Tag Archives: Shane Vereen

Running Game Has Patriots More Fit For AFC Championship Than Last Year

Okay Patriots fans this is their third straight appearance in the AFC Championship Game, but this time it is on the road. The Patriots have not won a road playoff game in what feels like forever, really 2006 in San Diego but I digress. I feel like the talk of Brady vs. Manning has been dialed down this week as there was so much time spent on it during the regular season. Peyton now has all the stats, as he took Brady’s single season touchdown record this season, as well as Drew Brees’ yards record. While Brady still has more rings.

LaGarrette Blount was a force last weekend against the Colts.

LaGarrette Blount was a force last weekend against the Colts.

Brady did not need to have to have a lights out game last weekend against the Colts as he mainly handed off the ball and kept the Colts offense off the field and when they were on the field the defense stepped up. Josh McDaniels always has something up his sleeve that really makes me scratch my head, so I hope they stick to the run this week in Mile High and continue to keep the opposing teams offense off the field.

After all the Broncos offense is a well oiled machine with Manning having Welker, Decker, and the Thomas’ to throw to. All four had double digit touchdowns this season. We remember Peyton had plenty of weapons in Indianapolis and only won one Super Bowl so here is hoping he will not come up in the big game again. His arm strength has declined but now he has Welker in the slot and Thomas on those screen passes.



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The Chargers played the Broncos three times this season including last weekend’s Divisional matchup. Each time the Chargers defense held the Broncos under 30 points but unfortunately only won one of those games. The Broncos can win the shootout type games going up and down the field without question but when it comes down to it I don’t think they can win another time controlled game where the opposing team tries to eat the clock leaving the Broncos offense impatient. Also Tom Brady has had great success against Jack Del Rio defenses, the Broncos defensive coordinator and this year was no different as he lead the Patriots back in the second half of that great Sunday night thriller.

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Colts vs Patriots: AFC Divisional Round

 

 

Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts roll in to Gillette stadium on the back of one of the greatest comeback wins in playoff history when they overcame the Kansas City Chiefs last weekend 45-44. Luck engineered a comeback which saw him bounce back from 3 interceptions in the game to tally up a total of 443 yards as well as 4 touchdown passes along with 29 completions out of 45 attempts.

 

It was Luck’s first playoff victory and the second largest comeback in postseason history as the Colts bounced back from 38-10 deficit. Tonight they face the New England Patriots who have stared adversity full in the face throughout this 2013 season. The Patriots have found a way to win all year throughout various tough spots and scenarios with the team finishing the year 12-4. Middle linebacker Bradon Spikes went down this week ending his season which means that he joins the likes of Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo, Sebastian Vollmer and Thomas Kelly which shows how depleted this defense core is plus it is impossible to forget that on offense superstar Rob Gronkowski is out with an ACL and MCL injury but we’ll get to that later.

 

Despite the injuries on defense Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones have been shining stars all year with the two combining for 19.5 sacks this season. Jones is in his sophomore season and leads the New England pass rush with 11.5 sacks. Fellow sophomore Dont’a Hightower will suit up at running back along with athletic linebackers Dane Fletcher and rookie Jamie Collins so although they are thin at key positions they have the talent to succeed. These linebackers will need to stop in form Colts running back Donald Brown who continues to impress; last week he had 55 yards from 11 carries and a touchdown. Jones and Ninkovich are no slouches in the running game either so despite the fact that pass rushers don’t traditionally shine against the running game the fact that they are willing to do dirty work to help the team is typically of the Patriot way and the winning identity Bill Belichick puts in his men.

 

To get to where they are is a testament to Belichick as a head coach and in the playoffs we know anything can happen so if this Patriots team did manage to win the Super Bowl it would surely be his greatest achievement to date. His main challenge tonight is to stop Colts wideout T.Y. Hilton who is coming in to this match on the back of his best career game with him going off last weekend as he caught two touchdowns and finished with 224 receiving yards. The Patriots secondary will have a tough challenge against him but we’ll hope that the likes of Aqib Talib and Devin McCourty can stop his blistering speed with smart defensive blame to limit his output; Hilton had 100 yards and 2 touchdown passes when the two teams went head to head in 2012.

 

The last time these two teams met New England destroyed the Colts 59-24 but a lot has changed since then. Andrew Luck continues to show why he is one of the best quarterbacks in the league already despite it only being his second year; he has 11 game-winning drives in his career already and with a record of 22-10 Luck has one more win that Tom Brady from his first 32 career games (21-11). With that being said Tom Brady may not be having one of his best seasons statistically but as a leader there is nobody better as he has managed to pull his team out of many deep holes this year with late victories over the Saints and Browns as well as rallying back from a 24-0 deficit to defeat the high flying Denver Broncos!

 

More than likely the winner of tonight’s matchup will face Denver in the AFC Championship game which sets up a mouthwatering encounter either way. Tom Brady and this Patriots team seem to have a feel of destiny around them with a win tonight setting them up with a shot at reaching another Super Bowl, the 6th of the Belichick-Brady era. Despite losing Rob Gronkowski to another season ending injury, Wes Welker to the Broncos and Aaron Hernandez to unforeseen circumstances New England continue to grind out victories this season. If anything despite their problems they have gone back to basics in recent weeks following Gronk’s injury against Cleveland and have established a power running game with LaGarrette Blount leading the way by decimating opposing offenses. His season is picking up at the right time with the 27 year old running back becoming a key part of New England’s offense heading in to the postseason; he set a team-record 344 all-purpose yards along with a personal best 189 yards on the ground and two touchdowns in the season finale against Buffalo.

 

Brady and Blount celebrating

 

 

Along with Blount the Patriots have Stevan Ridley who is perfect for the one-two punch running game to go with Blount. Ridley has speed and elusiveness which can go a long way to helping the Pats succeed in the playoffs providing he can cut out the high profile fumbling issues that surround him. Thankfully the emergence of Blount takes the pressure of of Ridley as being labelled as the team’s primary running back and when you take in to account that fellow back Shane Vereen is one of Tom Brady’s favourite targets it shows you the talent the Patriots still have on this team despite their many losses. Vereen is a valuable weapon in a depleted passing game with him turning up in the big games like the one against the Broncos earlier in the season. Vereen missed a chunk of games with a broken wrist but has 427 yards and 3 touchdown receptions on the year and he will be an asset to this offense heading in to win or go home time.

 

The key tonight will be the success of the Pats offense as Tom Brady has the ability and the know how to pick off weak points in the Indianapolis secondary. He will use the run game whenever necessary and thanks to its success he can rely on play-action plays which he executes to perfection. Brady has a 99.8 passer rating on play-action passes this season in comparison to his general passer rating for the year of 87.3. Despite the statistics he has improved in the second half of the year and finished the regular season with 4,343 passing yards along with 25 touchdowns to 11 interceptions. The offensive line will need to protect the superstar quarterback from the Colts’ main pass rusher Robert Mathis who has been rejuvenated this year with the 33 year old playing one of the best seasons of his illustrious career; he leads the league with 19.5 sacks this season and when you consider the team themselves have 42 on the year that is outstanding.

 

Brady has Julian Edeleman in the passing game to rely on like he has done throughout most of 2013 especially when Gronk missed the early part of the season and since his season ending injury. Julian Edelman defines what a Bill Belichick player is all about as he is so productive in the head coaches system and has come up big with Brady in many matches this year. For the first time in his career Edeleman hauled in over 100 catches and racked up over 1000 receiving yards as he finished the regular season with 6 touchdowns. With rookie wideout Aaron Dobson ruled out and Kenbrell Thompkins questionable it falls to the likes of Edelman, Vereen and 2013 summer acquisition Danny Amendola to get things done for Terrific Tom in the passing game. Personally I feel now is the time for Amendola to shine as he has shown his toughness to overcome injuries and he clearly has a good rapport with Brady that will be effective enough to come up big when it matters most which is now in the playoffs.

 

Despite a troublesome groin injury and some growing pains in this offense Amendola ended the regular season with 663 receiving yards and two touchdowns. With the Patriots’ playoff journey starting tonight Amendola will need to pull his weight and ensure he can reach Edelman’s level of production so that Brady has two valuable and reliable wideouts. The playoffs are a clean slate and anything can happen which is something we have seen a lot over recent years as getting hot can end with your team lifting that Lombardi trophy high in the sky. Tom Brady and the Patriots may be 7-7 in the postseason since 2005, he started his career with 10 straight postseason wins, but Terrific Tom holds the record for most playoff victories with 17. Three more wins would leave him on an unprecedented 20 victories in crunch time and with a 4th Super Bowl ring from 6 appearances in the big one cementing his place as the greatest QB to play the game. Each of the last three times the Colts and Patriots have gone head to head in the postseason has resulted in the winner going on to win the Super Bowl so whoever comes out on top tonight could well go on to win it all come February 2nd at MetLife Stadium. For the Patriots they always confront adversity full in the face and a victory tonight will show their metal. Defying the odds are what great teams are made of so if Tom Brady and co pull out a win tonight who’s to say that can’t go all the way because when the games on the line there’s nobody better than Brady to lead your team in to battle.

 

It’s playoff time!

 

Brady Picked In End Zone As Dolphins Hang On To Top Pats

Michael Thomas of the Dolphins celebrates his game-ending pick with the rest of the Miami defense.


The Patriots have been nothing shirt of dominant in the moth of December for the past few seasons. The Miami sunshine must have confused them.

With a chance to take advantage of Denver’s Thursday night loss at the hands of the Chargers, the Pats could not pull off their fourth straight gut-check win. Trailing the Dolphins, 24-20, Tom Brady was picked off by on a fourth-down play in the end zone by Michael Thomas, fresh of the 49ers‘ practice squad, as time expired.

The Miami win kept their hopes for the AFC East alive as they improved to 8-6 and the Patriots lost for the first time since the Monday Night game against the Panthers. It was their first win against New England in eight games and their third straight overall.

“We didn’t do a good job in the red area,” Brady said after the game.And didn’t do a good job finishing drives. We came up on the short end of the stick. It wasn’t a good day. Just couldn’t make enough plays.”

Brady did throw two touchdowns to Michael Hoomanawanui and Julian Edelman, but his only mistake of the day at best prolonged New England’s 11th division title in the last 14 seasons.
Miami’s Ryan Tannehill threw the game-winning touchdown pass – his third of the day – to Marcus Thigpen with 1:15 remaining in the fourth, leaving just enough time for Brady to get within striking distance thanks to a couple of big conversions.
The Pats went into the half up 10-0 thanks to a botched Miami field goal attempt, but quickly saw their halftime lead turn to 10-7 to start the third and then 17-10 after a field goal and another TD pass.

They would come back to score the next 10, however, with a Stephen Gostkowki field goal from 23 yards out and a 24-yard pass from Brady to  Edelman with 4:07 left in the fourth quarter. Gostkowski had missed his first attempt earlier in the game.

Again, however, the Pats’ makeshift D gave up the go-ahead score despite Miami facing a 3rd-and-16 to begin the drive. Tanehill would complete two straight and pick up the first down as the clock kept rolling. After mostly short and intermediate throws, he then connected with Rishard Matthews for a 24-yard gain to the New England 14 and then hit  Thigpen on the next play to put the ‘Phins up, 24-20, with 1:15 to go. Gostkowski’s kickoff had gone out of bounds, which set Miami up at their own 40.

Then, facing a 4th-and-8 at his own 33, Brady threw a pea to Danny Amendola for one of his 10 catches, to pick up 12 yards with 52 seconds left. On the next series, Brady connected with Edelman for one of his 13 catches to pick up 16 on 3rd-and-10 now with 27 to play. And the Pats were in the red zone.

A Dolphins’ offsides set the Pats up at the 14, but Brady tried three times to get in the end zone and failed. The first was to Edelman, the second to Hoomanawanui and then his fourth-down pass intended for Austin Collie was intercepted by Thomas in the end zone to end the game.

“I knew being the new guy that Tom Brady would come after me,” Thomas said. “He’s a great quarterback, and he’s going to exploit any weaknesses.”

Danny Amendola's potential game-winning catch slipped through his finger tips.

Danny Amendola’s potential game-winning catch slipped through his finger tips.

Brady finished the day 34-of-55 for 364 yards – his fourth straight 300-yard game. Edelman caught 13 for 139 yards and a score while Amendola snagged 10 for 131 of his own, but couldn’t haul in the game-winner in the end zone despite having both hands on the ball on the final drive. Both were huge in the comeback bid that fell just short while Shane Vereen mustered only 21 total yards on five touches for the day. Neither team ran for 100 yards.

The loss dropped the Patriots to 3-4 on the road this season while they are a perfect 7-0 at home. Fourteen fourth-quarter points allowed had a lot to do with that.

“We were short in every area [today],” Bill Belichick said, noting that special teams play had a lot to do with it.

Miami coach, Joe Philbin, said after the game that he might go home and jump in his pool for the second time since moving to Florida, referring to a celebratory swim.

The Pats will host the 7-6 defending champion Ravens in the late game next Sunday while the Dolphins look to bolster their playoff chances against the Bills at Ralph Wilson.

 

Follow me on Twitter @RealAndyLarmand.

Patriots Match-Up Mania: WWBBD?

Rob Ninkovich


Here is the question that fans of the New England Patriots must consider with three winnable games sitting between them and the AFC’s top playoff seed: Will they run out of players?

Okay, they won’t. But, a seemingly endless spate of injuries – you all know the names – makes me wonder how Bill Belichick compensate for some obvious holes in his roster. What will BB do?

Start with the offense that has trouble starting on time lately. In the three prior games the Patriots managed to win, their opponents led by a combined 47-7 at the half. And that was with Rob Gronkowski. Last week’s comeback did come after Gronk was injured which provides some hope. But, 60 minutes of effort would be helpful.

How will the Pats react to losing Gronk again? (How does he keep getting hurt when he seems unbreakable?) First off, Matthew Mulligan isn’t the answer. He seems to be willing to step up and “replace” Gronk, but he’s an undrafted free agent from Maine. He’s not Gronk. Does he play golf?

Brady has confidence in Mulligan, sort of:

We still have confidence that we can go out and win games. You have to try to figure out what we’re going to do to still get the level of production that’s good enough to win. If you’re an eligible receiver, then you’ve got to do something with it, so we either run it better or throw it better or catch it better or run with it after the catch. It’s not going to be an excuse for us, I know that.

The players most likely to see the ball more post-Gronk are Shane Vereen and, surprisingly, Stevan Ridley. Vereen has proven to BB and, more importantly, Tom Brady, he knows what to do with the ball when he gets it. He can run, catch and score.

Ridley’s status is tenuous as depends on his fumbles. But, with a major target like Gronk gone, TB12 needs a reliable ground option to turn to. His next fumble might be his last as a Patriot.

BB needs to tighten up the defense, too. Josh Gordon abused Aqib Talib last week as Talib wasn’t 100%. BB must continue to keep shaking things up on defense to stop the opponents on offense.

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.

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