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Patriots-Broncos Match-Up Mania: Peyton Vs. Defense


Once again, Peyton Manning is matched up against the New England Patriots in what could be the NFL’s signature game of the 2013 season. Have I been here before? Is Bill Murray coming to the game?

What does Bill Belichick have in store for the scaldingly hot, Manning-led Denver Broncos and the concussed Wes Welker? I’d be stunned if Welker isn’t ready to go on Sunday for obvious reasons.

Before we can even worry about how the Patriots will attack Denver’s offense, let’s consider the personnel problem. Injuries continue to pile up on the NEP roster on top of the losses of players like Vince Wilfork that are simply assumed by now. The team is running out of defensive backs.

Don’t be surprised if most of those DBs will suit up on Sunday night even if they are less than 100%. I suspect Aqib Talib, who is the player they need the most, will find a way to play because he can’t be happy with his performance against the Carolina Panthers last week. Don’t expect to see Alfonzo Dennard, though, after his “procedure” last week.

Every active player will simply recite the “Do Your Job” mantra about injuries about pretend the injured players don’t exist. As for Manning, Welker and Denver’s offensive machine, well they’ll exploit every shortcoming they find.

The Patriots have to hide their approach and/or disrupt Denver’s offense. Easy to say. Hard to do.

Former Pats defender Willie McGinest knows about beating Manning. His analysis:

It was always a chess match because the game plan changes according to personnel and what they were trying to do. The main thing is you can’t give Peyton Manning a lot…The one thing we tried to do was move around, confuse him, disguise a little bit and not let him get comfortable in the pocket.

Patriots Match-Up Mania: The Replacements, Continued…

Gronk has been cleared to play.

Bill Belichick’s post-game press conferences seldom yield any valuable information. It’s an annoying trend as Belichick possesses and can share significant insights into the sport he has a mastery of.

As the injury-riddled New England Patriots prepare to face the New York Jets at 1 p.m. on Sunday, Belichick inadvertently revealed his thoughts on all of the new players being worked into the team’s regular rotation with a seemingly innocuous comment to CSNNE.com’s Mary Paoletti. Bill was specifically replying to a question on newcomer Austin Collie and observed:

I mean, they’re never 100 percent ready. But there’s a difference between being ready and when you put the person in there and feel like, well there’s just too many things that can and probably will go wrong because they’re just not prepared enough for those…It’s certainly a very individualized type of call and I don’t think there’s any book on that. You just have to try to figure it out the best you can.

I’m focused on the “never 100 percent ready” comment, and I’m expanding the context of it beyond new players – veterans and rookies, alike – to injured veterans returning to the field and reserves switching roles to account for injuries, and starters changing positions. With the many injuries sapping the Patriots depth through six games, the concept of new players is at a premium in Foxboro.

Yes, Rob Gronkowski is available, or “cleared” by some doctor. Will he play? Who knows? Say he plays. What do we get? A fully Gronk’ed Gronk, or a timid, nervous Gronk who really isn’t ready but needs to see some action? Is he even in game shape after reportedly dominating practices? He has had success versus the Jets. Who hasn’t?

Collie made two key grabs in the Saints win. Kenbrell Thompkins isn’t really a replacement at all. However, he seems to be getting it now – finally. Did he “figure it out” in time to make his mark?

The real replacement match-ups to focus on are on the defense that could be without the squad’s top three players. Vince Wilfork we know about. Ditto for Jerod Mayo. Aqib Talib didn’t travel to New Jersey with the team. How do you fill those three holes?

McCourty could be playing corner at some point, too. But, he and Ninkovich taking a more pronounced role as captains is a significant match-up type issue. Players like Dane Fletcher, Alfonzo Dennard, Kyle Arrington, and draftees Jamie Collins and Logan Ryan need to take advantage of bigger roles due to injuries.

Patriots Pulse: Brady Shocks Brees, Saints With Last-Second Touchdown Pass

Kenbrell Thompkins skies to hang on to the game-winning touchdown pass and the Patriots held on to improve to 5-1 on the year.

Kenbrell Thompkins skies to hang on to the game-winning touchdown pass and the Patriots held on to improve to 5-1 on the year.

In a back-and-forth game at Gillette, when the leaves seemed to be a little redder at the end than they were at the start, Tom Brady once again reminded everyone in New England just exactly why he is one of the greatest of all-time. And it was one of his rookies, Kenbrell Thompkins, that was on the receiving end of the 17-yard pass as he jumped up and came down with the ball between his hands just above the outstretched defender in the corner of the endzone and all but locked up the 30-27 come-from-behind win over the previously undefeated Saints.

Trailing by four with just over a minute left, Brady drove the Pats 70 yards after the defense forced a New Orleans punt and left enough time by burning their three timeouts. He went 5-for-7 on the drive, utilizing Julian Edelman, Austin Collie and then Thompkins for big gains and also passing Vinny Testaverde for eighth on the all-time passing yards list.

“Guys made big time catches,” Brady said of his new receivers’ play on the final drive before adding that no matter what, he has confidence in his targets.

The Pats jumped out to a 17-7 halftime lead behind two rushing touchdowns from Stevan Ridley, who was back in the lineup after missing last week’s contest with a knee injury. A Stephen Gostkowski field goal on their first possession had made it 3-0, Pats. Drew Brees would keep his team in it, however, as he utilized some new targets to put up some points.

New England fell behind, 7-3, as Brees got the Saints on the board with a late touchdown pass in the first to Travaris Cadet from three yards out. Ridley would score the next two, though, and the Pats went into the dressing room with a 10-point lead despite no touchdown passes from Brady for the sixth straight quarter.

After deferring to the second half, the Saints came out with the first 10 points of the third quarter as well with a 28-yard field goal from Garrett Hartley first and then a three-yard run from Khiry Robinson, who was in there with Mark Ingram inactive for the contest. Gostkowski then broke the 17-17 tie with 1:36 left in the third and added his third of the day six and a half minutes into the fourth to make the score 23-17 Patriots with 8:34 to play.

Again, Brees answered, however, finding Kenny Stills with a 34-yard pass that Alfonzo Dennard appeared to have a beat on, but was unable to bat down in the corner of the endzone. Stills came down with both feet in and the Saints led, 24-23, with 3:29 to play. Plenty of time remained for Brady, but No. 12 couldn’t get anything going and New England was forced to punt. Hartley would then add three more and force the Pats to drive down the field needing a touchdown with 2:24 left.

Brady then threw a deep interception on the first play as he tried to connect with Edelman down the right side and it would be up to the defense to get the ball back. They held and with the help of the two-minute warning and their final timeout, were able to get the ball back into Brady’s hands.

He opened the game-winning drive with a 23-yard completion to Edelman before finding Collie for 15 more on the next play. Instead of clocking it with 39 seconds remaining, Brady faked the spike and fired to Aaron Dobson, who not only picked up six huge yards, but got out of bounds to stop the clock. After failing to connect with Edelman on each of the next two plays, including once at the goal line, Brady then found Collie again, who got to the New Orleans 17 with 10 seconds left on the scoreboard clock.

Then, Brady found the rookie, who made his third catch of the game to cap off the thrilling no-huddle drive and shock the undefeated Saints. Brady finished the game .25-of-43 for 269 yards and the one huge touchdown pass that sent his team to 5-1 on the year, while out-passing Brees.

“What more can you ask out of your leader?” Ridley said. “He put the team on his back.”

Danny Amendola, Dan Connolly and Aqib Talib all suffered injuries in the game, but despite hurting his hip, Talib was able to help contain tight end, Jimmy Graham, who had just zero catches for zero yards on six targets and failed to become the first tight end ever with five straight 100-yard receiving games.

Dobson was solid on the day and led the Pats with six catches for 63 yards and Ridley finished with 96 yards on 20 attempts. Edelman had five for 57 and a tight end actually snuck into the offense as Michael Hoomanawanui caught four balls for 57 yards. Joe Vellano led the team with eight tackles.

The touchdown pass to Thompkins would have tied Brees’ NFL record for consecutive games with a touchdown pass had Brady’s streak not come to an end a week ago. Rob Gronkowski was inactive for a sixth straight game.

New England (5-1) remains alone atop the AFC East and will take on the Jets for the second time this season next Sunday afternoon while New Orleans, who fell to 5-1, will host the Bills.


Follow me on Twitter @RealAndyLarmand.

Patriots Force Four Turnovers, Hang On To Top Jets, 13-10

Julian Edelman's career night helped the Patriots improve to 2-0 with an ugly win over the Jets.

Julian Edelman’s career night helped the Patriots improve to 2-0 with an ugly win over the Jets.

Just four days removed from their season-opening win in Buffalo, the Patriots kicked off their home season against the always confident Jets. In one of the more ugly games in recent memory – not helped by the torrential downpours coming down in the second half – the Patriots rode three forced turnovers from Aqib Talib to survive the Jets’ attack and improve to 2-0 with a 13-10 victory.

After electing not to practice during the short week, all looked fine at the beginning as Tom Brady provided the team with a 39-yard Aaron Dobson touchdown catch to open the game. In the tight formation, Brady executed a perfect play fake and lobbed the ball to the wide-open Dobson, but then the offense stalled as they did on Sunday and Brady began showing his frustration with his group of young receivers. It was far from pretty, but a late interception from Geno Smith, the Jets’ fourth turnover of the game, gave the Patriots their second win of the season by a combined five points.

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The New ‘A-Team’ Large In Patriots’ Opening Day Win

Kyle Arrington came up large for the Patriots on Sunday.

Kyle Arrington came up large for the Patriots on Sunday.

With all the talent that the Patriots have on both sides of the ball, certain games will inevitably come down to the same guys making key plays at opportune times. In Sunday’s Opening Day win over the Bills, however, it was a couple of the bottom two guys you might expect, but ones near the top of the roster, who were key assets in helping the team pull out the two-point win.

Everyone will remember Tom Brady going 6-for-6 on the eventual game-winning drive and steer his pre-halftime interception that cost the team seven points to the back of their minds. Many of us will also point to the reliability of Stephen Gostkowski as a big factor in the win since after all, he went 3-for-3 and was right down the middle on the game-winner with five seconds left. Finally, the productiveness and toughness of newcomer, Danny Amendola, was sure to have stood out in the minds of some, but in my opinion, that is what he was brought here to do – to be that No. 1 receiver and spend a good deal of time in the spotlight.

Two of the more impressive guys on Opening Day, however, arguably were Kyle Arrington and rookie punter, Ryan Allen. In case you forgot, two of the most critical factors in the outcome of an NFL game are turnovers and field position. These two were at the center of both these departments for the Patriots on Sunday.

Let’s start with Arrington. Yes, he was beaten on Steve Johnson‘s third-quarter touchdown reception that gave the Bills the lead for a while, but he could have gotten a little bit better safety help on the play. Other than that, he was all over the place – especially compared to what we are used to seeing from him as a nickel corner.

He forced both Bills’ fumbles, the first of which was a result of good form tackling the bigger C.J. Spiller and punching the ball out at the same time. Giving the Pats starting field position at the 16-yard line of Buffalo all but guaranteed a score for the Brady-led offense. Arrington also made five tackles on the day, including four solo and one for a loss. He then forced another fumble late in the first half that led to Brady’s second touchdown pass and Julian Edelman‘s second touchdown catch as he finished the day with more tackles than Dont’a Hightower, Aqib Talib, Brandon Spikes and Devin McCourty, while not being used as an every-down player.

Aside from getting beat on the Johnson touchdown, Arrington also had a solid day in coverage while he was on the field. He picked up his first pass deflection of the season and played a role in no Bills’ receiver having more than 41 receiving yards on the day. Also, E.J. Manuel was able to throw for just six passing first downs due to the tight coverage across the board. Fred Jackson, their leading receiver and a running back, would have been the responsibility of a linebacker most times, anyway.

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Patriots Pulse: Belichick Addresses Media For First Time Since Hernandez Arrest

Bill Belichick addresses the media at Gillette Stadium on Wednesday afternoon.

Bill Belichick addresses the media at Gillette Stadium on Wednesday afternoon.

Bill Belichick addressed the media from a Gillette Stadium press box Tuesday afternoon before Patriots’ training camp begins Friday and for the first time since his former player, Aaron Hernandez, was arrested in his North Attleboro home on June 26. He spoke for a total of 22 minutes once arriving on stage seven minutes after his scheduled start time of 1:45 pm and talked almost exclusively about the situation involving Hernandez.

Belichick was a bit more forthcoming and candid than he usually is at press conferences as he stood in front of cameras to close the book on Hernandez. He didn’t get annoyed by questions, seemed heartfelt in his responses and even smiled a few times along the way while making it very clear that it is time for the New England Patriots to just move on.

With training camp set to get underway later this week, there were not many football questions directed toward Belichick, though there were reportedly over 20 cameras in the room and “every media organization you can think of,” according to Zuri Berry. Others described the scene as being one of the more anticipated Belichick news conferences during his time with the Patriots as he declared that he had been advised to address the Hernandez situation once before putting it in the rearview for good.

Belichick opened the session by reading a statement of his own regarding Hernandez. It began like this: “I’m going to address the situation regarding Aaron Hernandez” and added that he “felt it was necessary.” He went on to say that it was “a sad day on so many levels,” before offering his thoughts and prayers to the family of Odin Lloyd. Some members of the former semi-pro football player’s family were reportedly at Hernandez’s probable cause hearing that got started just minutes after Belichick’s presser.

Following his initial comments on the situation, Belichick stated that he and other members of the organization were shocked when they found out about the murder investigation and also added that he was out of the country at the time. “After consultation with ownership, we acted swiftly and decisively [to release Hernandez],” he said before addressing the importance of community presence throughout the organization.

Belichick went on to say that he was “hurt” regarding the events surrounding Hernandez in the past month, but refused to answer any legal questions due to the ongoing nature of the investigation. He did say that the franchise evaluates performance before drafting or signing a player, but they also take a careful look at intelligence, maturity, work ethic and improvement only after evaluating the player’s background, including their family.

“Unfortunately, this most recent situation, with the charges that are involved, is not a good one on that record,” he admitted, but added that “we’ll learn from this terrible experience.” When asked (more than once) if the team would consider altering their pre-draft evaluations of any players or those who may have had character issues in the past, he reiterated that the “evaluating process will fundamentally remain the same in the future.”

Once the questions started to be asked, Belichick stated that he would not comment on any of the ongoing legal proceedings involving Hernandez and that he has advised the rest of his players to do the same. “I’m not trying to make the story disappear, but I respect the judicial system and have been advised not to make further comments [on the situation].” He refused to answer most of the Hernandez questions, including whether or not he has spoken with the tight end since his arrest in June, but noted that this past month has been “very unexpected.”

At 2:13 pm, 21 minutes after the start of the news conference, Belichick received his first question of the afternoon not related to Hernandez. This time, it was about the legal troubles involving second-year defensive back, Alfonzo Dennard. Shockingly, Belichick declined to comment on that one as well. He then abruptly walked off the stage a minute later, ending his pre-training camp news conference at 2:14 pm.

Basically, it was time for Belichick to address the media as well as the fans and definitively say that the team is moving on from the events that have cast a dark shadow over them this summer. He handled it about as well as he could have, even knowing that while he was speaking, one of his former players was appearing in court, wearing a suit jacket, dress shirt, no tie and handcuffs, swaying back and forth as he was being guarded. B.B. actually smiled a few times throughout the presser, including when he was asked, “without getting too personal,” if he had sat down with family or friends to address the Hernandez case.

Through the 22 minutes, however, he said the phrase ‘Aaron Hernandez’ just once – at the very beginning. The rest of the time, the tight end was referred to as “an individual,” “people,” “the player,” and “any player,” among other things.

The Patriots begin training camp Friday at 9 am.


Follow me on Twitter @RealAndyLarmand.

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