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Archive for the ‘ Morning Huddle ’ Category

Patriots Morning Huddle 6/27 – Friday Morning News, Notes and Links


Tom Brady wants to play into his 40’s and former 49ers quarterback Joe Montana beleives he should. (USA TODAY Images)

A little lighter edition on this Friday as we close out the week, and here’s a quick rundown of some news and notes for this morning:

MONTANA’S ADVICE TO TOM BRADY, “PLAY AS LONG AS YOU CAN”:

Tom Brady talks all the time about the fact he wants to play into his 40’s, and one of his idols believes Brady should do his best to make sure he can prolong his career.

Former 49ers quarterback Joe Montana made an appearance on NFL Network’s Total Access Wednesday and talked about Brady and Manning’s desire to play into their 40’s.

“I say play as long as you can, because the minute you get out, no matter how ready you think you are, you say it’s time and [then] when I was leaving Kansas City, as soon as that season started the next year I was going, ‘why did I do that?’ ” Montana said via Zuri Berry of Boston.com. “I should have continued to play.

“Your body tells you something and your mind tells you something, but in reality, physically as long as you can play, I would play because it’s quitting cold turkey,” Montana continued. “You can’t go out with that kind of excitement in anything else that you’re gonna do. I always say, I wish everyone could play on a Sunday afternoon, just one game. Just so they would understand what if feels like, win or lose. [To see] what’s it like on a field on Sunday. Then you would never say, ‘why is that guy still trying to play at his age.’ [Then] you’ll understand the excitement of the game and there’s nothing like it.”

WELKER TALKS BELICHICK, OTHER TOPICS:

Former Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker was in studio Friday morning to join 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Fred Toucher and Rich Shertenlieb and talked about a variety of topics, including his relationship with Patriots head coach Bill Belichick.

As most fans likely remember, the play where Welker came over the middle and hit then Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib caused an injury that took him out of the game.

Bill Belichick said after the game, “It was a key play in the game. Obviously, he’s a key player for us.”

The next day he was more vocal, saying, “It was a deliberate play by the receiver to take out Aqib.  No attempt to get open. I’ll let the league handle the discipline on that, it’s not for me to decide.

“It was one of the worst plays I’ve seen. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.”

No discipline ever came, and the irony is that the two players are now teammates.

Welker was asked if he and Belichick’s relationship is contentious.

“I don’t think so.  Not on my part,” said Welker.  “I’m fine. I’ve got all the respect in the world for Bill and what he’s done as a coach. I’ve really learned a lot from him in my time in New England. I don’t see it that way.”

Another interesting part of the interview was the fact Welker addressed all of the pre-snap calls by quarterback Peyton Manning, and was asked how much of it was real, which Welker replied that not all of it serves a purpose.

“You pay attention to it all just in case,” said Welker.  “A lot of times we’re going so fast it’s kind of nice to get a breather, so keep on doing that crap up there to get us a little more time. A lot of it serves a purpose, but not fully.”

OVERRATED AND UNDERRATED “NFL HEARTBREAK”

Yahoo! Sports’ Shutdown Corner has an entry looking at tough losses that they believe are both overrated and underrated, and there were a couple of Patriots-related ones that stood out.

One was the Super Bowl loss that cost New England the chance to be 19-0, which in the piece points out wasn’t a surprise because “you could see the cracks in the armor” and that “the Patriots were playing tight. They knew it.”  It also called the playoff victories over the Jaguars and Chargers “ugly gut-check games”.

From the article:

So losing in the Super Bowl wasn’t stunning. Yes, on paper, the Patriots were the far superior team and should have won. They played well enough to do so, with fluky plays such as Asante Samuel dropping the biggest gift of an interception with 1:20 left followed by David Tyree’s miracle catch.

On the flip side the “Tuck Rule” game against Oakland was also discussed, although the notion that it cost the Raiders is downplayed significantly:

We won’t even get into the fact that the Raiders had plenty of chances to win the game. They had the ball with less than three minutes left and couldn’t pick up a first down, for instance. There were opportunities.

Tough loss for the Raiders? No doubt. Bad call? Nope. Conspiracy? Haha, please. Cost the Raiders a Super Bowl? Very doubtful. Just a tough loss. Those happen all the time. Get over it.

So there you have it.

DURON HARMON FOCUSED ON BIG OPPORTUNITY:

With the team releasing Steve Gregory this offseason, the opportunity is there now for safety Duron Harmon to potentially earn himself a role as the starter in New England’s defense.

Harmon, who saw his playing time gradually increase as the season went on last year, has himself poised for an opportunity to step into Gregory’s shoes, but he’s not taking it lightly.

“There are no starters right now,” Harmon said via Andy Hart of Patriots.com. “My mentality is just trying to get better each and every day and just try to put myself in position to make plays when I’m out there on the field.”

For now Harmon’s goal is just to play better in his second season, which he called his most “important year” as he tries to take the next step.

“Your second year is your most important year,” Harmon said. “You want to make that jump.  Because you have all that learning experience and now you want to put those learning experiences into you knowing football and knowing different situations that make you a better football player.”

PATRIOTS TICKETS GO ON SALE JULY 15TH:

The team announced Thursay that tickets for the New England Patriots’ 2014 home games will go on sale and become available to the public on July 15 at 10 a.m.

Fans wishing to purchase tickets should go online to ticketmaster.com or by calling 800-745-3000. Tickets can’t be purchased in person at Gillette Stadium, and Visa is the only acceptable method of payment.

ADDITIONAL LINKS:

Mike Reiss has his final chat before he leaves for vacation – VIEW

 Amid Franchise Uncertainty, Bills Tickets Least Expensive In NFL – VIEW

Mike Tanier from Sports On Earth has a good read on the Patriots Offseason – VIEW

Doug Kyed of NESN has comments from Darrelle Revis, who only misses the ‘Weather’, Teammates In Tampa Bay – VIEW


Tom Brady struggled throwing the football in 2013 down near the goal line. (USA TODAY Images)

One area that will likely see a lot of work heading into this season is the Patriots putting a major focus on their passing game down in the red area, especially as they get closer to the goal line.

That was an area of weakness last season, largely in part thanks to the fact that there was a lack of cohesion among new pieces of the Patriots passing game, as well as with the absence of Rob Gronkowski, which was discussed in yesterday’s edition.

Overall down in the red zone during the regular season in 2013 Brady finished 42-of-83 (51%) with 20 touchdowns and 3 interceptions.  In the postseason in their two games he was just 4-of-9 (44%) with only one touchdown.

Taking a closer look, when it came to throwing the football, as the team begins creeping closer to the goal line the percentages dropped quite a bit.

Here’s a breakdown:

Inside the 20yd line down to the 16:
14-of-22 (64%) 5 TDs, 1 INT

From the 15yd line down to the 11:
10-of-21 (48%) 3 TDs, 1 INT

From the 10yd line down to the 6:
9-of-18 (50%) 5 TD, 1 INT

From the 5yd line down to the 2:
6-of-15 (40%) 5 TD

At the 1yd line:
3-of-7 (43%) 2 TD

Obviously the  biggest number that stands out is how bad they were from the 5-yard line down to the 2, where Brady was just 6-of-15.  That’s certainly a glaring stat, and while trying to create some context around that, we come back to trying to figure out where Gronkowski fit into that equation.

Looking at the games that Gronkowski didn’t participate in, Brady was 4-of-12 (33%) with three touchdowns from that distance.  In the seven games Gronk was in the line-up, Brady was 2-of-3 (67%) with two touchdowns.

Oddly enough, Gronkowski didn’t catch either of them.  It was Julian Edelman who caught them both, and it shows you how the tight end’s presence likely made things easier on Edelman in those situations.

With Gronk out of the line-up Edelman wasn’t even targeted at that distance, which tells you that he was the one drawing the attention, with Thompkins (1 TD) and Vereen (2 TD’s) as the two players who Brady was able to find instead.

Moving down to the goal line, Brady overall was 3-of-7 with two touchdowns.  Without Gronkowski, he was 2-of-5 (40%) with one TD.  With Gronkowski on the field he was 1-of-2, misfiring on one pass to the tight end, while connecting for a touchdown to Danny Amendola on his other attempt.

Fortunately down that close the Patriots did have a fair amount of success running the ball.  From the 5-yard line down to the 2, the running backs combined for 8 carries and 5 touchdowns, three of which were by Stevan Ridley, while LeGarrette Blount and Brandon Bolden each chipped in with one each.

From the goal line, they carried 15 times with 7 touchdowns, with Ridley (3 TD’s), Bolden (2 TD’s), James Develin (1 TD), and LeGarrette Blount (1 TD) each punching it in.  Oddly enough the odd man out was Shane Vereen, who carried twice for 0-yards, while Brady had one attempt in the season opener and fumbled the football away on a 4th down play.

We’ll see if having a full year in the system helps some of the newer guys fix this problem.  But it shows you that they’ve got some work to do, and hopefully 2014 will see some improvement in that area.

UNDERRATED SUPER BOWL PLAY: J.R.REDMOND MAKES THE LIST:

Frank Schwab of Yahoo! Sports Shutdown corner published a list of “Overrated and Underrated Super Bowl plays, and one name that made the cut was  former Patriots running back J.R. Redmond, who helped Tom Brad quite a bit on the fateful drive that set-up the winning field goal in Super Bowl XXXVI.

Writes Schwab:

Brady hit Redmond, a little-used running back, for five yards on first down, narrowly escaping a sack to do so, and then went back to Redmond for eight more yards on second for a first down. Brady then clocked the ball with 41 seconds left. Bill Belichick had used the Patriots’ final timeout two possessions earlier when it was clear his defense was absolutely gassed.

The Patriots faced a 2nd and 10 from their own 30. They still had 35-40 yards to go to get into field goal range. Their offense had been pretty stale, gaining 27 yards on the previous three possessions.

Brady dropped back to pass and looked in the middle of the field. He wanted either Troy Brown or Jermaine Wiggins, it appeared. But Brady instead swung a pass to Redmond in the flat, and he made a very gutsy move, going inside of Rams corner Dre Bly, who was protecting against Redmond going out of bounds. Instead, Redmond had enough juice to break Bly’s tackle to the inside, drag Tommy Polley four yards, beat Kim Herring to the sticks and get out of bounds to stop the clock.

Schwab points out that it wasn’t a bad game for a player that had one touch in the game prior to that drive and didn’t surpass 1,200 yards from scrimmage in what he felt was a “nondescript career”.

LIGHT FOUNDATION WINS $100,000 PRIZE:

Matt Light’s foundation received some nice recognition recently, winning the 2014 Humanitarian Award and its $100,000 prize from All Sports United.  It’s a  prize given annually to a professional athlete for excellence in philanthropy.

According to the Daily Advocate, The Light Foundation was selected from a group of 40 nominations for the award. Light was one of 12 finalists along with Marshawn Lynch (Seattle Seahawks), Bill Belichick, Allison Baver (Olympic speed skater), Isiah Thomas (National Basketball Association) and others.

“We’re very proud of all of our finalists, “All Sports United Co-Founder Alan Pavlovsky said, according to the organization. “They’ve all presented themselves extremely well and have put in hard work. Matt Light couldn’t make us more proud as our winner. He’s very humble, shies away from self-promotion and works very hard to help people. It’s his calling and our calling to recognize him.”

UMASS AND UCONN WILL BATTLE AT GILLETTE STADIUM IN 2016

For those fans out there who love college football, there will be a pretty good game coming up at Gillette Stadium between a pair of local college teams in a couple of seasons.

According to the Daily Hampshire Gazette UCONN and UMASS will face off at Gillette Stadium in 2016 on September 10th.

A UMass source told the newspaper that the UConn game is part of a larger series that includes at least one game at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Connecticut. 

The Huskies and Minuteman used to regularly face each other when both teams were in the Yankee Conference. UMass leads the all-time series 36-24-2 but UConn won the last meeting, 37-0, back in 2012, the Minutemen’s first game in the FBS.

RIDLEY WORKS WITH LOCAL ATHLETES:

According to the Natchez Democrat, Patriots running back Stevan Ridley spent Wednesday working with local kids as part of a local football camp at Adams County Christian School in Louisiana.

After working out at Louisiana State University, Ridley reportedly arrived at ACCS, preached grades first, shared secrets of his success and stressed good attitudes before fielding questions from the participants.

“You’re the only person that can stop you,” Ridley said to nearly 35 participants. “You have to marry your sport or whatever you do. You have to have focus and the right mindset.”

Ridley once took part in this camp, and told the newspaper that it was great to have a chance to see these kids and be a part of it.

It wasn’t too long ago that I was here running track meets at AC,” Ridley said. “Now, I’m talking to kids who I’m a decade older than. It’s always great to see these young kids from my hometown.”


Gronkowski changed the offense quite a bit during his brief time last season. (USA TODAY Images)

The news of Rob Gronkowski’s potential availability for week one was a positive sign on Monday, and his brief availability last season, while being short-lived, was still a reminder of what a difference maker he really is in this offense.

Looking back at how things went during the first six weeks of the season, between Danny Amendola missing games 2-4 along with Gronkowski’s absence, it’s amazing that New England was able to lose just one game over that span considering who Tom Brady had to work with.

Through the first six games Brady completed 136 passes on 239 attempts (57% completion rate) for 1480 yards along with 8 touchdowns and 4 interceptions.  He was also sacked 13 times.

Julian Edelman carried much of the weight of the offense, catching 41 passes for 411 yards and two touchdowns.  Brady also leaned on him quite a bit on third down, with the receiver catching 12 of 16 targets, including 3 of 4 in the red zone along with his two scoring receptions.

When Gronkowski returned to the line-up in Week 7 against the Jets, things changed, although it didn’t start out for the better.  Brady targeted the veteran tight end 17 times with just eight completions, including connecting just once on five tries on third down.  His interception in the third quarter on a pass to Gronkowski ended up being one of the key plays of the game, after Antonio Allen picked the ball off at the Patriots own 23 yard line and took it in for a touchdown.  That got the Jets back in the game and played a big part in New York’s win.

But from there, things certainly came together.  Over the next six games Brady completed 160 of 238 attempts (67% completion rate) for 1977 yards along with 13 touchdowns.  However, one of the biggest changes was down in the red zone where he had previous struggled.   Through the first six games Brady completed just 16 passes on 33 attempts (48%) with seven touchdowns and one interception.

With Gronkowski back in the line-up, Brady’s success down in the red zone improved.  Over the next six contests he completed 20-of-32 attempts (63%) with 10 touchdowns, three of which were caught by Gronkowski.  Overall he completed over 60% of his passes during that stretch, connecting on 182-of-284 for 2205 yards along with 13 touchdowns.

After seeing Gronkowski carted off the field against the Browns following his torn ACL, Brady downplayed the loss of the tight end leading up to the Miami game, and said that having already been without him for much of the season they’d just have to adjust.

“It’s disappointing to lose anybody,” said Brady that Wednesday. “But we’ve faced that before this year and at different times, so I’d say at least we’re adjusted to it a little bit. We still have confidence that we can go out and win games. ”

They ended up losing that game in Miami, which cost them a shot at the number one seed in the playoffs and saw Brady so frustrated after it was over that it ended in him dropping an expletive during his press conference before he walked away from the podium after just two questions.  

Looking back at the numbers over the final three games after Gronkowski was lost for the season, they really struggled.  Brady was just 6-of-18 down in scoring territory (33% completion rate) with just three touchdowns and an interception, and dropped back below 60% overall throwing the football while completing 62 passes on 105 attempts (59%) over that span along with four touchdowns and two picks.

Needless to say the news of a potential return to start the season is certainly good news.  Brady can downplay Gronkowski’s importance but it’s obvious that he’s such a big difference maker when he’s on the field.  It’s been a couple of years since he last played a full season, and hopefully 2014 will be the start of a better stretch for him moving forward.

DOUG FLUTIE FEELS THE NFL IS BECOMING LIKE THE CFL:

Former Patriots quarterback Doug Flutie wrote a column in Tuesday’s MMQB’s “Canada Week” about his time in the CFL, and after seeing the changes in the NFL in recent years believes the style of play is becoming very similar.

“The game in Canada was more exciting, more explosive, more wide open,” Flutie wrote. “It was what the NFL is now becoming. We were going no huddle, over the ball, from the time I got up there. No-back sets, six wide receivers, throwing the ball all over the field. There is a 20-second clock between plays rather than 40. It just creates a pace that the NFL is now realizing to be more exciting-and actually more effective. The NFL is turning into a no-huddle, up-tempo, fast-paced, throw-the-football type of game now. The CFL has been that for the past 30 years.”

Flutie remains bitter over the lack of opportunity he received early in his career, and believes that had the NFL adjusted to this style of offense when he first arrived that his career may have turned out differently.

“I’m pretty sure the trajectory of my career would have been different today,” he wrote. “I would have been in a position to be more successful in the NFL running some of these current styles of offenses, and I think an NFL team would have been more open to turning me into a franchise guy if things went well.”

TROY BROWN AMONG FACES IN A NEW SECURITY SYSTEM:

There was an interesting article in yesterday’s New York Magazine that took a look at the potential future of passwords, which could see a move toward using faces as an alternative to conventional passwords.

According the article, the study, which was conducted by researchers at the Universities of York and Glasgow, tested the feasibility of a “facelock” that blocks access to a given program or device until the user can recognize several familiar faces in a sea of unfamiliar ones. Users selected faces familiar to them, and then both they and hypothetical “attackers” were asked to try to get into their accounts by successfully selecting the right face out of a grid of nine four times in a row.

One of the big keys to the system was the fact that users were asked to select photos of people they could easily recognize, and one of the players who surprisingly made the list was Troy Brown, who is apparently a favorite of author Jesse Singal, as well as a Patriots fan.  Singal linked to the blocked field goal in the AFC Championship game by Brown as a favorite memory.

The study overall was interesting as the usability saw 97.5 percent of users being able to have success recognizing the faces they picked a week later, and one year later it only dropped to 86 percent.  Also pointed out was the fact that neither strangers (0.9 percent) nor close friends and family members of the person who chose the photos (6.6 percent) had much luck cracking facelocks, and those numbers dropped even further when it came to succeeding on the first attempt.

We’ll see if it ends up coming to fruition in the years to come.

ANDRUZZI CONTRIBUTING IN A LIMTED ROLE:

Accoding to Mike Reiss of ESPN Boston, former offensive lineman and fan favorite Joe Andruzzi was spotted at the recent offseason practices while working as an assistant coach with the team’s strength and conditioning staff.

While Andruzzi doesn’t officially have a title, being around the players and trying to provide some guidance is something he says he enjoys doing and it’s an opportunity for him to “pay it forward”.

“I had good numbers coming out of a small school, which I think helped get me in the league, and then I think it helped me stay in the league,” Andruzzi told Reiss.  “I enjoy it, I love being a part of it, and this is a way for me to pay it forward.”

His Charitable foundation is hosting its annual golf tournament on Monday at Pinehills Golf Course in Plymouth, Mass. Current Patriots Rob Ninkovich and Matthew Slater are reportedly expected to be co-hosts of the tournament.

QUESTIONS CONTINUE ABOUT ARMOND ARMSTEAD:

There have been plenty of questions surrounding Patriots defensive lineman Armond Armstead, and for fans hoping to see him contribute, it appears those hopes may be fading.

Mike Reiss held his weekly mailbag this week and one of the questions touched on whether or not Armstead would ever suit up for the team after missing the recent mini camp practices.  According to Reiss, it’s beginning to sound like the health issues he’s been dealing with may ultimately prevent him from contributing at this point, which is bad news for someone who many thought could potentially make an impact.

Reiss also points out a recent article by the Providence Journal’s Mark Daniels, who noticed a Tweet from Armstead’s father during the week Armstead wasn’t seen at OTAs.  According to Daniels his father Tweeted that Armstead was in Boston, and then three days later, on July 9, wrote the following:

“Rough week for our family, God spoke to me and said continue to live out your faith. So as for me and the Armstead house we will [praise the Lord].”

It’s hard to know exactly what that all may mean, but the overall picture doesn’t appear to be promising.

Belichick talked about Armstead prior to the team’s first minicamp practice and had positive things to say about him, but the question will remain whether or not he’ll be able to contribute moving forward.

“Armond’s really worked hard. He’s had a lot of adversity personally that he’s had to deal with. Unusual compared to most other players,” Belichick said. “He’s had a great attitude, worked hard. He’s really done everything we’ve asked him to do.”

Patriots Morning Huddle 6/24 – Tuesday News & Notes


Julian Edelman was extremely effective as his first season as the team’s go-to receiver. (USA TODAY Images)

Taking a quick snapshot of what Julian Edelman accomplished last season, it’s interesting to take a look at his numbers over the course of his 105 catches in 2013.

We saw big things from Edelman in his first season in an expanded role, with the receiver finishing not only as the team’s overall leading receiver with 1056 yards and a team best 6 touchdowns, but he was also their leading third down receiver with 30 receptions for 247 yards including 18 first downs and 3 touchdowns.  

Overall last season he was also effective in helping move the chains, accumulating a team-best 54 first downs in 2013.

Here’s a breakdown of his reception totals from last season by distance:

0 or less yards: 3 receptions
1-5 yards: 29 receptions
6-10 yards: 37 receptions
Over 10-yards up to 20-yards: 27 receptions
Over 20-yards and up to 30-yards: 5 receptions
Over 30-yards and up to 40-yards: 2 receptions
Over 40-yards and up to 50-yards: 2 receptions
Over 50 yards: 0 receptions

Edelman lead the team in receptions of over 20-yards among wide receivers in 2013 after finishing with 9, with tight end Rob Gronkowski as the only player who had more (he had 10).

One of the biggest surprises was the difference in yardage over every other receiver in the fourth quarter last season.  Edelman finished 2013 with 410 yards receiving during the fourth quarter, significantly more than the next closest receiver, which was Aaron Dobson with 249 yards.  Edelman also had three fourth quarter touchdowns, the most of any other receiver.

Edelman’s biggest performance of the season came in Week 15 down in Miami where he finished with 8 receptions on 12 targets in a tough loss against Miami that cost them the top seed in the playoffs.

It was an impressive performance in his first year taking on a bigger role in this offense.  Now the bigger question will be how he’ll follow that up in 2014, which will obviously be something to watch for during the upcoming season.

TRAINING CAMP DATES, JOINT PRACTICES ANNOUNCED:

The team announced the dates for the first practices of next month’s training camp, with the Patriots set to begin practice on Thursday July 24th, one day after veterans are required to report.  From there they’ll hold practices on Friday July 25th, Saturday July 26th, and Sunday July 27th.

They’ll also hold joint practices with both the Redskins and Eagles in advance of their exhibition match-ups.  The Redskins announced the sessions will be held on August 4th-6th in Richmond, Virginia, while the sessions against the Eagles will take place from August 12-13 at Gillette Stadium.

This is the second straight year the team will hold sessions with the Eagles, which were held last year in Philadelphia.  They also practiced against the Buccaneers last year at Gillette Stadium prior to their preseason game.

Redskins coach Jay Gruden told reporters recently that he felt the sessions give them a chance to work against some better competition.

“It’s a great opportunity for us to see how our players both offensive line, how we pick up different stunts and different fronts and defensive line, different blocking schemes, obviously route combinations against different coverages and different type meets in the secondary,” said Gruden. “And how people adjust and how our quarterback adjusts and how they see things, so it’s good for everybody.”

ALEX MARVEZ TALKS ABOUT MINICAMP REACTIONS:

Marvez gave a quick rundown on all 32 teams in a piece released on Monday, with a quick synopsis on each one.  When it came to the Patriots, Marvez talked about the status of Ryan Mallett and the speculation surrounding his future, while he believes that potential free agent Michael Bush could be a possibility to join the running back group by the time training camp arrives.

Writes Marvez:

“Will the Patriots seek to sign a big-bodied running back before the regular season to fill the opening created by the free agent departure of LeGarrette Blount to Pittsburgh?  One option could be 245-pound veteran Michael Bush, who took a free-agent visit early this offseason.  Shane Vereen, Stevan Ridley and Brandon Bolden – smaller backs all in the final year of their contracts – are the current leaders to head a committee approach for New England in 2014.”

Marvez also points out the fact that what’s complicated the situation with Mallett is the fact the Houston Texans went with the University of Pittsburgh’s Tom Savage in Round 4 as their hopeful quarterback of the future.

Former Patriot and Jets RB Curtis Martin Says Patriots Having Playbook a Big Advantage

Since Greg Bedard wrote his MMQB article on Browns head coach Mike Pettine where the coach had an anecdote with a comment from Brady suggesting the Patriots had a copy of the Jets’ playbook, it’s been downplayed by most people who believe it wouldn’t be a big advantage.

However, former Jets RB Curtis Martin disagrees, and feels it would be a tremendous advantage.

“Oh, tremendously, to be honest with you,” Martin told ESPN.com at the Big Daddy Celebrity Golf Classic at Oheka Castle in Huntington, New York. “What most people don’t understand is that football is a science. There are little signals and little movements from one person that can give an indication on where the entire play is going. I think it can have a tremendous effect on a game. If we’re playing chess and I understand all of your moves before you make them, my probability of winning is pretty high.”

Martin historically has remained loyal to all things related to the Jets, and it appears his opinions remain protective of the uniform despite efforts by current coach Rex Ryan, who has since defended Bill Belichick.

JAMES DEVELIN GETS SOME WORK AT TE DURING MINI CAMPS:

An interesting note from Mark Daniels of the Providence Journal, who pointed out that fullback James Develin recently spent some time during mini camp getting work in at the tight end position.

How much work did he see?  According to Daniels, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady threw to him more times than he did Michael Hoomanwanui.  Brady also had praise for Develin, who he said also brings a great attitude into the locker room.

“James is great. I love being out here with him. He’s been such a great player, performer for our team,” Brady said. “Whatever role we’ve asked of him, he’s done it to the best he possibly can do. He brings a great attitude, emotion. He’s a positive guy. He’s a great teammate in the locker room. I can’t say enough great things about him. He’s been such a great person and player for this team. Every time you put him out there, good things happen, so it’s fun to be a part of that.”

Most people remember Develin’s best moment, and this TD run which was certainly one of the more memorable plays for the Patriots:

DOLPHINS MAY BE WITHOUT POUNCEY VS PATRIOTS:

With the Patriots set to battle the Dolphins in week one, it sounds like Miami might be a little weaker on their offensive line thanks to an injury to one of their key players.

According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, center Mike Pouncey is anticipated to miss “at least three months” after undergoing hip surgery on Monday. He reportedly has a three-month recovery timetable, which likely may mean he won’t be available when the Patriots open the season down in Miami on Sunday, September 7th.

That’s a good sign for a Patriots team who got after Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill quite a bit last season, sacking him 10 times in 2013, the most of any quarterback within their Division.

NOTABLE QUOTES:

“Yeah, I’ve always had okay hands. Decent. I’m always working on them and trying to go out there and catch every ball that comes my way.  That goes along with every part of my game. I’ve got to be the best in every aspect and try to do what I need to do to help the team win.” - James Develin via Mark Daniels, Providence Journal

“He’s definitely out there with something to prove because of all the guys getting the big contracts, and he was down in Tampa Bay as a forgotten guy. He’s still thinking, ‘Wait a minute, I’m still top dog.’ And he wants to win, that’s the most important thing.” – Ty Law via the Boston Globe on cornerback Darrelle Revis


Rodney Harrison shook things up when he joined in 2003. (USA TODAY Images)

The debate may go on about which team between the Patriots’ 2003 and 2004 was the better team, but after going through the numbers, it’s hard not to appreciate how dominant the 2003 group was on the defensive side of the football.

What they accomplished was pretty impressive.  They finished the season having allowed just 238 points during the regular season, including three shutouts (12-0 against Dallas, 12-0 against Miami, 31-0 vs Buffalo).  They lead the league in points-per-game allowed with 14.9, along with finishing with an NFL best 29 interceptions.

Ten players finished with interceptions that season, with Ty Law and Tyrone Poole leading the way with six.   Here’s a look at the list:

Ty Law: 6
Tyrone Poole: 6
Eugene Wilson: 4
Tedy Bruschi: 3
Rodney Harrison: 3
Asante Samuel: 2
Mike Vrabel: 2
Aric Morris: 1
Willie McGinest: 1
Larry Izzo: 1

The secondary that season had quite a year, finishing with 121 passes defensed, 13 better than the next team in that category, which was the Houston Texans with 108.  That’s the most of the Belichick era, and the fourth highest total over that same span behind the 2001 Browns (130) and the ’05 and ’06 Eagles (129 and 124 respectively).

Law lead the league in passes defensed that year with 23, while Poole was third with 21.

The group up front was solid as well, with New England finishing the year ranked 4th in rushing yards per game allowed with 89.6, also their best performance of the Belichick era.  Ted Washington and Richard Seymour did a good job inside, while Jarvis Green (2.5 sacks in the postseason) Mike Vrabel (3 postseason sacks), Tedy Bruschi, rookie Ty Warren, and Roman Phifer were some key names from that group who made significant contributions during the postseason.

Rodney Harrison enjoyed a terrific first season in New England, finishing 2nd in the AFC during the postseason with 24 tackles and was tied with the Colts David Macklin with 2 interceptions, which was the 2nd most behind Law’s NFL best three.  Harrison also had three passes defensed along with a forced fumble.

As we all know, Harrison’ arrival preceded the end of Lawyer Milloy’s career in New England.  Everyone knows the story of the 31-0 opening loss to the Bills and the subsequent media reactions that followed.  There’s always the famous “they hate their coach” comment by ESPN’s Tom Jackson, which Harrison later said wasn’t the case.

That was a tumultuous time, and the week before the Super Bowl that season Harrison reflected on what it was like when he first arrived, where he admitted he wasn’t well liked in the locker room.

“When I first came in, I really didn’t make any friends, I made enemies. No one really wanted to talk to me once I got in the locker room,” said Harrison. “I didn’t care about that. It wasn’t about me making friends. It was about me proving to people that I still had gas in my tank and that I can still play. As I spent some time with the guys, I realized they respected me and wanted me here. After that, I calmed myself down.”

Overall he said he was always fueled by the doubters who didn’t believe in him.  That season ended up being a memorable one, and one that made him a valuable asset in the years to follow until he finally walked away from the game.

“Once again it was about people not believing that I was able to do it,” said Harrison. “I was too small, I wasn’t good enough to play in the Big 10 or any of the other schools I wanted to go to. I think that’s why I play with such rage. No one has ever given me credit or any sense that I was able to play at this level or even the college level. They always doubted me and that’s just driven me to prove people wrong.”

That he did, and he was a big reason for their success in a season that capped off their second championship.  It’s a defense that will be remembered as one of the best during Belichick’s tenure, with a group that looking back on paper didn’t appear impressive at first, but collectively simply played really well together. They even managed to do it with additional players like defensive backs Eugene Wilson and Asante Samuel, who were both rookies at the time.

This season, with the additions of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, it’s a secondary that on paper should be a big improvement from where they were in past seasons.  It will be interesting to see if this current group is able to approach the level that made this team one of the most dominant ones of those championship years.

Those were big shoes to fill, and looking back those players were all big reasons why that was definitely one of the more memorable defenses in Patriots history.

HARRISON MADE NOISE IN PRESEASON THAT YEAR:

Fans may also remember that Harrison’s arrival in New England wasn’t immediately met with adoration from his fellow players, a fact that he obviously admitted at the end of his first season.  The veteran got into some squabbles during training camp, including against fellow teammates Troy Brown and Kevin Faulk after making his presence known by some big hits on each of the two players.

At the time Belichick dismissed it as part Harrison’s competitive nature.

“We know how competitive Rodney is and we have a lot of other competitive players, highly competitive players on defense,” said Belichick following a practice that July.  “So I think he’s a good addition into that group. Mixing it up in training camp, that’s part of training camp. It’s hot. Everybody’s tired. There are some short fuses and that’s going to be part of it.

“But in the end we are all wearing the same jerseys on Sunday afternoon. We’re a team and we’ve got to work with each other and compete against each other. But at the same time we’ve got to take care of each other and really put our energy into our opponents. That’s who the true opponents are, not ourselves. But there’s a fine line on that in training camp, because everyone is trying to earn their job and establish their level of play. It is competitive. So sometimes it turns into a little thing.”

Harrison’s approach and intensity were two qualities Belichick admitted he liked about him, saying he wished all his players had the same competitiveness.

“I think when he steps on the field, he has a business attitude. Rodney prepares well,” he said of Harrison.  “Football’s important to him and he’s going out there to do a job. That’s his job. I don’t have any problem with that. I wish all of our players had a good, competitive approach to the job at the highest level. Some guys you are trying to push up to a higher level, competitively. Other guys, maybe you have to slow them down just a little bit. Sometimes it’s a little bit easier to put the brakes on than step on the gas.”

We’ve heard a lot of talk recently about Tom Brady talking about the fact that he was a sixth round pick because he didn’t necessarily possess the physical attributes to be taken higher.  But one thing that Harrison did point out leading up to the Super Bowl was that it wasn’t about where a player was taken that mattered.  It was the heart and determination, which are two intangibles that simply can’t be analyzed on paper.

“Who really cares? It doesn’t matter if you’re a first round draft pick,” said Harrison. “A bunch of people say this guy has the height and size for a first rounder, it doesn’t matter. That’s just paper work. This guy has intangibles. He has the heart, the determination. He’s tough, he’s gritty and he wants to win. Look at the road he took. It doesn’t matter that he wasn’t a first rounder. Look at me, I wasn’t a first rounder, this is my tenth year. It’s about what you have inside. You can’t judge a person’s heart.”

Days later, that’s likely one of the reasons why the Patriots won their second championship.

REISS: RB JAMES WHITE ONE TO WATCH:

Interesting note from Reiss’ Sunday notes column regarding rookie running back James White, who Reiss believes may be flying under the radar:

With so much attention focused on Patriots top picks Dominique Easley and quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (second round), I think running back James White (fourth round, Wisconsin, 130th overall) has slipped under the radar a bit. Everything I’ve heard is that the 5-foot-9, 204-pound White has made a strong first impression, both from a skills and approach standpoint, and even though it’s early I don’t think it’s a stretch to say he will contribute in 2014. Bill Belichick has compared his style of play to fourth-year Patriots running back Shane Vereen.

The running back position will be interesting to watch this year as it is, with Stevan Ridley looking to bounce back from a frustrating 2013 performance, while Vereen is looking to hopefully have a healthy 2014 campaign.  Both players are free agents at the end of this season, so if White can establish a role for himself, it may help him when the team starts making decisions moving forward.

GRONKOWSKI HAS DONE SOME GOOD THINGS THIS OFFSEASON:

While the cameras may have caught him in Las Vegas recently, it’s hard not to appreciate the amount of charity events and appearances that Rob Gronkowski has been involved in this offseason.  He’s shaved his head to raise money to help fight children’s cancer, donned waiter attire to help Danny Amendola raise money for his foundation, and also did a recent meet and greet at Wegmans to raise money for his own Youth Foundation.

Otherwise it’s hard to fault him for the opportunities he’s gotten on the big screen with his Entourage cameo, or his appearance  on “Who’s Line is it Anyway?”, as those are opportunities which certainly don’t hurt anyone.

As a result it’s pretty obvious that his focus has certainly shifted as he continues rehabbing the torn ACL he suffered against Cleveland last season, and a recent report suggested even suggests he may be ready to go by Week 1.  

After seeing his football mortality flash in front of his eyes one too many times, it’s been nice this offseason seeing him turn a corner and he’s done some terrific work locally.  Unfortunately it doesn’t get mentioned as much as it certainly should, but kudos to him for what he’s done and hopefully he has some better luck this season.

NOTABLE QUOTES:

– “I haven’t called a play in five months. I have to rebuild all that myself. We all do.” – Bill Belichick talking about the fact he and the coaches have to get re-acclimated to calling plays via Mike Reiss of ESPN Boston

– “When you get him off the media and doing all that stuff, and he gets more into his comfort zone where it’s him up there teaching football and teaching guys life lessons, you get to see a different side of him. I think that’s the joy of playing for him — you learn things football-wise and he does a good job for each one of us of just trying to give us some lessons that will help you in life.” – Devin McCourty on Bill Belichick via Mike Reiss of ESPN Boston

“I’m just really proud of him. I’m really proud of who he is as a player. But more importantly as a man, as a husband, as a future father.  He’s setting a good example for a lot of people.” – Former Patriot Ben Watson speaking about his brother and current tight end, Asa Watson – via Karen Guregian of the Boston Herald

“He’s proven it time and again.  The only person you can debate it with is Sherman. I’m not taking anything away from Richard Sherman, but in my eyes, Darrelle is the superior of the two. Sherman is a close second.” - Ty Law talking about Darrelle Revis via Shalise Manza Young of the Boston Globe

Every season winning the AFC East is always the first step in setting themselves up for success in the postseason, but the last couple of seasons that task has certainly gotten a little more difficult within the Division for the Patriots.

Last season what has traditionally been an easy win against the Bills was more difficult than expected. In fact, things actually came down to the wire in the opening week, requiring a last second 35-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski to allow New England to escape with a 23-21 victory.

Just four days later it didn’t get any easier, as the offense struggled against a tough Jets defense but managed to do enough to win that game 13-10.  That night the weather and the fact the Patriots offense struggled themselves kept New York in the game, but New England made just enough plays to ultimately come away with the win.

However, when the two teams met again in week 7, it ended up being a different story. Quarterback Geno Smith played better in front of the home crowd and the Patriots found themselves on the wrong side of a 30-27 loss at the Meadowlands.

Against Miami the next week, the Patriots beat the Dolphins 27-17, but Miami got even in the rematch in week 15 after beating them 24-20 in a game that squandered the chance at the number one seed in the postseason for New England. Brady was beyond frustrated after the game, finishing off his brief press conference with an expletive before walking away.

Two weeks later to finish out the season, they beat the Bills by 14 points with a 34-20 win at home, ending the season with a 4-2 record overall in the division on the year.

That 4-2 record obviously looks good on paper, but we’re seeing a gradual improvement at the quarterback position across the division. With training camp just over a month away, here’s a closer look at how each of the quarterbacks from each team within the division stacked up last season as we start pondering what we may expect to see this year from each of them:

MIAMI DOLPHINS:

Ryan Tannehill: 

Game 1: 22-of-42 (52%) for 192 yards 2 TD’s 2 INT’s
Game 2: 25-of-37 (68%) for 312yds 3TD’s 0 INT’s

Overall: 47-of-79 (59%) 504 yards, 5 TD’s, 2 INT’s

NOTES:

Tannehill’s best performance during the two meetings came in their second one on December 15th where he finished 25-of-37 for 312 yards and three touchdowns.  Their first match-up didn’t go quite as smoothly, as the Patriots defense made him miserable after sacking him six times along with 10 recorded quarterback hits.

Overall Tannehill struggled throwing the football on first down, finishing 12-of-26 (46%) for 116 yards along with an interception.  However, he was much better on second down where he completed 20-of-29 (69%) for 206 yards and two touchdowns.  The more disturbing number was his success on third down, where he finished 14-of-22 (64%) passing for 176 yards and three touchdowns. With the Patriots improvement in the secondary, that should be an area that we’ll hopefully see some improvement the next time these two teams meet.

BUFFALO BILLS:

EJ Manuel:
Game 1: 
18-of-27 150 yards, 2 TD’s

NOTES:

Manuel played reasonably well against the Patriots in week one, finishing 18-of-27 (67%) for 150 yards and two touchdowns, including 2-of-2 passing down in the red zone.  Looking closer, a lot of his success in that game came on early downs, with the quarterback finishing 6-of-8 (75%) for 63 yards and a touchdown on first down, and 6-of-8 (75%) for 37 yards and a touchdown on second down. On third down he was just 6-of-11 (55%), including 1-of-4 down in the red zone.

A lot has changed since they last faced him considering that match-up took place all the way back in Week 1. Now the question for the Bills will be whether or not he can build on what he did the first time against them. It’s been a long time since Buffalo has reached the postseason, and having success against the Patriots is something they’ll need to be able to do in order to get there.

Tad Lewis:
Game 2: 16-of-29 for 247 yards, 1 TD

Lewis’ overall numbers weren’t terrible, but one of the stats that sticks out is the fact New England held him to just 5-of-11 (45%) on first down last season, but from there he was 7-of-8 (88%) on second down including a touchdown, but like Manuel dropped off again on third down while completing 4-of-8 (50%) for 99 yards.

Looking closer, his quarter-by-quarter numbers are interesting:

1st QTR: 2-of-5 (40%) 49 yards
2nd QTR: 1-of-3 (33%) 13 yards
3rd QTR: 4-of-7 (57%) 81 yards 1 TD
4th QTR: 9-of-14 (64%) 104 yards

One would have to believe the Patriots won’t face Lewis again should Manuel stay healthy.

NY JETS:

Geno Smith:

Game 1: 15-of-35 (43%) 214 yards, 0 TD’s, 3 INT’s
Game 2: 17-of-33 (52%) 233 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT

Overall: 32-of-68 (47%) 447 yards, 1 TD, 4 INT’s

NOTES: Game one against the Patriots didn’t exactly go well for Smith, and had it not been for a sub par performance in the rain that night by the Patriots’ offense, it may have been worse for him.  He struggled to complete passes that night, especially on third down where he completed just 4-of-12 (33%) attempts for 71 yards and two interceptions.

Game two was a different story, and Smith performed better.  New England did a reasonably good job on early downs after holding him to 3-of-12 (25%) passing on second down for just 34-yards, which left the Jets facing 3rd-and-7 or more 11 times with four conversions.

But on third down overall in that game, Smith had a decent success throwing the football after finishing 10-of-15 (67%) passing with eight first downs including a touchdown.  Overall he completed 14-of-27 (52%) on third down in 2013, and that will likely be an area they’ll want to focus on should Smith be on the field when the two teams meet again this season.

While the performances weren’t necessarily stellar for any of these players, they were good enough to at least be a concern in 2014 as competition in the AFC East appears to rising. Hopefully with some of the moves we’ve seen this offseason the Patriots will be ready for it.

FIRST ROUND PICK EASLEY FINALLY HITS THE FIELD:

Some good news on Thursday as Patriots first round pick Dominique Easley was on the field for the first time in spring camps.

According to reports, the rookie took part in stretching and individual drills and he was also a limited participant, although he reportedly was sporting a full-leg sleeve but took part in most of the drills.  NESN’s Doug Kyed posted a video of him in one of them.

From the sound of things Easley was moving well and appears to at least off to a good start in his recovery.  Obviously it’s a little too early to read too much into the fact he’s taking part in drills during the month of June, but it’s at least a sign that he’ll potentially be on the field next month when training camp starts.

DENNARD RECOVERING FROM SHOULDER SURGERY:

According to the Boston Globe’s Ben Volin, Dennard’s recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, stemming from an injury he suffered against the Browns back on December 8th.

That was a rough afternoon overall, as that was also the game in which Rob Gronkowski suffered his season-ending knee injury.

Dennard also suffered a knee injury last season that reportedly forced him to undergo arthroscopic meniscus surgery during the team’s bye week.  He didn’t play at all during the team’s loss in Carolina after being inactive, but did play in a limited role in the their win the following week against Denver after playing 21 of the team’s 90 defensive snaps (23%).  He played 25 of 73 (34%) the following week against Cleveland, but played in 57 of 64 (89%) one week later in Miami.

However, it was clear he wasn’t himself, as he only took part in 6-of-76 snaps in Baltimore after that before ending up inactive during the final regular season game against Buffalo.

The veteran defensive back also had to serve 35-days in prison in Nebraska stemming from his conviction on charges of assaulting a police officer in 2012 after being arrested last summer on suspicion of drunken driving, which violated his probation.

CLEVELAND’S MIKE PETTINE CAUSES A STIR:

Greg Bedard of MMQB has a good article on Browns head coach Mike Pettine, which was written to highlight the building of a competitive team as the head coach in Cleveland.   During the interview with Bedard, the former Jets defensive coach made some comments that he’s likely now kicking himself for.

During a segment where he discussed the simplification of the playbook, Pettine insinuated that the Patriots may have been doing some questionable tactics as he talked about how he and the coaching staff simplified the playbook while trying to install the new system.

“They were able to refine it even more and make it more player-friendly from the beginning,” Pettine told Bedard. “I think anytime you can install anew, if you can step back instead of just blowing the dust off, here it is, to look at it again and see if it still continues to make sense—they did a good job.”

The initial playbook itself is actually quite thin, and that’s by design. “I don’t put a lot of graduate-level information in it,” Pettine says. “We know in places like New England, it’s only a matter of time that they somehow mysteriously end up with our playbook.”

Pettine also told Bedard a story of how, at Wes Welker’s wedding, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady bragged a little bit to Jets outside linebackers coach Mike Smith (Welker’s college roommate) that the Patriots may or may not have had possession of a couple Jets defensive playbooks.

That set up a firestorm of reaction, specifically from Rex Ryan, who fired off some shots at his former coach.

“One thing I know for a fact, No. 1, I think it’s disrespectful to New England to say, ‘Oh, they did this,'” Ryan told reporters when asked about them. “I can tell you every single game we’ve ever had with New England has been decided on the field. Nobody’s had a competitive advantage. Nobody’s had anything else. And that’s a fact.”

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick didn’t sound happy when asked after practice Thursday if the Patriots have ever possessed a Jets playbook.

“Go talk to Mike Pettine,” Belichick told reporters. “I don’t know.”

Former Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis was asked on Thursday if he knows anything about Pettine’s accusations, and he downplayed it, saying it was still up to his team to go out and beat them.

“I don’t know anything about that. I don’t know,” said Revis via the Boston Herald.  “I don’t even know how to answer that. If they did, they did. If they didn’t, they didn’t. At that point, it really don’t matter. You still got to go out and game-plan and compete and try to win the game.”

As a result, an article that should have been a highlight about the rejuvenation of the Browns has created a mess for a team which already has a myriad of issues as they try and start becoming a contender in that Division.  This likely didn’t make things any better.

AGENT FOR PATRIOTS QB TOM BRADY SPEAKS OUT ON THE DEATH OF TONY GWYNN:

Tom Brady’s agent, Don Yee, published an article in the Washington Post discussing the loss of San Diego Padres Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn, writing that the loss of Gwynn came simply because he couldn’t resist the urge to continue chewing tobacco.

Writes Yee:

“If ballplayers know smokeless tobacco is addictive and dangerous, why do they keep using it? But the unsatisfying answer continues to be: Because it’s baseball, and the peer pressure is impossible to resist.”

Yee talks about the environment in baseball from experience, having been a batboy for a Triple A minor league team in his hometown of Sacramento when he was just 13 years old.  Using “snuff” between his lower lip and gum, or having a wad of tobacco leaves stuffed into his cheek, even at that age, was his badge of honor and made him feel more a part of the team.  However, Bob Lemon, who was the manager at the time, pulled him into his office after noticing Yee chewing and that meeting caused him to quit.  Yee writes that he thanks Lemon to this day for that talk.

“I thank Lemon to this day. It’s a gross habit; it’s addictive; and it makes you high. Most of all, it could have killed me. But ballplayers continue to do it for the same reasons I did– it helps you assimilate into baseball culture. It’s part of fitting in. You want to be one of the guys. If everyone is spitting at a target in the bullpen, you don’t want to be left out.”

In the end Yee points out the oral fixation ballplayers have isn’t reason enough to expose them to what Gwynn went through.  Unfortunately the Hall of Famer paid the price for the habit, and Yee believes it’s a problem that baseball needs to address.

WILFORK READY TO PROVE THE DOUBTER’S WRONG:

From the moment he went down last season and the injury was revealed to be a ruptured Achilles, there were some who wondered if he’d ever come back from it and even went so far as to say the Patriots should move on from him.

After an offseason that was contentious due to the fact the team asked him to take a pay cut, cooler heads ultimately prevailed and the veteran accepted a cap-friendly extension that now has him poised with an opportunity to prove  everyone wrong.

Wilfork, who came back late in the year on the sideline and supported the team off the field, told the media on Thursday that he never had any doubt that he’d work his way back.

“I’m not surprised,” Wilfork said Thursday. “I know there are a bunch of stats and everything going against a person my size with the injury. Right now, I can’t ask for it to be any better.”

“It was never in my mind that I thought I could never come back from this. From the time they told me I did, from the time I had the surgery, I knew that I was going to be back ready to rock and roll. I knew it was going to be tough. I know how tough the injury is, but I tell myself over and over again, I’m not the average person. I just do things a little differently than most people that had this injury, or the size of people that had this injury.

As far as the contract dispute was concerned, Wilfork calls it a “dead issue” and said he’s not holding any type of grudge toward the team.

“I’m here for a reason,” said Wilfork. “If I didn’t believe the things that were brought to me, I wouldn’t have signed it. I’m not upset. I’m not holding any type of grudge. Business is business and everybody handles business in different types of ways.”

ADDITIONAL NOTABLE QUOTES:

“The sky’s the limit.  But at the same time, we’ve got to continue to keep working. I felt that we improved every day, but at the same time we are taking time off, and when we get back to training camp, we’ve got to be ready to go.”
- Patriots Cornerback Darrelle Revis – via Mark Daniels of the Providence Journal

“There are so many things that you can do to bring a team together and I think Bill does a great job of that — finding whatever it may be that he can do to bring this team together.”
- Defensive lineman Vince Wilfork – via the SportsXchange after Bill Belichick brought out soccer balls at the end of practice to lighten the mood Thursday.

“As long as I have the drive and ambition and still want to go out and compete each day and win, as long as I want to win, I’m going to be out there playing.”
- Defensive End Will Smith – via Steve Balestrieri of PatsFans.com

“I mean at the end of the day it is a competition.  Browner is a lengthy guy with really long arms and it helps (wide receivers) us out. We just have to come out with the ball.”
- Wide Receiver Kenbrell Thompkins – via Steve Balestrieri of PatsFans.com

After losing against the Dolphins and seeing their shot at a number one seed potentially slip through their fingers as well as a missed opportunity at clinching the AFC East, quarterback Tom Brady knows that Sunday’s game against Baltimore is pivotal as they continue jockeying for playoff position.

A victory against the Ravens now holds two big keys for the Patriots, who fell to 10-4 after their loss to Miami last weekend.  A win locks up the AFC East, and also secures a playoff spot, but more importantly beating a team in a tough environment might be just what the doctor ordered for a team that needs a win like that to cure what’s been ailing them in recent weeks.


Tom Brady knows how important Sunday’s game against Baltimore is to his football team.
(USA TODAY Images)

Brady feels it’s a game they need, and he noted the importance on Wednesday as he spoke to the media.

“We need it,” Brady said. “There’s no bigger game than this one for us. We have to put everything we can into it. It’s a very important game. As the season goes on, each of these games gets more and more important. We know how important this one is to try to win the division.”

After a season that has seen a lot of slow starts and heart pounding finishes, Brady admitted that it would be nice to finally go out and put 60-minutes of solid football together.  However, he expects that to be a challenge considering how tough the Ravens have been in recent years.

“It would be nice to go out there and play this team and play them well for once,” Brady said. “We haven’t done a great job playing against them offensively. They present a lot of challenges. They’ve always had great players there; they still have some great players that are carryovers from last year’s team and different guys that they’ve added this year. It’s a really good group and they put a lot of pressure on you. They’re good in the red area, they’re good on third down. They do some really good things. It’s going to be a big test.”

They’ve struggled on the road, with a 3-4 record away from Gillette Stadium. Sunday’s loss in Miami was the latest blow for a team that has had an up and down season, and they’ll now try and avoid losing back-to-back games during a critical stretch.  Each game has been a grind, and they’ve battled through injuries, new personnel, all the while trying to put themselves in position to be a contender when all is said and done.

That’s the position they’re in right now, and Brady admitted that despite all the criticism and adversity, none of that matters.  In order to beat Baltimore, they need to just go out and make the plays.

“Ultimately, it’s going to come down to how well we execute, whether we make the plays or not,” said Brady.  “The players will have plenty of say of the outcome of the game once we get out there on the field.”

There was a lot of disappointment coming off of their loss to the Dolphins, which cost them a top seed and delayed their shot at a “hat and T-shirt” to lock up the Division.  They have a shot once again Sunday, and a win also ensures they’ll play at least into January.

Needless to say, while the defeat was tough, what happened in Miami is over and it’s on to Baltimore.

“Putting Sunday behind us is important and moving onto this week,” said Brady.
“There’s nothing really from the last game that’s going to help us this week.”

MANKINS TALKS ABOUT THE DIFFERENCE PLAYING TACKLE

When Patriots left tackle Nate Solder went down with his second diagnosed concussion in eight days, it forced Logan Mankins to have to step up and be the guy to protect Tom Brady’s blind side for the remainder of the game.

Mankins did a respectable job, although it’s not a complete surprise.  He actually played left tackle at Fresno State before the team selected him 32nd overall in 2005, but at the time Matt Light was here so the team instead moved him inside at guard next to Light.  Since then he’s excelled in that role and has been a key component of New England’s offensive line, and fortunately his versatility ended up helping them immensely following Solder’s exit from the game.

Mankins admitted that the position is definitely different, and requires him to be a little quicker on his feet.

“Scheme-wise, it’s not that hard,” Mankins told Shalise Manza Young of the Boston Globe.  “I know all the plays at every position so that’s not too tough, but just the overall different angles, different footwork, that kind of thing. I have to process that pretty fast.”

“You’re running around a lot more,” said Mankins.  “Those guys are faster, you’re not always just getting someone slammed into you. Your feet have to be a little quicker, move them a little faster.”

We’ll see if he’ll have to do it again this week in Baltimore.  Solder didn’t practice again on Wednesday and it remains to be seen whether or not he’d be able to play coming off of two concussions in such a short span.

Either way, it sounds like Mankins is comfortable enough to be able to do it again if he’s asked to fill in there again against the Ravens.

“It was something I had to get used to and learn on the fly there Sunday,” Mankins said.  “It went pretty well though, so we’ll see.”

INJURY NOTES:

Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald pointed out in his Notebook this morning that Solder’s injury simply adds to the laundry list of players who have gone down this year, with New England having had 20 players suffer an injury during the regular season and then miss at least one game as a result. Howe also points out that so far, those 20 players have missed 87 games combined.  That’s a staggering fact considering they’re 10-4, but somehow they’re still in position to win their Division and a relatively high playoff seed.  Needless to say, it should be interesting to see how they respond in Baltimore this weekend.

ON TO THIS MORNING’S LINKS:

BOSTON GLOBE:

Dolphins are closing the gap on Patriots – Ben Volin - Volin offers up his midweek report and feels the Dolphins made a statement in the battle for supremacy in the AFC East Sunday that says, “We’re coming for you.”

Logan Mankins can do it all on Patriots’ offensive line – Shalise Manza Young – Manza Young has a good read on Mankins, who talked about the transition from going from guard to tackle on Sunday.

Tom Brady on the Ravens: ‘There’s no bigger game than this’ – Zuri Berry – Berry has comments from Tom Brady, who expects this week’s contest to be a tough one but feels, “We need it.”

BOSTON HERALD:

Patriots Notebook: No Fish net for Shane Vereen – Jeff Howe – Howe has an article on Vereen and writes that despite the drop off in production, it was far from an unproductive outing for Vereen against Miami.

Terrell Suggs doesn’t hide his dislike of Tom Brady – Karen Guregian – Guregian has an article on the rivalry between Suggs and Brady.

Struggling Ray Rice has sympathy for Vince Wilfork – Mark Daniels – Daniels has comments from Rice, who offered up some kind words for Wilfork, who was lost for the season with an Achilles injury.

Logan Mankins shows he’s Hannah-tough – Jeff Howe – Howe has a good read this morning on Mankins, who tries not to compare himself to John Hannah even though others like to.

ESPN BOSTON:

Defensive groupings: Sub packages rise – Mike Reiss – Reiss looks at the total number of snaps in different personnel groupings in this entry.

Penalty watch: Patriots at Ravens – Mike Reiss – Reiss has this week’s penalty update, comparing them against the Ravens and showing their league rankings.

Tedy’s take: Rule proposal for specialists – Mike Reiss – Reiss has an article this morning with comments from Tedy Bruschi, who gave his thoughts on what happened to Bengals punter Kevin Huber.

Solder, Boyce miss practice; 13 limited – Field Yates – Yates has Wednesday’s practice report, which saw another long list this week.

WEEI:

Why Patriots could be primed to push tempo again Sunday against Ravens – Christopher Price – Price has his thoughts on why the Patriots may pick up the pace Sunday in Baltimore.

Brady: ‘Maybe we should [run hurry-up] more’ – Mike Petraglia – Petraglia has comments from Brady on the fact that considering the success they’ve had in the 2-minute offense, they may want to consider doing it more often.

WORCESTER TELEGRAM:

Patriots tackling changes if Nate Solder can’t play – Rich Garven – Garven looks at how New England will adjust up front if Solder can’t go on Sunday.

Patriots’ hurry-up offense is missing in action – Rich Garven – Garven files his notebook this morning, which leads off with the fact the Patriots haven’t used the hurry-up offense nearly as much this season.

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

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.

Morning Huddle 12/16 – New England Patriots News, Notes, and Links

Sunday’s loss was a game that left fans with a reminder that the Patriots can still figure out a way to move the chains between the 20’s, but when it comes down to scoring points, they clearly have a rough road ahead now that Rob Gronkowski is lost for the season.


Danny Amendola played well, but couldn’t quite haul in what could have been the game-winning reception.
(USA TODAY Images)

Down in Miami the Patriots received huge contributions from Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola, who each had a terrific performance against a Dolphins defense that weren’t able to stop either player.  Edelman finished the afternoon with 13 catches for 139 yards, while Amendola finished with 10 catches for 131 yards.  Comcast Sports New England pointed out after the game it was the first time in franchise history that the Patriots had a game where a duo of receivers finished with at least 10 catches and 125 yards in a single game.

Not a bad outing by a team trying to move on without one of their biggest offensive weapons, especially now that Gronkowski likely spent the day watching this one unfold on television.  The only problem was, despite racking up 453 yards of offense, New England was only able to muster 20 points against a tough Dolphins defense.

The Patriots were close, with Brady putting the ball in Amendola’s hands in the end zone on their final drive for what would have been the potential game-winner for New England. Amendola had it for a moment, with the ball locked in on his helmet as he fought with Miami’s Michael Thomas to try and pull it down. Instead Thomas got the better of him, and knocked it out of Amendola’s grasp.

“I’d like to have that one,” Amendola said after the game.

Down in the red area was one of the biggest problems of weakness Sunday, with the Patriots only managing a touchdown on one of their four opportunities.  To make matters worse, Tom Brady had his worst game of the season down inside the red zone Sunday, finishing just 2-of-11 passing (18%), including 0-for-6 on their final drive.

It’s significant to note because earlier this season other than their last-second comeback win against the Saints and their other comeback win over Miami back in week eight, the absence of Gronkowski has obviously hurt them.  Before Gronkowski’s return against the Jets, Brady finished four out of those five games with completion percentages of 43% or less down in scoring territory, while with Gronkowski on the field, Brady was 16-of-25 (64%) passing with 8 touchdowns in the red zone.  Without him, he’s just 22-of-51 (43%) with 10 touchdowns.  While the latter total has a higher scoring number, that also came over  the course of eight games compared to just the five games where Gronkowski was on the field when Brady had those opportunities.

Last week after Gronkowski went down Brady mustered four completions on seven attempts (57%) including 2 touchdowns, so obviously they have enough weapons to score and get the job done.  But against Miami, it just didn’t quite come together.

“We came up short in every area,” said Belichick on Sunday.  “I mean nothing was really good enough.  Yeah, there were some good things, but nothing was really good enough.  We’ve just got to do a better job all the way around; offense, defense, special teams, coaching, playing, blocking, tackling, throwing, catching, everything.  We’ve just got to do a better job.  I don’t think any of it was bad, but it just wasn’t good enough.  Or if they were a little bit better…however you want to look at it.”

Brady after the game was about as upset as fans have ever seen him, and it lasted all of two questions before he stormed out.

“Yeah, we didn’t do a good job getting in the red area,” said Brady after the game. ”
We didn’t do a good job finishing drives.  So, you know, turns out coming up on the short end of the stick.  Just wasn’t a good day, just couldn’t make enough plays when we had a chance to.”

“We got plenty of chances all day,” Brady said later when asked about that last drive.  “We make some good plays and then make plenty of [expletive] plays.”

Now the Patriots will have to try and regroup against a tough Baltimore team that will likely present another tough challenge to this offense.  After seeing Pittsburgh beat the Bengals on Sunday night, New England remains in the mix for the number two seed. However, beating Baltimore is going to be a big key to trying to at least hopefully keeping that a possibility.  The Ravens will be coming off of a short week but will have the advantage of playing at home after taking on the Lions in Detroit later tonight.

Either way New England will spend this week trying to work on making sure they’re better in the red area than they were on Sunday. They’ve already seemed to figure out how to at least sustain drives and keep the chains moving.  Hopefully next week they can start getting better about putting points on the board because moving forward it’s only likely going to get tougher.

LACK OF FOCUS ON VEREEN DOESN’T MAKE A LOT OF SENSE:

Looking back on this game, it’s interesting to note that Shane Vereen wasn’t a big part of this offense on Sunday in Miami.  Last week Vereen finished with 12 receptions on 17 targets for 153 yards, while also grabbing a 50-yard reception against the Browns, which ranks as the 4th longest pass play of the season by New England’s offense.  On Sunday he was targeted seven times with just 3 receptions for eight yards.  Without seeing the “All-22″ film it’s hard to wonder why he wasn’t a bigger part of the offense, especially down in scoring territory.  Hopefully offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and the Patriots coaches are wondering the same thing as they start planning on how to put up points against a Ravens team that will likely be another tough match-up.

SOLDER SUFFERS SECOND CONCUSSION:

Lost in yesterday’s loss was the fact that the Patriots suffered another injury to one of their critical players, with left tackle Nate Solder suffering his second concussion in eight days.  During his absence Logan Mankins moved over and filled in, with rookie Josh Kline jumping in at left guard for Mankins.

“That’s what we needed (yesterday),” Mankins told the Boston Herald. “One of our guys went down. I’m not sure what happened yet, but that was the plan all week. If something was to happen, it was my job to go out there. I went out there, and I don’t recall screwing anything up, so that’s always good.”

Solder suffered two diagnosed concussions in 2011 and has now seemingly suffered two this season, having missed his first career practice last Wednesday.  We’ll have to see how that affects his availability for this week, but the fact Tom Brady’s blindside protector is even in this position is definitely a concern heading into the final two games of the regular season.

NUMBERS YOU MAY NOT HAVE KNOWN:

– Tom Brady finished with over 300 passing for the 59th time in his career on Sunday, which came after achieving the same mark last week where he moved into 5th place all time.

– As mentioned previously, Comcast Sports New England pointed out after the game that Sunday’s performance by Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola marked the first time in franchise history that the Patriots had a game where a duo of receivers finished with at least 10 catches and 125 yards in a single game.

– We talked about the fact that the Patriots finished with their worst performance in the red zone this season.  We’ll take it a step further, the Patriots didn’t finish a game in 2012 where Brady finished with a completion percentage in the red area of less than 50%.  That’s happened six times this season.

– The Patriots didn’t have a receiver with a reception of over 30-yards on Sunday, which marked the first time that has happened this season since, you guessed it, the same thing happened in week eight against the Dolphins during the Patriots come-from-behind win over Miami back in week eight.

– To take it a step further,the Patriots didn’t have a pass from beyond 30-yards in five of New England’s first eight games.  Obviously the absence of Gronkowksi hurts their big-play ability, especially considering the attention he demands when he’s on the field.

– After having what has been considered one of the best seasons of his career, Stephen Gostkowski’s missed field goal from 48-yards was just his third miss of the season.  He’s perfect from 39-yards or less this season (19-of-19), but he’s now 8-of-10 from 40-49 yards after yesterday’s missed attempt.  He’s also 5-of-6 from 50-yards or more.

– Julian Edelman came up big on third down for New England yesterday. Tom Brady finished 8-of-13 passing on 3rd down Sunday, with Edelman accounting for half of his completions with 4 receptions on 5 targets along with three first downs.

– Sunday’s loss dropped Tom Brady to 6-6 all time in Miami.  So much for the former Michigan standout enjoying the limelight in Florida, as it remains a place that he’s lacked success during his incredible career.

– Kyle Arrington recorded his first career sack on Sunday, which came in the second quarter on a corner blitz to take down Ryan Tannehill.

– Sunday’s performance put Tom Brady over 4,000 yards, with Brady currently with 4,049 on the season.  It’s the sixth time in his career he’s reached that mark.

– Brady also moved past John Elway into fifth place all-time on the NFL’s career completion list with 4,150.  The former Broncos quarterback has 4,123 career completions.

 ON TO THIS MORNING’S LINKS:

BOSTON GLOBE:

Patriots run out of comeback magic against Dolphins – Shalise Manza Young – Manza Young has her game story from Sunday, and writes that with 1:15 to go the Patriots seemingly had the best possible scenario for a comeback before falling short.

Let’s face it, Patriots simply are not that good – Dan Shaughnessy – Shaugnessy has his snarky column for this morning, and writes that the hats and t-shirts were ready to be placed at the locker of each player, but it didn’t go their way this time around.

Patriots defense just wilted in Miami heat – Ben Volin – Volin has his “On Football” column this morning and writes the Dolphins got the better of the Patriots when it came to halftime adjustments on Sunday.

Red zone was a problem area for the Patriots – Michael Whitmer – Whitmer looks at New England’s red zone woes yesterday.

Stephen Gostkowski kicking himself after loss – Michael Whitmer – Whitmer files his notebook which leads off with comments from Gostkowski, who wasn’t happy with his performance Sunday.

At this point, Patriots are looking defenseless – Ben Volin – Volin writes that the defense is looking like a shell of its former self.

BOSTON HERALD:

Without Gronk, Patriots zone out where it counts – Karen Guregian – Guregian has her column this morning on New England’s red zone struggles, which was obviously an issue on Sunday.

Patriots notebook: Solder hurt again as Mankins moves to LT – Jeff Howe – Howe files his notebook this morning which leads off with the loss of Nate Solder during Sunday’s game.

Bittersweet day for Patriots’ receivers – Karen Guregian – Guregian looks at the performances of New England’s receivers yesterday, who despite big days from Edelman and Amendola they obviously still lost the game.

Play of the Game: Patriots allow Dolphins to go fourth –  Matt Porter – Porter looks at the fourth down conversion in the final minutes New England allowed that led to the go-ahead touchdown for Miami.

Best & Worst from Patriots vs. Dolphins – Ron Borges – Borges has his best and worst from yesterday, including some bizarre categories in this entry.

Miami ‘D’ silences Shane Vereen – Matt Porter – Porter looks at the fact Miami took away Shane Vereen yesterday.

Borges: No defense for it - Ron Borges – Borges has his take on yesterday’s game, and writes that by living on the edge, the Patriots finally fell off it Sunday in Miami.

Pats stumble as Dolphins make big plays down the stretch – Jeff Howe – Howe files his game story, and writes that for the first time in the Bill Belichick era, the Patriots lost a game when they had an AFC East championship in their grasp.

WEEI:

Brady on D&C: ‘Frustrating all the way around’ – Brady spoke to WEEI this morning and felt that Sunday’s loss was frustrating, especially given the chances they had but didn’t take advantage of.

Stephen Gostkowski: ‘Today just wasn’t my day’ – Christopher Price – Price has comments from Gostkowski, who was frustrated with his performance on Sunday.

ESPN BOSTON:

Brady: Pats not good enough to miss chances – In this report Brady talks this morning about the squandered opportunities they missed in Miami.

Upon Further Review: Patriots Week 15 – Mike Reiss – Reiss has further thoughts on week 15’s results for New England.

Snaps: CB Cole was targeted quickly – Mike Reiss – Reiss has the defense’s snap counts for Sunday.

Snaps: WR Josh Boyce exits with injury – Mike Reiss – Reiss looks at the snaps for the offense, with Josh Boyce playing a big role before getting hurt.

Patriots frustrated by missed opportunity – Mike Reiss – Reiss has his postgame column, which saw New England let a potential victory slip away.

MASS LIVE:

Tom Brady: Giving games away makes for a long week – Nick Underhill – Underhill has additional comments from Brady this morning, who felt they moved the ball pretty good all day but just couldn’t get enough points on the board.

Patriots in control of AFC’s No. 2 seed following loss to Miami Dolphins – Nick Underhill – Underhill writes that after Cincinnati’s loss Sunday night the Patriots remain in the hunt for the AFC’s No. 2 seed.

CSNNE:

Curran: Patriots flat out got beat by Dolphins - Tom Curran – Curran has his take on Sunday’s loss, which he feels came because Miami simply outplayed them.

CBS BOSTON:

Esiason: Gronk Would’ve Made The Difference In Patriots Loss To Dolphins – Boomer Esiason spike to 98.5 this morning and felt that having Gronkowski may have been the difference in Miami Sunday.

Bill Belichick has said every season that his football team can’t worry about what other teams are doing, but this morning he has to feel like they’ve set themselves up in good position if the Patriots can take care of business over these final three games.


Belicihck and the Patriots are in control of their destiny in grabbing the top playoff seed.(USA TODAY Images)

Last night’s match-up between the Broncos and Chargers went in New England’s favor after San Diego knocked off Denver 27-20 on Thursday night football, putting the Patriots in the driver’s seat for the No. 1 seed in the AFC.

That means if New England manages to win out, they’d hold a first round bye, as well as home field advantage throughout the playoffs.  For a team that’s 10-3 since 2002 at home in the postseason (2nd best winning percentage in the NFL over that span) that’s obviously a big advantage.

They also hold the edge over the remaining two top AFC teams.  Should the Patriots win their final three games, thanks to the Broncos’ loss, even if Denver wins out and finishes tied with New England with the same record of 13-3, the Patriots hold the edge thanks to the head-to-head match-up where they beat the Broncos at Gillette Stadium back in week 12.  Kansas City would be the next candidate, but New England currently has a better conference record at 7-2, compared to the Chiefs who are 6-3.  That 7-2 record by New England is currently the best record in the AFC.  They’re also one of just three teams with double digit wins in the AFC (Denver has 11, the Chiefs have 10), while only two teams in the NFC have ten or more wins (New Orleans has 10, the Seahawks have 11).

However, these final three games aren’t exactly a given.  The next two games are both tough road games against a Miami team that is playing much better football as of late and has won two in a row, followed by a trip to Baltimore against a Ravens team that has won three straight.  Even the Bills in the final game in Foxboro could be another tough one as despite the fact Buffalo may be out of the playoff hunt, there will likely be guys battling to finish strong in order to earn a new deal elsewhere or to keep their jobs heading into 2014.

Either way, the Patriots caught a break and the opportunity appears to be theirs for the taking.  It’s amazing that even through all the turmoil and  personnel losses they’ve suffered, they’re right where they need to be with just a few weeks left in the season.  Sunday’s game in Miami starts the beginning of a critical three game stretch that could certainly make the road to New York for a shot at a Super Bowl berth a little easier.

Now each win gets them one step closer to where they need to be. While it’s great that they’ve made it this far, Belichick has always done a great job in terms of making sure the players all turn the page and don’t focus on what they’ve done, but more on what they need to do each week. That’s been one of the big reasons this team has found themselves in this position over the years and why they’re once again holding their collective fate in their hands. They just need to continue to take it one week at a time.

“That’s what we have to do,” Belichick told the media this week.  “That’s the National Football League. If you dwell on the past, you’re not going to play well in the future. We have another challenge this week, we have to move on.”

“You just have to do it that way,” said Belichick.  “As good as some of the wins have been and as disappointing as some of the losses have been, by Monday, unless it’s a Monday game, by Monday afternoon, Monday evening, it’s on to the next team. It has to be that way.”

The good news is they’re now in control of their own destiny, so let the march begin.

SOLDER BACK AT PRACTICE:

Patriots left tackle Nate Solder was reportedly back at practice yesterday after missing the first regular-season practice of his career, which was the result of an apparent concussion that he sustained against the Browns last weekend.  That’s good news for New England, who is about to battle a Dolphins team that is 3rd in the league in sacks with 40.  He’s had a tough season keeping opposing players away from Tom Brady, as according to ProFootballFocus.com, Solder has allowed the third most sacks in the NFL among tackles, giving up 10 to this point.  Three players are ahead of him with 11, with Cleveland’s Mitchell Schwartz, the Giants’ William Beatty, and Miami’s Tyson Clabo having each allowed one more.

CLEVELAND UPSET ABOUT LATE NO-CALL LAST WEEK:

Apparently in Cleveland they’re upset about a call that wasn’t made in their match-up last week, and it’s been the topic of conversation for them since the loss.

According to ESPN the Browns have privately wondered if Patriots defensive back Logan Ryan should have been penalized for launching into Jordan Cameron on his catch at the Patriots 41 yard line leading up to Billy Cundiff’s eventual field goal attempt.

They felt the penalty should have been called, which would have moved the kick forward fifteen yards and made it from 43-yards instead of 58.  Cundiff hit the attempted field goal right down the middle; it just wasn’t long enough.

ESPN officiating expert Gerry Austin, a two-time Super Bowl referee, said in the entry that there was no penalty because Ryan turned his back to avoid a hit to the head.

“He does leave his feet, but he doesn’t do it in a targeting manner,” Austin said.

Either way the call wasn’t made and even if it was, there’s no guarantee Cundiff makes the kick.  But it’s a “what if” that will leave them wondering, and fortunately for the Patriots the non-call went their way.

GRONK DETERMINED TO BE BACK…FOR HIS CAMEO IN ENTOURAGE:

After suffering a torn ACL and MCL last week against Cleveland, Rob Gronkowski now faces a long offseason that will include a tough rehabilitation in order to be back in action for 2014.  However, he plans on being ready before that…at least in order to make his way onto the big screen.

TMZ reports that Gronkowski plans on being ready to go when the time comes to make his big screen cameo for the upcoming Entourage movie, which is set to begin filming in February.  That will happen just 2-and-a-half months into his recovery, which most experts have pointed out is usually 6-9 months.

Hopefully his recovery goes smoothly and he doesn’t suffer any setbacks.  But this will be one thing that will likely be watched very closely, especially after an offseason last year that included body slamming a friend while recovering from a fractured forearm and later having to undergo back surgery.

ON TO THIS MORNING’S LINKS:

BOSTON GLOBE:

Aqib Talib lacking confidence?  Never – Michael Whitmer – Whitmer has an article on Talib, who was challenged by Marquice Cole to do 35 pull-ups – and he did them right before practice.

Despite adversity, Dolphins have grown tighter – Shalise Manza Young – Manza Young files her notebook this morning, which leads off with the turnaround the Dolphins made after dropping their fourth straight game against New England earlier this season.

BOSTON HERALD:

Patriots have work to do to be playoff-ready – Jeff Howe – Howe offers up some thoughts on some of the things the Patriots need to correct over these final three games.

Patriots have inside track on AFC’s No. 1 seed – Jeff Howe – Howe has his take on the playoff picture, and points out that should the Patriots lose to Miami they could also lose their grip on not only the top playoff seed, the No. 2 spot.

The Chatham Report: Unknowns keep Dolphins afloat - Matt Chatham – Chatham files his weekly report, and writes that the fact Miami’s been able to avoid all the unprecedented distractions this season to be in the playoff hunt is impressive.

Borges: Honk if you miss Rob Gronkowski - Ron Borges – Borges has a column this morning with some quotes from Dolphins defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle, who sounded like he’d actually prefer it if Rob Gronkowski were playing Sunday.

Patience, hard work pay off for DT Sealver Siliga – Mark Daniels – Daniels has a good read on Sealver Siliga, with the 23-year old taking advantage of his opportunities recently.

ESPN BOSTON:

Defensive groupings: 63 percent in sub – Mike Reiss – Reiss has snap totals breaking down the Patriots defense between their sub and base packages.

Pats have been here before - Mike Reiss & Tedy Bruschi – Reiss and Bruschi preview this week’s game, which is another hat-and-T-shirt game for the Patriots and a position Bruschi said they’ve been in enough times to know how to get it done.

Patriots-Dolphins connections, Part 2 – Field Yates – Yates has additional connections between the Patriots and Dolphins in this piece.

Solder limited at practice; Dobson absent – Field Yates – Yates has yesterday’s practice report, which saw Solder return while Dobson remained sidelined with a foot injury.

Weekly Patriots chat recap – Mike Reiss – Reiss has his chat recap from yesterday, which as usual provided some great insight.

CSNNE:

Predicting how Belichick’s career will end – While talking about the recent return to Boston by Doc Rivers, Michael Felger and the group on “Uno Sports Tonight” discussed how the Patriots coach might end his career.

WEEI:

Is Julian Edelman the next late bloomer to graduate to greatness? – Christopher Price – Price has a good read this morning on Julian Edelman, who he wonders will be the next player to take advantage of the opportunity presented to him.

WORCESTER TELEGRAM:

Dolphins’ Charles Clay shows confidence – Jennifer Toland – Toland has a good read this morning on third-year Dolphins tight end Charles Clay, who has emerged recently as a play-maker in Miami’s offense.

Patriots’ Jamie Collins making most of chance – Jennifer Toland – Toland also has a good article on rookie Jamie Collins, who played a season-high 55 defensive snaps in last week’s win over the Browns along with totaling seven tackles.

ATTLEBORO SUN CHRONICLE:

Carter delivers … for the media – Mark Farinella – Farinella writes that there weren’t many players looking to talk heading into this week’s Dolphins match-up, but Andre Carter decided to make himself available and Farinella has comments from him in this piece.


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