Tag Archives: Patriots Hall of Fame

Raymond Clayborn to be honored today at Gillette Stadium

John Morgan
September 24, 2017 at 11:30 am ET

The Patriots will honor the newest member of the franchise’s Hall of Fame today. During a half time ceremony at Gillette Stadium the Pats will hold a ceremony for Raymond Clayborn. The legendary number 26 is coincidentally the 26th person to join the Patriots Hall of Fame.

While I most certainly hoped Clayborn would get the nod this year, I wasn’t expecting it to turn out this way. I was very pleasantly surprised that the voting by Patriot Nation looked beyond recent star players. Thank you to all Patriot fans who did a bit of research that resulted in Clayborn’s induction. Fans could have easily gone along with the more recent memories. Richard Seymour, a future Pro Football Hall of Famer in my opinion, was a finalist. So was Mike Vrabel, a key defender for three championship teams, and one of the most versatile players in NFL history.

Clayborn set the franchise record with 36 career interceptions (since tied by Ty Law). He returned three kickoffs for touchdown his rookie year, averaging 31 yards per return that season. Clayborn became a starter his second season and along with Mike Haynes combined for one of the best cornerback tandems in NFL history.

Don’t take my word on it; consider what the Pro Football Hall of Fame CB had to say on the subject.

“(NFL.com) did a poll of the top cornerback tandems, and they had myself and Lester Hayes at No. 1,” recalled Haynes. “You know what? Myself and Raymond might have been just as good. Really. Raymond Clayborn was a star.”

Clayborn was a three-time First Team All Pro but stats alone do not adequately state his impact. He was part of a core group of players that turned the franchise around from the worst team in the league to one of the NFL’s best. Perhaps if he had a Super Bowl ring – which was earned but stolen away in the Ben Dreith travesty – he and some other players from the late seventies would have been held in higher regard. Clayborn played in a team record 161 consecutive games and was named to the Patriots All-Decade Team for both the 1970s and 1980s.

Congratulations to Raymond Clayborn on this well deserved honor.

Patriots To Honor Raymond Clayborn At Halftime On Sunday vs Texans

Robert Alvarez
September 22, 2017 at 12:04 pm ET

2017 New England Patriots Hall of Fame inductee Raymond Clayborn will be honored one final time this season in a special halftime ceremony at Gillette Stadium on Sunday afternoon against the Houston Texans.

Per the Patriots official press release;

“Clayborn, a Texas native who currently resides in Katy, Texas, just outside of Houston, was voted by fans as the 26th person to be inducted into the Patriots Hall of Fame. He was officially inducted into The Hall at Patriot Place presented by Raytheon in a ceremony on the NRG Plaza on July 29.” 

“Clayborn was a three-time Pro Bowl player (1983, 1985, 1986) during his 13-year Patriots career that extended from 1977 through 1989. He was drafted by the Patriots in the first round (16th overall) out of Texas in 1977 and quickly established himself as one of the game’s best cornerbacks, as well as a superb kickoff returner. He set a franchise record with 36 career interceptions, a record which Ty Law tied in 2004 and remains today, 28 years after Clayborn finished his Patriots career. His 555 interception return yards rank second in franchise history to Law’s 583 return yards. Clayborn also returned 57 kickoffs for 1,538 yards and three touchdowns. As a rookie in 1977, he returned 28 kickoffs for 869 yards and led the NFL with a 31.0-yard return average and returned three kicks for touchdowns, both of which remain franchise records. He is one of just 20 NFL players since the 1970 merger to finish a season with a better than 30.0-yard average on kickoff returns (min. 20 returns) and is the only Patriots player to accomplish the feat. ” 

Raymond Clayborn Named 2017 Patriots Hall of Fame Inductee

Robert Alvarez
May 22, 2017 at 9:09 pm ET

The New England Patriots formally announced on Monday that cornerback Raymond Clayborn had been selected as the 26th member of the teams Hall of Fame following a vote by the fans.

This year, Clayborn beat out defensive end Richard Seymour and linebacker Mike Vrabel after previously losing the public ballot the last three years. (Law 2014, McGinest 2015 and Faulk 2016)

Per the Patriots press release;

“Clayborn was a three-time Pro Bowl player (1983, 1985, 1986) during his 13-year Patriots career that extended from 1977 through 1989. He was drafted by the Patriots in the first round (16th overall) out of Texas in 1977 and quickly established himself as one of the game’s best cornerbacks, as well as a superb kickoff returner. He set a franchise record with 36 career interceptions, a record which Ty Law tied in 2004 and remains today, 28 years after Clayborn finished his Patriots career. His 555 interception return yards rank second in franchise history to Law’s 583 return yards. Clayborn also returned 57 kickoffs for 1,538 yards and three touchdowns. As a rookie in 1977, he returned 28 kickoffs for 869 yards and led the NFL with a 31.0-yard return average and returned three kicks for touchdowns, both of which remain franchise records. He is one of just 20 NFL players since the 1970 merger to finish a season with a better than 30.0-yard average on kickoff returns (min. 20 returns) and is the only Patriots player to accomplish the feat.”

“I was fortunate to be a season ticket holder during Raymond’s entire Patriots career,” said Patriots Chairman and CEO Robert Kraft. “For the first half of his career, he teamed with Michael Haynes to form one of the best corner tandems in league history. Throughout his career, Raymond was a physical, shutdown corner. One of my favorite memories was watching the 1985 team advance to the Super Bowl after Raymond helped us break the Orange Bowl curse when he stymied future Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino with a dominant performance against Pro Bowl receivers Mark Duper and Mark Clayton. Raymond had six passes defensed and an interception to help us claim our first conference title. It was the greatest upset victory in franchise history at the time and one the entire New England region celebrated. It is a well-deserved honor and I look forward to presenting him his hall of fame jacket.”

The Patriots will honor Clayborn in a special ceremony at The Hall at Patriot Place on a date to be determined around the time training camp opens.

https://twitter.com/PatriotGreat26/status/866733366548332544

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Stalemate may lead to no entry to Pats HoF for Raymond Clayborn

John Morgan
April 12, 2017 at 8:30 pm ET

I just read this disheartening Mike Reiss article from his espnBoston blog:

Logjam among senior candidates for Patriots’ Hall leads to stalemate

Arguably the biggest surprise of Wednesday’s New England Patriots Hall of Fame Nomination Committee meeting was the stalemate among voters between senior candidates Raymond Clayborn (cornerback) and Leon Gray (offensive tackle).

The column goes on to point out how difficult it is for older players such as Clayborn and Gray to gain entrance to the Patriots Hall of Fame, because fan voting inevitably results in younger, more recently retired players winning that popularity contest.

In regards to the ten-person senior committee, a nominee has to receive at least 80% of the votes. Neither side wanting Clayborn or Gray backed down, so neither got enough votes. Fred Marion and Ron Burton were the other nominees.

Reiss has a rather ominous speculation for those of us that have lobbied not only for Clayborn, but for more consideration and genuine opportunity for those that were part of the franchise prior to 2000.

It sparks the question of whether either will break the 80 percent senior threshold in the coming years to earn induction.

Is it time to change the process for Patriots Hall of Fame?

The time has come to at least reconsider the entire process for enshrinement to the Patriots Hall of Fame. It was a nice gesture by Robert Kraft to include fans by having them vote for the three finalists. That process however has proven to be flawed. The most recently retired players are fresh in people’s minds, and garner more votes. Older players don’t stand a chance of recognition.

Maybe the roles should be reversed. Have fans vote for the nominees, with a maximum number on the players and/or coaches from each decade. Then send those nominations to the entire committee to be pared to three finalists. Have the entire committee reconvene and vote on the winner. Make the whole process transparent by making the votes public.

We already waited too long for Houston Antwine, Jim Nance, Julius Adams and Chuck Fairbanks to be honored publicly, before they passed away. Let’s not let that happen again with Raymond Clayborn and other Patriot legends.

Remembering Patriot DT Houston Antwine

John Morgan
April 11, 2017 at 8:00 pm ET

Houston Antwine was born on April 11, 1939; he would have been 78 today. He was one of the best players in football history that is not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Antwine is also the greatest player in Patriot history that most Pats fans don’t know about.

Antwine played in 142 games over eleven seasons for the Patriots. 270 pounds may not be big by today’s standards, but in 1961 it was. Houston Antwine was a man among boys, constantly commanding double or even triple teams by opposing offenses. He wasn’t just some big slug though; Antwine was extremely athletic, using skills he had acquired as a collegiate wrestling champion. ’Twine was not only strong but also very quick on his feet, and nearly impossible to move out of the middle. He was also a well-rounded, versatile player; not only devastating against the run, but also tenacious on his pass rush, totaling 39 sacks in his career and leading the Pats in sacks three straight years.

“Houston Antwine was the kind of football player you don’t forget if you ever saw him, but he’s the kind few remember today because he did his playing before ESPN highlight shows existed. If they had, ‘Twine would have been a staple because he was everything you wanted in a defensive tackle — Warren Sapp before there was a Warren Sapp, but without the need for volume control.”

Antwine was an AFL All-Star six straight years, and was named to the All-Time All-AFL Team. Now stop and think about that for a moment. If a player that was named to the NFL’s all time team of the decade for say the 1990’s or 2000’s that also went to six consecutive Pro Bowls, would there even be any discussion as to whether or not he should be voted in to the Pro Football Hall of Fame? Probably not. Yet Antwine earned identical honors that just so happened to be at an earlier time. Why was he be penalized for that?

Perhaps the biggest reason is because it took far too long for his own team to honor him. The Pats set up their team Hall of Fame in 1991. John Hannah was the original inductee, in the same year he became the first Patriot enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The following year Nick Buoniconti and Gino Cappelletti got their bust at Patriot Place. Antwine was more deserving these two legends though. Buoniconti is more well known for his championships in Miami rather than his seven seasons with the Patriots. As good as Cappelletti was he was never the league’s premier player at a position the way Antwine was.

Legitimate cases can be made for those three, but not for the next group. In 1993 the Pats’ HoF added three more players from the sixties. Nothing against Bob Dee, Jim Lee Hunt or Babe Parilli, but Houston Antwine was a far more dominant football player. In terms of the Hall of Fame the Patriots were ‘on to the seventies and eighties’ after that, for all intents done with AFL-era players.

Houston Antwine

Yes, the Patriots eventually did add Antwine to the hall in 2015. Sadly it was four years after he passed away. He deserved to go in twenty-plus years earlier, while he was still alive. So why did that not happen? His play on the field was such that he deserved to be the first player after John Hannah to enter the Patriot Hall of Fame.

Rumor has it that some of the old time writers did not care for him. Maybe he wasn’t friendly enough with the old guard and they held a grudge. He was one of 22 players to boycott the 1965 AFL all star game in New Orleans, where Jim Crow laws and blatant racism still prevailed; maybe that protest against conditions there had something to do with it.

Regardless of the reason, it started a vicious circle. The thought process was that if Antwine’s own team would not honor him, he couldn’t have been good enough for the Pro Football Hall of Fame – who already were showing an obvious bias against consideration for AFL players.

More time passed, and fewer and fewer writers and fans were old enough to remember or appreciate Antwine. The thinking of those nominating and voting for for the Patriot Hall of Fame mirrored that of those voting for enshrinement to Canton. On the rare occasion his name was brought up it was quickly dismissed. The sentiment was that ‘he couldn’t have been that good if all these other old timers are in and he is not’.

Commencing in 2011 a ten-person senior committee was formed. They were scheduled to convene and have the option of adding one Patriot that had been retired for at least 25 years. It seemed like such a no-brainer; Antwine surely would finally be honored in Foxboro. He had already been a finalist three times, futily up against more recent and recognizable players. Incredibly his election still did not happen. Jon Morris was a good guy with a nice career but he was not close to the same level of player as Houston Antwine. Apparently the old time writers refused to let go of whatever grudges they were holding on to.

In December of 2005 Antwine was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. The disease was allegedly caused by repeated blows to the head from his playing days, back when concussions were just “dings” and players were expected to just shake it off and keep going. Houston Antwine passed away in December of 2011 at the age of 72, a few months after Morris was inducted to the Pats Hall of Fame. The senior committee must have felt a bit of remorse; they then voted Antwine in the next time they met.

 

Fan voting for the Patriots Hall of Fame will commence in the next few days. Hopefully Pats fans will carefully consider “forgotten” players such as Raymond Clayborn, and not simply cast their ballot for the most recently retired nominee.

Happy Birthday to The Duke, Gino Cappelletti – Mr. Patriot

John Morgan
March 26, 2017 at 7:00 am ET

Happy Birthday to The Duke, Gino Cappelletti. Mr. Patriot turns 83, born on this day in 1934 in Keewatin Minnesota. With all due respect to the GOAT, nobody embodies the entire history of the Patriot franchise more than this legend. His absence from the Pro Football Hall of Fame is shameful, something that will hopefully be rectified before it is too late for him to be honored in person.

After a two year stint in the Army and some time playing football in Canada, Cappelletti was one of hundreds of players to tryout for the Boston Patriots. On September 9, 1960 he kicked a field goal at Nickerson Field for what would be the first points scored in an American Football League game.

When he retired eleven years later he had scored an AFL record 1,130 points. At that time the only NFL player with more career points were Hall of Famers Lou Groza and George Blanda.

Cappelletti was incredibly versatile. In that 1960 season he was a starting cornerback. For the next three years he was the Pats starting split end, and then was the team’s starting flanker for the next four years. Of course he handled the kicking duties as well from 1960-1970. Cappelletti caught 292 passes for 4,589 yards and 42 touchdowns, picked off four passes and kicked 176 field goals in his storied career.

For those who played prior to the 16-game schedule Gino holds the second and third most points in a single season. Those 155 points in 1964 and 147 points in 1961 are the most in AFL history, and still to this day rank in the top 25 in NFL history. He also holds the AFL record of 28 points scored in a single game. Cappelletti holds the pro football record for points per game over six consecutive seasons (9.5), points per game over 11 seasons (7.5), and percentage of a team’s points over eight seasons (34%).

The Duke was a five-time All-Star and AFL MVP in 1964. His versatility is perhaps best exemplified by a milestone that will never be broken. In 1960 he ran for a two-point conversion, completed a pass for a two-point conversion, caught a pass, intercepted a pass, returned a punt and returned a kickoff. Nobody in pro football history has ever before or since accomplished that feat. In 1992 Cappelletti became the second player to be enshrined to the Patriots Hall of Fame, and his number 20 is now retired.

His contributions to football did not end with his retirement at age of 36 prior to the 1971 season. Mr. Patriot became the voice of the Pats, providing the commentary for Patriot radio broadcasts for 28 years. He also did Boston College games, and was the voice famously proclaiming ‘he caught it, he caught it, I don’t believe he caught it!‘ on Doug Flutie’s miracle Hail Mary touchdown pass against the Miami Hurricanes in 1984.

Considering all of this, can anybody honestly justify how people like Jerry Jones, Bill Polian or Kurt Warner are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame – but Gino Cappelletti is not?

I didn’t think so.

 

If Vince Wilfork Retires, His Next Stop Should be Canton

Steve Balestrieri
January 16, 2017 at 6:00 am ET

The Patriots defeated the Houston Texans last night 34-16 in the Divisional Round of the playoffs and will host the AFC Championship Game next Sunday against either the Steelers or Chiefs. After the game, Vince Wilfork said he may have played his last game in the NFL and may retire. It was sad to watch the big man walk off the field for perhaps the last time.  If he indeed does retire, he should have a bust in Canton.

It won’t be easy, the voters for the NFL Hall of Fame don’t like the big heavies. The two-gap run stuffers who are so integral to what some teams do defensively. Why? We live in the era of fantasy football. Voters want the guys who have the impressive sack totals, the penetrators, the fast, speedy guys who make the crowd ooh and ah when they rush the quarterback.

Guys like Wilfork and Casey Hampton who played for the Steelers for a long time will never get those gaudy sack numbers and don’t have that streamlined physique that makes those guys the subject of so many articles and photos for the media. Nope, guys like Wilfork are built like a fire hydrant. Wide, squat, and low to the ground with legs like tree trunks. Built for the marathon of taking on double teams in the interior of the trenches.


Vince Wilfork was an immovable object inside for the Patriots for nine seasons. (USA TODAY Images)

Wilfork never had more than 3.5 sacks in any season but his worth went far beyond that. The Patriots defense relied on him to eat space and double teams at the point of attack in the running game and set the table for the linebackers to clean up. Early in his career, those linebackers were Ted Johnson, Tedy Bruschi, and Mike Vrabel. All of whom had great success in the Patriots defense.

Later, players like Jerod Mayo, Junior Seau, Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower took their places and the defense continued to use Wilfork as the immovable object inside. The defensive philosophy demanded his solid play and the fact that he played on multiple Super Bowl teams speaks of his worth.

Another player that immediately comes to mind was Richard Seymour who was a dominant defensive lineman for the Patriots for several years and had a couple of very productive years for the Raiders. As adept at rushing the passer as stopping the run, Seymour didn’t have eye-popping sack totals but was a tremendous, versatile player who could play inside or outside.

There was an extended period of several seasons where it easy to make the argument that Wilfork was the best at his position, doing what he did better than anyone else in the NFL. From 2007 to 2012, Wilfork made the Pro-Bowl five times and was a first-team All-Pro member once. His 2011 season was arguably his best with 52 tackles, 3.5 sacks and a memorable interception of Philip Rivers, where the big man rumbled for 28 yards downfield. He added nine tackles and 2.5 sacks in three playoff games.

One thing is certain…if indeed Wilfork retires which it appears he will, in five years, he’ll be a first-ballot inductee to the Patriots Hall of Fame. That is a no brainer. But Canton? That will be a difficult sell. Like the catcher in baseball that calls tremendous games for his pitchers and is integral to their success, no one remembers who caught the no-hitters or the perfect games, just the pitchers.

Wilfork is worthy of the gold jacket and will need some help in getting in there. Someone will have to stand up and advocate for him. Which is a shame really. Just turn on the tape from any number of years and watch the traffic jam inside the trenches. Right in the middle of it was #75.

Look around the Hall of Fame and see how many big, two-gapping run stuffers are in there. It is about time that Canton recognizes the excellence of one of them… Just clear off a big space, give his bust a two-gap and very large gold jacket.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Ty Law Named Finalist for Pro Football Hall of Fame

John Morgan
January 3, 2017 at 11:39 pm ET

Former New England Patriot corner Ty Law has been named as a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

 

The Pats drafted Law 23rd overall in 1995 out of Michigan. Law is one of a select few to have won three Super Bowl rings with the Patriots. His pick-six off Kurt Warner and the heavily favored St Louis Rams in Super Bowl 36 is an iconic moment in New England sports history.

 

Law was named to five Pro Bowls and was twice a first team All Pro. He was named to the Patriots’ All-Decade Team for both the 1990s and the 2000s, and was also selected to the Patriots’ 50th Anniversary Team. In 2014 Law was honored as a member of the New England Patriots Hall of Fame.

 

In 1998 Law led the NFL with nine interceptions, and again led the league in 2005 with ten picks. Law finished his career with 59 interceptions, including six in the post-season. Five of those playoff picks came against NFL golden boy Peyton Manning. Further proof of how Law shone bright in the clutch is evidenced by 25 of his interceptions coming in the month of December.

 

Other finalists for the 2017 Hall of Fame class include running back LaDainian Tomlinson. LdT seemed to be a polar opposite of Ty Law when it came to games that took place after Thanksgiving – but he’ll still probably get enshrined in his first year of eligibility. Defensive end Jason Taylor and safety Brian Dawkins are two others on the ballot for the first time.

 

The fifteen finalists will be pared down once more to a group of no more than five. WR Isaac Bruce, G Kevin Mawae and OT Tony Boselli join Law in advancing this far for the first time. WR Terrell Owens, K Morten Andersen and G Alan Faneca were in the round of 15 last year, and return for another shot at Canton.

 

Former head coach Don Coryell, RB Terrell Davis, OT Joe Jacoby, S John Lynch, and QB Kurt Warner are also on the final 15 last. That group made it to the final ten a year ago.

 

As part of a separate voting process Paul Tagliabue and – no, this is not a misprint – Jerry Jones have received nominations as well as contributors. Safety Kenny Easley was also nominated by the veteran’s committee.

 

Notable names missing the final cut include HC Jimmy Johnson, LB Clay Matthews Jr, S Darren Woodson, S Steve Atwater, LB Karl Mecklenburg, OT Chris Hinton, RB Edgerrin James, WR Torry Holt and WR Hines Ward.

 

New England Patriots Training Camp Day 5 Observations

Steve Balestrieri
August 1, 2016 at 11:57 pm ET

A Good Session with the Hall of Famers Present

The Patriots concluded Day 5 of training camp inside Gillette Stadium in front of a raucous crowd on Monday night. The team dressed in shorts and shells after being in full pads Saturday and Sunday. After having a crowd of over 21,000 people on Saturday, more than 24,000 fans filled the lower bowls at Gillette for the session.

The big news of the day was Kevin Faulk being inducted into the Patriots Hall of Fame. Bill Belichick in his remarks and later in his press conference called him one of the most unselfish players he’s ever coached. He said that Faulk and Troy Brown were two of the toughest, most clutch, and best decision makers on the team.

Faulk once again climbed the stage wearing a Tom Brady jersey under his suit coat. Something he did at the NFL draft this May. But he was in for a surprise. Brady came out in uniform for practice and unzipped his warmup jacket to reveal a Faulk jersey.

Faulk later said he was speechless by the gesture. Brady called Faulk, one of the best players, one of the best teammates and one the best friends he’s had. When fans began to chant Brady-Brady-Brady… the QB stopped them and said that night was about Faulk.

There’s something to be said for the respect that Brady has for his former teammate as this is the first time he’s spoken this summer.  Faulk later addressed the media at the end of Belichick’s press conference and stated he wanted to savor the moment. “That’s the good feeling,” he said when asked about donning the red HOF jacket.  He was deeply touched by Brady’s gesture. “So much love, so much emotion…great moment,” he said.

Faulk had some words for the legions of Patriots haters who accuse the team of being cheaters. “Let them come in here and watch the work we put in,” he said.

Not Practicing: Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman, Alan Branch (NFI), Dion Lewis, Tre’ Jackson, Sebastian Vollmer, Nate Ebner (Olympic Games), Keshawn Martin, Chris Hogan were not spotted at practice.

Offense Looks Mostly Sharp: When the team isn’t in full pads, it is the offense that usually rules the roost and Monday night was no exception. Tom Brady took the first reps with top offensive unit all night. While the competition was spirited, the practice didn’t have the intensity that the weekend workouts did.

When Brady was off the field, he was idly chatting with Tedy Bruschi in the end zone, something that we haven’t seen much of this summer. Brady however, was mostly sharp on the night. The only poor throw he made was to Martellus Bennett who was running a deep cross from right to left and was wide open. Brady’s pass was behind him and when Bennett tried to stop to make the catch, he lost his footing.

Brady made a beauty of a deep throw to Chris Harper who beat Jonathan Jones. And on another, he showed outstanding touch to Rob Gronkowski on a deep slant over Jamie Collins who had tight coverage.

Jimmy Garoppolo wasn’t as sharp as Brady but had an ok session. He was picked off by Devin McCourty after his pass went right off the receiver’s hands. He had another nearly picked by Justin Coleman. But he showed some sharpness too. He made a nice connection with Aaron Dobson over Cyrus Jones for about 20 yards.

Jacoby Brissett didn’t have a great practice. As happens with rookies, he was holding the ball too long, made some poor throws, was picked off twice, nearly had a couple more and had too many throwaways.

Kick Returner Seems to be Jones’ job to Lose: Rookie Cyrus Jones continues to get the first reps with the STs kick return unit. He’s showing good vision and decision-making and has that burst that can be dangerous if he gets past the first wave of coverage.

Harper, V’Angelo Bentley and DeAndre Carter also are getting reps in the return game.

Rookies Continue to Work with Top OL Unit: Rookies Joe Thuney and Ted Karras continue to get the 1st team reps in the interior of the offensive line. Thuney looks very comfortable out there and Karras bring a little bit of that nastiness that the team has lacked in the past few years.

Shaq Mason was activated off of PUP but has had a difficult time seeing the field. He spent the majority of Monday evening watching from the end zone. Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon operated at the tackle position with David Andrews at center for the first team unit.

Play(s) of the Day: Brady not only hit Gronkowski once in the corner of the end zone but did it twice. The big man is having a terrific summer and is darn near un-coverable. So while he’s been on fire he’s also been playing to the crowd. Immediately after his second touchdown, he ran over to the fans in the end zone and was firing them up even more so than they wore before.

Which leads us to the next point. Watching the body language of the defensive players after Gronk’s second touchdown and resultant celebration, they were pissed. And rightfully so.

Once in a while the celebration a big score is acceptable, but there is beginning to happen an alarming trend of daily scenarios where they cavort and are showing up the defensive players. Two words here…. Brandon Browner.

Remember two years ago when the WRs were taking too much advantage of their defensive opponents in shorts and shells and they got a bit cocky. Browner set the tone immediately at the start of the next practice. He slammed Kenbrell Thompkins at the line then well after the whistle flung him to the ground like a sack of mail.

We may have another Browner moment soon. If the team is in full pads on Weds or Thursday, look for Hightower or Collins to send a message that the defense is ready for all comers.

The team is off on Tuesday and get back to work on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday with practices scheduled for 9:15 a.m.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon

New England Patriots News 4-17, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
April 17, 2016 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are Sunday’s Patriots news 4-17 notes and what’s happening around the AFC East.

WR? Patriots Have Had Issues Finding a Penetrating DT:
With the release of former 1st round pick Dominique Easley this week, it brings to light the struggles have had finding that elusive interior defensive lineman who can rush the QB. While much has been made about the Pats inability to develop wide receivers, the interior pass rushing presence has been missing for quite some time.

The Patriots whiffed on DT Ron Brace who they spent a 2nd round draft pick on back in 2009. They instead got a little production from Mike Wright and Gerard Warren. They tried CFL DT Armond Armstead but health problems prevented him from ever taking the field. Ditto for free agent Jonathan Fanene. Tommy Kelly got off to a good start with the team but a knee injury derailed his season and he was cut loose a year later.

They drafted Easley with that thought in mind, a slightly undersized DT that can penetrate and disrupt the passing game with explosion off the snap. Although both of his seasons in a Patriots uniform were cut short due to injuries, he flashed some of that known explosion in his time here.

So it is back to the drawing board (NFL Draft) for the team. They can expect 2nd-year player Malcom Brown to provide more production there but the rest of the tackles, Alan Branch, Terrance Knighton, Markus Kuhn, Frank Kearse and Joe Vellano are all more of the ‘big bodied run stuffers’ than penetrating pass rushers. We’ve profiled some of the draft possibilities and the Pats will be sure to look for help with this draft class which is considered very deep.

Patriots Also Release DL Jones and Kitchen:
The Patriots also released two more interior defensive linemen this week cutting Chris Jones and Ishmaa’ily Kitchen.

While Kitchen was viewed as mainly a depth player, Jones logged some quality snaps. He played in 28 games (23 starts), over the 2013-2014 seasons with the Patriots and notched 83 tackles, nine sacks and a big blocked field goal against the Jets. He added nine tackles and one sack in four postseason games. In 2015, Jones spent the entire year on the reserve/physically unable to perform list. 

His base pay was due to jump from $585,000 to $1.67 million in 2016 so the team may have decided that the value wasn’t there for that kind of money. In which case he could very possibly return at a reduced hit against the cap.

Jones could occasionally push the pocket from the inside and while they sometimes push their defensive ends inside in obvious passing situations, the need for an interior pass rusher has resurfaced. Bringing back Jones would be a small band-aid.

Easley Story Takes More Twists: The release of Easley unleashed some very “unPatriot-like” behavior with some of the players. When we learned of his trip to Germany ostensibly to seek alternative treatment for his ailing knees, we knew his career wouldn’t be a long one. The rumor was that his release wasn’t only an injury related one. Tom E. Curran from CSNNE spoke at length about how Easley “wasn’t always on the program” and that the timing wasn’t entirely unexpected.

But here is where some things go awry, usually the Patriots players toe the line and flash the party line but Ben Volin of the Boston Globe reported that one unnamed Patriot player called Easley “a locker room cancer.” On Saturday, Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald had another un-named Patriot player call Easley “a great teammate.”

No one really knows the entire story, perhaps the Germany trip was a deal breaker. When we learned of it, we reached out to an insider and asked if the Patriots were onboard with this treatment. The insider stated that although it was known Easley would seek alternative treatment for his knees, he knew nothing (which probably means the Patriots didn’t either). That alone could have been enough for them to wipe their hands of the entire situation.

Patriots Face Challenges, Questions with 2016 Schedule:
The Patriots 2016 schedule was released (albeit a bit premature) on Thursday evening and a couple of things jump right out. First, if the NFL’s suspension of Tom Brady is re-instated, Jimmy Garappolo will have three straight home games after opening the season in Arizona. But it should be noted that two of those games are against division rivals so those games could factor in the Patriots late-season visits to the Jets and Dolphins.

The Patriots will play in no less than five prime-time games this season so nearly a third of the season will consist of late nights for the team and the fans.

The bye week comes at a perfect time for the Patriots in Week 9, smack dab in the middle of the season. After the injury-plagued campaign of 2015, the rest in the middle of the season is a perfect time for Belichick and Co. to re-charge their batteries.

There is a tough stretch in the middle of the year with a home game against the Bengals, then on the road against the Steelers and Bills. We should learn a lot about this 2016 team after that stretch.

The Seattle Seahawks come to Foxboro for a prime-time game which promises to be a tough one but it comes right after the bye week so the Patriots will have two weeks to prepare for Russell Wilson, Pete Carroll, and Co.

Patriots Hall of Fame Finalists Down to Clayborn, Faulk, Vrabel:
Also on Thursday, the Patriots announced three finalists for this year’s induction into the team’s hall of fame. This year’s finalists are CB Raymond Clayborn, RB Kevin Faulk, and LB Mike Vrabel.

Most fans are well versed in the exploits of Faulk and Vrable who were instrumental in the first three Patriots Super Bowl wins. Clayborn played for the Pats in an early era (1977-89) and was a three-time Pro Bowler. He set a franchise record for playing in 161 straight games.

Congratulations to all three finalists; you can read more on each and vote for your choice to be named to the Patriots Hall of Fame here: The Patriots are the only team in the NFL that allows the fans to vote and have a voice in who belongs in the team’s Hall.

Voting will be open until May 14. The Pats will announce the winner (the 25th member to be inducted), later this spring and the winner will be inducted later this summer, probably prior to one of the first two pre-season games either against the Saints or the Bears.

The Patriots Hall of Fame induction ceremony is held on the NRG Plaza just outside The Hall at Patriot Place presented by Raytheon. The outdoor ceremony is always free and open to the public.

East Bound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Dolphins’ Gase Will Put Feet to the Fire Early:
The Miami Dolphins have a new coach in Adam Gase and the schedule makers at the NFL did him no favors. The rookie head coach will take his team on the road to two very tough venues to start the season. To Seattle and then to New England.

Making matters even tougher is the fact that Miami has been notoriously slow starters at the beginning of each season, going a combined 11-22 in September since 2006. Gase will have to buck that trend quickly if he wants to get his team off to a good start.

Of course, if Tom Brady’s suspension is reinstated, it will make the Dolphins’ job quite a bit easier. Miami’s final four games to end the season isn’t easy either, at home against Arizona, on the road to face the Bills and Jets (who BTW swept Miami in 2015) and back home against New England…Welcome to the NFL Mr. Gase.

Jets Get No Love from the NFL Schedulers:
The Jets are facing a daunting task in Todd Bowles second season, their schedule has them playing six of their first nine games on the road in 2016. Gang Green opens at home against the Cincinnati Bengals then goes on the road for four of the next five weeks, including prime-time games against the Bills and Cardinals. Intermingled in their road trip are games in Kansas City and Pittsburgh. Their next home game? Seattle.

Still no movement on the QB situation with Ryan Fitzpatrick, the Jets have an offer of reportedly $8 million on the table. There is also talk of trading Muhammad Wilkerson and moving up in the top 10 to take either QB Carson Wentz or QB Jared Goff.

Bills WR Percy Harvin to Retire at 27:
A month after saying thru sources “that he was definitely planning to play” Bills WR Percy Harvin’s hip injury may be forcing him into early retirement.

Harvin is only 27 but has been beset by migraines for several years and now this hip ailment that forced him onto IR last season with Buffalo.

After wearing out his welcome in Minnesota, he went to Seattle where he played brilliantly at times and others fought with his teammates even during a year where they won the Super Bowl. The Seahawks traded him to the Jets for the final eight games of 2014 and from there he signed a one-year $6 million-dollar deal with Buffalo.

He played well for the Bills until his hip landed him on IR. Harvin was an extremely talented player who was a threat to score every time he touched the ball.

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