to replace Richardson for the first quarter of the season.

Miami’s defensive line was a big reason it finished 24th against the run last year. The addition of Suh will instantly improve that. While Suh plugs up the middle, Wake and Vernon will be a handful along the edge for opposing offensive tackles. When those two are buzzing like they were at the end of 2014, the entire defense improves dramatically. If Miami gets anything from Jordan Phillips or Dion Jordan, it could be a very deep unit.

The best defensive line in the division is Buffalo’s. The Bills have outstanding rushers along the outside in Mario Williams and Hughes, along with great run-stopping tackles in Williams and Dareus. They will all thrive in Ryan’s system and will supersede potentially shoddy quarterback play.

So that’s three votes for Buffalo and one for New York. It’s clear the AFC East will give opponents plenty of problems along the line of scrimmage. For more coverage of these four teams, be sure to follow Jet Fuel, Pats Fans, Phin Maniacs and Bills Daily on Twitter.

Stephen Gostkowsi’s 4-Year Deal Well-Deserved

When you have a player as consistent as Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowsi, it would be tough to imagine looking for a replacement if he hit free agency because the odds are probably pretty good another team would have paid him a lot of money.

Fortunately, it’s not something the Patriots will have to worry about for the foreseeable future.

According to ESPN Boston, New England was able to get a deal done before the deadline on an extension for the veteran kicker, with the two sides reportedly agreeing to a four-year contact worth approximately $17.2 million.  Gostkowski had previously signed his one-year franchise tender, but New England had until 4pm Wednesday to reach a long-term deal.

It’s good news as he’s been an unbelievable replacement for former Patriot Adam Vinatieri, who had been a steady contributor before departing for Indianapolis via free agency following the 2005 season.  2014 was one of Gostkowski’s best seasons, with the veteran hitting an NFL-best 35-of-37 field goals (94.6%) which was a career high in accuracy.  He also became the seventh kicker to earn 100 points in the postseason and kicked touchbacks on all five of his kickoffs against the Seahawks in the Super Bowl.  Gostkowski has also lead all NFL kickers in points in every season since 2012.

Kickers don’t tend to get a lot of recognition but fortunately the Patriots clearly see the value he gives them.  It’s a well-deserved deal for a solid player and fortunately New England has solidified their kicking game for the long-term by extending him.

OPINION: Brady vs Rodgers – Brady Should Have Had the Edge in the Rankings

From the outside, Aaron Rodgers is a hard guy not to root for.

His quiet demeanor and consistent, solid play (his overall career QB Rating of 106.0 leads all NFL QB’s all-time currently) are things that make him endearing to NFL writers who cover him.  He’s a guy who always tends to say the right things and he’s also one of the NFL’s classiest players.  With all of this in mind, that’s probably why, when it comes to putting a list of top players together, the media favors a younger Rodgers (he’s just 31) over Tom Brady in choosing a player who right now seemingly has a longer shelf-life and on paper might be the more popular choice.

When it comes down to comparing Rodgers with the 37-year old Brady, Brady’s a guy associated with a team that hasn’t had a losing season since 2000 and hasn’t finished with fewer than 10 or more wins since ’02.  He’s also associated with a coach who isn’t exactly media friendly and the SpyGate controversy back in 2007 is always fodder for criticism whenever anything negative surrounds this football team.

Factor in a supermodel wife, and Brady’s a player that those who don’t cover him on a regular basis don’t quite seem to understand.

In Green Bay, Rodgers is the opposite of that.  He’s not married to a supermodel who brings in more money annually than he does (he’s reportedly dating actress Olivia Munn if you’re wondering…we’ll save you the step of Googling it).  But he’s been all the Packers could have hoped for and more since he took over for Brett Favre in 2008, with Rodgers and the Packers winning a Super Bowl championship in 2010.  Despite entering his 11th season he still has plenty of good years still ahead of him and he’s coming off of a last-second NFC Championship loss that should have him extremely motivated heading into 2015.

He’s a terrific player.  There’s no question about that.  But in a league that views success by how players perform in the postseason with playoff victories and Super Bowl rings, the fact Brady fell behind Rodgers – and Andrew Luck for that matter – in some of the recent rankings, including the NFL’s recent top 100, is a little puzzling.  Brady’s already a forgotten man after his name has spent the entire offseason being associated with DeflateGate, as well as the fact he’s facing a four-game suspension.  Winning a Super Bowl is something that’s so rare and hard to do that it’s still amazing that with little to no proof of any wrongdoing, Brady remains in this position battling the NFL’s punishment after what he managed to accomplish back in February.

As for Luck, we won’t get into how he could be ranked ahead of Brady since the Colts quarterback hasn’t finished a game with a deficit of less than 21 points against New England, yet still believes he can unseat them in 2015.  That in itself makes little sense and shouldn’t be open for discussion until he’s able to really challenge Bill Belichick’s football team.  But he’s an up and coming player and national writers like that.

When it comes to Rodgers, we could sit here and go back and forth looking at career milestones and accomplishments, but since we’re talking about who is the better player right now, Rodgers should realistically simply be edged out – for this year – in favor of Brady by what happened in the postseason.

This year’s NFC Championship Game is one that’s likely haunting Rodgers this offseason, and it’s one that will stand out as one of Rodgers and the Packers more forgettable moments.  Leading 19-7 with five minutes to go, Green Bay had the vast majority of Seahawks fans headed for the exits before doing the unthinkable and imploding, letting Seattle pull off a 15 point comeback en-route to a gut-wrenching 28-22 overtime loss.

It’s hard to fault Rodgers for how those final minutes played out.  When he left the field at the 4:00 mark, they held a twelve point lead.  But from there he was forced to sit on the sideline while Russell Wilson put together a 7-play, 69 yard drive for the Seahawks first scoring touchdown, followed by an improbable onside kick recovery that lead to a 24-yard touchdown run by Marshawn Lynch to put the Seahawks on top at 22-19 with 1:19 to go in regulation.

Rodgers did lead them down for a tying field goal, but the bigger problem was really the fact the Packers scored 13 first quarter points and then nothing after that, mustering just three field goals over the final three quarters along with completing just 4-of-9 throwing the football in the fourth quarter, which ended up leaving the door open just long enough for the Seahawks to escape.

Brady, meanwhile, against that same Seahawks team, overcame a 10 point 4th quarter deficit while setting a Super Bowl record 37 completions.  He also missed just two passes in the final quarter of play, completing 13-of-15 in the fourth quarter with two touchdowns (including a perfect 8-of-8 on his game-clinching touchdown drive to Julian Edelman) against one of the NFL’s best defenses.

He came up big when it mattered most, and it happened with the whispers of DeflateGate eating up a lot of the preparation time for Brady and the Patriots leading up to that game and certainly could have become even more of a distraction than it already was.

But that seems to get little play in the media and the only logical explanation is the fact the anointment of Rodgers continues to happen in hopes that Brady’s inevitable drop off is coming, which seems to have been the trend over the last couple of years.  The bad news is every time those whispers start, as we saw after their blowout loss to the Chiefs, Brady takes his play to the next level and he plays like the guy we’ve seen over the last decade.

It’s really simple.  When it comes to players like Brady and Rodgers, there’s a parallel that exists and Rodgers’ focus and clutch play mirrors that of Brady.  Given the amount of talent Green Bay has, they’ll likely be in the mix in the coming years and it wouldn’t be a shock to see these two battling it out for a Lombardi Trophy at some point.

They’re the two best quarterbacks in the league right now, Brady just happens to be at the top of his game having just won his fourth Super Bowl.  There’s no knock out with this decision, it’s the equivalent of two heavyweight boxers going at it and at the end of the day it’s just the scorecard that ends up being the deciding factor.

In this case, a few points one-way is what should make this decision.  Someday the debate can begin about who was the better career quarterback and in fairness to Rodgers, it’s a little early to make a real comparison since he still has plenty of time to add to his Super Bowl total and his overall career numbers.

But since it’s based on who’s the better player for 2015, Brady has to be the champ for winning in Arizona this time around.  That could certainly change over the next 12 months, and we’ll simply have to wait and see what level they’re both playing at in 2015 before we have this discussion again next year.

Is Brady’s Appeal Against the NFL a Fight He Can Even Win?

This is how out of hand things have gotten.

Five months since DelfateGate started, Tom Brady remains in a battle he seemingly can’t win against a commissioner who seems like he’s got plenty to lose himself as this ridiculous scandal continues on.

After nearly losing his job last year during the whole Ray Rice fiasco, Goodell is now in a position where even if he realizes how horrifically flawed the Wells Report was, reversing Brady’s punishment could put him back in the crosshairs, which is something that obviously wouldn’t be a good thing for him.

But not punishing a guilty player properly the first time around shouldn’t be corrected by punishing a potentially innocent player to make a statement.  Ask anyone why they think Goodell won’t eliminate Brady’s suspension and the answer is always the same: he can’t because of how it will make him look after the millions spent on the Wells report and everything else that’s transpired along with it.

And honestly, that’s really the bigger problem with what’s going on here.

In the real world, a guilty or innocent verdict is supposed to be decided by an impartial party with nothing to lose or gain either way.  It’s not supposed to be decided by someone with so much at stake, but that’s where we are right now and all that’s left is to wait and see what Goodell’s decision will be after Tuesday’s hearing.

Looking back, this whole story has become a media circus that’s gone beyond logic and reason at this point.  What could have – and should have – been quietly solved behind closed doors instead blew up into a national story that became bigger than it needed to be, and now this monster has reached the point of no return with Brady seemingly on the hook to pay the price, regardless of whether or not he even had anything to do with it.

That’s beyond wrong.  If you go back and follow how this whole mess unfolded, the Saturday press conference following the AFC Championship Game by Bill Belichick was one of the most telling moments of this entire process, and the one that certainly sticks out among everything that’s happened.

The normally media-resistant coach, the master of “ignore the noise”, was seemingly so irritated by everything being written and said about the club that he opened the press conference by announcing his reasoning for calling it because he clearly wanted to try and set the record straight.

“I feel like this is important because there have been questions raised and I believe now 100 percent that I have personally, and we as an organization, have absolutely followed every rule to the letter,” said Belichick.  “I just feel that on behalf of everyone in the organization, everyone that’s involved in this organization, that we need to say something.”

Belichick – very wisely after already having been down this road previously with the league during the spygate mess, which we’ll get to in a moment – waited until he had all the facts before formulating a response, which involved the team reenacting the football preparation process that they go through on a weekly basis to try and understand why there was a loss in air pressure that lead to the Colts accusations and subsequent league investigation.  As he does with everything else, he was thorough in making sure he understood exactly what happened and why the Patriots’ footballs tested below the 12.5 psi requirement by the NFL.  He explained it in-depth, citing the scientific reasons behind the results.  That brought out quite a few people who tried to use his press conference as a chance to make themselves relevant, telling the world that Belichick was wrong and full of it.  They poked fun and tried to poke holes in things that he said, even though Belichick readily admitted this wasn’t exactly his forte, using a My Cousin Vinny reference as he explained he wasn’t “an expert in football measurements.”

“I’m just telling you what I know,” said Belichick.  “I would not say that I’m Mona Lisa Vito of the football world, as she was in the car expertise area, alright?”

The experts mocked him and discredited his results.  However, the only problem is it doesn’t change the fact that what Belichick told the world on that Saturday wasn’t just based on scientific theory.  It was something he witnessed with his own eyes.


Some believe that even if he’s innocent, Brady should just concede against the NFL.

The bad news is we live in a world where the perception is generally centered around people who only hear what they want to hear.  Once someone’s mind is made up, there’s usually no changing it.  That was brought front and center during that same afternoon when a reporter decided that he’d bring up the topic of spygate, yet another topic that left the Patriots in bad shape in the public eye and continues to plague them in the court of public opinion.

It’s another frustrating topic to try and discuss, since any non-Patriots fan who didn’t follow it closely still believes Belichick’s team broke the rules competitively, which wasn’t the case.  New England was punished for a procedural violation, ignoring a requirement by the league that prevented teams from using video equipment from the sidelines, while many other teams were using video equipment from other parts of the field.   By league rules the footage was never used during games and it was done primarily to steal defensive signals from the other teams, a widespread practice around the NFL that went back undercover after the incident was placed in the spotlight thanks to an angry then-Jets head coach Eric Mangini.

“I mean, look, that’s a whole other discussion,” said Belichick after addressing it for the first time when asked during that Saturday press conference. “The guy’s giving signals out in front of 80,000 people, OK? So we filmed him taking signals out in front of 80,000 people, like there were a lot of other teams doing at that time, too. Forget about that. If we were wrong then we’ve been disciplined for that.”

“The guy’s in front of 80,000 people. 80,000 people saw it. Everybody [on the] sideline saw it. Everybody sees our guy in front of the 80,000 people. I mean, there he is. So, it was wrong, we were disciplined for it. That’s it. We never did it again. We’re never going to do it again and anything else that’s close, we’re not going to do either.”

Goodell came down hard on the Patriots for that primarily because a memo was sent out prior to when it happened, which since the Patriots seemingly ignored it, seemed to be the reason the penalty was as harsh as it was. However, one small part that tends to get overlooked by those who feel it was just the Patriots involved in that practice was the fact all of the evidence was destroyed by the league. That should have been an indication about the fact that Belichick likely exposed how widespread the practice was and the NFL decided to simply sweep the matter under the rug having already embarrassed New England enough while likely preventing any additional team from public embarrassment.

What people don’t realize is that the Patriots never cheated, they just ignored a memo asking teams to essentially be a little more discrete about the practice of trying to steal opponents signs.  But try and explain that to a non-Patriots fan.  And then go punch yourself in the face, it will probably be less painful.

Public perception “is what it is” and you can’t change the minds of people whose mind is already made up.  The sad thing is there are people out there who feel Brady shouldn’t continue his fight feeling that, win or lose, it’s not going to change the minds of people who already believe he broke the rules.

That’s hardly the point.  Just because you’re accused of a crime that’s gotten a lot of play in the media and has shaped public perception of your guilt doesn’t mean you shouldn’t fight it if you’re actually innocent.  It’s doubtful an average person would accept guilt in something they didn’t do just because the majority of people following the case believed they were guilty.

Yet there are people who feel that’s what Brady should do.  That argument is absolutely mind-boggling, but still there are people who feel he’s better off to try and accept the minimum and move on.

At the end of the day, he may not have a choice.  The difference between this and an actual legal battle is the fact that he’s being punished by the company he essentially works for under the terms of a labor agreement he’s under for that company.  That leaves him without a lot of options, but clearly he’s going to try and exhaust all of them before he makes the decision to call it quits.

Following the Wells Report, there have been additional studies which have argued the flawed science behind it and has made a strong case that the Patriots and Brady did nothing wrong.   It’s pretty sad that if Brady is, in fact, innocent Goodell doesn’t seem prepared to admit the mistake, which if you really think about, it absolutely is unbelievable.

But that’s unfortunately what it’s come to.  Basically this has become a one-way street, with the only one that’s supposed to admit any wrongdoing is Brady.  The word “integrity” has been thrown around for months, but it seems like it’s only been used when it’s made the necessary argument.  If at the end of the day Goodell believes Brady didn’t ask anyone to break any rules, he should summon some integrity of his own and go against public perception by doing the right thing and admit the NFL may have actually been wrong.

That appears unlikely and it seems we’re way too far past that.  Brady was said to be sincere and genuine Tuesday when he spent 10 hours in New York trying to prove his innocence.  The bad news for the veteran quarterback is that guilt and innocence don’t seem to be the point anymore, and that’s ultimately the biggest travesty of all of this.