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NFL Preseason Week 1 Preview: Patriots @ Redskins

Tom Brady Patriots Boston Sports Then & Now

It is time. The first real action of the 2014 NFL season is upon us. After 14 days of training camp and joint practices in Washington, New England will take on the Redskins tomorrow night at FedEx field with a 7:30 kickoff. Crowds of close to 22,000 have flooded Bon Secours Training Center to catch a glimpse of the AFC East powerhouse. As with every first week in the preseason, the main priority is health and maintenance – don’t expect to see starters going more than a few series.

The real opportunity in this game is for rookies and at risk players to display their game speed and an early understanding of the playbook. Belichick is no stranger to bringing in proven veterans in the offseason. Whether it’s to help groom the youngbloods or add a positive presence in the locker-room, someone like Will Smith can only benefit the organization.

It’s hard not to mention new additions Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner and Brandon LaFell. In one off-season, the Patriots may have transformed their defensive backs to the best in the NFL. Despite a four game suspension to start the year, Browner has displayed his physical presence early and often in 2014. Remember how good Rodney Harrison was at safety? It’s hard to deny Brandon’s elite athleticism as one of, if not, the largest corner in this league. While Revis has dazzled in camp, matching up with DeSean Jackson should be an early challenge for the Pro Bowl veteran. Brandon LaFell has flashed signs of brilliance in the back of the end zone thus far. With Gronk strictly participating in individual drills, LaFell’s 6′ 2″ height has become a point of emphasis for Brady and the offense. Look for TB12 to establish a game connection with LaFell tomorrow night.

As for the rest of the squad, here are three areas to keep an eye on:

1) Defensive Line: It’s no secret that New England struggled here in 2013. Losing both Wilfork and Kelly, the plugs in the middle, left the Patriots vulnerable the second half of the year. Big Vince has showed he’s “back” with an interception and TD rumble in a recent practice; however, how will the veterans respond in real game speed? Ninkovich and Jones excelled last year and need to keep up the edge presence to take the pressure off the vets and rookie Dominique Easley. It’ll also be great to take a look at the Florida 1st round pick. Furthermore, with Sealver Siliga hurting his hand, expect Joe Vellano, Michael Buchanan and Jake Bequette to get some serious playing time.

2) Quarterback: Yes, the Patriots drafted Jimmy Garoppolo ahead of a much needed tight end in the 2nd round this year. Yes, Ryan Mallett’s contract is up after the season. Yes, Tom Brady claims he will be playing until he is 40. What does this all result in? Media speculation and a little fire under Brady. Jimmy has not looked good in training camp and while Redskins coach Jay Gruden claims, “Brady is a hall-of-famer and the best of all time”, there’s no denying he is getting older. The Mallett vs. Garoppolo battle will be on tomorrow night.

3) Running Back: The early word on Wisconsin 4th round pick James White is quite positive, he is more than just a change-of-pace back. We all know the ball security issues Ridley has struggled with; however, there is no denying that he is our best pure back. Losing Blount to the Steelers will hurt, no way the Patriots get to the AFC Championship without him. Brandon Bolden may now be our “powerback” but White needs to step up in Blount’s absence in 2014. Vereen has shown great potential to be a more explosive Woodhead, but continues to nurse ailing injuries. Will this be the year he stays on the field? Let’s see who shines tomorrow night.

Prediction: Garoppolo shines, impresses doubters and the Patriots edge out a meaningless game with Belichick calling two timeouts in the 4th quarter.

 

Patriots Beef Up In Later Rounds With Linemen (Videos)

Bryan Stork was one of three offensive linemen taken by the New England Patriots on Saturday.



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The New England Patriots addressed their depth on both sides of the line of scrimmage in the final day of the NFL Draft on Saturday.

They came into the day with seven total picks after they added two more selections (in the fourth and sixth rounds) with the Jacksonville Jaguars on Friday night.

1. Fourth Round (105th pick): Center Bryan Stork

In their first pick and the first of three fourth-round selections on Saturday, the Patriots chose center/guard out of Florida State, the reigning national champions. Stork started at center for the Seminoles, but the Patriots also could use him as a guard. This offseason, the Patriots brought back center Ryan Wendell on a two-year deal. The 6-foot-3-inch, 315-pound interior lineman will challenge Wendell. Last season, the Patriots struggled to protect Tom Brady from inside pass rushers. In the AFC Championship game, the Broncos were able to apply pressure in the middle. Also, the Cincinnati Bengals’ ferocious defensive line was able to sack Brady on four occasions in a 13-6 victory over the Patriots in a regular season game. Stork is a big body, but he has durability concerns. He missed several games with various ailments, including a concussion during a game last season against Maryland. He also did not play in a game against Boston College due to frequent headaches. If Stork can stay on the field, the Patriots may have a steal. This is the initial pick that the Patriots got from the Jaguars in the transaction on Friday.
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2. Fourth Round (130th): Running Back James White Read more

NFL Week 15 Preview : Patriots @ Dolphins

Bill Belichick may have his toughest challenge to date after the loss of Gronkowski

It wasn’t pretty, in fact – it was a gruesome, improbable and miraculous 27-26 victory by Tom Brady and the Patriots last week against the Browns. Toss up, losing against Cleveland in Week 14 or losing Gronk for the postseason run? I think we all know the answer here. Just after New England escaped again in Houston, following a historic comeback versus Denver, the Pats absorbed their biggest blow of the season. It’s difficult to understand how New England is 10-3 after season-ending surgeries to two Pro Bowl defensive leaders in Jerod Mayo and Vince Wilfork. Losing the best TE in the game is just icing on the cake. If anything, 2013 has been an opportunity to reflect on how great of a mastermind Bill Belichick really is. He has been able to produce more with less for years and faces his steepest uphill climb to date. No one deserves the coach of the year more than BB.

While a death stare from the hooded menace may have taken the Browns safety’s soul, T.J. Ward took Gronk’s ACL/MCL in the 3rd quarter. Rewind to the first six weeks and the Patriots posted a scrappy 5-1 record without Rob, there’s hope.

New England controls their own #1 seed destiny after San Diego upset Peyton Manning and the Broncos last night 27-20. Furthermore, the Patriots have a chance to clinch their 11th AFC East title in 12 years by defeating the (7-6) playoff hungry Dolphins in Miami on Sunday. Incognito v Martin is still brewing but this mini-run is somewhat of a smoke-in-mirrors to their embarrassing MNF loss to a winless Tampa Bay squad at the height of the scandal. 2013 has been a roller-coaster ride full of luck, controversy and struggle for some but Belichick and Brady are exactly where every team in the NFL wants to be – a game away from clinching. The Patriots have the opportunity to make the Superbowl go through Gillette Stadium by winning out and it starts at Sun Life Stadium at 1:00 PM on CBS. Check out these three keys to victory for the New England:

1) Protect the ball: Over their last six games, the Patriots have had seven turnovers in the first half of these contests. That’s one easy way to fall behind early and often. This trend has been the achilles’ heal to an uncharacteristic season. Belichick is known for his second-half adjustments but these halftime deficits are scary and need to vanish, ASAP. Despite ranking 31st in the NFL by allowing opponents a healthy 135.8 rushing YPG, the young New England defensive unit has kept the Patriots in games by forcing 24 takeaways – good for 2nd in the AFC. When the Gronk returned in Week 7 and beyond, Brady smothered him with targets to a point where fans realized there was such a thing as forcing it too much to the beast. Tom was trigger happy and let more than a few get away from him in the first half of the season. Chemistry later developed and the offense was clicking on all cylinders, but now it’s time to go back to the drawing board.

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NFL Week 14 Preview: Browns @ Patriots

December is here and the offense is clicking better than ever. Watch out Cleveland and the whole NFL for that matter.

Not only will the New England Patriots be playing in their second consecutive 1:00 o’clock matchup, but it will be against another team that has come off a loss to the (4-9) Jacksonville Jaguars. Similar to the Texans, the Browns have individual talent on both sides of the ball but lack chemistry as a unit to bring them to the next level. The Patriots barely escaped last week after a 17-7 halftime deficit, defeating Houston 34-31 behind the leg of Stephen Gostkowski. It wasn’t pretty but Brady and Belichick figured out a way to pull out a victory on the road.

Fast forward a week later and the Pats face a below average Cleveland team that has lost three games in-a-row. The Browns traded away one of if not their best player in Trent Richardson to the Colts for future first-round picks earlier his year. Insert veteran Willis McGahee and it seems to be a great move for the future as T-Rich has since been demoted for Donald Brown in Indianapolis. There’s no secret after the past two weeks, WR Josh Gordon is a beast and an elite threat in the NFL. His consecutive 200-yard games is an NFL record and he is averaging just over 120 YPG. Aqib Talib, Devin McCourty and crew surrendered 8 receptions and 121 yards to Andre Johnson last week. This should be interesting. Sprinkle in the talented TE Jordan Cameron, CB Joe Haden, S T.J. Ward and the Browns have the ability to make a bunch of impact plays over 60 minutes. The real question is, who will execute for all four quarters? The Patriots. Check out these three keys to victory for Sunday:

1) Re-establish the run: Brandon Bolden was a healthy scratch in today’s practice, leaving reporters and analysts scratching their heads. Could this be the week Ridley returns to the active roster after being disciplined last week for three straight games with a fumble? There is no doubt he is the Patriots’ best all-around back, he already proved this last year. Ball security issues continue to haunt the LSU alum. Shane Vereen is clearly the passing back while LeGarrette Blount and RB James Devlin handle the power duties. Cleveland’s run defense is ranked 5th in the NFL, limiting opponents to 98.9 YPG. ILB D’Qwell Jackson and DT Phil Taylor are the two core leaders in their front seven. Expect to hear their names, as well as former Raven Paul Kruger and Jabaal Sheard early and often. If Bolden is indeed inactive, the Patriots have no other choice but to bring Ridley back into a starting role. Blount can not handle a full workload on his own and Vereen is too valuable to be pressed into a lead back role. Despite this uncertainty, it is imperative that the Patriots execute a balanced offensive attack to keep the Browns guessing.

2) Contain Josh Gordon: Quite obvious after the aforementioned statistics he posted in the last two games (24/598/3). His 6’2″ frame wins on jump balls and after breaking one tackle he scampered for a 95-yard touchdown last week. This dude is dangerous. He is averaging 19.5 yards per reception and has 7 touchdowns on the season. It’s hard to forget how Belichick managed to limit TE Jimmy Graham to zero receptions earlier in the season. Sure, he was somewhat bothered by an ankle injury but that doesn’t matter – no one is 100% after Week 1. Aqib Talib has recently squared off against Steve Smith and Demaryius Thomas. While half of the game is a mental battle for Talib, he may be up against his toughest opponent in Gordon. McCourty will need to help over the top all afternoon. QB Jason Campbell has been cleared to start after suffering a concussion. His mobility adds an interesting dimension to the defensive schematics.

3) Start strong: The Patriots have created a horrible habit of digging themselves deep holes to start games. 24-0 against the Broncos and then 17-7 in Houston. This trend has got to stop and while they have been able to overcome early turnovers, that won’t fly in the playoffs. New England has historically been a second-half team due to the mastermind adjustments that Belichick draws up. After being accused of “spying” again last week, you can bet on the Patriots getting off to a fast start on Sunday.

In order to earn a number one or two seed in the playoffs, New England needs to conquer the easy road ahead of them and win out. None of their opponents have winning records. Pats roll easily 31-17.

NFL Week 13 Preview: Patriots @ Texans

Coming off the greatast comeback in franchise history, TB12 looks to lead the Patriots into another December run before the playoffs

It’s been over a month since the Patriots have had a 1:00 game. After an emotional and exhausting 34-31 comeback OT thriller against the Broncos, New England is set up for a trap game against the 2-9 Houston Texans at Reliant Stadium. Just a year ago, Matt Schaub & Arian Foster traveled into Foxboro dawning letterman jackets and an 11-1 regular season record. After losing that game and their hold on 1st place in the AFC, the Pats sent them home again in the AFC Divisional round with a 41-28 defeat. Neither Foster nor Schaub will be suited up against New England this year however. Schaub injured his foot/ankle in Week 6 and is the first quarterback in NFL history to throw pick-sixes in four straight games. Rookie QB Case Keenum, University of Houston alum, has stepped in nicely for the turnover-prone Schaub. Stud Foster had season-ending microscopic lumbar discectomy surgery (back) in Week 9, leaving the banged up ribs of Ben Tate to carry the rock alongside undrafted rookie free agent Dennis Johnson.

With great preseason hype and hopes of returning to the playoffs in 2013, Houston won their first two games and lost their next nine (1-5 at home). New England’s three losses on the year have come on their last three road games (CAR, NYJ, CIN), putting them at (2-3) away from Gillette. They have not won a game on the road since September and are in jeopardy of recording their first four-game road losing streak since 2000. Despite being 1st in the NFL in opposing pass yards at 171.8 YPG, Houston has had a nightmare of a season and is in serious contention of earning the top pick in the 2014 draft. There has been some chatter about the natural grass at Reliant Stadium the past few weeks. The Houston Cougars played a game in Reliant Stadium yesterday morning and there are currently no plans to replace the grass. Hopefully there is not a repeat of 2009′s injury to Wes Welker. Much has also been discussed about how New England does not face a team with a winning record in the rest of 2013. In order to avoid falling into the trap, here are three keys to victory for the Patriots in Week 13:

1) Turnover Battle: Weird things need to happen in a game in order to achieve the greatest comeback in franchise history. Last week’s start consisted of three consecutive fumbles lost on the first three NE drives. Ridley’s mishap was followed by a Brady strip-sack and a Blount fumble which had Patriots fans holding their heads in dismay. Do not expect to see Ridley in the first half of this contest, he has continued to struggle in protecting the ball and Belichick benched him for the last three/four quarters of the epic SNF comeback. He just does not give the Patriots the best opportunity to win at this time. The combination of Blount, Bolden and Vereen remains a formidable and effective backfield with three different types of backs. Julian Edelman also fumbled twice but recovered his own mistakes.

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Patriots Stun Broncos With Biggest Comeback In Team History

Julian Edelman leaps into the end zone to give the Patriots the lead in the fourth quarter.

It was fitting that the coldest regular-season game played in Foxboro in the last 20 years (22 degrees) was also (one of) the best regular-season games played in Foxboro in the last 20 years. For the 10th time in 14 career meetings with Peyton Manning, Tom Brady got the best of the other best quarterback of our era after Denver dominated the home team in the first half, but just the first half, scoring the first 24 points of the game and forcing three turnovers.

It was the final turnover, however, that was the biggest one. Denver special teams player, Tony Carter, allowed the ball to hit him after Wes Welker, back to return the kick with three minutes remaining in overtime, may have made the “get away” call just a little too late. New England recovered and three plays later, Stephen Gostkowski capped the biggest comeback in Patriots’ history with a 31-yard field goal to beat the Denver Broncos, 34-31.

If you’re going to turn the ball over three times in a game, you might as well get them all out of your system in the first half.

“The weather conditions get a little tough [and] things can turn quickly,” said  Brady, who finished 34-of-50 for 344 yards and three touchdowns, of the second-half turnaround.

Despite only one touchdown pass from Manning in the first half, Denver jumped out to a quick 14-0 lead thanks to Patriots’ fumbles on each of their first three possessions. Von Miller returned the first 60 yards for a touchdown 4:53 into the game and Kowshon Moreno plowed in from two yards out just over a minute later following a Brady fumble that was returned to the New England 10. They were two of his 224 rushing yards on the night, easily a career-high.

Then, LeGarrette Blount put the ball on the ground, leading to a field goal and quick 17-0 lead before Manning threw his first touchdown pass to in the second quarter to make it 24-0 all before the break.

It seemed like it would be a laugher after the first 30 minutes, but Brady drove the Pats down the field after receiving the second-half kickoff and after just eight plays, hit Julian Edelman from five yards out to make it 24-7. Then, after five straight draw plays to begin their first drive of the half, Moreno put the ball on the ground as Dane Fletcher jarred it out and Brandon Spikes got the recovery. Six plays after that, Brandon Bolden ran it in from a yard out and just like that it was 24-14. By the end of the third, it was 24-21 as Brady hit Rob Gronkowski on 3rd-and-6 to bring the Pats within three.

It kept going after that. Manning threw just his sixth interception of the year into the arms of Logan Ryan and three plays later, Brady hit Edelman for their second scoring connection of the night to cap the 30-yard, 78-second drive and somehow give the Patriots the 28-24 lead.

After Wesley Woodyard dropped a tipped interception that he had both his hands on and a would-be 2nd-and-20 was negated by an illegal hands to the face penalty, Gostkowski hit his 20th consecutive kick to give the Pats the seven-point lead with just over seven and a half remaining.

When it looked like it could be over on the next Denver drive, Aqib Talib, who had completely shut down Demaryius Thomas all night, was called for holding and negated his own interception, giving the Broncos some hope. Then Manning started converting third downs and Thomas started catching passes. And the Patriots started committing penalties. With 3:06 left, Manning hit Thomas from 11 yards out to tie the score at 31 after Denver picked up two first downs from penalties on the drive, including a pass interference call on Rob Ninkovich on 3rd-and-7 in the red zone. Brady would then go three and out and Ryan Allen was called to punt the ball to Welker with 1:45 remaining.

Denver took over at the 33-yard line, going into the wind. Then, Manning went three and out with a near sack from Andre Carter, a pass break-up from Kyle Arrington and an incomplete floater to give Brady one more chance from his own 11-yard line with 28 seconds left and two timeouts. Just a screen and a draw would take Brady and Manning to overtime, though.

After winning the coin toss, the Pats elected to forego possession and select the side of the field with the wind at their back, giving Manning and the Broncos the ball first. Both teams would trade possessions with New England’s ending on a long incomplete sideline pass on 3rd-and-4 after everyone thought Kenbrell Thompkins was interfered with on the previous throw, forcing the Pats to burn their first timeout to cool off.

When it seemed the Pats would be playing for a tie at best, the only thing that hadn’t happened in the game happened. Nate Ebner recovered the loose ball at the 18 and with 6’8’’ backup quarterback Brock Osweiler in the game to try to get the block, Gostkowski sent those who stuck it out home happy with a little bit of history to take with them.

Special teams players pile on Nate Ebner after he recovered the botched punt to set up the winning field goal.

Special teams players pile on Nate Ebner after he recovered the botched punt to set up the winning field goal.

“We just calmed down and each played one play at a time,” said Edelman, who finished with nine catches for 110 yards and the two huge touchdowns. “We didn’t turn the ball over in the second half.”

For Brady, it was his 33rd game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime and this was certainly one of the bigger ones as New England now controls its own destiny in its hunt for a first-round bye in the playoffs.

Denver turned the ball over four times in the second half while the Patriots played mistake-free and scored on all five of their possessions, including 21 points in the third quarter, 10 in the fourth and, of course, the three in overtime. Manning finished with just 150 passing yards while Brady put up 344. It was the Pats’ ability to score touchdowns and not having to settle for field goals that gave them a chance to get back in the game.

While they did fumble the ball six times, they only losy three. Welker finished his return to Foxboro with just four catches for 41 yards and, of course, it wouldn’t be a Welker outing at Gillette without a big drop.

“We had a lot of guys step up here,” said Bill Belichick after the game. “You could rattle off 35-40 guys.”

After the improbable victory, New England will move on to the disappointing Texans (2-9) while the Broncos will take on the Chiefs for the second time in three weeks.

Follow me on Twitter @RealAndyLarmand.

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