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5 takeaways from Patriots-Bills

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 30, 2012 07:32 PM

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Down 21-7 in the third quarter, the Patriots scored 35 straight points before finishing with a 52-28 win over the Buffalo Bills Sunday. It was both stout offensive and defensive performances that spurred the Patriots to victory. Here are some things to consider.

1) The offense is just fine -- Two 100-yard rushers, two 100-yard receivers, a 300-yard passer and 52 points on the board says a lot about the Patriots and their week of preparation. Add into the equation that the team didn't have Aaron Hernandez (ankle), Julian Edelman (hand) and Logan Mankins (hip) to contribute and the win was all the more impressive. The passing game didn't suffer, the protection didn't suffer, and the running game was on point. It was almost a flawless effort.

"There's certainly a lot of room for improvement, but it's good to come in here and do enough things well," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "We made a lot of plays; we missed some opportunities, but we made a lot of plays. That's a good feeling to be able to come in here and do that. We've got a long way to go. Hopefully we can continue to work hard and improve. I think our team's got a good attitude -- they work hard, they're tough, and hopefully we can keep getting better."

2) Six turnovers will make any defense look good -- The Patriots aren't going to see an outing like this too often in which the defense comes up this big. It had hints of the 2010 season when the Patriots had a +28 turnover differential. Four interceptions and two forced fumbles are huge. But two of those interceptions shouldn't have happened (a weak throw by Ryan Fitzpatrick after Devin McCourty was beat and a tipped ball that was picked off). Add in a goal line fumble by C.J. Spiller, and the Patriots were practically handed three turnovers. It was enough to mask the 438 yards of offense the Bills had, including the 350 yards and four touchdowns from Fitzpatrick through the air. However, the Patriots run defense deserves a ton of credit. They kept Fred Jackson and Spiller to 62 total rushing yards.

"We always pride ourselves on being physical and that's what we tried to do today," linebacker Jerod Mayo said.

3) Twice the trouble on the ground -- And here we all thought that Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen were going to be the 1-2 punch at running back. No siree. Brandon Bolden got an opportunity Sunday and he ran away with it, picking up 137 yards on 16 carries and a touchdown. Ridley, not to be outdone, carried the ball 22 times for 106 yards and two touchdowns. It was a phenomenal effort by these two that was helped in large part by an offensive line and tight ends group that are more than well versed in run blocking.

"We just stuck to the game plan, and I did what I was asked to do," Bolden said afterward. "We made the best out of every opportunity."

4) What's up with Stephen Gostkowski? -- Sure, he nailed a 30-yard field goal in the fourth quarter to salvage his day, but his two misses really stunk. On his first attempt, a 49-yarder, he missed it wide right, appearing to not get a lot on the ball. Six minutes later, he missed a 42-yard attempt wide left, again not getting a lot on the ball. It was an awkward outing for the usually steel-toed kicker, who recorded eight touchbacks on kickoffs Sunday. In seven years with the Patriots, Gostkowski is a 83.9 percent field goal kicker. The last time he missed two field goals in a game was Week 1 of the 2010 season, a 38-24 win over Cincinnati.

5) Small bites -- Bill Belichick is now the eighth winningest coach in NFL history with 194 wins, passing Chuck Knox. He needs eight more wins to pass Dan Reeves (201). When he hits the 200 threshold, he'll be only the eighth head coach to win 200. That's a lot of eights … Brandon Bolden and Stevan Ridley's twin 100-yard rushing effort has them in rare territory. The last time the Patriots had two 100-yard rushers was in 1980, by Don Calhoun (106) and Vagas Ferguson (100). … It's only the second time in NFL history a team has had two 100-yard rushers and two 100-yard receivers. The Patriots join the 2008 Green Bay Packers in that regard … The Patriots tied a team record with four rushing touchdowns. Last time they did that was Oct. 16, 1983 against San Diego … Wes Welker's 129 yards give him 6,485 for his career, good for second place in Patriots franchise history, passing Troy Brown (6,366). Welker trails Stanley Morgan (10,352) … Tom Brady passed Kerry Collins to become 11th all-time in passing yards. He has 41,206 in his career now. Drew Brees is in 10th place … There were only four penalties in the game, a significant dropoff from the Patriots-Ravens game in which there were 24.

Brady: Patriots showed heart with comeback

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 30, 2012 06:01 PM

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Staring down the barrel of a 1-3 season may have woke the Patriots up early in the third quarter of Sunday's 52-28 win over the Buffalo Bills.

Receiver Donald Jones had just caught a pass from Ryan Fitzpatrick over the middle and raced 68 yards for a touchdown, putting the Bills up, 21-7, over their AFC East rivals.

Then something clicked.

"We realized that we had to execute a lot better than we had been," Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said. "We talked about it on the sideline and and we talked about it at half, in order to score points, we had to really stop stubbing our toes."

The Patriots followed with a methodical eight-play, 80-yard drive, capped by a scrambling Brady passing to Danny Woodhead for a 17-yard touchdown. After that, the Patriots didn't look back, reeling off 35 straight points and outscoring the Bills, 45-7, the rest of the way.

"We were down 21-7, or whatever it was, on the road," Brady said. "Backs against the wall. And I thought we showed a lot of heart. And that's what this team is made of, and we're going to battle until the end, I know that."

What hadn't worked against Arizona and what failed in Baltimore, somehow came together in Buffalo. While Brady threw for 340 yards and three touchdowns on 22 of 36 passing, his teammates made plays when given the opportunity. Devin McCourty, who let two interceptions slip through his fingers against the Ravens in Week 3, picked off Fitzpatrick twice today, as if to make amends. The running game, which had been a non-factor in losses to the Ravens and Cardinals, got a lift from Brandon Bolden who finished with 137 yards on 16 carries. Stevan Ridley added 106 yards on 22 carries.

"We lost two in a row, we go on the road, our fifth and sixth on the road including the preseason," Brady said. 'We had two really tough losses, games that we expected to win. Then you come and play against a team that we lost to last year up 21 points,and we showed a lot of heart. That's a lot of adversity we faced and I thought we did a really good job of responding to that in the second half."

Patriots running game answers the challenge

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff September 30, 2012 05:34 PM

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Brandon Bolden had 137 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries vs. the Bills. (Associated Press photo)


ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – At the end of the Patriots’ loss to Baltimore, it appeared that the team had entirely forgotten about the handoff to Stevan Ridley. He was ignored, abandoned, with the Patriots concentrating their energy on the pass and on Danny Woodhead.

It didn’t work.

So, in the intervening week, the Patriots made the decision to emphasis the run, to get back to it. And with the Bills playing into that strategy – wanting the Patriots to run – New England obliged.

It worked.

Patriots-Bills photos Against the Bills, Stevan Ridley and Brandon Bolden combined for 243 yards rushing and three touchdowns, the offense carried by triple-digit performances by each of the two Patriots running backs, as the Patriots beat the Bills 52-28 at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

“I think they were really challenging us to run the ball,” Tom Brady said. “They had some little guys on the field with our big personnel groupings. At that point you had to try to take advantage of it. You can’t just keep throwing it into heavy pass defense. So we ran it.”

It was the first time the Patriots have had two running backs over 100 yards in a stunning 30 years, since Nov 23, 1980, when Don Calhoun (106) and Vagas Ferguson (100) did it.

But getting there took a commitment to the run, one that was hardly assured when the Patriots went down by two touchdowns early in the third quarter. They could have gone to the air. Instead, the Patriots ran on five of eight plays in the ensuing drive, gaining 52 of the 80 yards on the drive that cut the Buffalo lead to seven points.

“It was good to get your number called,” Ridley said. “It’s good that they leaned on the running backs this week. We went out there and just made plays when they called our number. That’s all we can do. When they call our number, we have to go out there and be the players that we are.”

Who gets the game ball in Patriots-Bills?

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff September 30, 2012 04:37 PM

There were plenty of solid performances as the Patriots rallied from a third-quarter deficit to rout the Bills on Sunday, so picking just one is going to be tough.

But that's your challenge. Here are our nominees. If you like someone else, state your case in the comments.


Which Patriots player gets the game ball vs. the Bills?

Final: Patriots 52, Bills 28

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 30, 2012 03:30 PM

The New England Patriots had a pair of 100-yard rushers and a pair of 100-yard receivers as they defeated the Buffalo Bills, 52-28, on Sunday in Orchard Park, NY.

Stevan Ridley (106 yards, two touchdowns) and Brandon Bolden (137 yards, one touchdown) paced the Patriots on the ground and Rob Gronkowski (104 yards, one touchdown) and Wes Welker (nine receptions, 129 yards) led the air attack as the Patriots evened their record at 2-2.

Quarterback Tom Brady passed for 340 yards and three touchdowns, and he ran for another score. The Patriots defense forced six turnovers.

The Patriots trailed 14-7 at halftime and 21-7 early in the third quarter after Buffalo's Donald Jones scored on a 68-yard pass play.

But Brady directed drives of 80 and 85 yards to tie the score. He capped the second with a 4-yard run for a touchdown.

The Patriots took the lead on a 28-yard touchdown pass from Brady to Gronkowski, then went up 34-21 when Stevan Ridley scored his second touchdown in the fourth quarter.

In-game updates
1:56 4th quarter: Patriots 52, Bills 28 -- After missing two field goals earlier in the game, Stephen Gostkowski got a measure of redemption when he converted on a 30-yard attempt.

3:54 4th quarter: Patriots 49, Bills 28 -- Tavon Wilson records the sixth takeaway by the Patriots defense, intercepting Ryan Fitzpatrick and setting the Patriots up in Buffalo territory.

4:02 4th quarter: Patriots 49, Bills 28 -- Brandon Lloyd joins the touchdown party on a 25-yard strike from Tom Brady to cap a six-play drive that covered 48 yards.

6:32 4th quarter: Patriots 42, Bills 28 -- The Bills aren't going down without a fight. Brad Smith hauled in a 35-yard touchdown pass to pull Buffalo with two scores.

10:29 4th quarter: Patriots 42, Bills 21 -- Brandon Bolden scores on a 7-yard run. Patriots in complete control now on both sides of the ball.

11:19 4th quarter: Patriots 35, Bills 21 -- The Patriots continue to make things happen on defense. Devin McCourty's second interception comes just moments after Vince Wilfork delivered a crushing blow to Buffalo's Donald Jones.

11:42 4th quarter: Patriots 35, Bills 21 -- Stevan Ridley scores his second touchdown to pad the lead for New England. Buffalo can't stop the Patriots on the ground, as Brandon Bolden and Ridley continue to find seams for big gainers.

13:26 4th quarter: Patriots 28, Bills 21 -- Brandon Spikes forced a fumble out of Fred Jackson -- Buffalo's fourth turnover -- and the Patriots recovered. They start this drive on Buffalo's 42.

14:55 4th quarter: Patriots 28, Bills 21 -- Tom Brady found a wide open Rob Gronkowski in the middle of the field for a 28-yard touchdown to start the fourth quarter as the Patriots reclaimed the lead. It capped a five-play, 63-yard drive over 2:01.

End of the 3d quarter: Patriots 21, Bills 21 -- The Patriots end the third quarter on better footing than how they started it. Right now they're threatening to score and go up on the Bills.

2:09 3d quarter: Patriots 21, Bills 21 -- After a Ryan Fitzpatrick pass to Donald Jones for 22 yards, the Patriots clamped down on the Bills, forcing another punt after a Rob Ninkovich strip sack and tackle for loss.

3:53 3d quarter: Patriots 21, Bills 21 -- Tom Brady, unable to find an open receiver, scrambled in for a 4-yard touchdown to knot the game at 21. The play was reviewed and upheld.

Brady connected with Wes Welker for three passes on the drive and Brandon Bolden broke off a 20-yard run to spur the Patriots along. It was an eight-play, 80-yard drive over 3:19.

7:20 3d quarter: Bills 21, Patriots 14 -- The Patriots held the Bills to a three-and-out with Devin McCourty showing good coverage on a deep throw by Ryan Fitzpatrick.

8:10 3d quarter: Bills 21, Patriots 14 -- Tom Brady escaped from the pocket and found Danny Woodhead who was able to scamper in for a 17-yard touchdown, capping an eight-play, 80-yard drive in 2:58 as the Patriots responded to Buffalo's touchdown.

Brandon Bolden rushed the ball twice on the drive, including a 27-yard scamper that put the Patriots in Bills territory.

11:08 2d quarter: Bills 21, Patriots 7 -- Ryan Fitzpatrick found Donald Jones over the middle of the field and Patriots safety Steve Gregory took a bad angle as he raced away for a 68-yard touchdown.

The Bills went five plays, 83 yards, in 2:37.

13:54 3d quarter: Bills 14, Patriots 7 -- A possible touchdown pass from Tom Brady to Rob Gronkowski was broken up by Stephon Gilmore, who hit Gronkowski in the hands as he was pulling in the would-be catch.

The Patriots punted after a Brady pass was batted down by Kyle Williams at the line.

15:00 3d quarter: Bills 14, Patriots 7 -- The second half is underway with the Patriots receiving the kick.

End of the 2d quarter: Bills 14, Patriots 7 -- Two missed field goals, an inability to capitalize on two interceptions, and costly turnovers have the Bills leading the Patriots 14-7.

A fumble by Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski led to a 24-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Fitzpatrick to Scott Chandler and Stephen Gostkowski's second missed field led to another Fitzpatrick and Chandler hookup in the end zone.

The Patriots have three takeaways to their credit, with Devin McCourty intercepting an under thrown pass and Jerod Mayo intercepting another tipped ball, but have not been able to take advantage of those opportunities.

Meanwhile, Tom Brady is 10 of 18 for 141 yards while running back Stevan Ridley has 63 yards rushing on 11 attempts and one touchdown. Fitzpatrick leads the Bills with 13 of 19 passing for 178 yards.

1:11 2d quarter: Bills 14, Patriots 7 -- Brandon Spikes delivered a huge hit on Bills running back CJ Spiller, forcing a fumble on the goal line as Vince Wilfork recovered to give the Patriots the ball back.

2:15 2d quarter: Bills 14, Patriots 7 -- The Bills' Jairus Byrd forced another fumble, this time on Patriots receiver Wes Welker, and Bryan Scott recovered for Buffalo as the Patriots are seemingly stumped by this defense. The play was reviewed and upheld.

Tom Brady was sacked by Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams on the prior play.

The Bills take over at the Patriots' 21-yard line.

3:30 2d quarter: Bills 14, Patriots 7 -- Ryan Fitzpatrick hooked up with tight end Scott Chandler again, this time for 20-yard touchdown as the Bills took the lead.

The scoring strike was set up by a deep pass from Fitzpatrick to running back Fred Jackson, who was covered by Patriots LB Jerod Mayo, for 34 yards. The Bills went 68 yards over five plays in 2:12.

5:42 2d quarter: Patriots 7, Bills 7 -- Stephen Gostkowski missed his second field goal of the game, this one a 42-yard attempt wide left.

Again, it appeared that Gostkowski didn't get much on the kick. Normally his kicks are powerful and these last two attempts are anything but that.

9:43 2d quarter: Patriots 7, Bills 7 -- Scott Chandler went up and grabbed a 24-yard touchdown pass over Patriots safety Patrick Chung as the Bills capitalized on Rob Gronkowski's fumble.

9:51 2d quarter: Patriots 7, Bills 0 -- Rob Gronkowski was stripped on the Patriots first play after a reception. The fumble was forced and recovered by Jairus Byrd.

10:10 2d quarter: Patriots 7, Bills 0 -- Good coverage on Bills tight end Scott Chandler on third down and on TJ Graham on second down to give the Patriots the ball right back after only four plays.

11:16 2d quarter: Patriots 7, Bills 0 -- Stephen Gostkowski missed a 49-yard field goal, wide right, appearing to not get much on the kick as the Patriots failed to capitalize on their second takeaway of the game.

Dont'a Hightower is officially listed with a hamstring injury and his return is questionable.

After sitting out a series, Rob Gronkowski returned to the playing field.

12:56 2d quarter: Patriots 7, Bills 0 -- Ryan Fitzpatrick underthrew T.J. Graham after beating Patriots cornerback Devin McCourty, and McCourty took advantage of the opportunity, picking off Fitzpatrick. The Patriots take over in Bills territory.

14:04 2d quarter: Patriots 7, Bills 0 -- Tom Brady whiffed on a pass to Wes Welker and the Patriots had four plays on offense before being forced to punt.

Rob Gronkowski was noticeably absent on the last drive, not playing in the series. Prior to this series, he didn't play the last two snaps of the previous offensive series.

End of the first quarter: Patriots 7, Bills 0 -- The Patriots' fast start has been slowed a bit by the Bills. We're monitoring the Dont'a Hightower situation.

1:01 1st quarter: Patriots 7, Bills 0 -- Chandler Jones sacked Ryan Fitzpatrick after he was hurried from the pocket by Jermaine Cunningham as the Patriots held the Bills to four plays.

LB Dont'a Higtower, who left the field with a limp on the previous drive, was on a stationary bike on the sideline. He was replaced on defense by Tracy White.

3:26 1st quarter: Patriots 7, Bills 0 -- The Patriots went three-and-out, with Tom Brady unable to connect with Brandon Lloyd on an out route on 3d-and-2.

4:06 1st quarter: Patriots 7, Bills 0 -- Vince Wilfork tipped a Ryan Fitzpatrick pass and Jerod Mayo intercepted it, giving the Patriots the ball at the Bills' 49-yard line.

LB Dont'a Hightower limped off the field for a play after chasing down Fitzpatrick just a down earlier. We'll monitor that.

6:49 1st quarter: Patriots 7, Bills 0 -- Stevan Ridley sliced through the left side of the defense for a 6-yard touchdown to cap a quick 7-play drive covering 90 yards in 3:07.

Tom Brady connected with tight end Rob Gronkowski twice, including a 41-yard reception, on the drive and got second-year running back Shane Vereen involved with a 5-yard pass, Vereen's first touch of the season. Brady also connected with tight end Daniel Fells on the drive for an 18-yard reception.

9:58 1st quarter: Patriots 0, Bills 0 -- After the Patriots gave up four first downs, Chandler Jones managed to find his way in the Bills' backfield to stop Fred Jackson for a 3-yard loss and force a Buffalo punt.

15:00 1st quarter: Patriots 0, Bills 0 -- The Patriots won the toss and deferred to the second half. The Bills will receive the opening kick.

Pregame: We're about to get underway here at Ralph Wilson Stadium. The coin toss is coming up and then 60 minutes of Patriots and Bills action.

You can stay right here for all of the game updates, series by series.

It's 57 degrees here in Orchard Park, N.Y., with winds of 7 mile per hour. Chances of rain are at 10 percent as of 1 p.m., and will increase to 15 percent by the 3 p.m. hour, according to Weather.com.

Enjoy the game.

@zuriberry

Bills 14, Patriots 7: Halftime thoughts

Posted by Greg A. Bedard September 30, 2012 02:36 PM

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – Some thoughts as the Patriots trail the Bills 14-7 at halftime.

  • Obviously, a huge play by Brandon Spikes to force a C.J. Spiller fumble at the goal line right before halftime. Spikes absolutely destroyed Spiller. Awesome hit. But why the Bills allowed a guy with a bum shoulder to carry the ball in that situation is beyond me. Nevertheless, a huge play when the Patriots were very close to trailing 21-7 at halftime.
  • Before that, the big story of the game was the Patriots’ offense failing to score any points on two turnovers delivered by the defense. The Patriots used to kill in those situations.
  • Stephen Gostkowski (two misses) has lost all confidence. I wouldn’t send him out there for anything longer than an extra point.
  • Devin McCourty, like last week, is off to a terrific start and actually caught the interception this time. But can he finish the game strong?
  • The Patriots’ safety play has been poor. Patrick Chung bit on a weak pump fake on the first touchdown to TE Scott Chandler.
  • The offensive line is playing very well for the Patriots, but Tom Brady needs to get rid of the ball a little quicker. He had a few opportunities deep that he didn’t see. Expect the Patriots to try a few more of those in the second half.
  • Patriots used a few zone exchanges early to get pressure. Would like to see them try a few more in the second half.
  • Patriots should stick with the run game with Stevan Ridley. They have something there with the hurry-up.
  • Rookie Bills CB Stephon Gilmore looks like a player. Doing a nice job on Brandon Lloyd. Looks like the Patriots feel there’s some opportunities with in-breaking routes. Look for them to try that more in the second half.

Fred Jackson, C.J. Spiller active for Patriots-Bills game

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 30, 2012 11:33 AM

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills starting running back Fred Jackson and top backup C.J. Spiller, who were both listed as questionable for today's game, will be active.

Jackson, who has been nursing a knee injury, was expected to play while Spiller's status was more doubtful with a shoulder injury.

The Patriots announced that newly signed OL Matt Tennant will be inactive for today's game. He joins a list of ailing Patriots on the inactive list, including Aaron Hernandez (ankle), Julian Edelman (hand), Brandon Deaderick (ankle), Alfonzo Dennard (hamstring), Justin Francis (ankle), and Logan Mankins (hip).

Inactive for the Bills is QB Tarvaris Jackson, SS Delano Howell, DE Kyle Moore, LB Kirk Morrison, OL Sam Young, C Colin Brown, and WR Ruvell Martin.

What to watch for in today's Patriots-Bills game

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 30, 2012 10:40 AM

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- As the Patriots look to get back to .500, they'll be doing so without their All-Pro left guard Logan Mankins. Who fills his role should determine how well the team holds up against a Buffalo defensive line that has accumulated nine sacks this season.

Donald Thomas, who started for the Patriots in Week 2, struggled at right guard against the Arizona Cardinals. He'll like find his way into today's rotation, with possibly Dan Connolly shifting over to left guard. Connolly substituted for Mankins in 2010 during Mankins' holdout.

A big concern for the Patriots is the Bills' running game, currently ranked third in the NFL. Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller are both questionable for today's game, with Jackson expected to play. Tashard Choice, who filled in for both last week, had 91 yards on 21 carries in a the Bills' 24-14 win over the Cleveland Browns. Spiller is fourth in the NFL with 308 rushing yards.

And while the running game will of course be on the Patriots' minds, the Patriots secondary has its own issues after allowing 382 yards passing against the Baltimore Ravens and quarterback Joe Flacco. Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is no Flacco, but he has the ability to light up anybody, throwing for 369 and 307 yards against the Patriots last season.

Also of note:

- With a win, Bill Belichick would move out of a tie with Chuck Knox for the eighth-most wins all-time (194).

- If Tom Brady throws one touchdown pass, he'll tie Brett Favre for third most touchdown passes thrown in consecutive games (36). He also needs just 12 completions to pass Kerry Collins for 10th place all-time in the NFL and 57 yards passing to pass Collins for 11th all-time in yards thrown.

- Wes Welker needs just 11 receiving yards to pass Troy Brown (6,366) for second place all-time in Patriots history. Stanley Morgan is first with 10,352 yards.

Game 4: Patriots at Bills

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 30, 2012 10:36 AM

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The Patriots have dominated the Buffalo Bills in years of late, winning 16 of their last 17 meetings. Tom Brady owns an 18-2 record against the Bills. Bill Belichick is 21-4 against the Bills. Coming off a 1-2 start to the season, the Bills would seem to be the right pick-me-up for the struggling Patriots. But nothing is given in the NFL.

Last season, the Patriots split their season series with Buffalo, losing the team's first meeting Sept. 25, 2011 at Ralph Wilson Stadium, 34-31. The loss snapped a 15-game winning streak for the Patriots against the Bills. The Patriots came back and won their second meeting,, 49-21, scoring 49 unanswered points after going down, 21-0, through one quarter of play on New Year's Day.

This season, the Bills come in 2-1, currently tied for the lead in the AFC East. They're coming off a 24-14 win over the Cleveland Browns.

The Patriots limp into today's contest after a brutal 31-30 loss to the Baltimore Ravens in Week 3. The team will be without All-Pro guard Logan Mankins, who is out with a hip injury.

Buffalo's third-ranked rushing offense, an offensive line that's only allowed one sack, and a revamped defensive line featuring Mario Williams and Mark Anderson that's totaled 9 sacks are all areas of concern for the Patriots. While Bills running back Fred Jackson is expected to play, both he and backup C.J. Spiller are questionable.

Here are the details for this afternoon's game:

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

Records: Patriots 1-2; Bills 2-1.

TV/Radio info: CBS (Greg Gumbel, Dan Dierdorf); 98.5-FM The Sports Hub (Gil Santos, Scott Zolak).

Projected starting lineups:
Based on information distributed to the media, practice observations, and injuries for each team.

Patriots offense: WR Julian Edelman, LT Nate Solder, LG Dan Connolly, C Ryan Wendell, RG Donald Thomas, RT Sebastian Vollmer, TE Rob Gronkowski, WR Brandon Lloyd, QB Tom Brady, RB Stevan Ridley, WR Wes Welker.

Patriots defense: NT Vince Wilfork DT Kyle Love, RDE Chandler Jones, LB/DE Ron Ninkovich, LB Jerod Mayo, LB Dont'a Hightower, LB Brandon Spikes, CB Devin McCourty, CB Kyle Arrington, S Steve Gregory, S Patrick Chung.

Bills offense: WR Stevie Johnson, LT Cordy Glenn, LG Andy Levitre, C Eric Wood, RG Kraig Urbik, RT Erik Pears, TE Scott Chandler, QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, RB Fred Jackson, FB Corey McIntyre, WR Donald Johnson

Bills defense: LDE Mario Williams, DT Marcel Dareus, DT Kyle Williams, RDE Mark Anderson, SLB Arthur Moats, MLB Kelvin Sheppard, WLB Nick Barnett, LCB Aaron Williams, SS George WIlson, FS Jairus Byrd, RCB Stephon Gilmore.

Inactives

Patirots (one more to be announced): Aaron Hernandez (ankle), Julian Edelman (hand), Brandon Deaderick (ankle), Alfonzo Dennard (hamstring), Justin Francis (ankle), Logan Mankins (hip).

Bills: Martin Ruvell (ankle).

Patriots at Bills: 5 keys, prediction

Posted by Greg A. Bedard September 29, 2012 10:00 PM

BUFFALO – The Patriots (1-2) face a tough challenge when they travel to Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sunday to take on the Bills (2-1).

The stadium is a tough place to play, and the Bills’ offense can hurt the Patriots’ defense in a lot of areas where they aren’t as strong. I expect this to be a battle.

The Patriots will emerge with a victory if they can execute these five keys to the game, besides remaining healthy and not turning the ball over:

  1. Handle the Bills’ defensive line movement: The Bills have two dangerous ends in Mario Williams and Mark Anderson, but the Patriots can handle them if they’re just rushing one-on-one. The tackles, Marcel Dareus and Kyle Williams, are more problematic (even before LG Logan Mankins was declared out for this game) but manageable. The problem comes when the Bills start stunting with the ends and tackles, and twisting the tackles. The Patriots, for whatever reason, have long had trouble with stunts and twists (think the Giants in the Super Bowl). The Bills are really going to test the likely interior line of LG Donald Thomas, C Ryan Wendell and RG Dan Connolly. Their communication must be perfect. They absolutely must just play with their heads on a constant swivel, keeping in mind that a late danger may emerge. They can’t get off balance and not be able to pickup a late rusher. If the Patriots can handle the stunts, they should be fine offensively.
  2. Read your keys: Probably more than any other NFL team, the Bills do more with motion, play fakes and deception. It’s like watching a finely tuned college spread offense. The Patriots’ defenders, especially the linebackers and “money” player Tavon Wilson, have been given keys to the Bills’ plays by the coaching staff. “If player X does this, then look for this.” The Patriots need to be on point and read those keys with high efficiency, or else the Bills are going to hit on some big plays in open space.
  3. Cover tight: If the Patriots sit in zones all day, QB Ryan Fitzpatrick will find the holes. What the Patriots need to do is junk their conservative coverages and get physical at the line of scrimmage with the Bills. The longer Fitzpatrick has to hold onto the ball, the more it plays into the Patriots’ hands. The rush will be able to affect Fitzpatrick, and he’ll start to throw the ball into bad spots. The Bills want Fitzpatrick to get rid of the ball as quickly as possible to keep him from making mistakes. Don’t give him easy, quick reads at the snap. And furthermore, the linebackers need to tee off on any crossing patterns. Don't let them feel comfortable.
  4. Get Wes Welker the ball in space: Welker killed the Bills last year, so they’ll have a better plan for him this year, especially with Aaron Hernandez out, and Rob Gronkowski dealing with an injury. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels may have wanted to move away from Welker earlier in the season, but McDaniels really needs Welker in this game. The Patriots should be prepared to use a lot of motion with Welker, and to line him up in unconventional spots in order to get him a little space from the anticipated bracket coverage from the Bills. Welker can’t just line up in the slot. The Bills will clamp down on him.
  5. Get off to a fast start: The Ralph can be a bit of a zoo, and with the Patriots limping in a little, and the Bills starting to click on both sides of the ball, both the players and fans probably smell blood in the water. The Patriots need to start well and then keep the throttle down. If that means throwing all game, then so be it. Do whatever you have to do to stay out of the negative plays that have really hurt this team at times so far this season.

Prediction

Like I said, this is a tough spot for the Patriots. There’s a chance this could go bad for them and the game could get out of hand. But I don’t see that happening. With Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Deion Branch, Gronkowski and Stevan Ridley/Danny Woodhead, Brady has a good group to go into hostile territory with, and deal with any adversity they encounter. If the defense can force the Bills into a couple of turnovers, I think the Patriots have a good chance to rally and get the type of good, hard-fought division road victory that can get the team back on track.

Patriots 35, Bills 27

Update: Mankins does not make trip, out for Buffalo game

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff September 29, 2012 09:30 PM

The Patriots will be without left guard Logan Mankins against the Bills Sunday - he did not make the trip here to Buffalo.

Mankins popped up on the injury report last Thursday before the Ravens game with a hip injury, but he did play last Sunday night.

However, Mankins did not practice at all this week, making it almost a certainty that he wouldn't play. But if there was ever a player Bill Belichick would let sit out three days of practice and still play in a game, it would be tough-as-nails Mankins.

Now it is clear he is too hurt to play, at least this week.

Not having Mankins is a big blow for the offensive line, particularly against the Bills' talented defensive line. Tackles Kyle Williams and Marcel Dareus are a lot for interior O-linemen to handle, and now New England will be without its best lineman.

UPDATE (9:30 p.m.) - The Patriots have announced that DLs Brandon Deaderick (ankle) and Justin Francis (ankle) and CB Alfonzo Dennard (hamstring) have also been downgraded to out.

Rob Gronkowski, who was on the report for the first time this season on Friday, also with a hip injury, did make the trip. He is listed as questionable.

New England is expected to officially announce its downgrades around 9 p.m.

Patriots bring back Tennant

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff September 29, 2012 05:11 PM

Facing the potential of not having Logan Mankins (hip) available for Sunday's game in Buffalo, the Patriots have added an offensive lineman to the roster spot that opened when Kellen Winslow was released.

Only it wasn't one of the three linemen they already had on practice squad - New England re-signed Matt Tennant. A former Boston College player, Tennant was claimed off waivers from the Saints on Sept. 1 but was released just three days later.

The team announced he will wear No. 69 and may be active vs. the Bills.

Inside the matchup: Patriots at Bills

Posted by Greg A. Bedard September 29, 2012 03:07 PM

We are very happy to have Alen Dumonjic, an x's and o's football junkie who blogs for The Score, back for another season to give us his insight on the intricacies of the game.

INSIDE THE BILLS' OFFENSE

Buffalo’s offense hasn’t changed much from last year. It’s still running what I called a “full-blown spread offense“ last year, which means more three- and five-step drops to go along with short passes all over the field that help get the ball out of quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick‘s hands. As many know, Fitzpatrick has gunslinger tendencies and just flat out bad decision making when he has more time to work with, so this offense suits him well.

Coach Chan Gailey utilizes various formations to set up these quick passes and some of these are Empty (3x2) and the recently incorporated Pistol sets.

From these formations, Gailey calls a lot of screen passes to his tailbacks and several forms of route combinations that work the field at different depths. His slot receiver, who varies, will often run a vertical route to clear the underneath where there are usually two or three receivers running Hi-Lo routes. They’re not throwing many vertical passes this year, however. Last year, it seemed that they threw more vertically off of double moves but that has not been the case this year despite Fitzpatrick having more time to work with in the pocket because of his quality offensive line, which has allowed only one sack thus far.

When it comes to the running game, the Bills are No. 3 in the NFL with an average of 178 yards on the ground. Some of this can be attributed to the dynamic skills of C.J. Spiller, who can be seen running from the power, lead, draw and stretch concepts with a motioned tight end as his lead blocker.

There are also what some will call “flip” runs, where the quarterback will fake a handoff one way and hand it off or toss it another; Buffalo has done this from their aforementioned Pistol set with a fake jet sweep, as seen against the Cleveland Browns in week 3. Gailey will also call on the Wildcat package with trigger man Brad Smith running the show and these calls will usually come between midfield and the +40 yard marker. Most of the success in the running game comes from the offensive line, who has done an exceptional job of blocking.

INSIDE THE BILLS’ DEFENSE

Defensively, there have been changes made in personnel and scheme. This time last year, the Bills were running a lot of 4-3 Under and mixing in the 3-4 but not this year.

The Bills have a static front, meaning they are playing only the 4-3, but are still using both Under and Over fronts and employing stunts. They also are using Even fronts, which leaves the center uncovered while the nose tackle on the backside of the play lines up in a shaded 2 technique and the strong-side defensive tackle plays the 3 technique.

In case you haven’t heard, they’ve also added quite a bit of talent. Star pass rusher Mario Williams is playing left end and comes off a 1.5 sack performance while on the other side of the formation, former Patriot Mark Anderson is clashing with left tackles and had a sack last week. In the secondary, former South Carolina cornerback and first round pick Stephon Gilmore was added through the draft and offers a lot of athleticism and speed to a unit that has questions with just that.

With Gilmore and the rest of his teammates in the defensive backfield, the Dave Wannstedt-led defense is playing various coverages, most notably Cover 2 Man, Cover 3 and Cover 4 (Quarters). Cover 2 Man and Cover 4 tend to look similar before the snap, causing problems for quarterbacks when they drop back.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Patriots LBs vs. Bills OL - Buffalo has done a great job of blocking defensive linemen in the running game, which has sprung their ball carriers loose many times through three weeks. The Patriots have to stop this from happening and one way to do it is get penetration from both the front four and linebackers, but especially the linebackers. If they can attack the gaps and cut off running lanes, they will make the Bills one dimensional by having to rely on Ryan Fitzpatrick to not make mistakes. Linebacker Brandon Spikes will be key here.

QB Ryan Fitzpatrick - He makes a lot of mistakes with the ball in his hands. He has a bad habit of forcing throws and giving the defense multiple opportunities to make plays on the ball. The division rival Jets did this in Week 1 and now it’s the Patriots’ turn.

Bills OL vs. Patriots stunts - I’m not sure if the Patriots will stunt their defensive linemen a whole lot in this game nor do I know how the Bills will handle them if they do but its something that may be worth watching. I’ve noticed the Bills have had some issues at times with pressure up the interior and I am curious to see how they would handle the stunts, which they have not seen a ton of thus far based off my viewings.

Screen passes - The Bills throw screens and the Patriots have to tackle the pass catchers or there will be many problems. Simple as that.

Patriots crossing routes vs. Bills secondary - New England arguably is the best when it comes to designing and executing crossing route combinations and they will have an opportunity to prove it here. The Bills have issues in man coverage mainly because they don’t have the speed (see Aaron Williams and Terrence McGee) to keep up in trail position (which explains the Cover 2 Man).

Bills WR Stevie Johnson - He's always a threat regardless of who he’s going up against and the Bills will get him the ball. He does a lot of his work on the backside of the formation, where we’ll see him run a lot of routes that work back to the quarterback as well as quick slants for first downs.

Two Other Things of Note - Two other things that could happen but may not (just a guess) is that we see Wes Welker or another receiver line up in the backfield to get a matchup advantage against the Bills linebackers. The other is cornerback Stephon Gilmore being attacked on some form of an outside breaking route that is set up with an inside release, such as a Post-Corner. He tends to give up quite a bit of ground on the outside if there‘s an inside breaking route. We’ve seen in years past Wes Welker convert a slant to an out or mini-corner route and I wonder if it could pop up once again here.

--
For more interesting football reading, check out Alen's blog posts at The Score, and The Sideline View. Follow Alen on Twitter at @Dumonjic_Alen, or send him feedback via email.

On the Beat: 5 questions about the Bills

Posted by Greg A. Bedard September 29, 2012 12:25 PM

We head up to the Buffalo News and beat writer Tim Graham to get the lowdown on the 2-1 Bills.

1. How's the defense coming together under Dave Wannstedt, specifically the ends?

TG: "There were concerns all around after the season-opening loss to the Jets. The Bills' pass rush was negligent. Their cornerbacks were playing too far off the receivers. Their linebackers were nondescript. But all units have improved appreciably over the past two games. Defensive ends Mario Williams and Mark Anderson have been making an impact, and although they have only 2.5 sacks between them, they're causing problems for opposing quarterbacks. Offensive lines are struggling to contain everybody. Defensive tackles Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus are playing remarkably well, with 4.5 sacks combined over the past two games."

2. Who is the one Bills player most Patriots fans don't know right now, but will by the end of the game on Sunday?

TG: "NFL fans should know safety Jairus Byrd because he was a rookie Pro Bowler in 2009, but he's still underrated. Byrd has been strong despite playing with a foot injury the past two games. He's a potential game-changer. He came into the league as a ball hawk but has evolved into an all-around defender."

3. What's the biggest weakness on the Bills' offense you expect the Patriots to try to exploit?

TG: "The Bills' passing game is vulnerable to big breakdowns. Ryan Fitzpatrick isn't the type of quarterback who can win games on his own, and his receiving corps is thin. Other than top target Stevie Johnson, the receivers are a grab bag of unproven players. David Nelson, their second-leading receiver, went down with a season-ending knee injury in the opener. If the Patriots can take away the run and make the Bills throw to win, then the Bills will have problems."

4. What's the biggest weakness on the Bills' defense you expect the Patriots to try to exploit?

TG: "The Bills start rookie Stephon Gilmore and sophomore Aaron Williams at cornerback, and their linebackers have been inconsistent. To negate the Bills' pass rush, I can envision Tom Brady getting into a pitch-and-catch rhythm with Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski."

5. Finally, Bills win on Sunday if....

TG: "... their running game can control the tempo and their pass rush can clutter the pocket, getting Brady off his game. The Bills are counting on this to happen. Their offensive line needs to be dominant for running backs Fred Jackson (who's coming back from a knee injury) and Tashard Choice. If the Patriots settle into a quick passing attack, then they can dictate terms. And they've shown over the years they're not too shabby at it."

--

Thanks to Tim for his time. Make sure you check him out on Twitter, and also on the News' Press Coverage blog.

Edelman, Hernandez ruled out for Sunday's game against Buffalo

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 28, 2012 04:15 PM

The Patriots have ruled wide receiver Julian Edelman out for Sunday's game against the Buffalo Bills with a hand injury.

He joins tight end Aaron Hernandez (ankle) as the only two Patriots unable to go.

Tight end Rob Gronkowski also showed up on the injury report for the first time today with a hip injury. He's listed as questionable for Sunday's game. He had limited participation in Friday's practice.

The team listed 9 other players as questionable, including Brandon Deaderick (ankle), Alfonzo Dennard (hamstring), Justin Francis (ankle), Kyle Love (knee), Logan Mankins (hip), Nick McDonald (shoulder), Sterling Moore (knee), Shane Vereen (foot), and Sebastian Vollmer (back).

Mankins has not participated in practice all week while Deaderick, who came back to practice on Thursday after not participating, did not practice Friday.

Week 4: Friday practice peek: Mankins may miss Buffalo game

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff September 28, 2012 12:19 PM
The Patriots held their final practice of the week on the game field inside Gillette Stadium as a light rain fell in Foxborough.

There were four players not spotted during media access: LG Logan Mankins, TE Aaron Hernandez, WR Julian Edelman, and DL Brandon Deaderick.

With Mankins missing all three practices this week due to a hip injury, it isn't looking good for him to play against Buffalo, which will certainly be a loss against a defensive tackle tandem like Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus.

Potentially one of two moves will be made if Mankins doesn't play: either Dan Connolly will be kept at right guard and Donald Thomas will play left guard, or Connolly could be flipped to left guard and Thomas play right. Thomas did start at right guard against the Cardinals when Connolly sat out with a concussion, though he did not have his best game.

Hernandez wasn't expected to play on his sprained ankle, and there isn't anything known at this point about the extent of Edelman's hand injury, except that he was wearing a soft cast after Sunday night's game.

Deaderick (ankle) practiced on Thursday, but may have had a setback since he was not spotted today.

Rookie DL Justin Francis (ankle) returned to practice today.

Bill Belichick discusses Kellen Winslow release

Posted by Amalie Benjamin September 28, 2012 12:00 PM
FOXBOROUGH -- Patriots coach Bill Belichick acknowledged in Friday's press conference that he had a conversation with Kellen Winslow on Wednesday, one that resulted in the team releasing the tight end.

"We talked about several different things," Belichick said. "At the end of that discussion, I felt that it was best that we release Kellen for personal reasons. So that's what we did."

That leaves the Patriots down one tight end, and with the roster at 52.

Not long after Belichick spoke, Winslow tweeted about the release. He wrote, "I would like to express my gratitude to the Patriots organization and wish them a great season.

"I'm lookin forward to my next opportunity in the NFL and continuing to play the game I Love!"

Winslow had told reporters last week that he was playing through a lot of pain each time he went on the field. The tight end had a knee injury that he had fought through throughout his career with the Browns and Buccaneers.

Patriots Play Predictor 2.0 is ready

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff September 28, 2012 08:24 AM

300patsplays.jpg

300billsplays.jpg

Before the start of the NFL season, we brought you the Patriots Play Predictor, which was a database of all the plays the offense ran in 2011 that could be filtered a number of ways.

Now, we've whipped up this year's version, and done the same for this week's opponent, the Buffalo Bills.

The first three weeks of plays for each team have been set into a database to display the Patriots tendencies and the personnel they've used based in situations set by the user. We'll be updating the Play Predictor with a new version for each opponent every Friday.

Video: Bedard's Week 4 NFL report

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff September 27, 2012 05:34 PM




In this week's look at key story lines in the NFL, Globe NFL reporter Greg Bedard discusses the Patriots' inability to close out games, the Steelers' running game and the Saints-Packers showdown in Week 4.

Robert Kraft on referees, Hall of Fame

Posted by Greg A. Bedard September 27, 2012 05:09 PM
Spoke to Patriots owner Robert Kraft a few minutes ago and wanted to pass along his thoughts on the end of the referee lockout, and also his Pro Football Hall of Fame nomination as a contributor. "Here I’m speaking to our all our fans, who are frustrated, just like I was and I’d say the majority of owners. We had really hoped that the refs would have been in before the first game and I know Roger Goodell worked very hard to do it and I thought we were close. But any time you try to do a long-term deal, it’s difficult and if you want to get the right agreement, it means you have to take on the hard issues. What was reported more than anything (was) that this was about money. And anyone who is a half-decent businessman knows the money is always an issue, but it was not the main issue.

The hardest thing for us to have this new agreement, (was to) have these full-time officials and create a bench of officials, a deep pool, and still maintain the commissioner’s ability to discipline and allow those refs who did a great job, like in a private business, get rewarded and do the end of the year (games), the playoffs. And so we were able to maintain those rights. I understand the fans being disappointed, but this didn’t happen right away. Believe me, we wanted it.

This isn’t a perfect business. It’s a bit imperfect in a sense. I had talked with Drew Bledsoe and he reminded me that he had to come out of the locker room twice when he thought games were ended. Even the regular refs, it’s been a struggle at times. They are the highest qualified, they do a great job, and I think these replacement refs had a great deal of scrutiny on them. We just wish it had never come to that.

The good news is we have a long-term deal, the integrity of the game is protected and we have the highest qualified guys in it."

Asked Kraft his reaction to the Baltimore loss, and whether he thought the officiating affected the Patriots' ability to win in that game. He didn't say no.

"Well, you know (laughing), even when the regular refs were on the field … the only people who complain about refs are the people who have lost games, you know? I’ve had that feeling when there have been regular refs and we’ve lost a game. I think the main thing is that we get an agreement that is long-term that is win-win, and I think we were able to do that here and I want to give great credit to commissioner Goodell for taking the heat and doing what he had to do to get this thing done. He really did a great job. And he took a lot of heat. He’s a good man. He’s doing a great job."

On the Hall of Fame nomination:

"It’s a great honor. As a little kid you dream about something like that. It’s just an honor to be nominated. It’s out of my hands. Whatever happens, happens. But it’s quite an honor to be alive and have it happen while I’m still alive."

Week 4: Thursday injury/participation report - Brady removed

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff September 27, 2012 04:57 PM
As suddenly as Tom Brady showed up on the Patriots' injury report on Wednesday, he was removed from it on Thursday.

Brady was reported as limited on Wednesday due to his right shoulder. Because he was removed, it's safe to assume he's good to go for Sunday's game against Buffalo.

However, DT Kyle Love was added, listed as limited with a knee injury he likely suffered in practice on Thursday.

Also, Buffalo running back C.J. Spiller (shoulder) returned to practice and was limited. Spiller was hurt in the Bills' win over Cleveland last Sunday.

For the Patriots
Did not participate
WR Julian Edelman - hand
DL Justin Francis - ankle
TE Aaron Hernandez - ankle
G Logan Mankins - hip

Limited participation
* DL Brandon Deaderick - ankle
CB Alfonzo Dennard - hamstring
* DT Kyle Love - knee
OL Nick McDonald - shoulder
CB Sterling Moore - knee
RB Shane Vereen - foot
OT Sebastian Vollmer - back

For the Bills
Did not participate
WR Ruvell Martin - ankle

Limited participation
RB Fred Jackson - knee
* CB Leodis McKelvin - groin
* RB C.J. Spiller - shoulder

Robert Kraft nominated for Pro Football Hall of Fame 2013 class

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff September 27, 2012 03:48 PM
The Pro Football Hall of Fame announced its initial group of nominees for the induction class of 2013, and Patriots owner Robert Kraft has been nominated as a contributor to the game.

Kraft is one of 127 nominees for next August's induction, and one of 24 in the contributors category. It is the first time he has been nominated.

The next step in the process is for the list of 127 to be narrowed down to 25 semifinalists by the Hall's selection committee; that list will be announced in late November.

Other 2013 nominees with Patriots ties include former head coach Bill Parcells, who was a finalist last year, quarterback Drew Bledsoe, and nose tackle Ted Washington.

This promises to be one of the toughest and deepest classes for the selection committee. Giants DE Michael Strahan, Ravens T Jonathan Ogden, DT Warren Sapp, S John Lynch, and K Morten Andersen are among the first-year nominees. There are also last year's finalists to consider, including Parcells, WRs Tim Brown, Cris Carter and Andre Reed, G Will Shields and DE/LB Charles Haley.

Patriots release Kellen Winslow

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff September 27, 2012 01:54 PM


New England has released tight end Kellen Winslow, a league source confirmed, just eight days after he was signed by the team.

ESPN Boston reported that Winslow asked for his release and it was granted by the team.

The 29-year old Winslow has had health problems that began in 2005 when he was with the Browns. He also contracted a staph infection that affected the health of the knee. It is believed chronic knee pain may have been too much at this point.

Winslow played a few snaps against Baltimore on Sunday night and had one catch for 12 yards.

Week 4: Thursday practice peek - Mankins missing again

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff September 27, 2012 01:40 PM

The Patriots are holding practice today in full pads, as they have done each Thursday since the regular season began.

As was the case on Wednesday, there were five players not spotted, though they weren't the same five players.

Not spotted during the media-access window were Logan Mankins, Aaron Hernandez, Julian Edelman, Justin Francis and Kellen Winslow.

Brandon Deaderick, who did not practice on Wednesday, was back today; Winslow did practice Wednesday and was not listed on the injury report.

Winslow was spotted in the open locker room period for reporters, which was from 11:15 a.m. to noon.

As for Mankins, who is dealing with a hip injury, his absence for a second straight day may not be a good sign for his availability on Sunday.

Patriots Game 4 Preview: Buffalo brings plenty of weapons

Posted by Steve Silva, Boston.com Staff September 27, 2012 01:28 PM
The Globe's Shalise Manza Young goes in depth on the Week 4 matchup between the Patriots (1-2) and AFC East foe Buffalo Bills (2-1) in this week's Patriots preview video.

We also hear from Patriots players Tom Brady and Deion Branch on moving on from last week's tough loss in Baltimore, Rob Ninkovich on the Bills offensive line, and Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung on Buffalo running backs C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson.

Inside the Playbook: Stopping the Bills

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff September 27, 2012 08:06 AM

Globe NFL reporter Greg A. Bedard breaks down the Xs and Os involved in the Patriots-Bills matchup on Sunday, specifically what the Patriots might see from coach Chan Gailey's creative schemes.

Deal done between NFL and referees

Posted by Greg A. Bedard September 27, 2012 12:11 AM

The national football nightmare is over. The real referees are back.

The National Football League and the union representing on-field officials agreed to a new collective bargaining agreement late Wednesday night that will end the lockout imposed by the league in time for the full slate of Week 4 games, according to two league sources involved in the talks.

League spokesman Greg Aiello later confirmed the agreement on Twitter and a release from both sides said the deal was for eight years.

The two sides were putting the agreement on paper in order for the NFL Referees Association to ratify the document. That’s considered a formality, and a crew of officials was being put in place to work the Thursday night game between the Ravens and Browns in Baltimore.

The timing is important because a new deal means every team would have three games worked by replacement officials. Competitive balance would have been shifted this week since two teams, the Steelers and Colts, have bye weeks.

Three days after chaos reigned during and immediately following the Patriots’ 31-30 last-second loss Sunday night to the Ravens, in which New England coach Bill Belichick grabbed an official looking for a rule clarification that resulted in a $50,000 fine, the three-month lockout has come to an end.

‘‘I accept the discipline and I apologize for the incident,’’ Belichick said in a statement.

Washington assistant Kyle Shanahan was fined $25,000 for what the league called ‘‘abuse of officials’’ in the Redskins’ loss to Cincinnati on Sunday. Denver coach John Fox and assistant Jack Del Rio were hit in the wallet Monday for incidents involving the replacements.

The tipping point was likely the nationally televised Monday night game when the Packers were robbed of a victory when replacement officials failed to call offensive pass interference, and then incorrectly ruled that the Seahawks had scored a touchdown on the final play.

Here are the details of the agreement, released by the league:

  • Eight-year term covering the 2012-2019 seasons.
  • The current defined benefit pension plan will remain in place for current officials through the 2016 season (or until the official earns 20 years of service). The defined benefit plan will then be frozen.
  • Retirement benefits will be provided for new hires, and for all officials beginning in 2017, through a defined contribution arrangement, which will have two elements: an annual league contribution made on behalf of each game official that will begin with an average of more than $18,000 per official and increase to more than $23,000 per official in 2019, and a partial match on any additional contribution that an official makes to his 401(k) account.
  • Apart from their benefit package, the game officials’ compensation will increase from an average of $149,000 a year in 2011 to $173,000 in 2013, rising to $205,000 by 2019.
  • Beginning with the 2013 season, the NFL will have the option of hiring a number of officials on a full-time basis to work year-round, including on the field.
  • The NFL will have the option to retain additional officials for training and development purposes, and may assign those additional officials to work NFL games. The number of additional officials will be determined by the NFL.

Video: Patriots midweek report

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff September 26, 2012 07:41 PM




Zuri Berry has the latest story lines from Foxborough, where the Patriots learned how much coach Bill Belichick would be fined for his incident with an official Sunday and where Tom Brady and the players turned their attention to Sunday's game vs. the Bills.

Week 4: Wednesday injury/participation report -- Brady added

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff September 26, 2012 04:37 PM

The Patriots have released their first injury report on the week, and one of the two new names on the list is Tom Brady.

Brady was limited in practice today due to his right shoulder, the team reported. This is the first time this season and first time since the Divisional round of the playoffs in 2010 that the Patriots' injury report has included "Tom Brady - right shoulder."

Julian Edelman (hand) is the other new addition to this week's list. New England also removed four players from the report - Patrick Chung (shoulder), Dan Connolly (concussion), Daniel Fells (shin) and Brandon Lloyd (thigh).

For the Bills, RB Fred Jackson practiced today for the first time since injuring his knee in the season opener; he was limited.

The full report:

For the Patriots
Did not participate
DL Brandon Deaderick - ankle
WR Julian Edelman - hand
DL Justin Francis - ankle
TE Aaron Hernandez - ankle
G Logan Mankins - hip

Limited participation
QB Tom Brady - right shoulder
CB Alfonzo Dennard - hamstring
OL Nick McDonald - shoulder
CB Sterling Moore - knee
RB Shane Vereen - foot
OT Sebastian Vollmer - back

For the Bills
Did not participate
WR Ruvell Martin - ankle
CB Leodis McKelvin - groin
RB C.J. Spiller - shoulder

Limited participation
RB Fred Jackson - knee

Bill Belichick's $50,000 fine in perspective

Posted by Gary Dzen, Boston.com Staff September 26, 2012 03:11 PM

Bill Belichick was fined $50,000 Wednesday for making improper contact with an official after Sunday's game vs. Baltimore. That's a lot of money, but Belichick's salary should also be considered when gauging the relative weight of the fine.

Belchick's reported salary is somewhere around $7.5 million. He may make more or less than that depending on endorsements and other stipulations, but $7.5 million is a good working number. Divide the fine of $50,000 by Belichick's salary and it represents about 0.6 percent of his total income. Multiply 0.6 percent (or .006) by another salary and you can extrapolate the relative impact of the fine on an average person.

For example, to a person who makes $50,000 a year, an equivalent to Belichick's fine would be something like $300. To someone who makes $85,000 a year the fine would be felt as a $510 fine. In other words, Your Salary x .006 = Belichick's fine.

Foot Locker responds to Brandon Spikes

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff September 26, 2012 03:01 PM
Foot Locker on Tuesday responded to Patriots linebacker Brandon Spikes, who used a reference to the shoe stores when he tweeted his displeasure with NFL replacement officials after Sunday's loss to the Ravens.

From @FLUnlocked:

Despite recent allegations, Foot Locker employees have spent the last few weeks off the football field and in the stores. #wemakegoodcalls

Spikes on Sunday tweeted this:

Can someone please tell these [expletive] zebras foot locker called and they're needed Back at work !!!! #BreakingPoint

Foot Locker employees wear uniforms that resemble sports officials.

Brady, Belichick see trees with Buffalo's front four

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 26, 2012 02:57 PM





FOXBOROUGH -- Between former Patriot Mark Anderson and former Houston Texan Mario Williams, Buffalo's defensive line looks a lot different than it did last season when the Patriots split their season series with their AFC East rival, losing in Week 3, 34-31.

But what's more, the Bills' new defensive line provides a bit of a length problem for the Patriots. Anderson, who had 10 sacks for the Patriots last season in their Super Bowl run, is 6-feet-4-inches tall with an enormous wingspan and weighs 255 pounds. Williams's long arms are legendary. He's 6-6, 292 pounds and is seen as the Bills' defensive savior after coming from Houston.

"Yeah, they’re big. It’s a big front, it’s big linebackers, they can all move, they’re athletic and they really count on those front four to get to the quarterback and they do it," Brady said. "It’s not like you can stand back there and figure everything out all day. They have some guys that can really rush the passer. Bringing in Mario and Mark obviously added a lot to their defense and they think so as well. They’re very good and they have some young guys in the secondary who are playing really well and a good group of linebackers. It’s a good defense."

One of the Bills' shorter defensive lineman, Kyle Williams, at 6-1 is the exception. But he still gets praise from Patriots coach Bill Belichick.

"I wouldn’t put Kyle Williams in that category [of taller players], but he’s a very disruptive player," Belichick said. "But [Alex] Carrington, [Marcell] Dareus, certainly [Mario] Williams and Mark Anderson, the ends. They’re big, athletic, active. Kyle Williams is hard to block whether he’s long or not but they do have some length up there, yes."

With the way the Buffalo's defensive line looks, Brady, who stands 6-4, has to concern himself with more the number of bodies looking to slow down the Patriots' passing game.

"I think it allows you to do some different things coverage wise when you have a front four that can really get to the quarterback," Brady said. "You don’t have to worry about too many blitzes or too many funky looks. It’s just a matter of, ‘Alright guys, you get the quarterback. The rest of the guys, you handle the passing game.’ And that’s about what it is. When you have guys as talented as they do, that’s probably a good scheme to have to allow those guys to rush and be free and to go make a bunch of plays and really try to force the quarterback into throwing the ball quickly and into really tight coverage. And you see them come up with a lot of balls that are in the air around the intended receiver. They intercept the ball and they have some real playmakers on defense."

Week 4: Wednesday practice peek

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff September 26, 2012 01:40 PM

The Patriots are holding their first on-field practice of the week on an overcast and breezy afternoon in Foxborough, with players in shells and shorts/pants.

There were five players not spotted during the media-access window: Julian Edelman, Logan Mankins, Brandon Deaderick, Aaron Hernandez and Justin Francis.

Edelman left Sunday night's game with a hand injury, and Mankins was limited last week in practice due to a hip injury, though he did play against the Ravens. Hernandez, Deaderick and Francis all missed Sunday's game with ankle injuries.

NFL fines Bill Belichick $50,000

Posted by Gary Dzen, Boston.com Staff September 26, 2012 01:22 PM
The NFL has fined Patriots head coach Bill Belichick $50,000 for "impermissible physical contact" with a game official following Sunday night's game vs. the Baltimore Ravens. Belichick made contact following the game, which the Patriots lost, 31-30, on a last-second field goal.

Belichick apologized in a statement distributed by the team Wednesday afternoon.

"It was inappropriate for me to contact the official. I take responsibility for what happened. I accept the discipline and I apologize for the incident Sunday night in Baltimore," he said.

Belichick explained his intentions Monday. In part, he said, "I was trying to get the official’s attention to get an explanation on [the end of the game], and in no way was I ever trying to do anything other than that."

Last week, the NFL instructed teams that it would enforce rules requiring respect for on-field officials.

Belichick is the fourth coach fined this week. Denver head coach John Fox and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio were fined $30,000 and $25,000, respectively, on Monday for abuse of officials in Week 2. Washington offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan was also fined $25,000 for verbal abuse in Week 3.

Belichick quiet on report of referees possibly returning

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 26, 2012 12:58 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Patriots coach Bill Belichick is not quite ready to rejoice after a report that the NFL has come to an agreement with the NFL Referees Association, bringing an end to the tenure of the league's replacement officials.

Instead, Belichick has a laser-like focus on the Buffalo Bills.

"[I'm] just trying to concentrate on getting our team to play Buffalo," Belichick said.

He added that he didn't want to comment on a possible fine for grabbing umpire Ali Shetula after Sunday's 31-30 loss against the Baltimore Ravens.

"I already commented on that the other day," he said. "Whatever the league decides to do, I'll respect it."

Patriots sign DL Terrell McClain, release DL Marcus Forston

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 26, 2012 12:29 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- The Patriots have signed defensive lineman Terrell McClain and released defensive lineman Marcus Forston.

McClain is a second-year pro and was a third round draft pick (No. 65 overall) by the Carolina Panthers in 2011. He started 12 games last season for the Panthers, accumulating 19 tackles, a sack, and a fumble recovery. He's 6-feet-2, 291 pounds.

Forston, who signed with the Patriots as a rookie free agent, still had a stall in the Patriots' locker room today. It was the same stall occupied by veteran OL Brian Waters. He had been inactive in the Patriots' first two games before seeing his first NFL playing time against the Baltimore Ravens Sunday night on defense and special teams.

Brady mum on possible Belichick fine, tries to tune out talk of officials

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 26, 2012 11:20 AM

FOXBOROUGH -- As the rage of the replacement officials continues to fester across the NFL, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady wouldn't bite when asked about his feelings on the situation, pointing to only what he and his teammates can control.

"I'm just trying to play quarterback," Brady said. "I'm not thinking about the flow [of the game] or TV timeouts. Our opponent last week was the Ravens. This week it's the Bills. Not anyone else. Hopefully, we don't leave it up to one call, or one play."

After Sunday's 31-30 loss to the Baltimore Ravens on a 27-yard field goal by Justin Tucker as time expired, Patriots coach Bill Belichick grabbed umpire Ali Shetula to try and get his attention. Belichick explained later that he wanted an explanation on why the field goal, which crossed the top of the right bar, was not reviewable. Now he faces a possible fine for grabbing the official. Brady wanted no part of that conversation.

"That's probably a better question for [Belichick]," Brady said. "That's not really my involvement."

The quarterback explained his mindset, saying the team cannot be bothered with things outside of their control.

"I think we have all the motivation we need to go out and play well this week," he said. "I think we need to tighten some things up in practice. We all have to understand we have to do a better job [and] not concern ourselves with things that are out of our control. What we can control is our attitude, our preparation, and really the process. There's a bad outcome and a good process? Then we just got to work harder on the process. Certainly we've had two bad outcomes in the last few weeks, but we believe in what we're doing, we believe that we can continue to work hard to get better, and we're showing improvements in some areas and it's obvious we still need to improve in others."

Inside the playbook: Brady gets sacked

Posted by Robert Burgess September 25, 2012 03:53 PM

In this episode of Inside the Playbook, Greg Bedard looks at a key play in the Patriots final drive that led to a sack of Tom Brady.

Tom Brady diplomatic about replacement referees issue

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff September 25, 2012 07:41 AM
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady had not seen the controversial ending to the Packers-Seahawks game on Monday Night Football when he made his weekly appearance on WEEI Tuesday morning, but he'd certainly heard about it.

"I got a few text messages about it," he said.

While many are calling Monday night's disputed touchdown ruling a potential breaking point in the NFL's labor dispute with its regular officials, Brady was diplomatic about the league's use of replacement referees.

"I feel like these guys are doing the best they can do, to tell you the truth. They're going to miss calls and so forth, and really, part of my job is not to worry about the officials, so I hate spending time talking about them, and I never have talked about the officials. The reason why we lost our particular game was not because of the officials.

"I don't know what happened last night, I didn't see it. I feel bad if there were bad calls," he said.

He said the issue of officials hasn't been a distraction for the Patriots players.

"I haven't yet to talk about the officials to our offense when I'm out on the field," Brady said. "When you're in the course of a game, it feels very much like a normal game ... for us it feels like it's always balanced out over the course of a game. They always miss calls. They get some right and they get some wrong, and these guys are getting some right and getting some wrong."

Patriots coach Bill Belichick, speaking to reporters on his weekly Tuesday teleconference, also said he had not seen the ending of Monday night's Seahawks-Packers game and offered no reaction to it.

"Honestly, I've just been focused here all morning on Buffalo and trying to get the game plan and improve on what we're doing and get that all straightened out,'' Belichick said. "I don't focus too much on any other games, any other teams, or any of that. I'll just see if I can do a better job of coaching the Patriots; that would be a better place for me to start.''

The NFL officiating department Tuesday announced it had reviewed videos of the ending of the Seahawks-Packers game and indicated, while offensive pass interference could have been called on Golden Tate, it supported the decision not to overturn the ruling on the field, saying the result of the game was final.

Asked if he approached the league to give his side of how things unfolded at the end of the Patriots' 31-30 loss at Baltimore Sunday, Belichick replied, "I think I'll just keep all of that process private and whatever the league has a say in the announcements -- or whatever they have to say -- they can make those [comments] or not make 'em if and when they decide to do it. I'll just leave all that to them.''

Belichick addresses end-of-game situation

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff September 24, 2012 03:33 PM

Patriots coach Bill Belichick just concluded his day-after press conference and after a quick review of his general thoughts on Sunday night's loss, he began a statement/explanation of his behavior after the Ravens' game-winning field goal.

Belichick pursued one of the officials after the game and appeared to touch him in an effort to gain his attention.

Here is the full text of what he said:

I’ve been asked about the situation at the end of the game, so I’m just going to take a couple of minutes to explain that, and then that will be the end of it.

On the final kick, after we took the timeout and rushed the kick, from the sideline I saw the ball go pretty close to the upright, couldn’t obviously tell from where I was at where exactly it went but I saw players waving that it was no good, then I saw the officials give the signal that it was good, and I just wasn’t sure from where I was standing whether the ball, when it went over the crossbar, was above the upright or in between or not in between the upright. So by rule if the ball isn’t over the crossbar and it’s either inside or outside of the upright, that’s reviewable; if it’s over the crossbar, over the top of the upright rather, then it’s not reviewable, but I couldn’t tell from my angle when the ball crossed the crossbar where it was, so I didn’t know whether that play was going to be under review or whether it wasn’t, so when the game was over I went out and I was really looking for an explanation from the officials as to whether or not the play was under review, I did try to get the official’s attention as he was coming off the field to ask that but I really wasn’t able to ask that.

I’ve coached in this league a long time and I’ve never been penalized, never had any incidents with officials or anything like that, I have never meant any disrespect or in any way tried to abuse or be disrespectful to the officials and the job that they do. I was trying to get an explanation for obviously an important call, play in that game and that’s the number one thing between coaches and officials that’s always in the forefront is communication of what’s going on, what’s happening.

As many of you know I’ve been involved in something like this before, in 2000, here in Foxborough, with Johnny Grier was the referee and Drew (Bledsoe) was trying to throw a pass at the end of the game against Miami and the it was ruled a fumble, the clock ran out, the game was over, and then as I was walking off the field with Johnny at that time I talked to him about, ‘this seems like an incomplete pass, there should be more time on the clock, we should have another play here.’ [Grier responded] ‘No, that’s the ruling, the game’s over.’ We go back into the locker room, 10 minutes or so later, Johnny comes back and says they’re reviewing the play, we may have to go back out and finish the game. About five minutes after that, when the players got dressed we came back out for a final play in that game. So I’ve been through a situation at the end of the game where it’s over but it’s not over, that type of thing, and that was really the situation last night.

So…I was trying to get the official’s attention to get an explanation on it, and in no way was I ever trying to do anything other than that. So, I have nothing further to add about that situation, but that’s what happened. Anything on the Ravens?

Many have speculated Belichick could face a fine for the incident. ESPN reported that Broncos head coach John Fox and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio would be fined $30,000 and $25,000, respectively, for their criticism of officials following last Monday night's game vs. the Falcons.

5 takeaways from Patriots-Ravens

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 24, 2012 02:08 AM

BALTIMORE -- Somewhere between penalty No. 1 and penalty No. 3, there was an ominous sign that Sunday night's game was going to be New England's personal case against replacement officials. The game was marked by 24 penalties totaling 218 yards. It got so far out of control that Patriots coach Bill Belichick tried to chase down umpire Ali Shetula after the game, wildly bumping into him as Shetula tried to get off the field with the rest of his crew.

It will be something the team will remember for a long time. But if there is any small comfort in the performance of the officials Sunday night, it's that their poor calls overwhelmingly affected the Baltimore Ravens.

1) The Ravens, as do the Patriots, have a legitimate beef with the league over the officials Sunday night -- Lardarius Webb's illegal contact on Wes Welker (that didn't happen) and the subsequent interception it negated, followed by the unsportsmanlike conduct on the Ravens bench for arguing the call, was just a baffling display of officialdom. Add to that the bungling of a penalty on a punt by the Ravens that almost led to the penalty being tacked on improperly after the kick; Courtney Upshaw's phantom personal foul on Tom Brady; Julian Edelman's offensive pass interference; And the numerous holding calls that left your head scratching. This was a tough one for all three sides. There's no way the league, despite Belichick's bump and Ravens coach John Harbaugh's pestering, can excuse away the performance of the scabs. It was an atrocity for a national television audience to stomach.

2) The secondary is not where it wants to be right now -- For all the talk about improvement after last season, including having a healthy crew with Patrick Chung and Ras-I Dowling this season, there was no escaping the unit's dismal performance Sunday night. Joe Flacco carved them up for 382 yards and three touchdowns, doing most of his damage down the field and toward the sideline. Jacoby Jones and Torrey Smith both averaged more than 20 yards per catch. Sure, Steve Gregory came away with an interception. Devin McCourty let two interceptions slip through his hands and Kyle Arrington could have had another on the last drive. Those missed opportunities, and the inability to matchup well one-on-one with speedy receivers, is cause for concern going forward.

3) Outside of Chandler Jones, the Patriots are having trouble getting any pass rush -- It couldn't have been more evident down the stretch as Flacco had tons of time to pass the ball. When he was sacked for a loss in the fourth quarter by Kyle Love and Chandler Jones, it was called back after a defensive holding on Brandon Spikes. That erased what would have been the team's only sack of the night. Not all pass rush needs to equate to sacks, but between Jones, Love, Vince Wilfork and Rob Ninkovich, the group needs to alter enough plays to throw opposing quarterbacks out of rhythm. That didn't happen against Flacco, who had plenty of time to look down field and find his receivers.

4) With Aaron Hernandez out, the Patriots are instantly a spread offense -- It was almost a given that we were going to see more Wes Welker Sunday night, especially after Aaron Hernandez sprained his ankle against the Arizona Cardinals. Welker was targeted 10 times, catching eight passes for 142 yards. He played the majority of his snaps in three and four-receiver sets alongside receivers Julian Edelman and Brandon Lloyd. And when Edelman and Lloyd were hurt, with Deion Branch and Matthew Slater. Between the three, though, they accounted for 29 targets by Tom Brady. As the game wore on, you could tell having three receivers on the field de-emphasized the teams' tight ends. Rob Gronkowski had three targets and only two catches for 21 yards. Gronkowski was relegated to blocking mostly to help with the Ravens' front seven.

5) Julian Edelman had an up and down night -- The Patriots' new starting wide receiver was used on screens, rushed the ball twice on reverses (one of which was poorly conceived), and finally caught a ball down field. Before leaving the game with a hand injury, Edelman had been targeted seven times and caught four passes for 28 yards, including a touchdown, his second offensive touchdown of his pro career. The numbers would tell you he had a decent game. But they don't take into account he was flagged for a false start and offensive pass interference (that shouldn't have been called), hurting the Patriots at different points in the first half. It seems things still need to be smoothed out with Edelman, but it does appear he's here to stay.

In Baltimore's final two drives, Patriots defense couldn't get off the field

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 24, 2012 02:00 AM

BALTIMORE -- Things started off so well but quickly deteriorated toward the end of the Patriots-Ravens game Sunday.

Steve Gregory's interception and the Patriots' first quarter dominance over the Baltimore Ravens spurred the team to a 13-0 lead that looked insurmountable after 15 minutes. But as the lead was quickly squandered, with both teams going back and forth over the second and third quarters, the Patriots found themselves clinging to a 9-point lead with 7:29 to go after failing to get a first down and put the game out of reach.

That's when the Ravens kicked it up a notch and the Patriots' defense failed to get a critical stop.

The Ravens drove 92 yards on eight plays in the fourth quarter, finishing with a 5-yard touchdown pass from Joe Flacco to Torrey Smith, bringing the Patriots' lead down to two points. Just before the touchdown, linebacker Brandon Spikes was flagged for holding in the red zone. It was one of 10 Patriots penalties that cost them 83 yards, including two penalties on that drive. Cornerback Devin McCourty was flagged for holding on the same drive, giving the Ravens another first down. But Spikes' penalty also negated a sack by Kyle Love and Chandler Jones on the play, a potential 12-yard loss, and gave the Ravens a new set of downs.

"It sucks," said Vince Wilfork. "We really couldn't get off the field. Offense played their tails off and we just left them out to dry."

The Patriots offense was unable to respond, even after benefiting from two critical penalties on the Ravens, an illegal contact by cornerback Lardarius Webb and an unsportsmanlike conduct on the Ravens bench. Instead, the Ravens took over with 1:55 left in the game.

Flacco went 3 of 4 on the final drive, hitting Jacoby Jones for a gain of 24 yards and Dennis Pitta for gains of 3 and 17 yards before McCourty was flagged again, this time for pass interference, giving the Ravens the ball at the Patriots 7-yard line.

It was a disheartening call, allowing the Ravens to set up for basically a chip-shot field goal. But it was also disheartening because one play prior, Kyle Arrington was in position to pick off Flacco on the drive, but he slipped and fell before he had a chance to make a play. McCourty also dropped two possible interceptions.

"You have to make plays, plain and simple," McCourty said. "There were more plays, not just on the last drive, but all throughout the game that I can make and my team can make. And it's simple, I have to make those plays."

Two plays after McCourty's pass interference, Tucker booted the game-winner.

Patriots defense struggles against Ravens

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff September 24, 2012 01:38 AM

The young Patriots defense, which had played well in the first two games of the season, did not have its finest effort against the Ravens.

As Vince Wilfork said after the loss, "The offense played their tails off and we just left them out to dry."

The easy thing to do is to blame the replacement officials, but look at the numbers:

New England gave up 503 yards of offense, and the vast majority of that was in the final three quarters - the Ravens did not have a first down and had just 21 yards in the first quarter, meaning the Patriots allowed 482 yards over the final 45 minutes.

As bad statistically as the Patriots D was last year, it had just one game allowing over 500 yards - in Week 4 in Oakland, when it gave up 504.

Joe Flacco completed 71.4 percent of his passes (28-for-39) for 382 yards; the two top ballcarriers, Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce, averaged 4.9 yards per carry. The Ravens converted 50 percent of their third down tries.

And Baltimore's five scoring drives were 82, 92, 80, 92 and 70 yards.

And if you're still not convinced that it wasn't just the refs, consider this: of the Ravens' 28 first downs, five, or 17.8 percent, came by penalty. Of the Patriots' 33 first downs, nearly a quarter (eight), came by penalty. So New England gained more from the at-time-crazy calls than Baltimore.

Rob Ninkovich called this one "a hard pill to swallow," and it's tough to argue with him.

Brady talks after loss

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff September 24, 2012 01:29 AM

BALTIMORE -- Tom Brady was disappointed after Sunday night's 31-30 loss to the Ravens, but also blunt.

"We just don't play well when we need to," Brady said. "Certainly, we've got to play our best when it means the most, and we need to start winning close games."

Brady threw for 335 yards, completing 28 of 41. The only touchdown, which extended his streak of games with at least one to 35, came to Julian Edelman right before halftime, the result of a sporty two-minute drill executed to perfection.

But nursing a 2-point lead and taking the ball with four minutes left, the Patriots coluldn't close the game out.

"We had a chance to win it," Brady said. "We just didn't move the ball consistently enough to score points, score touchdowns. They're a good defense, they play well at home, and we just didn't really take advantage of our opportunities."

Brady wasn't upset with the touchdown drive. It was the others

Offense fails to finish

Posted by Greg A. Bedard September 24, 2012 01:25 AM

BALTIMORE -- In almost every training camp practice, the Patriots practice a "four-minute drill" that is designed for the offense to finish off the game by running out the final four minutes.

The Patriots, leading the Ravens, 30-28, had that exact scenario when they took over with 4:01 to play. New England gained three first downs, but it couldn't gain the final one needed to put the game out of reach.

"It's the situational football that we talk about," Brady said. "Two-minute, four-minute... two minute was good before the end of the half. Four minute, we had a chance to win it. We just don't play well when we need to. Certainly, we've got to play our best when it means the most. And we need to start winning close games."

Receiver Deion Branch shared the same frustration as Brady.

"Exactly," he said. "Especially us on offense, we want to have the ball at the end of the game. We had it, and we didn't execute the last couple of plays."

There was a lot of good from the offense, with Brady completing 28 of 41 passes for 335 yards and a touchdown. Much of it came in a no-huddle attack with three receivers that seemed to have the Ravens' defense reeling.

"We thought we had a good plan of attack against the Ravens,” coach Bill Belichick said of the offense. “We did a number of different things in the game. We did what we thought was best. Obviously it didn’t work out quite as good as we though it would. But there were some good things.”

Receiver Brandon Lloyd clicked much better with Brady, catching 9 of the 12 passes targeted to him for 108 yards. Wes Welker, who saw his role increase when Julian Edelman did not return with a hand injury, caught 8 of 10 passes for 142 yards, including a 59-yarder.

There will certainly be second-guesses for the offense: The decision by offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels to called a reverse that lost 13 yards and stalled a drive, Danny Woodhead getting much more playing time than Stevan Ridley at running back, and tight end Rob Gronkowski getting just three passes (two for 21 yards).

"We just didn't move the ball consistently enough to score points, score touchdowns," Brady said. "They're a good defense, they play well at home, and we just really didn't take advantage of our opportunities."

Patriots wanted Ravens' winning field goal reviewed

Posted by Staff September 24, 2012 01:22 AM

BALTIMORE -- The winning field goal that Ravens kicker Justin Tucker booted to clinch Sunday's 31-30 win left the Patriots with more than just disappointment.

The team also wanted the play reviewed to see if the ball had passed through the uprights.

Defensive tackle Vince Wilfork said the kick "looked very close" to him, and he was visibly agitated walking away from the game-ending play.

Wilfork said officials should have reviewed the play.

"They have to," he said. "In a game like this you have to. They ran off the field, so it is what it is. I'm not going to sit here and pick a fight with those guys. They have a job to do, we have a job to do."

Fox Sports analyst Mike Pereira, the former NFL head of officiating, said on Twitter the play would not be eligible for review "because you cannot determine when exactly the ball is directly over the pole."

Spikes criticizes officiating on Twitter

Posted by Greg A. Bedard September 24, 2012 01:19 AM

BALTIMORE -- Coach Bill Belichick, who made contact with umpire Ali Shetula after the game, probably won't be the only Patriot fined by the NFL in the wake of Sunday night's 31-30 loss to the Ravens.

Linebacker Brandon Spikes will likely be in hot water for the Tweet he sent after the game, which read:

"Can someone please tell these [expletive] zebras foot locker called and they're needed back at work !!! #BreakingPoint"

Spikes can probably count on a hefty fine to arrive by FedEx this week.

Bill Belichick appeared to make contact with official after loss

Posted by Staff September 24, 2012 12:37 AM

Patriots coach Bill Belichick was mum after Sunday night's 31-30 loss to the Ravens when he appeared to make contact with an official as he left the field.

"I'm not going to comment on that," Belichick said. "You saw the game. What did we have, 30 penalties called in that game?"

New England was flagged 10 times for 83 yards of accepted penalties, while the Ravens were called for 14 penalties and 135 yards. For the Patriots, the most critical penalty was a 27-yard pass interference flag on Sterling Moore that set up the Ravens' winning field goal.

Belichick flatly said "no" when asked if he thought the NFL would fine him for contact with an official. The league sent a memo to teams this past week demanding more respect be paid to the replacement officials who are filling in for the locked-out regulars.

Patriots 20, Ravens 14: Halftime thoughts

Posted by Greg A. Bedard September 23, 2012 10:12 PM

BALTIMORE – Some thoughts as the Patriots lead 20-14 at halftime at M&T Bank Stadium:

  • Games never come down to one play, but if the Patriots go on to lose this game, everyone will go back to the Patriots’ second-and-6 play at the Baltimore 39-yard line with 7:48 left in the second quarter. Patriots were leading 13-7 and were driving when offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels called for a direct snap to Danny Woodhead, who flipped to Julian Edelman and he was tackled for a 13-yard loss. A real head-scratcher of a playcall that ranks up there with the aborted throwback to Tom Brady against the Cardinals.
  • McDaniels has shown that he’ll get too cute and overthink some play calls. He needs to realize he’s not directing the Broncos or Rams anymore, he’s got Brady at quarterback.
  • But the Patriots had a huge answer to close the half when they drove the length of the field and scored on a touchdown pass to Edelman.
  • God-awful tackle attempt by safety Steve Gregory especially, and Devin McCourty on the Dennis Pitta touchdown that gave the Ravens a short-lived 14-13 lead.
  • The Patriots, likely because of the Ravens’ no-huddle offense, have tried to build in some rest for Vince Wilfork and Kyle Love, but the dropoff to Ron Brace and, especially, Marcus Forston has been huge. The Ravens did most of their running when one of those guys was in the game.
  • The offensive line has done a pretty good job. Brady has had to slide in the pocket, but that’s going to happen.
  • Another drop by Wes Welker. Third-straight game to start the season.
  • Patriots decided to really go fast in this game. Their “11” personnel of one running back, one tight end, and three receivers has been the dominant group. It looks like it has worked because the Ravens look gassed on defense at times.
  • The refereeing has been atrocious in this game. Wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a call from New York telling this crew to get control of this game. There’s been stuff after the whistle on most of the plays.

Final: Ravens 31, Patriots 30

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 23, 2012 07:57 PM

BALTIMORE -- Justin Tucker kicked a 27-yard field goal as time expired to give the Ravens a measure of revenge for last season's AFC Championship loss with a dramatic 31-30 victory Sunday night.

The Patriots fell to 1-2 as Joe Flacco orchestrated an eight-play, 70-yard drive with 1:55 left to set Tucker up for the winning field goal.

1:55 4th quarter: Patriots 30, Ravens 28 -- The fans here at M&T Bank Stadium have gone to a full-fledged explicit chant, unhappy with the officials after two costly penalties on the Ravens. CB Lardarius Webb was flagged for illegal contact on Wes Welker, negating an interception, and then the Ravens' bench was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct after giving the officials too much lip service. A big sack on Tom Brady by Haloti Ngata and Dannell Ellerbee spurred the Patriots to punt. The Ravens have 80 yards of field to go with 1:55 left and one timeout.

4:01 4th quarter: Patriots 30, Ravens 28 -- Brandon Spikes was called for a crucial holding call within the Patriots' 10-yard line, giving the Ravens life on what would have been a huge sack by Kyle Love and Chandler Jones. On the very next play, Joe Flacco hit Torrey Smith for a 5-yard touchdown to cap an 8-play, 92-yard drive.

Flacco was 6 of 7 for 76 yards on the drive.

Kyle Arrington was shaken up on the drive, replaced for a few plays by Marquice Cole.

7:36 4th quarter: Patriots 30, Ravens 21 -- Brandon Lloyd limped off the field and was replaced by Matthew Slater on the Patriots' last drive. The Patriots were forced to punt after Dannell Ellerbe blew up a running play on a blitz for a 4-yard loss.

10:50 4th quarter: Patriots 30, Ravens 21 -- On a fourth-and-1 at the Patriots 34, Patrick Chung knifed through to the Ravens backfield and tackled Ray Rice for no gain, giving the Patriots the ball right back.

14:14 4th quarter: Patriots 30, Ravens 21 -- Stephen Gostkowski kicked a 29-yard field goal as the Patriots went up nine points on the Ravens to start the fourth quarter.

The Patriots capitalized on a 13-play, 78-yard drive after forcing the Ravens to punt, likely putting this game out of reach for their AFC rivals.

End of the 3d quarter: Patriots 27, Ravens 21 -- The Patriots are marching toward what is possibly a game-winning drive after three quarters. Deion Branch took vicious hit to the head by Ed Reed. And Kellen Winslow caught his first pass as a Patriot. The Patriots are in the Ravens' red zone.

5:10 3d quarter: Patriots 27, Ravens 21 -- Devin McCourty broke up a deep pass to Torrey Smith on 3d-and-15 as the Patriots finally forced the Ravens to punt.

6:48 3d quarter: Patriots 27, Ravens 21 -- Danny Woodhead managed to plow his way to a 3-yard touchdown as the Patriots marched 80 yards in 4:48 on a 12-play drive to retake the lead.

Tom Brady connected with Brandon Lloyd twice for 19 yards on the drive while Woodhead rushed five times for 18 yards.

11:36 3d quarter: Ravens 21, Patriots 20 -- Ray Rice had a fairly large hole for a 7-yard touchdown run after Ravens QB Joe Flacco connected with Torrey Smith for two passes for 43 yards to get them into the red zone.

It was an 8-play, 80-yard drive to start the third quarter in only 3:24.

Also of note, Patriots receiver Julian Edelman went to the locker room with trainers due to a hand injury. His return is questionable.

15:00 3d quarter: Patriots 20, Ravens 14 -- The third quarter is underway and the Ravens have the ball to start.

End of the 2d quarter: Patriots 20, Ravens 14 -- With a little less than two minutes to work with, Tom Brady methodically worked his magic, driving the Patriots 81 yards on nine plays, culminating with a 7-yard touchdown pass to Julian Edelman with two seconds left in the half. It was Edelman's second career touchdown reception.

The total drive spanned 1:45 with Brady connecting with Edelman, Deion Branch, Rob Gronkowski, Danny Woodhead and Wes Welker.

1:47 2d quarter: Ravens 14, Patriots 13 -- After a streaker held up game play on the field (luckily he had briefs on), Joe Flaccoc couldn't connect with Anquan Boldin but found tight end Dennis Pitta for a 20-yard touchdown.

Pitta split two Patriots defenders and half hurdled Steve Gregory to get into the end zone and give the Ravens the lead.

6:36 2d quarter: Patriots 13, Ravens 7 -- A direct snap to Danny Woodhead and a reverse to Julian Edelman resulted in a 13-yard loss and eventual punt for the Patriots.

Edelman got another carry on the drive, a reverse, for 8 yards. He also caught a pass for 18 yards and was flagged for false start.

10:07 2d quarter: Patriots 13, Ravens 7 -- Ravens QB Joe Flacco threw a 25-yard touchdown pass over Kyle Arrington's head to cap a 13-play drive that was riddled with penalties.

Jerod Mayo was flagged for a pass interference, the Ravens were flagged for false start and holding, and the Ravens also benefited from a successful challenge on a Flacco throw to Anquan Boldin that gave them a first down.

End of the 1st quarter: Patriots 13, Ravens 0 -- Devin McCourty almost had his first interception of the season after a Joe Flacco bomb sailed on him. As he was trying to pull it down, he was hit by Ravens receiver Torrey Smith, jarring it loose.

The Patriots look solid after one. They're beating the Ravens in total yards, 143 to 21. The Ravens have the ball headed into the second quarter.

0:38 1st quarter: Patriots 13, Ravens 0 -- Stephen Gostkowski appears to be rebounding nicely. He just booted a 49-yard field goal to put the Patriots up 13-0.

Julian Edelman was flagged for an offensive pass interference on a catch while going up against Cary Williams. It would've been a first down with the Patriots a little more than 10 yards away from the end zone. Afterward, things got a little testy between the two.

Before that, Tom Brady scrambled and had Haloti Ngata lay on him as he slid. It caused a little bit of fracas between Logan Mankins and Ngata.

5:15 1st quarter: Patriots 10, Ravens 0 -- Another three-and-out for the Ravens, with Chandler Jones chasing Joe Flacco out of the pocket on third down.

7:09 1st quarter: Patriots 10, Ravens 0 -- The Patriots turned to rookie running back Brandon Bolden at the goal line following Steve Gregory's interception, with the Ole Miss product punching it in from two yards out. Michael Hoomanawanui also registered his first catch for the Patriots.

It should also be noted that on Tom Brady's throw to Wes Welker before the team's field goal, he passed Joe Montana for career passing yards.

7:31 1st quarter: Patriots 3, Ravens 0 -- On Joe Flacco's second pass for Baltimore, Patriots safety Steve Gregory picked him on an attempt to Dennis Pitta.

7:52 1st quarter: Patriots 3, Ravens 0 -- Stephen Gostkowski kicked a 37-yard field goal to put the Patriots on the board first.

Ravens safety Ed Reed blew up Julian Edelman on a potential touchdown pass. The Patriots were helped down field by a 59-yard pass down the sideline to Wes Welker who appeared to be wide open before being dragged down by Bernard Pollard. It was an 8-play, 71-yard drive.

11:11 1st quarter: Patriots 0, Ravens 0 -- The Patriots held the Ravens to three-and-out after two runs by Ray Rice for four yards and a pass to Anquan Boldin for five.

12:53 1st quarter: Patriots 0, Ravens 0 -- A fumbled snap and a sack by Ravens linebacker Dannell Ellerbee on Tom Brady killed the Patriots' first drive.

15:00 1st quarter: Patriots 0, Ravens 0 -- The Ravens won the coin toss and will defer to the second half. The Patriots will receive. Ravens safety and former Patriots James Ihedigbo served as a captain for the Ravens at the coin toss.

Pregame: Patriots 0, Ravens 0 -- Alright folks. It's time for the Sunday night special with the Patriots taking on the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. I'll be providing updates throughout the game. Feel free to join in on the conversation. Coin flip coming up soon.

@zuriberry

Shane Vereen, Nick McDonald out for tonight's game; Lloyd and Winslow active

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 23, 2012 06:58 PM

BALTIMORE -- The Patriots have announced that running back Shane Vereen (foot) and offensive lineman Nick McDonald (shoulder) are inactive for tonight's game.

Also inactive is rookie defensive lineman Jake Bequette. They join CB Alfonzo Dennard (hamstring), DL Justin Francis (ankle), Brandon Deaderick (ankle), and Aaron Hernandez (ankle).

Tight end Daniel Fells is active for the first time this season for the Patriots, while newcomer Kellen Winslow is also available to play tonight. Brandon Lloyd (thigh) is also confirmed as active for tonight's game.

The Ravens announced WR LaQuan Williams, CB Asa Jackson, OL Jah Reid, TE Billy Bajema, DL DeAngelo Tyson, OLB Sergio Kindle, and DL Bryan Hall are all inactive for tonight's game.

Ravens' Torrey Smith takes the field to warm up

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 23, 2012 06:24 PM

BALTIMORE -- Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith, whose brother died in a motorcycle accident last night, took the field for warmups just a two hours before game time, indicating he will play tonight.

Smith was told by the Baltimore Ravens it was up to him if he wanted to play in tonight's game or stay with his family after his brother, Tevin, died.

What to watch for as the Patriots take on the Ravens

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 23, 2012 03:26 PM

BALTIMORE -- This game was supposed to be the signature game of the Patriots' early season. It was either going to rubber stamp their quest for another Super Bowl run, or provide the Baltimore Ravens with a mental boost after losing the AFC Championship last winter.

Now, both teams are just trying to hold on to a winning record. This will test the Patriots' mettle.

Here's what you should be watching for:

1) How the Patriots utilize the team's set of tight ends -- Daniel Fells has yet to see any action and Kellen Winslow was just signed on Tuesday. According to a report by ESPN's Adam Schefter, Winslow will be active tonight, but it's undetermined what role and how much prominence he will have in the team's offense. Fells was a 15-game starter last season for the Denver Broncos but has been out of sight and out of mind with a shin injury. He's listed as questionable for today's game. It's important for the Patriots to have a capable second tight end for the team's offense to continue to be deceptive. We all know what Rob Gronkowski can do, but what will his counterparts contribute?

2) What kind of role will Deion Branch play? -- Last season, Branch caught 51 passes for 702 yards and five touchdowns -- as a starter. He returns to the Patriots as an unknown in an offense that is changing. Whether he plays or not is not a given.

3) Joe Flacco's performance -- Flacco is an up and down quarterback. When he's rolling though, as he was in Week 1 against the Cincinnati Bengals (21 of 29, 299 yards, 2 touchdowns), he elevates Baltimore's offense, allowing for Ray Rice to get a little more daylight. But when he's average to marginal, as he was last week against the Philadelphia Eagles (22 of 42, 232 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception), the Ravens are susceptible to losing games they should easily win. Which Flacco shows up Sunday night will be a huge indicator of how the Patriots' defense will fare.

4) The health of the offensive line -- Dan Connolly is still recovering from a concussion he suffered in Week 1 against the Tennessee Titans. He was active for last week's game against the Arizona Cardinals but didn't start. He's listed as questionable. Also listed as questionable is Logan Mankins (hip) and Sebastian Vollmer (back). That's three-fifths of your starting line, with Mankins being the latest edition after what is presumed to be a practice injury this week. He was limited in practice Thursday and Friday. Add in Nick McDonald (shoulder), who hasn't played this season, and the Patriots are pretty nicked up. What combination they use against the Ravens' formidable defensive line will be interesting.

5) Lookout for Torrey Smith -- Smith's brother died in a motorcycle accident last night. If he plays, he's an obvious boost for the Ravens on offense. He's a big play receiver who has come down with catches for 52 and 40 yards already this season. That kind of deep threat has to be respected. But whether he plays is up to him.

Brother of Ravens WR Torrey Smith dies in motorcycle crash

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 23, 2012 10:31 AM

BALTIMORE -- Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith may not play in Sunday's game against the Patriots after his brother, Tevin, died in a motorcycle accident early Sunday morning.

Smith reportedly left the Ravens team hotel to join his family. He was given the option by the team to play in Sunday night's game or stay with his family.

Smith confirmed his brother's death on Twitter.

I can't say a bad thing about him...proud to have him as a brother...RIP Tevin instagr.am/p/P61i4nk-QR/

— Torrey Smith (@TorreySmithWR) September 23, 2012

Game 3: Patriots at Ravens

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 23, 2012 10:25 AM

BALTIMORE -- At the end of the day, one of the AFC's top teams will inexplicably be 1-2, sporting an unlikely losing record for a marquee franchise of the NFL.

The Patriots hope that fate won't be theirs to hold, visiting the Baltimore Ravens today in the two teams' seventh regular season meeting and ninth overall.

The Patriots own a 6-0 record against the Ravens in the regular season, including two wins in Baltimore. The two have split their postseason matchups, including last season's AFC Championship 23-20 win for the Patriots, helped in part by now former Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff's missed field goal in the waning moments and Patriots cornerback Sterling Moore's strip of Lee Evans to prevent a touchdown.

The Ravens are coming off a 24-23 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles last week, while the Patriots are nursing their wounds after a 20-18 loss to the Arizona Cardinals. Both teams do a remarkable job of bouncing back after losses. Since 2008, the Patriots 14-2 -- best in the NFL -- after a loss, while the Ravens are 16-4.

It doesn't help the Patriots that the Ravens have won 11 straight at home. But both teams may not be at full strength.

Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith's brother, Tevin, died in a motorcycle accident early Sunday morning. The Ravens have reportedly given Smith the option of playing in the game if he wants or staying with his family.

The Patriots will be without tight end Aaron Hernandez, who suffered a high ankle sprain against the Cardinals. They signed tight end Kellen Winslow on Tuesday, and he's expected to play today behind Rob Gronkowski. The Patriots will also see the return of Deion Branch. It's undetermined what his role may be.

Here are the details for tonight's game:

Kickoff: 8:20 p.m.

Records: Patriots 1-1; Ravens 1-1.

TV/Radio info: NBC WHDH-TV Ch. 7 (Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya); 98.5-FM The Sports Hub (Gil Santos, Scott Zolak).

Projected starting lineups:
Based on information distributed to the media, practice observations, and injuries for each team.

Patriots offense: WR Julian Edelman, LT Nate Solder, LG Logan Mankins, C Ryan Wendell, RG Donald Thomas, RT Sebastian Vollmer, TE Rob Gronkowski, WR Brandon Lloyd, QB Tom Brady, RB Stevan Ridley, WR Wes Welker.

Patriots defense: NT Vince Wilfork DT Kyle Love, RDE Chandler Jones, LB/DE Ron Ninkovich, LB Jerod Mayo, LB Dont'a Hightower, LB Brandon Spikes, CB Devin McCourty, CB Kyle Arrington, S Steve Gregory, S Patrick Chung.

Ravens offense: WR Torrey Smith, WR Anquan Boldin, LT Michael Oher, LG Ramon Harewood, C Matt Birk, RG Marshal Yanda, RT Kelechi Osemele, TE Dennis Pitta, QB Joe Flacco, FB Vonta Leach, RB Ray Rice.

Ravens defense: DT Haloti Ngata, NT Ma'ake Kemoeatu, DE Pernell McPhee, RUSH Albert McClellan, WLB Jameel McClain, MLB Ray Lewis, SLB Paul Kruger, LCB Lardarius Webb, SS Bernard Pollard, FS Ed Reed, RCB Cary Williams.

Inactives
TBA

Deaderick, Dennard out against Ravens

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 22, 2012 08:09 PM

Patriots defensive lineman Brandon Deaderick and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard have been downgraded to out on the team's injury report.

Deaderick had been listed with an ankle injury while Dennard had been listed with a hamstring injury. Both were questionable.

Patriots at Ravens: 5 keys, prediction

Posted by Greg A. Bedard September 22, 2012 07:22 PM

BALTIMORE – Really looking forward to Sunday night’s game between the Patriots and Ravens. It’s been a while since New England has played a regular season game with this much meaning, probably back to the second Jets game last year. So it should be fun.

Even without tight end Aaron Hernandez (ankle), I like the Patriots’ chances in this this game. I think the matchups favor them, but I’m expecting a low-scoring battle that will go down to the final possession, as it almost always does with these two teams.

Here are my five keys for the Patriots to beat the Ravens:

  1. Beat up Baltimore’s offensive front: With the exception of whoever lines up against Ravens RG Marshall Yanda, the Patriots have the advantage with their defensive line. Right end Chandler Jones should be able to out-leverage LT Michael Oher. Vince Wilfork and Kyle Love should dominate the interior of LG Ramon Harewood, C Matt Birk and Yanda. And LDE Rob Ninkovich should absolutely be able to use his speed and experience to own rookie RT Kelechi Osemele. If the Patriots can dominate up front, that will affect RB Ray Rice and QB Joe Flacco.
  2. Make Flacco win outside the numbers: Flacco prefers to throw to TE Dennis Pitta, RB Ray Rice and WR Anquan Boldin. The Patriots tried to take Boldin away last year with both a linebacker and a defensive back, and did a terrific job until the Ravens finally began to run Boldin on out patterns instead of crossing and seam routes. Expect the Patriots to clamp down on his three preferred targets who, like the Patriots, make their living inside the numbers by muddying the middle of the field. That will mean that CBs Devin McCourty, Kyle Arrington and Ras-I Dowling/Sterling Moore are going to have to hold their own against speedy WRs Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones down the field. The Ravens love to run double moves, so the Patriots have to be disciplined. But if they can make Flacco win the game outside the numbers, the Patriots will feel good about playing those odds.
  3. Bait Flacco: Everyone says that Flacco has improved, but I don’t see it on film. He’s the same inconsistent guy. He’ll make an all-world throw, and then throw an interception into triple coverage. If the Patriots can disguise their coverages pre-snap, there should be opportunities for interceptions over the top against Smith and Jones, and with the linebackers underneath the tight ends. One of the linebackers is going to have an interception in this game.
  4. Pound it, then use a lot of play-action passes: The Patriots ran on the Ravens in the AFC Championship Game, the problem was they didn’t do it enough. Stevan Ridley should have a very big game if the Patriots stick with the run, and that will help the offensive line control the Ravens’ rush, which isn’t as good as years past. And there will be opportunities for big plays. The Ravens aren’t very good at defending the middle against playaction because the ILBs, especially Ray Lewis who has lost a step, tend to overcommit against the run. Tom Brady should be able to hit Rob Gronkowski and Wes Welker up the middle with play-action, even though the Ravens tried to muddy the middle of the field in January. There will also be plenty of chances for Brandon Lloyd down the sidelines, especially if he gets matched up with CB Cary Williams most of the game. Lloyd should be able to have a breakout game as long as Brady can manipulate S Ed Reed with his eyes.
  5. Hold the line: Quite simply, the Patriots need to hold their own against the Ravens’ front. DT Haloti Ngata will lineup up all over the line, and the Patriots need to make sure they shut him down again. He’s due for a breakout game. Both RG Dan Connolly and LG Logan Mankins are going to need help against Ngata, and they should get it. Probably the more crucial matchup is LT Nate Solder against OLB Albert McClellan. Solder has issues against speed – he’s susceptible to inside moves – that could get Brady creamed. Expect the Patriots to chip on the outside with the running backs.

Prediction

If the Patriots can eliminate any coverage breakdowns against WRs Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones, I think they can be very successful against the Ravens offense. The key to this game will be the running game of the Patriots so that they stay in manageable third-down situations, and then converting those opportunities better than they did against the Cardinals. The Patriots must execute better, and if they do, I like their chances to control this hard-fought game.

Patriots 20, Ravens 16.

Inside the matchup: Patriots at Ravens

Posted by Greg A. Bedard September 22, 2012 12:00 PM

We are very happy to have Alen Dumonjic, an x's and o's football junkie who blogs for The Score, back for another season to give us his insight on the intricacies of the game.

INSIDE THE RAVENS’ OFFENSE

The Ravens offense has made strides this year as evidenced by their 33 points per game. Two big reasons are the improvement of quarterback Joe Flacco and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. Flacco has stepped up to the plate thus far and made the necessary throws to put the team in position to win games. It can also be said that Cameron is finally calling the necessary plays to give the Ravens a chance offensively.

Cameron has a history of being a mixed bag as a play caller. At times, he is creative and does a good job of designing plays to get receivers open and running lanes for the ball carriers. Other times, he is very vanilla and appears to have drawn up the plays on the fly.

This season, he has done a good job of using stacked and bunch formations with 11 (1 tailback, 1 tight end) and 12 (1 tailback, 2 tight ends), which are his dominant packages along with 21 (2 backs, 1 tight end), personnel to get his pass catchers open and cause confusion for defenders.

Baltimore’s pass catchers are getting open by running a lot of designed inside-breaking routes, especially various forms of seam routes that appear in many of the pass plays called. These routes include deep dig routes from the likes of tight end Ed Dickson and receiver Torrey Smith. As with every other team, the Ravens also run a lot of out and comeback routes to beat man coverage.

When it comes to the running game, the Ravens are once again led by running back Ray Rice, who is executing a lot of the same concepts that were ran last year. These include the Counter and Power concepts along with the two forms of zone stretch runs: Inside and Outside Zone.

INSIDE THE RAVENS’ DEFENSE

While the offense has had its inconsistent performances in the past, the defense has not. It is still led by Ray Lewis and Ed Reed and it is still one of the league’s best despite losing pass rusher extraordinaire Terrell Suggs.

Baltimore has made up for this loss with strong coverage on the back end and five sacks, two of which have come from star defensive lineman Haloti Ngata. Ngata and his stout teammates have been playing a variety of fronts (as usual), which includes 1- and 2-man fronts, as well as the over and under philosophies from both the 3-4 and 4-3 defenses.

In the back end, defensive coordinator Dean Pees has a lot of very talented defensive backs and has used them in various ways.

One of the most notable is cornerback Lardarius Webb, who has played both outside and in the slot this season. He is a very dynamic player and a playmaker, proving on numerous occasions that he can do damage in coverage or blitzing, which he has done very much of from the inside alignment.

Reed hasn’t lost a step at safety despite contemplating retirement this past summer. Reed still has great instincts, ball skills and range that gives Pees great coverage flexibility. This has been evident by the sheer amount of coverages they’ve used, which includes Cover 2 and 3 (the most often played I believe), Cover 1 and Cover 1 Robber, Loaded Zone and quarter-quarter-half.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

TE Dennis Pitta - Former BYU tight end Dennis Pitta is one of Flacco’s favorite targets because he works the underneath so often and is very quarterback friendly. Pitta has seen a lot of targets this year and currently leads the team in receptions. One of the areas where he’s been utilized is on slants from the backside of the Trips (three receivers to one side), where he could once again appear on Sunday.

Ravens Interior OL vs. Patriots Interior DL - This was the matchup that created headlines last year in the AFC Championship Game and will be something to watch in this game because the Ravens have actually gotten weaker in this area. The departed Ben Grubbs has been replaced by Ramon Harewood, who has had some issues with quick pass rushers. Veterans Matt Birk and Marshal Yanda have also had some issues with power, which Patriots DT Vince Wilfork brings plenty of.

LT Michael Oher vs. DE Chandler Jones - I point out the matchup for Chandler Jones every week because I believe they are significant. This week is no different when he goes up against Michael Oher. While Oher has had some good play thus far, he has a tendency to bend at the waist and lunge forward. This may be able to be exploited by Jones, who possesses strong hands to knock Oher off balance.

Up-tempo vs. Ravens Defense - The Ravens are a tough defense to beat but one way to possibly increase your chances of doing so is by going to an up-tempo offense. Philadelphia did this in Week 2 and had success running the ball, which they did not do well when they gave the Ravens time to get to their alignments.

Patriots Offensive Matchups vs. Ravens Defense - There are a couple of players and areas on the Ravens defense that New England could look to target, so I’m going to put them together in this one category. Inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe is a two-down player that’s primarily out there for run defense. If the Patriots can isolate him in coverage on early downs, they could find it to be more successful than attempting to run the ball. It should also be noted the Ravens play a 3-3-5 package that consists of Lewis-Ellerbe-McClain, so there’s another opportunity to isolate and attack the linebackers.

Two other players that may be able to be attacked for different reasons are cornerbacks Cary Williams and Jimmy Smith. Williams plays a lot of soft coverage and will give up easy yards underneath while Smith is very aggressive and can be caught on double moves.

Last, the one area that may be able to be attacked is the middle of the field. The Ravens have played a lot of Cover 2 this season and Ray Lewis, who is not as fleet of foot as he once was, is policing the seam. When they play man coverage against empty sets, Lewis will walk out with the running back often.

CB Lardarius Webb & FS Ed Reed - Webb is dangerous. He is fast, instinctive, and a ballhawk. Pees uses him as a rusher when using the Fire Zone Blitz (5 man pressure that should also be noted as something to watch for) and he has caused problems for quarterbacks as was seen in week one against the Cincinnati Bengals. The play of Ed Reed speaks for itself, making him a mandatory watch.

--
For more interesting football reading, check out Alen's blog posts at The Score, and The Sideline View. Follow Alen on Twitter at @Dumonjic_Alen, or send him feedback via email.

On the Beat: 5 questions about the Ravens

Posted by Greg A. Bedard September 21, 2012 10:14 PM

Time to check in with Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun to get the lowdown on the Ravens ahead of the Sunday night showdown:

1. What should we expect from the new OLBs/DEs, and who do you think will be out there?

AW: "The realistic expectation from strongside outside linebacker Albert McClellan, rush outside linebackers Courtney Upshaw and Paul Kruger and left defensive end Pernell McPhee is steady progress based on their last game. McClellan set the edge physically against the Philadelphia Eagles and his confidence is growing. Upshaw has gotten down to nearly 270 pounds and is moving around better after reporting at over 280 pounds and flunking the conditioning test initially at training camp before passing it on his second try. Kruger is coming off a back injury, but is slated to have a situational role working in tandem with Upshaw rushing the passer. Kruger has good quickness and is solid in pass coverage, but needs to be more stout against the run. Upshaw is expected to start his second consecutive game after a solid game against Michael Vick. McPhee had six sacks as a rookie last year, but has been hampered by a right knee injury after undergoing arthroscopic surgery during the spring. He has been wearing a heavy knee brace for the past few weeks."

2. Who is the one Ravens player most Patriots fans don't know right now, but will by the end of the game on Sunday?

AW: "Jacoby Jones. Jones beat press coverage against Nnamdi Asomugha for one touchdown that counted as he executed a textbook double-move pattern. And he beat him again on a touchdown nullified by an offensive pass interference penalty. Jones isn't a household name, but he can play. He's 6-foot-2, 220 pounds and has retained a lot of his speed from his days growing up in New Orleans as a track and field standout before going to tiny Lane College. Jones's consistency isn't always there due to occasional lapses in concentration, but he's very physically talented."

3. What's the biggest weakness on the Ravens' offense you expect the Patriots to try to exploit?

AW: "They are vulnerable at left tackle with Michael Oher against speed rushers. He allowed a sack and forced fumble against Eagles defensive end Trent Cole last week. Oher is quick and has a powerful hand punch, but usually allows at least one sack per game."

4. What's the biggest weakness on the Ravens' defense you expect the Patriots to try to exploit?

AW: "The Ravens are susceptible to big plays. They've already allowed eight plays of 20 yards or more, including a 49-yard reception to DeSean Jackson last week. They have trouble containing tight ends like Brent Celek and Rob Gronkowski because the linebackers aren't very good in pass coverage, including 37-year-old middle linebacker Ray Lewis. Bernard Pollard is an enforcer at strong safety, but doesn't make many plays on the football. Free safety Ed Reed's instincts are still there, but his durability is always something to keep an eye on. After the big play, the Ravens are uncharacteristically vulnerable against the run this season. Other than forcing turnovers and preventing opponents from piling up points, this doesn't look like a traditional Ravens defense as they rank 27th after two games. Cornerback Cary Williams called that ranking "horrible and unacceptable," but you are what you are in the NFL as people tend to say too much."

5. Finally, Ravens win on Sunday if....

AW: "If they contain Tom Brady and Gronkowski, are stingy against the run and slow down Stevan Ridley and if they decide what they want to be offensively, a no-huddle, up-tempo offense the way they were the first week or a smash-mouth outfit with Ray Rice and Vonta Leach. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has been indecisive at times. And the short-yardage approach was bad last week as they failed to convert any of their third-down and fourth-down situations."

--

Thanks to Aaron for his time and insight. Check him out on Twitter, and the coverage from The Sun.

Mayo, Gregory fined

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff September 21, 2012 04:34 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Jerod Mayo's hit on a defenseless Cardinals receiver has cost the Patriots linebacker $21,000, with a league spokesman confirming the fine on Friday.

Defensive back Steve Gregory was also hit with a fine, for $7,875. Gregory was flagged for a personal foul penalty when he hit Arizona tight end Todd Heap while out of bounds. Mayo, who drilled Early Doucet, was not flagged for his hit.

Tom Brady No. 1 on Twitter CEO's wish list

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff September 21, 2012 04:34 PM
Dick Costolo, the chief executive officer of Twitter, was asked Friday at the Online News Association's annual conference who is the top person not on Twitter he'd like to see join the social media service.

His response: "The quarterback for the New England Patriots, Tom Brady, is not on Twitter, and I would like him to be on Twitter."

Costolo was participating in a keynote conversation at the conference in San Francisco. He said he, like Brady, went to Michigan.

After the session, Costolo expanded on his comment, saying, "I'm a big Tom Brady fan." He also said he was a Patriots fan, a 49ers fan and a Bears fan.

Follow Costolo at @dickc. Listen to the full conversation in the audio player provided by SoundCloud, or zoom ahead to 18:14 to just hear the Brady part.

Patriots practice report

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff September 21, 2012 03:51 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Tight end Aaron Hernandez and defensive tackle Justin Francis have been ruled out for Sunday night's game at Baltimore, according to the Patriots' injury report on Friday. Both players are suffering from ankle injuries.

Ten players are listed as questionable: offensive linemen Dan Connolly (concussion), Nick McDonald (shoulder), Logan Mankins (hip), and Sebastian Vollmer (back), cornerbacks Sterling Moore (knee) and Alfonza Dennard (hamstring), running back Shane Vereen (foot), tight end Daniel Fells (shin), defensive end Brandon Deaderick (ankle), and receiver Brandon Lloyd (thigh). All 10 were limited during Friday's practice, which was behind Gillette Stadium, the players in shorts and shells.

Safety Patrick Chung, who has practiced fully all week, is listed as probable with a shoulder injury.

Tackle Jah Reid (calf) is the only Ravens player listed as doubtful for the game.

Belichick on ... practice

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff September 21, 2012 02:34 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- He didn't pull an Allen Iverson, but certainly could have. After multiple players said following Sunday's home loss to the Cardinals that they had a bad week of practice, coach Bill Belichick was asked on Friday about ... practice. Not a game. Not a game. Practice.

"I think practice is practice," Belichick said Friday, before the team's final practice heading into Sunday night's game at Baltimore. "Mistakes are being corrected, things that we put in on the game plan that we go out there and do, some are better than others, adjust them, try to fix them.

"Big thing is to go out there and be prepared, be alert. For the players to do their best on each play, and if it doesn’t work out, then we correct it. That’s what practice is for."

This will be the sixth time the Patriots and Ravens have met in the past six seasons (Patriots have won four of five in that stretch), so it's an opponent Belichick is quite familiar with. How well they practice, he surmised, might not be any indication of how they'll play in the game.

"I don’t know about the whole good practice, bad practice thing," Belichick said. "As a coach, you can script a practice to be as easy or difficult as you want it to be. It could look great, but that may not be the way it is in the game, or it could look bad, and it could be great in the game. I do think there’s a correlation to improving in practice, individually, as a unit, but how that transfers over into a game, you never know until Sunday."

Week 3: Friday practice peek - Three missing

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff September 21, 2012 12:30 PM

The Patriots are holding their final practice of the week on the fields behind Gillette Stadium, with players in shells and sweats.

Colleague Michael Whitmer says three players were not spotted during the media access window: Aaron Hernandez, Brandon Deaderick, and Justin Francis. All three are dealing with ankle injuries.

It would be a surprise to see any of the three in uniform come Sunday night; typically with the Pats, players must practice Friday in order to play on game day.

Week 3: Thursday injury/participation report - Mankins added

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff September 20, 2012 05:18 PM

New England's injury list grew again today, as Logan Mankins appears with a hip injury and was limited in practice. Brandon Deaderick (ankle) is also a new addition.

For the Patriots
Did not participate
* DT Justin Francis - ankle
TE Aaron Hernandez - ankle

Limited participation
G Dan Connolly - concussion
* DE Brandon Deaderick - ankle
CB Alfonzo Dennard - hamstring
TE Daniel Fells - shin
WR Brandon Lloyd - thigh
* G Logan Mankins - hip
OL Nick McDonald - shoulder
CB Sterling Moore - knee
RB Shane Vereen - foot
OT Sebastian Vollmer - back

Full participation
S Patrick Chung - shoulder

For the Ravens
Did not participate
T Jah Reid - calf

Limited participation
* LB Jameel McClain - knee
* DE Pernell McPhee - knee
* S Bernard Pollard - chest
* CB Lardarius Webb - knee

Full participation
* LB Paul Kruger - back
* T Michael Oher - ankle

* - Addition to list or change from yesterday's status

Patriots Thursday practice report

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff September 20, 2012 04:56 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Offensive guard Logan Mankins and defensive end Brandon Deaderick were new additions to the injury report, both limited in practice today with hip and ankle injuries, respectively.

Two Patriots players did not practice: tight end Aaron Hernandez and defensive tackle Justin Francis, both of whom have ankle injuries. Hernandez is expected to be out for a number of weeks; Francis was limited in practice on Wednesday.

In addition to Mankins and Deaderick, eight other Patriots were limited: offensive linemen Dan Connolly (concussion), Nick McDonald (shoulder), and Sebastian Vollmer (back), cornerbacks Sterling Moore (knee) and Alfonza Dennard (hamstring), running back Shane Vereen (foot), tight end Danniel Fells (shin), and receiver Brandon Lloyd (thigh).

Tackle Jah Reid (calf) was the only Ravens player who did not practice.

Kellen Winslow talks pain, playbook, and Aaron Hernandez

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff September 20, 2012 03:53 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Newly-signed tight end Kellen Winslow sees some similarities between himself and the player some might assume he was brought in to replace, Aaron Hernandez.

The Patriots announced on Wednesday that Winslow had been signed, and with Hernandez expected to be out indefinitely with an ankle injury, there should be an opportunity for the eight-year veteran to make a contribution.

Like Deion Branch, also signed this week, Winslow said he had chances to land elsewhere. Why the Patriots?
Video: Winslow checks in

Patriots-Ravens rivalry history
"It was a good fit. I've never been in this kind of situation," Winslow said before Thursday's practice. "But a situation arose where Aaron got hurt, and we're kind of similar, so I'm going to come in here and help out."

Similarities?

"You just have to watch tape, but yeah, there's some similarities there," Winslow said. "He's probably one of the most versatile tight ends in the game, if not the most. He goes all around the field. He can play any position. He's very versatile in what he does and he's smart. He's a very good player."

Winslow spent his first five seasons with Cleveland, and the past three in Tampa Bay. He was released by the Seahawks during the final cut-down day last month following a preseason where he caught three passes, including a touchdown.

One of the reasons floated for Winslow's release was because of lingering knee concerns. He chose not to disclose what the Seahawks told him when they let him go -- "It doesn't matter, I'm moving on" -- but admitted that his knees hurt when he plays. A lot.

"The thing I concentrate on is not missing games, because then there is nothing held against me," said Winslow, who has played in all 16 games five of the past six seasons.

He's had success with the two teams he's played with so far, and the Patriots have built quite the tight end-centric offense. Winslow might eventually be a very good fit, but has spent the majority of his time so far learning the team's plays.

"At the end of the day, football is football. What they're doing here, the volume of the playbook is a lot. It's going to take some time to get used to," Winslow said. "It's verbage and getting used to the calls, getting used to Tom's cadence."

Week 3: Thursday practice peek

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff September 20, 2012 01:38 PM

The Patriots are practicing in full pads today, and have started cranking up the music to try to simulate the atmosphere expected in Baltimore for Sunday night.

Aaron Hernandez and Justin Francis were the only players not present during the media access window; Francis was added to the injury report yesterday, also with an ankle injury.

Practice-squad receiver Kerry Taylor was also missing but recently released receiver Greg Salas was present in the locker room and there was a No. 17 on the practice field, so Salas has probably been added to the practice squad and Taylor axed.

Patriots Game 3 Preview: A marquee matchup in Baltimore

Posted by Steve Silva, Boston.com Staff September 20, 2012 01:10 PM
The Globe's Shalise Manza Young goes in depth on the Week 3 matchup between the Patriots and always-tough Baltimore Ravens in this week's Patriots preview video.

We also hear from Patriots players Devin McCourty on Baltimore's no-huddle offense, Stevan Ridley on going up against the ageless Ray Lewis, Deion Branch getting back in the swing of things, and all-pro tight end Rob Gronkowski on taking on New England's AFC rivals in a Sunday night prime-time showdown.

Wilfork: Perfect game needed

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff September 20, 2012 01:05 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Vince Wilfork is one of only four Patriots who were on the field the last time the Patriots played the Ravens in Baltimore. New England won, 27-24, in a game that wasn't decided until the final minute. Wilfork is expecting a similarly difficult contest on Sunday night.

"We’re going to have to play almost a perfect game to walk away on the road Sunday night with a victory," Wilfork said. "This is a good Baltimore football team, we’ve seen over the years, but I think this team now is stacked, probably one of the best teams that Baltimore’s had."

The Ravens might be known for their defense, but with quarterback Joe Flacco and running back Ray Rice, they have some dangerous weapons on offense, too.

"Defensively we have to be ready, they’re going to give us everything they have," Wilfork said. "They’re be very excited to finally get us in their place, on Sunday Night Football. It’s going to be a good football game."

Inside the playbook: Stopping the Ravens

Posted by Gary Dzen, Boston.com Staff September 20, 2012 10:03 AM

Greg Bedard and Jermaine Wiggins break down what the Patriots can do to slow down Baltimore Sunday night.

Video: Patriots make moves after tough loss

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 19, 2012 07:44 PM




After losing Aaron Hernandez in a shocking loss to the Cardinals, the Patriots signed WR Deion Branch and TE Kellen Winslow. Boston.com's Zuri Berry gives the Patriots midweek practice report from Gillette Stadium.

Week 3: Wednesday injury/participation report

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff September 19, 2012 04:57 PM

The Patriots added three players to their report without removing anyone from last week's final report; Aaron Hernandez, Justin Francis and Brandon Lloyd are new today.

For the Patriots
Did not participate
TE Aaron Hernandez - ankle

Limited participation
G Dan Connolly - concussion
CB Alfonzo Dennard - hamstring
TE Daniel Fells - shin
DL Justin Francis - ankle
WR Brandon Lloyd - thigh
OL Nick McDonald - shoulder
CB Sterling Moore - knee
RB Shane Vereen - foot
OT Sebastian Vollmer - back

Full participation
S Patrick Chung - shoulder

For the Ravens
Did not participate
LB Jameel McClain - knee
DE Pernell McPhee - knee
S Bernard Pollard - chest
T Jah Reid - calf

Limited participation
LB Paul Kruger - back
T Michael Oher - ankle


Despite changes, Ravens defense still formidable

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 19, 2012 02:15 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Terrell Suggs has been one of Tom Brady's adversaries whenever the Patriots have played the Baltimore Ravens.

This year, the Patriots quarterback won't have to face the highly extolled linebacker because he's on the physically unable to perform list after injuring his Achilles' in the offseason. But there's still the likes of Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, and Haloti Ngata to deal with. There's been some turnover on the Ravens' defense elsewhere, but that doesn't mean they don't command respect.

"You know, their defense, it’s interesting because over the years they’ve lost key players and they fill different guys in and different guys play different roles," Brady said. "[Suggs is] a phenomenal player and he's been very durable over his career. We’ve played him multiple times. But they're still getting a lot of pressure on the quarterback and applying different blitz schemes to get pressure. Haloti Ngata is almost impossible to block at times. They like to get their safeties involved. They like to get Lardarius Webb involved. Everybody is a blitzer and that’s the kind of scheme it is. There are different playmakers and they know how to use them and they know what they like. I’d like to blitz a lot of those guys, too, if I was how good they are at getting to the quarterback."

The Patriots may also see a touch of New England flavor in this Ravens defense. Former Patriots coach Dean Pees has taken over as defensive coordinator for Chuck Pagano in Baltimore, who left to become the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts.

"I have a lot of respect for Dean," Brady said. "He was a great coach here and he's got those guys playing well. He's been in that system and knows those players, and they’ve got a lot of playmakers and I think he’s great at using those guys really doing what they do best. Ray [Lewis] is a big time playmaker, Ed Reed is, Haloti [Ngata]; Lardarius Webb has turned into one of the best corners in the league. They’ve got a lot of great players that can really wreak havoc. I think Dean does a great job of putting those guys in positions where they're able to make those plays and it’s not so scheme-oriented where sometimes Ray is out of a play – Ray’s in every play. I’m sure that’s just the way he wants it, too."

Filling in for the injured Suggs is second-year pro Albert McClellan, who mans the rush linebacker spot for the Ravens that draws similarities with the elephant role on the Patriots. He's not the only young linebacker the Ravens are utilizing. Rookie Courtney Upshaw started his first game at the sam linebacker spot for Baltimore against the Philadelphia Eagles last week. The two are part of a trio of younger Ravens making their mark, including defensive end Pernell McPhee, who is in his second season in the NFL. But for Brady, worrying about Pees' influence on the Ravens and the addition of the youngsters does not change the same challenging task ahead when facing the Ravens.

"The base of their defense has been the same way for a long time," he said. "The coordinator probably has the most different flavor. How they're going to play us, we don’t know that. They're going to have their own game plan. I'm sure it’s not going to look like the Eagles game plan. They’ll have probably their core things they do and from week to week some different looks, some different blitz looks. Like last week, we’ll probably have to make some adjustments over the course of the game, because it’s still early in the year and things still haven’t really played out. You don’t have your whole playbook in, so to speak, so they’re just trying to find ways to screw us up a little bit and vice versa."

Branch excited to be back

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff September 19, 2012 02:08 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Deion Branch was back in front of his locker -- the one that was never taken down, or changed, or given to someone else -- after rejoining the Patriots.

Branch, who has spent part of six seasons in New England, said he got the call from his agent on Tuesday notifying him of his new, yet familiar, professional home. The team officially made the announcement that Branch and tight end Kellen Winslow had been signed on Wednesday morning.

"I’m glad to be back and jumping right into the swing of things this week, getting prepared to play Baltimore," Branch said, surrounded by a huge contingent of media. "You can’t assume anything in this league, but I was never worried."

Branch admitted that a number of other NFL teams inquired about his services, but he said everybody else asking about him "just didn't suit me." He was one of the Patriots' cuts on the day the final roster needed to be set following the four preseason games. Eighteen days later, he was back in uniform.

With the injury to Aaron Hernandez likely sidelining the standout tight end for a number of weeks, the Patriots turned to Branch, who has enough experience with this team that he'd be able to simply pick up where he left off.

"That’s the goal," Branch said. "I’m sure it’s what the coaches are expecting out of me, and that’s what I’m going to deliver."

Branch said he watched the Patriots' season-opening win at Tennessee, and caught the second half of Sunday's loss to Arizona. Having children around -- Branch and his wife have four -- puts a squeeze on any extra spare time, he said.

One of the biggest reasons he didn't accept another team's offer was the thought of uprooting his family. School has already started, strong friendships established. Perhaps sensing that the Patriots would eventually call for him, Branch stayed put and diligently worked out, making his sure his body was in good condition so he'd be able to hit the field running.

"Family is more important. My wife and my kids, school just started, there's a lot of stuff going on," Branch said. "There's a lot of things that factor into your decision. You've got to make sure you have to make the right decision for your family."

Week 3: Wednesday practice peek

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff September 19, 2012 01:47 PM

The Patriots are practicing in shells and shorts/sweats today on the fields behind Gillette Stadiums as they start preparation for Sunday night's showdown with the Ravens.

Aaron Hernandez was the only player not spotted by reporters during the media-access window.

Kellen Winslow was present (he's been given jersey No. 82), as well as new-old guys Deion Branch and Niko Koutouvides.

Ravens finally get home-field edge

Posted by Julian Benbow, Globe Staff September 19, 2012 11:34 AM

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OWINGS MILLS, Md. – It's been so long since the Patriots have come to Baltimore that Ravens head coach John Harbaugh needed some verification.

“How many times have we played them at their place?” he said. “I can’t believe you guys don’t have that at your fingertips.”

The Patriots haven't played the Ravens in M&T Bank Stadium since 2007. The last four meetings, including two playoff games, have all been at Gillette Stadium. It's more than fair to say that the Ravens have been dying to get the Patriots in their building.

Screen Shot 2012-09-18 at 6.13.53 PM.png

Via the Baltimore Ravens

“That will be different, right?” Harbaugh said.

Since 1996, they've faced each other eight times, and six of those meetings have been in Foxborough. The Patriots lead the series 7-1 (1-1 in the postseason), and they won both of the games in Baltimore. But the Ravens have won 11 straight home games, the longest active home winning streak in the league

They've won 19 of their past 20 regular-season home games, and going back to 2008, they're 28-5 at home (coincidentally tied with the Patriots for best record of that span).

Another streak worth noting, with Baltimore coming off a painful 24-23 loss to the Eagles in Philadelphia, the Ravens are 13 for 13 in bounce-back games since 2009.

“When you win, you look at everything really hard and you try to build on it,” Harbaugh said. “But when you lose, that sting, it really forces you to dig deep – all of us. It’s just human nature.

“To that extent, if we can make the most of that, if we can take this week and make the most of the fact that we didn’t win the game and find ways to do a lot of things better and grow as a football team, in the long run, that’s how you get to where you’re going. That’s how you build what you are trying to build. So, we are going to try to make that into a positive that way, come back swinging next week.”

Tom Brady glad to have Deion Branch back

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 19, 2012 11:22 AM

FOXBOROUGH -- Of Tom Brady's now 13 NFL seasons, Deion Branch has been catching passes from him for six of them. So it was hard for the quarterback to not see Branch make the team, a casualty of training camp cuts.

On Wednesday, the duo were officially reunited with Branch re-signing with the team. The Patriots also signed veteran tight end Kellen Winslow and linebacker Niko Koutouvides. The Patriots released WR Greg Salas, FB Lex Hilliard, and LB Mike Rivera to make room for the three.

But Branch returns to a different dynamic with the Patriots. Julian Edelman and Brandon Lloyd have emerged as the top two wide receivers, with Wes Welker filling the vacuum of targets for the injured tight end Aaron Hernandez. Branch's role will certainly be different now, compared to what it was last year when he caught 51 passes for 702 yards and five touchdowns.

"Deion has just been a great player here for a long time," Brady said of Branch's impending role. "So it's always great to see him back. I was hoping it would happen. There's just a lot of stability that, you know, he's that kind of player: dependable, consistent. We'll see what kind of role he plays."

Brady was also asked about how Edelman has become a bigger part of the offense and whether or not his hard work has been lost with the speculation around Welker's prominence in the offense.

"He's really worked hard and put himself in position to get opportunities," Brady said. "I have a lot of confidence in Julian and his ability to make some really key plays for us last game. Along with Gronk, along with Wes, and along with Brandon, it's really the skill guys that are out there that have opportunities to catch the ball and are playing, they need to be able to make those plays. And all those guys who are out there are doing a good job of that."

Brady said he didn't know if Edelman's hard work was being diminished or not.

"That's what you guys talk about," he said. "And certainly not what I think about. I gotta focus on being a good quarterback and doing my job. I'll let you guys write the stories."

Patriots confirm Branch, Winslow deals

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff September 19, 2012 10:37 AM

The Patriots confirmed on Wednesday that they have re-signed receiver Deion Branch and linebacker Niko Koutovides, and also agreed to a deal with tight end Kellen Winslow Jr.

Running back Lex Hilliard, linebacker Mike Rivera and receiver Greg Salas were released.

Patriots offered Brian Waters $4 million to return this season

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff September 19, 2012 09:42 AM
The Patriots offered offensive lineman Brian Waters $4 million during training camp to play this season.

That's almost triple the $1.4 million base that Waters is currently under contract to make for 2012 and would make him the second-highest paid lineman on the Patriots behind Logan Mankins. The $4 million offer was made in training camp, but was not public knowledge at the time.

There's an idea out there that the Patriots are trying to nickel and dime Waters or have somehow wronged him, when in this instance they've gone well above and beyond in trying to appease a player and get him to the team.

Hence why I said this situation is on him in a tweet I sent last night.

seeing questions re Waters: NE offered him *significant* pay raise, presumably as last-ditch effort, and he turned it down. this is on him.

— shalise manza young (@shalisemyoung) September 18, 2012

With the Patriots releasing three players Tuesday - Greg Salas, Lex Hilliard, and Mike Rivera - and bringing back Deion Branch and signing Kellen Winslow, fans started asking on Twitter if the third spot was going to go to Waters, who has not reported to the Patriots and is on the reserve/did not report list, meaning he does not count against the 53-man roster.

As colleague Greg Bedard and I have previously reported, when Waters initially signed with New England last September, he and Bill Belichick had an agreement that Waters wouldn't have to take part in training camp or offseason work so that he could spend as much time as possible at home in Texas (he's a married father of five). That's not something that's going to be publicized because it is giving a veteran player special treatment.

But New England fully expected that Waters would show up late in training camp.

Earlier in the year, Waters and the Patriots agreed to a modified contract structure for this year that was to drop his base salary but offer per-game bonuses that would have put him at least to - and likely above - the $1.4 million base he originally signed for. The expectation was he would show up late in training camp. Waters has been durable in his career, so he likely would have earned all of the money, but New England was protected in case the 35-year old offensive lineman was injured. And a renegotiation such as that can't happen without the player agreeing to it.

Waters has not been with the Patriots since their loss in Super Bowl XLVI, after which he said he might retire. And despite the team allowing him to remain at home for as long as he needed and trying to entice him to return when he seemed hesitant to come back with a big bump in pay, he still has not reported.

Waters apparently would like to play - he just wants to play close to home, and Houston, which is a very good team and in his home state, has been floated as a possibility. But New England has dug in its heels and will not release him and allow him to sign with one of the strongest teams in the AFC, and probably isn't inclined to trade him either, certainly not to a rival or potential playoff opponent.

At this point, if Waters wants to play in 2012, he has one option: play for the Patriots.

Branch returning to Patriots

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff September 18, 2012 06:13 PM

The Patriots are bringing back receiver Deion Branch, according to a league source, days after the passing game took a hit with the ankle injury to Aaron Hernandez.

Branch was one of the team's final cuts during the preseason, but having him back on the team isn't a totally unexpected move. The Patriots never took Branch's name off his locker, which is still right next to quarterback Tom Brady's.

Branch is no stranger to the Patriots, having spent part of six seasons with New England, including 2011, when he caught five touchdown passes among his 51 receptions.

Inside the playbook: Questionable play-calling

Posted by Gary Dzen, Boston.com Staff September 18, 2012 04:23 PM

In the video clip above, Greg Bedard and Jermaine Wiggins discuss the play-calling of the Patriots in their 20-18 loss to the Cardinals in Week 2.

McDaniels discusses Welker's playing time

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff September 18, 2012 01:12 PM

Tuesday means the weekly teleconference with three Patriots coaches: Bill Belichick, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia. Since it's the only time McDaniels or Patricia answer media questions, it was the first time since Sunday's loss, with the decreased playing time of receiver Wes Welker still a hot topic among Patriots fans.

When asked about Welker's role, McDaniels said:

"I think Wes played a big role for us the other day, I think it just goes back to we feel like we’ve got a number of different guys that can contribute and help our offense and have earned the opportunities that they’re getting. I think Wes, whatever it was, we threw the ball his way 12 or 13 times, or somewhere in that neighborhood (he was actually targeted 11 times). He made a number of big plays for us.

"Each game plan ends up different. Sometimes we play guys a majority of the game, other times we feel like using some different rotations may give us some advantages, whether that’s a matchup we end up with in the front, or a personnel grouping that we expect the defense to give us, or even formationally ourselves in terms of what we try to do.

"There’s a number of factors that go into our game plan every week, but certainly he’s going to be a big part of our game plan each week that we go in and play."

Belichick would not confirm the signing of tight end Kellen Winslow: "I'm not going to talk about any players that are not on the current, active roster." He also said a report on injured tight end Aaron Hernandez -- presumably the reason Winslow has been signed -- until after practice tomorrow, when the first injury report of the week is owed to the league.

TE Kellen Winslow signs with Patriots

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff September 18, 2012 07:43 AM
The Patriots have signed free agent tight end Kellen Winslow, according to a tweet from the CEO of his management company.

"Congrats to our client @KellenWinslowJr for signing with the Patriots," was the tweet from Denise White of EAG Sports Management. It confirmed multiple reports a deal was close.

The move helps the Patriots fill a void left by Aaron Hernandez, who was injured in Sunday's loss to the Cardinals.

Winslow visited New England in the preseason. There are concerns about his knees, which may have played a role in the Patriots waiting until now to sign him. Under league rules, veterans on the 53-man roster for Week 1 have their salary guaranteed for the year. By inking Winslow now, if he cannot play, he can be released at any time and the Patriots will only owe him for the time he was on the roster.

The Patriots have Rob Gronkowski, Michael Hoomanawanui, and Daniel Fells already on the active roster at tight end.

Winslow played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers the last two seasons, and spent the summer with the Seahawks, but was released by Seattle eight days prior to the start of the 2012 season. He had 75 receptions for 763 yards in 2011, and played in 16 games. He played for the Cleveland Browns from 2004 to 2008, although he missed the entire 2005 season with a knee injury.

Edelman discusses moving on, getting more 'clock'

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff September 17, 2012 06:13 PM
Patriots players spent the bulk of their work day Monday breaking down Sunday's loss to Arizona and in meetings. Julian Edelman chatted briefly in the locker room about turning the page to Baltimore and his role with the offense.

On losing to the Cardinals
Regardless of the opponent, you're going to have to put a loss in the past. And personally, as an individual, I have, and now, I'm thinking about the Ravens. They're a tough team, on the road. You know, an AFC opponent. It's a crucial game.

Discussing his increased workload as a receiver
You know what? I just go into the game doing whatever the coaches ask me to do. I prepare each and every day like I'm going to be playing, and if my number is called, my number is called.

If things are different for him now that he's focused just on offense and special teams instead of offense, defense and special teams
I mean, I'm actually dealing with it the same. You go in on Tuesday, you get the game plan, you do what the coaches ask you to do and you go out there and you do it to the best of your ability. That's what I'm doing and that's what I will continue to do.

On Aaron Hernandez's injury
It's terrible to see one of your better players go down -- one of your best players. It's unfortunate. But we're going to have to move and and hope he gets back quick.

Are you where you want to be right now mentally and physically?
No, you're never where you want to be. You can always be better. That's what I'm striving to do.

Will the offense change at all without Hernandez?
You know, you're going to have to ask coach (Josh) McDaniels on that. My job as a player is to do what I'm asked to do. Like I said, he's a great player, but I have to focus on what I have to do to help contribute to this team.

Have you sensed a change in your role this year?
I've gotten a little more clock, so ... have you? Couple more snaps.

Belichick has little to offer on Welker, Hernandez situations

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff September 17, 2012 05:01 PM

Patriots coach Bill Belichick didn't provide much when pressed for details Monday about the top two story lines from Sunday's loss to the Arizona Cardinals.

Belichick had little to say about the status of tight end Aaron Hernandez, who injured his ankle in the first quarter, or receiver Wes Welker, whose role in the offense appeared to be reduced prior to Hernandez going down.

Earlier Monday, Welker mentioned in a WEEI interview that the time he missed in training camp because of a death in his family might have put him behind other players. Belichick dispelled that notion.

"Wes has a lot of experience around here. I think he’s one of our smartest and obviously most experienced players. I don’t really see him behind," Belichick said.

Belichick was also asked whether Julian Edelman, who started ahead of Welker, was a better option.

"We have different combinations of personnel groups out there in every game, all the time, pretty much every week. That’s pretty much the way we run our offense and we have for quite awhile. The players that we have out there are the ones that we feel are best for that particular play, situation, however you want to look at it. That’s the way we set up the plays, the offense, when they’re called then we put that group out there. Whatever is out there is what we feel is best for our team for that time, for that play, for that situation."

Regarding Hernandez, Belichick said he didn't know how it would affect the team's offense, didn't know if Hernandez had suffered any broken bones, and had no "preliminary sense" of how long Hernandez would be out.

Leading up to the Cardinals game, Welker wasn't sure if he'd start

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 17, 2012 11:37 AM

FOXBOROUGH -- Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker joined the "Mut & Merloni" show on WEEI radio this morning, telling the hosts and former Patriot Troy Brown that he was unsure if he'd get the start leading up to Sunday's 20-18 loss to the Arizona Cardinals.

"I really wasn't positive even leading up to the first series," Welker said. "I just wasn't sure. I just go out there and, whenever my number is called, I go out and play."

Welker didn't start the game but caught five passes for 95 yards and was targeted 11 times on Sunday. He's seen his playing time cut drastically in the first two weeks of the season, with Julian Edelman as well as Brandon Lloyd getting more snaps in his place.

"We got a lot of great players," Welker said. "With our tight ends, and running the football, our offense is a little bit different. A little bit more balanced and things like that. I guess it wasn't yesterday. But I'm a slot receiver for the most part."

Brady talks loss, Welker's role

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff September 17, 2012 09:17 AM
Tom Brady made his weekly appearance on WEEI early this morning and of course talked about the Pats' loss to Arizona Sunday, as well as Wes Welker and his role in the offense.

Not surprisingly, Brady downplayed the lack of snaps early for Welker, who did not start the game and did not get on the field until after Aaron Hernandez's injury. Julian Edelman started in his place and took the majority of the snaps as the number two receiver in the Pats' "12" personnel (one receiver, two tight ends, two receivers), a spot Welker has long occupied.

"It was just a personnel grouping where he's not in the game. We have a lot of different personnel groupings with him in the game. There's a lot of guys on the roster and we're trying to utilize every player," Brady said. "Hopefully everyone can contribute and have opportunity and be fresh and stay healthy. Because we need everybody; it's a long year."

Brady was more effusive in his praise of Welker as a person and teammate, just as he was Sunday after the game.

"I love Wes," he said. "He's like one of my best friends. What he does on a daily basis to prepare himself really motivates everybody else. He's a leader. He's so tough. I've been in so many critical, critical situations with him where he's worked so hard to do the right thing and be in the right place and make the play. He's a phenomenal player."

As for the Cardinals:

"This is a team that had won eight of their last 10 dating back to last year, so now it's nine of 11. We talked about them all week about being a team that plays hard for 60 minutes, that wins a lot of close games; they were 4-0 in overtime last year," Brady said. "So you know the principles of what they're built on and what they're capable of. I don't think we took them lightly at all. I thought we prepared hard. Everyone's trying to do the right thing. There's a lot of effort. It's just the execution. That requires more attention to detail and more concentration. And that's what we've got to try to do a better job of.

"You can never overlook a team. And we certainly never have done that and we never will do that. I think what happened yesterday is we just didn't play the way that we needed to be able to play for 60 minutes to win a game. Until we do that, they're going to be very competitive, like they were yesterday."

Brady also said the Cardinals didn't do much that was a surprise to the Patriots, and explained the loss as a lack of execution by the Patriots.

With several players pointing to a less-than-crisp week of practice leading up to the game, Brady acknowledged that it wasn't their best, but also indicated it might be an early-season blip.

"It's the second week of the year," he said. "It's not like we've got everything figured out as a team yet in practice or in games, obviously. The way we played yesterday is probably pretty much the way we practiced last week; it was just up and down. We make good plays and then we make bad plays, and good plays and bad plays. The problem with that offensively -- or defensively -- is you can't string together drives. That was our problem yesterday."

Of Stephen Gostkowski's miss on the game-winning kick, he said, "He always makes those. He's been the best kicker, the most accurate kicker in the history of our team. He's a great kicker. Everyone's confident, he was confident, sometimes you just miss them. Sometimes as a quarterback you just miss a throw, sometimes as a linebacker you just miss a tackle or you drop a ball. That's just football. It's never one play. … It's easy now to point a finger at one player or one play. But the reality is it was a lot of plays by a lot of guys where we need to do a better job so that it doesn't come down to a kick at the end of the game."

5 takeaways from Patriots-Cardinals

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 16, 2012 07:53 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- The Patriots' loss to the Arizona Cardinals highlighted a number of evolving issues with this team, from Wes Welker's role and the offensive line's struggles to the team's offensive execution, and Ras-I Dowling's place on the defense.

Let's get right to it.

1) The offensive line had a tough time -- Nate Solder appeared to fix any problems from last week against the Titans in a solid effort. But the Patriots' interior linemen were having a difficult day dealing with the likes of Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell. Campbell had 10 tackles and two sacks, manhandling guards Donald Thomas and Logan Mankins at times. Cardinals lineman Sam Acho also got loose for a 10-yard sack and had a tackle for a loss. Afterward, Thomas was obviously not happy with his performance.

"I mean, the game plan was to control those guys up front," Thomas said. "They got a good line. We just had to execute really better. They played well today. I can't take anything from them.

"At the end of the day, we just didn't execute well enough to win the game ... I'm my hardest critic. So you know, I look at all the plays I had. I'm gonna go back and take a look at them. Since I've been playing football I've never been satisfied with the way I've played. I'm certainly not satisfied today. I'll go back and just try to get better each week."

2) With Aaron Hernandez's injury, Wes Welker filled the vacuum -- Welker was looking at another down day after Julian Edelman started and Welker stood on the sideline in the team's base offense. It wasn't until Aaron Hernandez went down with a right ankle injury that Welker's snaps picked up. He ended up being targeted 11 times, catching five passes for 95 yards. He took the franchise lead in receptions. When Tom Brady needed a huge pickup, he was looking in Welker's and Rob Gronkowski's direction. It's safe to say that Hernandez would've picked up some of those plays. It's also safe to say that Edelman, who had a terrific offseason, deserves some increased playing time. But it's befuddling that Welker was initially minimized.

"Aaron is in there almost every play, so [the offense] changes quite a bit," Welker said. "You have to go to a different attack and go out there and play the way we need to and execute the way we need to and today just wasn't enough."

3) The Patriots had trouble getting their hurry-up offense going -- Again, when the Patriots go to their hurry-up offense, they have good rhythm and tend to pick up yards in chunks. But Sunday's offensive blunders stemmed from an inability to stay in a hurry-up offense, either because of penalties or disruptive plays. The Patriots were penalized eight times Sunday for 60 yards. But what's more, when the team did get going in the third quarter in its hurry-up offense, it had running plays for losses. Both Stevan Ridley and Danny Woodhead were hit in the backfield. They have to do a better job.

"We just didn't come out firing," said Welker. "We didn't have a great week of practice and coach made a point of that, that we needed to almost play some catch-up. We really didn't do things necessary to come away with a win, especially early. We have to start faster than that and come out and play from ahead and do things the way we need to."

4) What's up with Ras-I Dowling? -- As players come back from injury, others will have their roles shifted. That can't be any more apparent than it is with Ras-I Dowling, who didn't play one snap Sunday, wasn't listed on the injury report, and wasn't one of the team's eight inactive players. Last week, he was the Patriots' third cornerback off the bench as Sterling Moore was nursing a knee injury. Moore returned today, playing in the team's nickel and dime packages as the team's right cornerback, with Kyle Arrington shifting inside to the star and Tavon Wilson playing a hybrid safety and linebacker. There's no telling if this could change going forward.

5) Another solid day for the youngsters -- Stevan Ridley had another good game (18 carries, 71 yards) and rookies Chandler Jones (five tackles, tackle for a loss, quarterback hit), Dont'a Hightower (five tackles, tackle for a loss), and Wilson (fumble recovery) are all doing a good job. Jones in particular was a bright spot for the Patriots defense. He was chasing Kevin Kolb around quite a bit. You can tell that, given a few seconds, he can snuff out any quarterback.

Rob Gronkowski: 'I felt like it was a clean block'

Posted by Steve Silva, Boston.com Staff September 16, 2012 06:01 PM
Before the missed kick, there was the crushing penalty.

With just under a minute to go in the fourth quarter with the Cardinals clinging to a 20-18 lead, Patriots running back Danny Woodhead bolted into the open field and appeared to score the go-ahead touchdown on a 30-yard run.

But then came the flag. And a hush settled over Gillette Stadium as the too-good-to-be-true play was called back.

During Woodhead's scramble to the end zone, tight end Rob Gronkowski was called for holding. No touchdown.

Gronkowski was visibly upset with the official's call, but was more solemn in the locker room after the game.

"I felt like it was a clean block," Gronkowski said. "My hands were right inside but gotta look at the film, you guys saw it, too. You guys probably saw the replay, so you can tell me if my hands were outside or not."

How painful of a loss was it?

"It was difficult," Gronkowski said. "I gotta go out there and play better. First three quarters, gotta go out there and play better. Start of the game, gotta go out there start faster, start stronger. Overall just gotta improve in every aspect of the game. Can't be going out there and doing that."

Gronkowski spoke about the frustration that ensued when the penalty was called.

"Obviously frustrating," Gronkowski said. "You saw me out there. Not good, can't have penalties."

Gronkowski refused to let his kicker take the heat for the shocking home-opening loss.

"Stephen [Gostkowski] does a great job," Gronkowski said. "He kicked four great field goals to keep us in the game. Definitely the loss is not on him. The loss could be on me. I got that penalty in the end, holding the guy, can't have things like [that] happen and it's definitely not on Stephen, great kicker and a great player."

The Patriots were sluggish through three quarters before turning it on in the fourth.

"We were playing awful," Gronkowski said. "I was playing awful. I gotta go out there play better, play faster, play stronger. And not just the fourth quarter. Just staying in the game's not good enough. You gotta be out there the whole game playing hard."

Luck turns to ire on Patriots' final drive

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 16, 2012 05:26 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- After recovering a fumble with a little more than a minute to go and setting up a winning field goal try with five seconds left, the stars were aligned for the Patriots to end Sunday's game against the Cardinals in dramatic fashion.

So how did it go so wrong when everything was going so right? Stephen Gostkowski missed a 42-yard field goal attempt, pushing it wide left, and the Cardinals hung on, 20-18.

Let's go over each play in that final sequence, starting with the fumble by Cardinals running back Ryan Williams.

On third and 13 at the Arizona 35 with 1:10 remaining, Brandon Spikes burst through the line and blew up Williams, relieving him of the ball in the process. Vince Wilfork recovered the fumble, giving the Patriots the ball at the Arizona 30 with 1:01 left. It was more than enough time to punch it in the end zone or set up Gostkowski for the winning field goal.

"It was a big play for us," said linebacker Jerod Mayo. "But there were a lot of plays out there that we should have made that we just gave up."

On the Patriots' first play, Brady threw it in the dirt to Wes Welker on an out route to his left. Three seconds ticked off the clock.

On second and 10, Danny Woodhead bounced to the outside and ripped off a 30-yard touchdown that was called back because of a holding penalty on tight end Rob Gronkowski. Six seconds ticked off the clock. Gronkowski was called for a false start two plays later.

"It's frustrating," Gronkowski said. "You saw me out there [mad]. They were not good. You can't have penalties."

Said Woodhead: "Whenever I get the opportunity, I try to make the most of it. I had 10 guys out there doing everything they could to give me some space. I tried to do what I could and it ended up coming back and that's how it went."

With the touchdown negated, the Patriots went back to their shotgun formation, and Brady fired a pass to Welker down the left side for 12 yards. Welker got out of bounds, and the Patriots were at the Cardinals' 18-yard line with 52 seconds on the clock.

At that point, the Patriots opted to line up the kick for Gostkowski instead of attempting to score a touchdown. Gronkowski was flagged for a false start as Brady attempted to sneak to the center of the field, pushing the Patriots back five yards to the 23. The Patriots ran the same play again, letting 39 seconds come off the clock.

"Yeah, it's just a decision that coach makes," Brady said about opting for the field goal. "I think we were a little closer and we had a penalty there that moved us back five more. You know, penalties hurt us a few times today. Like I said, offensively, when you don't play well and you don't play consistently, if you're not going to get a big play, then you have to drive the ball and you can't drive the ball if you're always two steps forward, one step back. That's the way it felt today. We'd get the drive going and then there would be a negative play and we'd be forced to try to make a miraculous play to get back on track. It just wasn't a very good day in that sense."

With seven seconds remaining, Brady spiked the ball to put the game on Gostkowski's shoulders. Two seconds go off the clock. Gostkowski kicked it wide left and the Cardinals raced onto the field to celebrate. Gillette Stadium was quietly confused.

"We put a lot of pressure on a lot of field goal teams," said Arizona cornerback Patrick Peterson. "I think he was a little scared of us, honestly, that is why he pushed it left."

Said Gostkowski: "You had an opportunity to win the game. I'd had a good game up until that point and I felt good going out there. It was just one of those things, you get opportunities like that not very often and I have to do a lot better job of coming through for the team. I had a chance to win and it came down to me and I didn't pull through and it stinks. I feel bad for the fans and my teammates. I can't take it back now. I went out there and felt good about the kick and just didn't execute."

Afterward, Gostkowski's teammates came to his defense.

"He's an unbelievable kicker," Woodhead said. "As a team, we lost the game and that's how it always is. Offense, defense, special teams, we all play together and we as a team didn't score enough points. That's how it happened. It's not one person's fault."

Said Gronkowski: "Definitely [it's a team loss]. Stephen does a great job. He kicked four great field goals to keep us in the game. The loss is not on him. The loss could be on me. I got that penalty at the end holding the guy. You can't have things like that happen. It's definitely not on Stephen. He's a great kicker and a great player."

Belichick: 'That wasn't our best effort'

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 16, 2012 05:11 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Patriots coach Bill Belichick was quick and to the point about Sunday's 20-18 loss to the Arizona Cardinals. He was not happy.

"Well unfortunately that wasn't our best effort out there today," Belichick said. "But give Arizona credit. They're a good football team. They made the plays they had to make to win. We had our chances and in the end we just couldn't make enough of them, we just couldn't do enough. Hopefully we can play better, coach better next week; do a better job. Just didn't do well enough today, it's as simple as that. In any phase of the game. Plenty of mistakes out there. We need to correct them. We need to coach better, we need to play better, we need to do better than that."

Belichick was asked about playing it safe to set up Stephen Gostkowski's failed 42-yard field goal attempt that would've have won the game as time expired.

"We scored a touchdown, got it called back," Belichick said. "We had a touchdown called back."

He had no comment on the status of Aaron Hernandez, who left in the first half with an ankle injury.

Stephen Gostkowski: 'Sometimes the ball just doesn't fly your way'

Posted by Steve Silva, Boston.com Staff September 16, 2012 05:10 PM
It was a rare miss for the Patriots dependable kicker, but what a big miss it was.

After a frantic back-and-forth fourth quarter, the Patriots were in position to snatch victory from defeat at Gillette Stadium Sunday but Stephen Gostkowski, who had been 4 for 4 on field goals against the Arizona Cardinals, including a pair longer than 50 yards, pushed his 42-yard attempt wide left and the Patriots went down to a stunning 20-18 defeat.

Gostkowski took the heat for the loss.

"We had an opportunity to win the game," Gostkowski said. "I'd had a good game up until that point, and I felt good going out there. It's just one of those things, you get opportunities like that not very often, and I've got to do a lot better job of coming through for the team. I had a chance to win and it came down to me, and I didn't pull through and it stinks. I feel bad for the fans and my teammates. I can't take it back now, I went out there feeling good about the kick and just didn't execute."

Gostkowski said he felt confident about making the kick.

"I felt good going out there and it wasn't the smoothest hit, and I looked up and I saw it was left, and you know, sometimes the ball just doesn't fly your way. There's probably not another game where I'd be more confident going out for a kick like that, and it humbles you really quick.''

The Patriots kicker is ready to move on.

"I'm not scared to fail, and it stinks when you do but I wouldn't go out there every day if I was scared to screw up," he said. "I'll feel bad about this for a couple of days. I'm sure I'll get ripped for it by the fans and stuff, but it's well deserved. My teammates have my back and no one feels worse about missing the kick than I do."

Hernandez on crutches, in boot postgame

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 16, 2012 05:04 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez was seen using crutches and with a boot on his right foot after the Patriots lost to the Arizona Cardinals, 20-18, Sunday.

Hernandez was injured in the first quarter on the Patriots' second offensive series. He was blocking on a screen pass to Julian Edelman and suffered what appeared to be a rolled ankle.

The Patriots announced late in the first quarter that his return was questionable. Hernandez never returned to the game.

Video: Patriots fans fired up for football in Foxborough

Posted by Steve Silva, Boston.com Staff September 16, 2012 02:32 PM
On a chamber of commerce day for football, Patriots fans were fired up for the first home game of the season in Foxborough.

Patriots 6, Cardinals 6: Halftime thoughts

Posted by Greg A. Bedard September 16, 2012 02:31 PM

FOXBOROUGH – Some quickie thoughts at halftime:

  • The right ankle injury to Aaron Hernandez looks serious. Just a guess, but it’s either broken, or it’s a bad high ankle sprain. He can’t be put on injured reserve to be brought back later this season. The Patriots used that designation for Visanthe Shiancoe.
  • Not having Hernandez changes a lot for the Patriots. The offense was centered around him. But they can adjust after this game. They’ve played without him before. Look for Wes Welker to become more of a force in this offense. It looks like Welker was a complete non-factor in the gameplan going into the game. He’s barely played after Hernandez went out.
  • The Patriots will have to debate after this game whether to stay with tight ends, perhaps add another, or just bring a guy like Deion Branch and/or Jabar Gaffney and add in more receivers to the mix.
  • The Hernandez injury does not change the goal. This team can still win a Super Bowl, no question. They’ll just have to retool a little. We saw offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien do it in 2010 after the Randy Moss trade. Now it’s Josh McDaniels’ turn.
  • The Hernandez injury has obviously affected the offense, but I don’t know why Tom Brady keeps feeding Brandon Lloyd. Feed Rob Gronkowski.
  • If I’m Brady, I’m telling McDaniels and Bill Belichick that I need Welker in the game in the second half. Edelman deserves some time, but come on. And TE Michael Hoomanawanui struggles blocking. They should keep him on the sidelines and let Welker play.
  • Nothing wrong with the Patriots’ defense so far. They just need to keep doing what they’re doing. Kevin Kolb started getting affected by pressure late in the first half. Patriots need to keep the pressure on in the second half and let Kolb make some mistakes.
  • The Patriots are having an off day on special teams. Should have had a punt blocked.

Aaron Hernandez down with injury

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 16, 2012 01:27 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez appeared to have injured his right ankle on the Patriots' third offensive play of the game today.

He was helped back to the sideline and then straight to the locker room.

Update (1:38 p.m.): The Patriots have announced that his return is questionable.

Update (2:47 p.m.): The Globe's Shalise Manza Young reports that X-rays were negative for Hernandez, meaning there was no broken ankle. Any other potential damage is unknown at this point.

Final: Cardinals 20, Patriots 18

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 16, 2012 12:51 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Despite four field goals on the day, including two from beyond 50 yards, Stephen Gostkowski's 42-yard attempt with seconds remaining in the game was wide left as the Patriots fell to the Arizona Cardinals 20-18.

It was the first time the Patriots had lost their home opener at Gillette Stadium, and the first time they had lost a home opener since 2001.

It was a huge emotional swing for the Patriots after the team's defense came up with a timely turnover with little more than a minute remaining in the game. Patriots linebacker Brandon Spikes forced a fumble and Vince Wilfork recovered, giving the Patriots the ball at the Arizona 30-yard line.

1:01 4th quarter: Cardinals 20, Patriots 18 -- Brandon Spikes forced a fumble on Ryan Williams and it was recovered by Vince Wilfork, giving the Patriots the ball in Arizona territory.

2:06 4th quarter: Cardinals 20, Patriots 18 -- Tom Brady found Rob Gronkowski for a 5-yard touchdown pass -- the team's first touchdown of the day -- as the Patriots edged closer to the Cardinals with time winding down. The Patriots went for the 2-point conversion, with Brady targeting Gronkowski again but unable to connect. Gronkowski was hit at the line and smother on an out route.

5:54 4th quarter: Cardinals 20, Patriots 12 -- The Patriots defense came up with a huge three-and out. Patrick Chung broke up a pass to Early Doucet and Devin McCourty had tight enough coverage on Larry Fitzgerald to keep him from getting a catch and first down in single coverage.

6:45 4th quarter: Cardinals 20, Patriots 12 -- Stephen Gostkowski kicked his fourth field goal of the day, a 54-yarder, as the Patriots closed the lead to eight points.

Arizona defensive lineman Calais Campbell made his presence felt in the last series. He got hit on Tom Brady to hurry him into an incompletion and stuffed Danny Woodhead for no gain, leading to Gostkowski's 53-yard attempt.

7:56 4th quarter: Cardinals 20, Patriots 9 -- The Cardinals are trying to protect their lead now, running the ball four times before passing on a third-and-long for no gain.

Unfortunately for the Patriots, Vince Wilfork looked nicked up on the play. He lumbered to the sideline on his own, but was in obvious pain. The source looked to be his right leg.

12:07 4th quarter: Cardinals 20, Patriots 9 -- Tom Brady completed a 22-yard pass to Rob Gronkowski, two passes to Brandon Lloyd (one being reviewed and upheld), but couldn't convert on a third-down pass to Lloyd that was dropped. On third-and-1, Stevan Ridley was tackled in the backfield by Patrick Peterson before the Patriots punted.

14:00 4th quarter: Cardinals 20, Patriots 9 -- Cardinals QB Kevin Kolb snuck right up the middle for a 5-yard touchdown run. The Cardinals saw a solid drive from Kolb, who completed passes to Todd Heap, Early Doucet and Rob Housler before sneaking in of first-and-goal at the 5-yard line.

End of 3d quarter: Cardinals 13, Patriots 9 -- The Patriots defense is tripping itself up here. Two penalties on one play, including a rougher the passer on Brandon Spikes and hit out of bounds by Steve Gregory on top of a 28-yard completion from Kevin Kolb to Todd Heap. Arizona is in the red zone.

2:46 3d quarter: Cardinals 13, Patriots 9 -- Despite four first downs, the Patriots weren't able to respond to the Cardinals' touchdown in the third quarter. Danny Woodhead was tackled for a 9-yard loss on third down by Darnell Dockett and the Patriots were forced to punt for the fifth time today.

8:52 3d quarter: Cardinals 13, Patriots 9 -- Kevin Kolb threw a quick pass to Andre Roberts on a pick play, and Cardinals re-took the lead on the 2-yard touchdown.

It was a quick three-play drive, capitalizing on the blocked punt, an unusual mishap for the Patriots. It was the first time punter Zoltan Mesko had been blocked in his career.

9:41 3d quarter: Patriots 9, Cardinals 6 -- Cardinals LB Quentin Groves blocked Zoltan Mesko's punt and Arizona takes over at the Patriots' 2.

10:49 3d quarter: Patriots 9, Cardinals 6 -- Dont'a Hightower made a nice play to shed a block and tackle Cardinals RB Beanie Wells in the backfield. The Patriots held the Cardinals to four plays on offense before they were forced to punt.

12:58 3d quarter: Patriots 9, Cardinals 6 -- Stephen Gostkowski kicked a 51-yard field goal as the Patriots took their first lead of the game.

Tom Brady connected with Wes Welker for a 36-yard pass to get the Patriots down field before the team's drive stalled. It was Gostkowski's third field goal.

15:00 3d quarter: Patriots 6, Cardinals 6 -- We're about to kickoff for the second half.

End of 2d quarter: Patriots 6, Cardinals 6 -- At the half, the Patriots are clearly struggling to get their passing game going against the Arizona Cardinals. Tom Brady is 7 of 12 for 75 yards so far. We've seen Brady miss connections with Brandon Lloyd and Rob Gronkowski, leading both a little too much at times.

But on the bright side, we've seen the team's running game produce so far. Stevan Ridley has 11 carries for 54 yards. His longest was a 20-yarder in the second quarter.

With Aaron Hernandez going down with an ankle injury, we've certainly seen the offense change a little bit. We're seeing more Julian Edelman (who started), Wes Welker and TE Michael Hoomanawanui. Edelman it appears is taking a majority of the snaps while Welker has taken over for any receiving duties for Hernandez.

Chandler Jones has continued to impress on the defensive line. He has another forced fumble and has been a presence in the Cardinals' backfield. We're also seeing a good game out of Brandon Spikes, who had a terrific spin move to get in Kevin Kolb's face.

0:06 2d quarter: Patriots 6, Cardinals 6 -- Tom Brady hit Wes Welker for his first catch of the day, a 25-yard flag route in front of the safety's face. It was Welker's 558th catch as a Patriot, taking the franchise lead after being tied with Troy Brown. It was also Welker's first target of the day.

Unfortunately for the Patriots, their drive was stalled after an incomplete pass to Rob Gronkowski in the end zone and 0-yard sack by Arizona DL Calais Campbell on Brady. That'll take us into the half.

2:59 2d quarter: Patriots 6, Cardinals 6 -- The Patriots held the Cardinals to a three-and-out, with LB Brandon Spikes getting a first down tackle for loss on running back Beanie Wells.

4:35 2d quarter: Patriots 6, Cardinals 6 -- This was not the prettiest drive we've seen from the Patriots. Tom Brady was sacked twice, once by Arizona DT Sam Acho and once by LB Quintin Groves. Add in a false start, and the Patriots punted away mercifully.

6:04 2d quarter: Patriots 6, Cardinals 6 -- Arizona QB Kevin Kolb tried to scramble for a first down on third-and-6, but was stripped by Rob Ninkovich Chandler Jones and rookie safety Tavon Wilson caught the ball as it was coming right out of Kolb's hands.

9:08 2d quarter: Patriots 6, Cardinals 6 -- Stevan Ridley is continuing to impress with a strong game. He broke off runs for 12 and 10 yards, helping the Patriots to another field goal. This time, Stephen Gostkowkski kicked a 34-yarder, notching the game up at 6. He would've had a 27-yard field goal attempt, but the Patriots were flagged for a false start before the attempt. It was a seven-play, 30-yard drive.

12:53 2d quarter: Cardinals 6, Patriots 3 -- Chandler Jones drew a holding call on Arizona left tackle D'Anthony Batiste and the Patriots held the Cardinals to four plays, forcing them to punt again.

14:40 2d quarter: Cardinals 6, Patriots 3 -- After a strong run by Stevan Ridley for 20 yards, Tom Brady followed it up with two incomplete passes to Brandon Lloyd as the Patriots were forced to punt for the first time today.

End of 1st quarter: Cardinals 6, Patriots 3 -- The Patriots have announced that Aaron Hernandez's return to the game is questionable with a high right ankle injury.

Rob Ninkovich recorded his first sack of the season, getting to Cardinals quarterback Kevin Kolb before he could scramble away.

2:27 1st quarter: Cardinals 6, Patriots 3 -- Stephen Gostkowski with a 46-yard field goal as the Patriots finally get on the board. But a big hit for the Patriots was on the team's third offensive play of the game. Tight end Aaron Hernandez went down with what appeared to be a right ankle injury. He was helped off the field and taken to the locker room. More details to come as we get them.

7:42 1st quarter: Cardinals 6, Patriots 0 -- Jay Feely kicked his second field goal of the game, this time a 47-yarder, as the Cardinals capitalized on Tom Brady's interception.

The Cardinals only managed four plays this time around though in their second series. Kevin Kolb couldn't connect with Larry Fitzgerald and Todd Heap on the drive.

8:31 1st quarter: Cardinals 3, Patriots 0 -- Tom Brady was intercepted on a tipped pass by Arizona CB Patrick Peterson. The pass was tipped by DT Darnell Dockett.

8:42 1st quarter: Cardinals 3, Patriots 0 -- The Cardinals ate up a bunch of the clock in the first quarter, driving 60 yards on 13 plays before Jay Feely kicked in a 38-yard field goal.

We got to see CB Patrick Peterson in the wildcat for Arizona (17-yard rush) and Patriots corner Sterling Moore made his return, taking over duties for Ras-I Dowling in the nickel and dime packages.


15:00 1st quarter: Patriots 0, Cardinals 0 -- The Patriots have won the coin toss and have deferred to the second half. They'll kickoff to start the game.

Pregame: Patriots 0, Cardinals 0 -- The game is about to kickoff. The Patriots and Cardinals have taken the field and we're getting ready for the coin toss.

It's a beautiful day for some football. Enjoy the game and stay with us right here for all game updates.

@zuriberry

Cardinals at Patriots: 5 keys, prediction

Posted by Greg A. Bedard September 16, 2012 11:57 AM

FOXBOROUGH - Gorgeous day for football. Here are my five keys for the Patriots against the Cardinals today, with my prediction down below.

  1. Control DT Darnell Dockett: The Cardinals have some talented defenders, but Dockett makes everything go. The Patriots have to control him at the line or else Dockett will open opportunities for other players. Hopefully we get a Logan Mankins-Dockett matchup most of the game. That would be be fun. I would expect the Patriots to give Mankins help because he is not moving as well from before his knee problems.
  2. Hit QB Kevin Kolb early: The book on Kolb is you hit him in the mouth early and he’s done for the game. He’ll look at the rush instead of down the field, and when a QB does that, he’ll be useless. The Cardinals’ line is subpar. Unless he gets chipped all day, DE Chandler Jones should have four sacks against journeyman LT D’Anthony Batiste. Actually, the entire Cardinals line save LG Daryn Colledge is below average. They can’t pass block, and couldn’t run block against the Seahawks either.
  3. Double WR Larry Fitzgerald: The only offensive player that is a threat for the Cardinals is the exquisite Fitzgerald. So roll a safety over the top of him and make Kolb beat you with three average tight ends, and two receivers (Early Doucet and Michael Floyd) who haven’t done much. The Cardinals will use Andre Roberts in a bunch of ways, and he has some skills, but he can be managed.
  4. Manage PR Patrick Peterson: Peterson, the CB, is a terrific punt returner. Patriots punter Zoltan Mesko needs to angle his kicks and have a good hangtime so the Patriots can cover well. Or just kick it out of bounds.
  5. Have an answer for press coverage: The Cardinals’ run the same defensive scheme as the Steelers. Even Dick LeBeau realized last season that playing zone blitz against Tom Brady is a losing proposition. So he changed up, and played all man to man. The Patriots had no answer. They better have one for this game, because Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton is a LeBeau disciple and probably took a lot of notes on that game. The Cardinals can matchup decently well with the Patriots in man coverage. Also expect the Patriots to run a lot of misdirection, both in the run and pass game to make the Cardinals’ speed on defense work against them.


Prediction

The Patriots will have a few struggles on offense against a good, solid Cardinals scheme. However, I have a hard time seeing how the Cardinals move the ball at all on offense. They can’t run the ball. Fitzgerald is the only legit threat on offense. The Patriots should be able to manhandle the Cardinals’ line up front. That adds up to a big, easy win.

Patriots 31, Cardinals 3

Shane Vereen inactive for today's game against Cardinals

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 16, 2012 11:33 AM

FOXBOROUGH -- Patriots running back Shane Vereen is inactive for today's game against the Arizona Cardinals after being listed as questionable with a foot injury.

Also inactive are WR Greg Salas, CB Alfonzo Dennard (hamstring), TE Daniel Fells (shin), DE Jake Bequette, DL Justin Francis and DL Marcus Forston.

Dan Connolly, Nick McDonald, Sebastian Vollmer and Sterling Moore, who were all listed as questionable for today's game, are active.

Cardinals inactives for today's game

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 16, 2012 11:30 AM

FOXBOROUGH -- The Cardinals have announced their inactive players for today's game against the Patriots, including quarterback John Skelton, who was listed as doubtful in Friday's injury report.

Also inactive are WR LaRon Byrd, RB William Powell, LB Jamaal Westerman, Ol Senio Kelemete, OL Pat McQuistan, and TE Jim Dray.

Patriots-Cardinals story lines: Cardinals d-line, Welker, and the o-line

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 16, 2012 11:18 AM

FOXBOROUGH -- A look at some of today's story lines against the Arizona Cardinals.

How will Arizona's impressive defensive line affect the Patriots' running game? -- Between Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett, the strength of the Cardinals' defense is up front. With great safety help in Adrian Wilson and Kerry Rhodes, as well as cornerback Patrick Peterson, it will be interesting to see how the Patriots utilize Stevan Ridley in Week 2 and whether or not he'll see the same holes he did in Week 1.

How many targets will Wes Welker get? -- You're going to get tired of hearing this. But, forgetting what you're being told or what's being written, it bears noting how many actual targets Wes Welker receives. Last week he received five total, catching three passes for 14 yards. It was a timid opening for the veteran receiver who caught 122 passes last season and a drastic difference from the 2011 opener in which he was targeted 12 times and caught eight passes for 160 yards and two touchdowns. Let's see the actual targets before we start looking at Welker's role as if it's diminishing or changing.

How will the offensive line look? -- After Dan Connolly's head injury against the Titans (reportedly passed all of his concussion tests the same day), and with Sebastian Vollmer still working his way back, keep an eye on this unit given their health. Also, Nate Solder gave up a huge sack on Tom Brady against the Titans. And while Brady was hurried only eight times, he benefited greatly from a strong running game and getting the ball out quickly. So while Week 1 was seen as a great success for the line that was the talk of the offseason, keep an eye on their performance for Week 2 and what side of the line actually struggles.

Game 2: Cardinals at Patriots

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 16, 2012 10:30 AM

091612gillette607.jpg

The view from the Gillette Stadium press box before the fans are allowed into the stadium for Sunday's Patriots home opener against the Arizona Cardinals.

FOXBOROUGH -- Good morning from Gillette Stadium as the Patriots get ready to take on the Arizona Cardinals in Week 2 of the regular season, the Patriots' home opener.

The Patriots are the league's best team at home, winning 83 percent (67-13) of their regular season games since Gillette Stadium opened in 2002. The team has won 15 of their last 17 home openers and all 10 at Gillette.

Arizona comes into today's game having beaten NFC West rival Seattle 20-16, holding the Seahawks on a pivotal fourth quarter drive in the red zone to win their season opener. Cardinals quarterback John Skelton was injured in the game. He's listed as doubtful. Kevin Kolb replaced Skelton, going 6 of 8 passing for 66 yards and a touchdown. He'll get the start today.

The Patriots come into the game 1-0 after beating the Tennessee Titans in Week 1, 34-13, led by running back Stevan Ridley, who rushed for 125 yards on 21 carries including one touchdown. Tom Brady was 23 of 31 passing for 236 yards and two touchdowns, including scoring strikes to tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski.

However, the Patriots are a little nicked up. Dan Connolly suffered a head injury against the Titans, having limited participation in Thursday and Friday's practices. If he's unable to go, Donald Thomas will get his snaps at right guard in the starting lineup. He's listed as questionable. Also questionable are RT Sebastian Vollmer (back), who split time with second-year tackle Marcus Cannon. RB Shane Vereen (foot), CB Sterling Moore (knee), OL Nick McDonald (shoulder), TE Daniel Feels (shin), and CB Alfonzo Dennard (hamstring) are all listed as questionable, too.

Safety Patrick Chung is listed as probable with a shoulder injury he suffered in the preseason.

The series between these two franchises is split right down the middle, with the Patriots and Cardinals each taking six games. However, the last time these two teams played, the Patriots burned Arizona 47-7 at Gillette Stadium in 2008 before the Cardinals advanced to the Super Bowl, a loss against the Pittsburgh Steelers. It was the only time the two teams had played at Gillette Stadium.

If the Patriots win today, Bill Belichick will earn his 194th career victory and move into sole possession of eighth place all time for NFL coaches. He's currently tied with Chuck Knox.

Brady needs 25 yards passing to pass Johnny Unitas (40,239) and move into 13th place all-time passing and he needs 337 yards to pass childhood hero Joe Montana (40,551) to move into 12th place.

Wes Welker needs one catch to pass Patriots hall of fame receiver Troy Brown on the franchise's all-time receptions list. He's currently tied with Brown with 557 catches.

Here are the game's details:

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

Records: Patriots 1-0; Cardinals 1-0.

TV/Radio info: WFXT-TV Ch. 25 (Dick Stockton, John Lynch, Jennifer Hale); 98.5-FM The Sports Hub (Gil Santos, Scott Zolak).

Projected starting lineups:
Based on information distributed to the media, practice observations, and injuries for each team.

Patriots offense: WR Wes Welker, LT Nate Solder, LG Logan Mankins, C Ryan Wendell, RG Dan Connolly, RT Sebastian Vollmer, TE Rob Gronkowski, WR Brandon Lloyd, QB Tom Brady, RB Stevan Ridley, TE Aaron Hernandez.

Patriots defense: NT Vince Wilfork DT Kyle Love, RDE Chandler Jones, LB/DE Ron Ninkovich, LB Jerod Mayo, LB Dont'a Hightower, LB Brandon Spikes, CB Devin McCourty, CB Kyle Arrington, S Steve Gregory, S Patrick Chung.

Cardinals offense: WR Larry Fitzgerald, LT D'Anthony Batiste, LG Daryn Colledge, C Lyle Sendlein, RG Adam SNyder, RT Bobby Massie, TE Jeff King, WR Andre Roberts, QB Kevin Kolb, RB Beanie Wells, FB Anthony Sherman.

Cardinals defense: DE Calais Campbell, NT Dan Williams, DT Darnell Dockett, ROLB Sam Acho, ILB Paris Lenon, ILB Daryl Washington, LOLB O'Brien Schofield, LCB Patrick Peterson, RCB William Gay, SS Adrian Wilson, FS Kerry Rhodes.

Inactives
TBA

Troy Brown is 18th player inducted into Patriots Hall

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff September 15, 2012 07:45 PM

With the September sun shining overhead and hundreds of fans filling the plaza outside of the Hall at Patriot Place, receiver/special teamer/cornerback Troy Brown was inducted into the franchise's Hall of Fame Saturday evening.

Brown is the 18th player and 19th individual to be enshrined in the Patriots' Hall, and the first to have been with the team for all three of its Super Bowl wins in 2001, '03 and '04.

"Troy Brown didn't adhere to the Patriot Way -- he defined it," owner Robert Kraft said before presenting Brown with the red jacket inductees receive.

An eighth-round pick out of Marshall in 1993, Brown was released for the first seven weeks of the 1994 regular season and working at a Boys & Girls Club before then-general manager Bobby Grier called him with an opportunity to return.

From that point through his final season in 2007, Brown would become the franchise leader in receptions, punt returns and punt return yardage, and in 2004, at 33, was pressed into service as a cornerback and pulled in three interceptions.

Earlier this year, in his first year of eligibility, Brown was overwhelmingly selected as this year's inductee through an online fan vote.

In a wide-ranging acceptance speech, Brown thanked his mother, who he said is incredibly giving and sacrificed quite a bit, not only for Brown and his two siblings, but also for her own siblings, whom she helped raise.

He also pointed out his two sons, Sir'mon and SaanJay, who he said continue to be his inspiration. The boys were upset when Brown retired, but their father assured them that they weren't going anywhere.

Indeed, as Brown noted, Patriots fans have always treated him as though he were a New England native, not born in South Carolina.

After his comments, Brown was joined on stage by former teammates Drew Bledsoe, Ty Law, Kevin Faulk and Tedy Bruschi and the five reminisced about their playing days, recalling the practice fields the Patriots used to use at nearby Wrentham State School and the tiny indoor practice facility they used to have.

Each also shared a favorite Troy Brown moment, though Bruschi noted that if there were just one great moment, they wouldn't all be gathered for Brown's induction into the Patriots Hall of Fame.

Here are some of Brown's comments from a chat with reporters after the ceremony:

On the ceremony overall:
We had a wonderful time. I looked up and I saw so many people lining the steps and just people cheering. It makes you feel about everything you were able to do and everything you were able to accomplish on the football field, out in the community, because to me as well, it's been more about the stuff I did off the football field. The memories that you helped create off the football field. And I think people really appreciate that a whole lot more than a lot of the things you do on the football field, but when it comes to that stuff too on the football field, it solidifies my thoughts that people realize that I did things the right way.

On the number of people who showed up and continue to embrace him:
I never really had a scope on just how big my popularity was with people around the league, because I was so focused here on New England and being a small-time guy, I guess you think small-time things sometimes, but I guess my popularity was pretty big. With the help of so many great players, like Tedy [Bruschi], Drew, Tom [Brady], and Kevin and Deion and all those guys, I guess it helped to get all of us noticed, with all the success that came with us.

On the changes around the Patriots since Robert Kraft bought the team the year after he was drafted:
"It's unbelievable. I meant every word I said up there about Robert [Kraft] building this franchise to where it is and Parcells getting everybody excited about being a New England Patriot fan again and Bledsoe coming in and getting everybody excited about it, building this brand and what they've been able to do here in New England. All of those emotions were gone from me when I look around this place, from where started when Robert Kraft bought this football team in 1994. This was beyond my imagination."

On receiving his red jacket and thoughts on Patriots fans:
It was a great feeling. I tried it on Thursday for the media. To put it on today in front of everybody, and they got to see it, and my mom got to see it, my kids, and other Hall of Famers that were here got to see it, and then to join those guys on stage, it's an unbelievable feeling and in my eyes there's no greater honor that you can receive. We can talk about Canton and all those things, and who goes into there, but that's not the same, because these people out here who supported me, and cheered for me, booed me, got after me because they demanded more, because if it wasn't for them voting for me, then I wouldn't be in the Patriots Hall of Fame. This is all I ever cared about, is what my teammates thought, what these people thought, and what the coaches thought.


Inside the matchup: Cardinals at Patriots

Posted by Greg A. Bedard September 15, 2012 07:33 PM

We are very happy to have Alen Dumonjic, an x's and o's football junkie who blogs for The Score, back for another season to give us his insight on the intricacies of the game.

Inside the Cardinals offense

Head coach Ken Whisenhunt has given the play calling duties to offensive coordinator Mike Miller this season, but the Cardinals still run the offense implemented by Whisenhunt when he was hired in 2007. The offense features several personnel groupings and concepts that attack the middle of the field.

The Cardinals offense often uses 11 (1 tailback, 1 tight end), 12 (1 tailback, 2 tight ends) and 21 (2 backs, 1 tight end) personnel packages. They look to attack the middle of the field with Hi-Lo concepts and crossing routes from various formations.

One common formation in Week 1 was “Trips,” which has three pass catchers to one side with one, usually star receiver Larry Fitzgerald, alone on the backside of the play. The majority of their pass plays are 3 and 5 step drops from the quarterback.

In the running game, they struggled against the Seahawks because of the offensive line’s lack of push. But they still have talent at the running back position that could potentially cause problems.

While running back Chris Wells might get more pub, second-year runner Ryan Williams is more dynamic as he keeps his feet churning and possesses good balance to go with vision. The Cardinals will use a variety of run concepts including power, zone stretches and counters.

As noted, the line struggled run blocking and had some struggles in pass protection as well -- an area that they also had significant issues with in the preseason. D’Anthony Batiste (left tackle) and Bobby Massie (right tackle) have been forced into action due to injuries and overall poor play. They are still learning how to play with proper technique and are considered liabilities because of their issues with speed rushers and previously mentioned poor technique. The Cardinals will likely look to help them, as they did in week 1 with 2 tight end formations and split-offset sets that featured one tailback and one tight end to each side of Kolb in shotgun.

Inside the Cardinals defense

Defensive coordinator Ray Horton is one of the league’s best at devising gameplans and dialing up blitzes, which he learned from legendary Steelers defensive guru Dick LeBeau. He leads a very strong and aggressive defense that is one of the league’s best.

Horton employs a base 3-4 defense that is anchored by two stalwarts, defensive linemen Darnell Dockett and Calias Campbell, who have good size, are able to anchor against the run and do a good job of collapsing the pocket from the 3 man front.

With the 3-4 front, Horton will utilize Okie (both guards uncovered), Under (strong side guard uncovered) and Over (weak side guard uncovered) shifts. He will also turn to other fronts, such as a 2 man front featuring the aforementioned two defensive linemen.

Along with his multiple fronts, the Cardinals defensive coordinator does a good job of utilizing Fire Zone (5 man rush) and man blitzes (Cover 1 on the back end).

When it comes to defensive coverages, Horton does not shy away from throwing as many looks as possible at the offense. Unlike the Titans, Horton uses a variety of coverages and disguises them before the snap with constantly moving defensive backs. The coverages used include Cover 0 (man with no safety help), Cover 1 (man with one deep zone safety), Cover 2 (5 under, 2 deep zone), Cover 2 Man (2 deep, man under), Cover 3 (4 under, 3 deep), Cover 4 (Quarters) and what some call Cover 6, which is a blend of Cover 2 and Cover 4.

What to watch for

ILBs Daryl Washington and Reggie Walker: Washington and Walker are two different kind of players but both should be watched closely in this game. Washington is a very athletic player that can run very well and drop back in coverage with fluidity while Walker, who plays less snaps as a rotational defender, is not as athletic but is more aggressive against the run. Washington can be washed out in the run game because of his lack of physicality, which dates back to his days at TCU, and Walker is quick to get after the run so getting hands on him should be a priority.

QB Tom Brady vs. Cardinals Blitz: The Cardinals don’t hold back when it comes to blitzing. Horton will bring the house at times and that means Tom Brady has to find his hot reads, which are pass catchers who have broken off their route early and quickly got open for the catch.

DE/OLB Chandler Jones vs. LT D’Anthony Batiste : Batiste had a decent at best first week but still had issues that need to be ironed out and can be taken advantage of. He left his chest exposed to the bulrush at times while also lacking a firm base and simply playing with soft hands. All of these things could potentially be problematic when he faces the lengthy and strong Chandler Jones, who has showed us that he can administer a powerful bullrush.

Cardinals discipline : The Cardinals defense is a very aggressive and because of this, they sometimes will get undisciplined in run support as well as in coverage where the safeties sometimes can be caught out of position. There may be an opportunity or two for the Patriots to throw the deep ball down the seam for a big play.

QB Kevin Kolb: Last week I noted that Titans quarterback Jake Locker will give the Patriots opportunities at creating turnovers because of his gunslinger mentality. It’s a similar case this week with Kevin Kolb, who takes over for the injured John Skelton. While Kolb isn’t a gunslinger like Locker is, he does make questionable throws that will give the Patriots chances to make plays on the ball.

CB/PR Patrick Peterson: The Cardinals will play Peterson in man coverage and also let him return punts for good reason: he is simply a playmaker. He can turn the game around on the defensive side of the ball or on special teams.

---

For more interesting football reading, checkout Alen's blog posts at The Score, and The Sideline View. Follow Alen on Twitter at @Dumonjic_Alen, or send him feedback via email.

Branch: If Pats call, 'I'd love to be back'

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff September 15, 2012 07:30 PM

The Patriots spent this evening feting Troy Brown, who was inducted into the franchise's Hall of Fame for his career accomplishments after being voted in by the fans.

It is a measure of Brown's popularity with his former teammates that many of them were on hand for the ceremony, including Deion Branch, who was released by the team on Aug. 31 in a bit of a surprise move.

We'll have much more from Brown in the next post, but for now, here's what Branch said about being cut during a brief chat we had after the ceremony:

Were you surprised to get cut?
I think all of us are surprised (when it happens); but it’s the nature of the business, it’s part of the business.

When receivers Jabar Gaffney and Donte’ Stallworth were cut, did you think you were safe?
Uh…yeah and no. it’s like what Troy was saying earlier – no one is ever safe. You’ve just got to come in and do your job and go from there, and that’s what I was doing. I think the organization is going to do what’s best for the team, whatever they feel is best for the team, and you have to respect that, and I do.

If the Patriots were to call in a couple of weeks and offer you a spot, would you come back?
I’d love to be back. I’d embrace it and pick up right where I left off at.

What are you up to these days?
Right now, working out, spending a lot of time with the family, enjoying it. Making sure I’m staying abreast of what’s going on here and just enjoying a lot of family time.

Week 2: Friday injury report - Pats' Connolly questionable, Cards' Skelton doubtful

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff September 14, 2012 04:09 PM

Here is the Friday injury report for Patriots-Cardinals, with team-declared probability of playing for injured players:

For the Patriots
Questionable
G Dan Connolly - LP, head
CB Alfonzo Dennard - LP, hamstring
TE Daniel Fells - LP, shin
OL Nick McDonald - LP, shoulder
CB Sterling Moore - LP, knee
RB Shane Vereen - LP, foot
OT Sebastian Vollmer - LP, back

Probable
S Patrick Chung - FP, shoulder

For the Cardinals
Doubtful
QB John Skelton - DNP, ankle

Questionable
S Rashad Johnson - LP, thigh
CB Patrick Peterson - LP, groin
SS Adrian Wilson - LP, ankle

Probable
G Daryn Colledge - FP, elbow
K Jay Feely - FP, back
* CB Jamell Fleming - FP, shoulder
TE Jeff King - FP, knee
S Kerry Rhodes - FP, foot
* LB O'Brien Schofield - FP, knee
CB Lyle Sendlein - FP, back
G Adam Snyder - FP, elbow
CB Greg Toler - FP, hip
RB Beanie Wells - FP, knee
RB Ryan Williams - FP, knee

* - status change from yesterday's report
FP - full participation, LP - limited participation, DNP - did not participate

On the Beat: 5 questions about the Cardinals

Posted by Greg A. Bedard September 14, 2012 03:48 PM

Each week we'll check in with a beat writer from the opposing team to get the inside scoop heading into the game. This week we check in with the esteemed Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic on the Cardinals.

1. Ok, the Cardinals' defense is pretty good, but I'm having a hard time seeing how the Cardinals move the ball behind that line. What am I missing?

KS: "You are missing nothing. The line is a huge problem. It had deficiencies even before LT Levi Brown went down in the preseason with a torn triceps tendon. Left tackle D'Anthony Batiste is in his seventh season but he made only his fifth start last week. The other four starts were at guard in Atlanta in 2007. Right tackle Bobby Massie, a fourth-round pick, played decently last week in his first start. The Cardinals couldn't run against Seattle. The Seahawks are pretty stout up front, though.."

2. Who is the one Cardinals player most Patriots fans don't know right now, but will by the end of the game on Sunday?

KS: "I'd say right outside linebacker Sam Acho, a fourth-round pick in 2011. He became a starter midway through last season and finished with seven sacks. He's very smart and has great instincts. He sniffed out a swing pass last week and caused a fumble. He seems to do something like that every game."

3. What's the biggest weakness on the Cardinals' offense you expect the Patriots to try to exploit?

KS: "The whole offensive line, I'd say. The Cardinals need to be able to run just a little bit but they couldn't do it last week. Plus, Kevin Kolb hasn't shown he can handle pressure. If you get to him early, he tends to get anxious and leaves the pocket too early."

4. What's the biggest weakness on the Cardinals' defense you expect the Patriots to try to exploit?

KS: "Cornerback William Gay played well last week but teams seemed to go at him in the preseason. Patrick Peterson strained a groin in Thursday's practice so we don't know his condition. I expect him to play. But I'd say teams will go at Gay, who moves inside in nickel packages, and at rookie Jamell Fleming, who plays the outside in nickel. If Adrian Wilson has a weakness, it's been defending tight ends occasionally. He's better against the run than the pass."

5. Finally, Cardinals win on Sunday if....

KS: "...they have two fewer turnovers than the Patriots and they get a big play in the return game.

--

Thanks to Kent for his time and insight. Make sure you check him out on Twitter, and also the coverage from the Arizona Republic heading into the game, including Kent's blog.

Week 2 practice peek: Perfect attendance again

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff September 14, 2012 12:24 PM

The Patriots are holding today's practice on the game field inside Gillette Stadium, as they did on many Fridays last season, and players are in shells and shorts/sweats.

For the second straight day, there was perfect attendance.

Asked earlier today for a status update on G/C Dan Connolly, Bill Belichick said he is "day to day...it seems like he's getting better." After missing practice on Wednesday, Connolly returned yesterday and was listed as limited.

Video: Bedard on Patriots, NFL story lines for Week 2

Posted by Steve Silva, Boston.com Staff September 14, 2012 07:55 AM




How will the Patriots' game plan against Cardinals quarterback Kevin Kolb? Can Roger Goodell and the NFLPA mend fences following the Bountygate appeal?

The Globe's Greg Bedard and CineSport's Noah Coslov discuss the key talking points in the NFL this weekend.

Week 2: Thursday injury/participation report

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff September 13, 2012 08:17 PM

New England upgraded Dan Connolly, as the offensive lineman returned to practice after missing Wednesday. Arizona added a whopping eight players to its report.

For the Patriots
Limited participation
* G Dan Connolly - head
CB Alfonzo Dennard - hamstring
TE Daniel Fells - shin
OL Nick McDonald - shoulder
CB Sterling Moore - knee
RB Shane Vereen - foot
OT Sebastian Vollmer - back

Full participation
S Patrick Chung - shoulder

For the Cardinals
Did not participate
QB John Skelton - ankle

Limited participation
CB Jamell Fleming - shoulder
* S Rashad Johnson - thigh
* CB Patrick Peterson - groin
LB O'Brien Schofield - knee
SS Adrian Wilson - ankle

Full participation
* G Daryn Colledge - elbow
* K Jay Feely - back
* TE Jeff King - knee
* S Kerry Rhodes - foot
* CB Lyle Sendlein - back
G Adam Snyder - elbow
CB Greg Toler - hip
RB Beanie Wells - knee
* RB Ryan Williams - knee

* - change or new addition since Wednesday

Game 2 preview: Patriots face tough test in Cardinals defense

Posted by Steve Silva, Boston.com Staff September 13, 2012 02:38 PM
The Globe's Shalise Manza Young analyzes the Week 2 matchup between the Patriots and the upstart Arizona Cardinals in this week's Patriots preview video.

We also hear from Patriots coach Bill Belichick and special teams captain Matthew Slater on the challenge of stopping the Cards' explosive punt returner Patrick Peterson.

And Patriots quarterback Tom Brady also talks about facing a "disruptive" Arizona defense in the home opener at Gillette Stadium.

Patriots practice report

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff September 13, 2012 01:37 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- For the first time this season, every Patriots player was at practice. A full-pads workout is going on now on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium.

Offensive lineman Dan Connolly, the only player who was not at Wednesday's practice, was back in uniform and on the field today. He was listed on yesterday's injury report with a head injury, suffered during the season-opening win at Tennessee.

Troy Brown readies for Patriots Hall call

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff September 13, 2012 01:21 PM
FOXBOROUGH -- The real thing will take place on Saturday, but Troy Brown tried on the red jacket today that will come with his induction into the Patriots' Hall of Fame. The ceremony will take place at 5 p.m. Saturday at the Hall at Patriot Place and is open to the public; admission is free.

Brown, who likely only has a few days left as the team's all-time leader in receptions (he's tied with Wes Welker at 557), met with the media and shared a few of his thoughts as he prepares for enshrinement.

"You can’t get any greater honor than this when you’re a Patriot," Brown said, after slipping into the red sports coat with the Patriots' Hall of Fame logo. "I think this is just a great way to cap off what everybody has been talking about, a great career that I put together for myself with the help of so many people."

Brown played for 15 years in the NFL (1993-2007), all with the Patriots, and helped the franchise win three Super Bowls. He started as a special teams star, then became a dependable offensive threat. Near the end of his career, he was even used in the defensive secondary.

Does he even get the urge to play again?

"Every once in a while I do," Brown said. "I can call [coach] Bill [Belichick] up right now and tell him I got about four or five good ones in me, but in all actuality it would probably be one play and then I’m done."

One of Brown's former teammates, Drew Bledsoe, was inducted last year. Now it's his turn, with a lot of faces from Brown's football past expected to attend. Could make for an emotional night, no?

"I don’t know, I’m usually a pretty happy person, I don’t think I cry very easily," Brown said. "It’ll just bring back a lot of memories and hopefully I’ll see a lot of familiar faces that I haven’t seen in a while."

Week 2: Wednesday injury/participation report

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff September 12, 2012 06:08 PM

Connolly the only real change to last week's list for New England.

For the Patriots
Did not participate
G Dan Connolly - head

Limited participation
CB Alfonzo Dennard - hamstring
TE Daniel Fells - shin
OL Nick McDonald - shoulder
CB Sterling Moore - knee
RB Shane Vereen - foot
T Sebastian Vollmer - back

Full participation
S Patrick Chung - shoulder

For the Cardinals
Did not participate
QB John Skelton - ankle

Limited participation
CB Jamell Fleming - shoulder
LB O'Brien Schofield - knee
SS Adrian Wilson - ankle

Full participation
G Adam Snyder - elbow
CB Greg Toler - hip
RB Beanie Wells - knee

Video: Patriots midweek report

Posted by Gary Dzen, Boston.com Staff September 12, 2012 05:30 PM




Wes Welker caught just three passes for 13 yards for the Patriots in Week 1. Is Welker's role in New England's offense diminishing? The Boston Globe's Zuri Berry reports from Gillette Stadium.

Brady: Patriots face an outstanding few in Cardinals

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 12, 2012 02:35 PM




FOXBOROUGH -- Larry Fitzgerald may be the face of the Arizona Cardinals, but it's his stellar teammates on defense that worries the Patriots so much heading into Week 2.

In Tom Brady's weekly press conference, he spoke about a "disruptive" defensive line, something that he attributes to the Cardinals' winning eight of their last 10 regular season games.

"Every team has some different styles to it, and schemes and coverages and so forth, and they really try to play to the strength of their players," Brady said. "They have a very disruptive front. [Darnell] Dockett and [Calais] Campbell are really impressive players. It's a very physical team, they're fast."

There's obvious concern there with Dockett, 6-feet-4-inches and 290 pounds, and Campbell, 6-feet-8-inches and 300 pounds. They are immensely strong and can throw any offensive line into disarray. Dockett was reportedly unblockable down the stretch in Week 1 against the Seattle Seahawks. But they also have a couple of ball hawks to back them up in safety Adrian Wilson, arguably the best at his position, and second-year cornerback Patrick Peterson.

"Adrian Wilson is a phenomenal player," Brady said. "They got Patrick Peterson, who is a very good young player. They have quite a few of their own strengths that they really play to. We gotta have a really good week of practice and try to really understand, even better, the things that they're doing that are allowing them to win all these games."

The Cardinals beat the Seattle Seahawks, 20-16, in Week 1. They were aided in their win by a tough drop by Braylon Edwards, that would have won the game in the fourth quarter. But the Cardinals were still able to hold the Seahawks down the stretch when it mattered.

"[They're] a great red area team," Brady said. "Coach said they led the league in red area the last few years. And obviously watching last weekend's game against Seattle, they had an incredible red area stand there to win the game. And they play hard for 60 minutes. So those are some of the things that we talked about, that we're going to need to counter with a physical style of play and try and go out there and execute in our plays, and certainly try to do better than last week."

Week 2 practice peek: Vereen returns, Connolly missing

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff September 12, 2012 01:39 PM

The Patriots are holding their first on-field practice session for the Cardinals currently on the field behind Gillette Stadium, with players in shells and shorts/pants.

Colleague Michael Whitmer says Shane Vereen (foot) has returned to practice, while Dan Connolly (head) was the only player not spotted.

This is the first practice for Vereen since suffering his injury in the Pats' preseason game against Tampa Bay on Aug. 24. Connolly was injured against the Titans on Sunday.

Belichick pours water on rookies' early success

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff September 12, 2012 01:23 PM

In his press conference today, Bill Belichick waxed poetic about former Giants' TE Mark Bavaro and the practice battles he used to have with LB Carl Banks. The coach also praised Troy Brown as the team prepares to induct him into its Hall of Fame this Saturday, and Belichick also talked about the challenge posed by Cardinals DL Calais Campbell and raved about Arizona CB Patrick Peterson's skills as return man.

But when asked about his own rookies and whether, as mature as they are, they need to be reminded that the game against Tennessee is over and they have to prove themselves again against the Cardinals, he made it clear that he doesn't want the first-year players believing their own hype.

"These guys – are you kidding me? They’ve played one game," said Belichick. "I don’t think any rookie’s got all the answers after only one game. I don’t think any experienced coach has the answers after one game either; it’s one game. Everybody needs to be coached, everybody needs to improve, there’s a lot of things that everybody needs to do better and I would put the rookies at the absolute top of that list. Like, not behind anybody. They would be number one. It’s going to be a lot harder for them before it gets easier, I’ll tell you that."

And with that, he dropped the mic. Not really, but it would have been funny.

Patriots sign safety Cyhl Quarles to practice squad; release Alex Silvestro

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 12, 2012 12:42 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- The Patriots have signed 23-year old safety Cyhl Quarles to the team's eight-man practice squad, releasing converted tight end Alex Silvestro in the process.

Quarles is a rookie free agent out of Wake Forest. He originally signed with the Baltimore Ravens but was released Aug. 31. At 6-3, 212 pounds, he appeared in 50 games for the Demon Deacons and totaled 239 tackles.

Silvestro, who originally signed with the Patriots as an undrafted rookie defensive lineman in 2011, made the switch to tight end this year, after a year on the practice squad. He was cut from the team again this year after training camp, signing to the practice squad a day later.

Brady not concerned with Welker's role

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 12, 2012 11:46 AM

brady_300.jpg

FOXBOROUGH -- For Tom Brady, worrying about Wes Welker's role on the team is a moot point.

"Look, it's Week 1. We got a lot of football left to play," Brady said.

With only five targets and three catches for 14 yards, there was speculation that Welker's role had diminished in the team's offense because of new addition Brandon Lloyd at wide receiver, as well as a return to a more balanced team by running the ball.

Brady was asked if Welker's numbers were the result of the circumstances, the game plan, or something else.

"Well, I'm not sure. Every week is a little bit different," he said. "So there's different opportunities on different weeks for different players. I think the thing that is important to remember, it's a 16-game season. So, you know, you start getting up there and play 600, 700 plays every year. When you need him most, you gotta be fresh.

"He's a huge part of this offense and what we do on a weekly basis," Brady continued. "So, you know, there's not going to be too many games where he doesn't get a lot of opportunities."

Brady was also asked about his injured nose, which appeared to be reddish and peeling Wednesday morning.

"Yeah, it's OK. My wife likes it so I'm good."

Patriots turn focus to Cardinals

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff September 11, 2012 04:40 PM
Tuesday is usually the day players are given off (although eight Patriots were in Worcester helping build a playground), so official access to the team is limited to brief conference calls with head coach Bill Belichick, defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.

A sampling of the highlights:

On playing the Cardinals for the first time since 2008, Belichick acknowledged it's something different, but also said there's some similarities to the Steelers, since Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt came to Arizona after spending six seasons in Pittsburgh.

"We’re getting familiar here with an opponent that we haven’t seen in awhile. We spent some time on them in the offseason but it’s still a new team for all of us. There’s a big challenge there in terms of our preparation here, getting ready for players and some of the things that we do that are a little bit different," Belichick said. "Of course this team has a lot of roots in the Pittsburgh system in all three phases of the game: offensively, defensively and special teams. There’s definitely some carryover there to the type of game that the Steelers play and that Arizona plays. I think the Cardinals have some very, very good players, some of the very best players in the league at their position, guys like [Larry] Fitzgerald and defensively [Adrian] Wilson, [Darnell] Dockett, [Calais] Campbell, [Patrick] Peterson. They’re very good in the kicking game. They block a lot of kicks, they’re very dangerous returning them."

Patricia was asked about preparing his defense for two quarterbacks. Cardinals starter John Skelton suffered an ankle injury during the opener against Seattle, paving the way for Kevin Kolb to come in and direct a late, game-winning drive. Whisenhunt said Skelton's injury isn't serious as first feared, and didn't rule him out for Sunday's game. But Kolb might get the start.

"I think both of them are obviously very talented players and have done a lot for them out there through the preseason. They fit well into what they’re trying to do from a system standpoint," Patricia said. "We’ll certainly have to be prepared and have our work cut out for both."

The Patriots used good offensive balance (35 rushes, 31 passes) to carve up the Titans in an easy Week 1 win, so McDaniels touched on how important -- and helpful -- it is to not be so one-dimensional.

"If you’re able to do more than one thing well and able to move the ball in different ways, I think it just forces the defense to have to defend a lot of different things in your offense. You can’t really settle into one thing and get comfortable with that," McDaniels said. "When you have a decent balance offensively, your running game can help your play action, your play action can help your running game, and then you mix in all the other things you want to try to do. I think it becomes a complementary part of our game.

"Certainly our goal will always be to try to go in and maintain our balance unless we decide that the best thing to do would be to do something other than that. I know we’ve done that in certain games in the past, to make a conscious effort or a decision to do it some other way. Right now, we did a decent job in Week 1, and hopefully we can continue to do that by being productive in both the throwing game and the running game."

Welker cracks wise on Brady's nose, good looks

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff September 10, 2012 05:33 PM

Shortly after Wes Welker talked about Troy Brown and the influence Brown had on him when he got to New England in 2007, he was asked about Tom Brady and whether the quarterback is still handsome despite his banged-up nose.

Welker deadpanned, "Yeah…he’s such a good looking guy, isn’t he? Obviously he gets banged up and he’s probably the toughest metrosexual I’ve ever come across."

Which of course drew laughs.

As Brandon Lloyd noted a short while earlier in the locker room, you always expect toughness from teammates, but Welker expanded on what it means to see Brady brush off a big knockdown and shin to the face like he took when he was sacked by the Titans' Kamerion Wimbley.

"Anytime you see your leader out there and taking hits like that and you ask him if it’s broken and he doesn’t know, he doesn’t care. He loves football, he loves playing and he does a great job," Welker said.


Quick hits from Belichick

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff September 10, 2012 03:55 PM

The Patriots are back at Gillette Stadium to go over the film of yesterday's season-opening win in Tennessee, and Bill Belichick gave an assessment of some of the things he saw in his press conference. Here are some quick hits.

Opening statement
Like I said yesterday, the players really did a good job, they deserve really all of credit for the outcome of the game. I thought we played physically for 60 minutes, made plays in all three phases of the game, scored 27 points offensively, that's OK, we didn't turn the ball over; defensively we had a solid day, special teams we had real good field position; defensively we played on a long field, a few short-field opportunities between the defense and special teams, so those things were good. Didn't turn the ball over, had a couple, didn't have a lot of penalties. Titans threw a lot of things at us that were new, like you always see on opening day, pretty typical of an opener. Again I thought the players did a good job adjusting to them and playing through some situations in the game, I thought they handled themselves well, so we have a long way to go, we certainly left a lot of plays out on the field that could have been better, we could have made more out of or more opportunities for us to gain more yards or give up fewer or turn the ball over, that sort of thing, we'll try to correct those today and get on to Arizona. It's good to win, it's good to be 1-0, but we have a long way to go and hopefully we can continue to improve this week.

What did you see from Stevan Ridley's performance?
I thought he ran hard. I thought he ran hard. He had some good runs, he had some other runs that we talked about that could have been better. I thought he finished runs, ran hard, broke a couple of tackles in the secondary. Overall we need to be more consistent in running game, we still left yards out on the field, plenty of them, for one reason or another, combination of everything. We'll just keep trying to improve that. We had some good plays to the outside, we were able to get outside, get to the tackle, outside areas, and Stevan made some yards after contact, or in a couple cases he made secondary players miss around the line of scrimmage and got some extra yardage. 

How rookies Dont'a Hightower & Chandler Jones have done picking things up mentally
Well I'd say Dont'a has a lot of responsibility at his position relative to formations and adjustments, pass coverage, run responsibility and all that, but he did a lot of those things at Alabama and played a couple of different spots in their defense at Alabama, which has some similarities to what we do. I think he was very well coached and schooled when he got here and he's a smart guy, and he's picking things up pretty well. Chandler, less experienced, but probably less variables at his position, although there are still plenty of them, but probably not to the degree that Dont'a has as a regular and nickel linebacker and all those kind of things. But both players have done a reasonably good job of that; they're both smart, they've worked hard, and they've both been out there. They've gotten a lot of reps on the field. That's always a good way to learn, is to experience it, go through it, make a mistake, correct it, go out there and do it again, get it right, so there's a lot to be said for that. A lot of our young players have gotten the opportunity to do that, they've been on the field, they've practiced, they've made mistakes, corrected them, gone back out, got it right the next time and been able to move onto something else. So that's been positive. Those two guys have done a good job.

Belichick was asked about Tom Brady's nose and said "he's all right," and did not have an update on Dan Connolly, who left the game with a head injury.

5 takeaways from the Patriots-Titans

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 9, 2012 08:37 PM

NASHVILLE - It was good for the Patriots to open the season with a dominating win. The Titans, despite Sunday's 34-13 loss, are a good barometer of where the Patriots are in their quest for another Super Bowl.

Here are some things to think about post Week 1:

1) Chandler Jones is the real deal -- There's no more wondering about it, Jones has shown what he can do -- and that's cause havoc. In his first game, the rookie defensive end recorded a strip-sack, a tackle for a loss, as well as a couple of hurries. It was more than enough to make the Titans take note of his presence and the rest of the world to stop and applaud him on a job well done. What you saw on the field was a playmaker with a quick burst off the line, able to use his hands to get leverage, and a bit of tenacity to chase down a scrambling quarterback. Yes, Jones certainly has the tools to be an elite pass rusher in the NFL.

2) The Tom Brady and Brandon Lloyd connection still needs some ironing out -- Just four plays into the Patriots' first offensive drive of the season, Brady looked for Lloyd on a deep pass, a sure touchdown upon completion. But it wasn't a touchdown, just a missed opportunity. Brady came off as if he'd thrown the ball to the wrong shoulder and Lloyd came off as if he pulled up early, misreading the trajectory of the ball before it overtook him. The two gathered themselves over the course of the game to connect on five passes for 69 yards. There's still work to do here, but it's encouraging that the big-play potential is there.

3) Is Wes Welker's role diminished? -- There's not enough balls to go around for all of the offensive weapons the Patriots have. For Welker, who opened last season with 12 targets (8 receptions for 160 yards), his five targets and three catches will certainly stick out. Patriots fans have gotten accustomed to him being the focal point of the team's passing game. With the way things went on Sunday against the Titans, those days appear to be over.

4) Is this what we can expect of Stevan Ridley every week? -- Any running back that can get you 125 yards and a touchdown is a great addition. But his 25 carries certainly took away any opportunity that would've been afforded fellow second-year pro Shane Vereen, who was out of Sunday's game with a lingering foot injury. If and when Vereen returns, it will be interesting to see if Ridley continues to get 20 plus touches in a game. He certainly deserves it after Sunday's performance.

5) The shuffling on the offensive line didn't cause any problems -- It was the left tackle who has been in place all preseason that was at times overmatched. Nate Solder gave up the big sack on Tom Brady, allowing Titans defensive end Kamerion Wimbley to chase down and ultimately bloody Brady's nose. Beyond the one sack, it was a relatively peaceful day in the pocket for Brady, who managed to step up in the pocket and evade another hit from Wimbley to find Aaron Hernandez in the end zone in the first quarter. After all the shuffling of chairs in the preseason, the offensive line is solid enough to allow for a good running game and to keep Brady relatively clean.

Mankins coy about injury report

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff September 9, 2012 05:52 PM

NASHVILLE - Logan Mankins was back on the field for the Patriots season opener, less than seven months after having reconstructive surgery for a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, an injuiry he acknowledged suffering sometime last season. ESPN reported Sunday that Mankins tore the ACL in the opener at Miami, and that he played the entire season with the tear.

“Yeah. I don’t want to get into last season too much tonight,” Mankins said, when asked about the report. “I’m kind of set on celebrating this victory with the team. Maybe next week.”

Mankins was asked if he kept the injury private, or if the team was aware.

“No one knew,” Mankins said, before leaving the postgame locker room.

Postgame notes: Patriots use all but two players

Posted by Joe Sullivan, Globe Staff September 9, 2012 05:21 PM

Some Patriots odds and ends:


  • The only active Patriots who didn’t see game action were backup QB Ryan Mallett and WR Greg Salas. Mallett did warm up in the first half after Tom Brady was sacked by the Titans’ Kamerion Wimbley. Brady had a bloody nose but did not miss a play.

  • WR Wes Welker had a quiet game by Welker standards. He was targeted five times and caught three passes for 14 yards, with a long gainer of eight. On the other hand, TE Rob Gronkowski was targeted six times and caught six passes and one touchdown. The Gronk whiffed on his post-TD spike, however, as the ball slipped out of his hand.

  • Rookie Tavon Wilson had his first NFL interception with a diving grab of a that bounced off Kyle Arrington in the end zone. Wilson had a regular role when the Patriots played five and six defensive backs in passing situations.

  • Punter Zoltan Mesko was outstanding, except for one short punt of 28 yards. He still averaged 38.5 yards with a net of 33.5, including three punts inside the 20-yard line, which denied the Titans good field position. The Titans’ punter, Brett Kern, was booming them, averaging 52.4 per kick and 45.5 net with two inside the 20.

  • Kickoff return duties were handled by Devin McCourty, who had one for 28 yards, and Matthew Slater, who had one for 19 yards. Julian Edelman returned punts. He had four for an average returned of 6.8 yards. He had one fumble, but it was bogus because he was interfered with and the Titans were penalized.

  • Jerod Mayo was an active defender all over the field and was credited with nine unassisted tackled and four assists. McCourty was credit with five tackles.

Statistical update

Posted by Joe Sullivan, Globe Staff September 9, 2012 05:12 PM

Some key individual stats from the Patriots victory:

QB Tom Brady: 23 of 31 passing for 236 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions and one very sore nose courtesy of Kamerion Wimbley of the Titans.

RB Stevan Ridley had 125 yards rushing on 21 carries with a long run of 17 yards.

Tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez led the Patriots with six catches each.
WR Brandon Lloyd had five catches for 69 yards.

Notable Team Stats


  • The Patriots defense held the Titans to 20 net yards rushing on 16 carries, an average of 1.3.

  • The Patriots third-down efficiency was 50 percent and it was the same in the red zone.

  • The Patriots had 162 yards net rushing (4.6 average) and 228 yards net passing.

Dan Connolly should be OK

Posted by Greg A. Bedard September 9, 2012 04:59 PM

NASHVILLE - Patriots right guard Dan Connolly wobbled off the field with a head injury late in the third quarter and did not return to the Patriots' season-opening win over the Titans.

For a player who missed two games in 2010 with a concussion, that was a little alarming. But Connolly shouldn't miss any additional time.

Connolly had his bell rung and was a little dazed, but he passed all the concussion tests, according to a league source. The Patriots could decide to take things slow with Connolly, but the good news is he won't miss extended time.

A long-term injury to Connolly could have forced the Patriots, who are already without last season's right guard, Brian Waters, to scramble. Donald Thomas is a capable fill-in, but the team currently only has one other healthy lineman (right tackle Marcus Cannon). Nick McDonald has been battling a shoulder injury. He didn't practice on Wednesday, but was a limited participant on Thursday and Friday.

Brady doesn't know if he has a broken nose

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 9, 2012 04:47 PM

NASHVILLE -- Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, sporting a white strip on his injured nose, told reporters postgame that he was not sure if it was broken.

"Not my usual look," Brady quipped after the game. "That was only the real good [shot] I took."

The veteran quarterback suffered a bloody nose after getting flushed from the pocket in the second quarter by Titans defensive end Kamerion Wimbley. It was sack for a loss of eight yards. Brady hit the grass face first on the play and came up with blood.

"I'm not sure what happened," he said.

It was pretty confusing for the 13-year pro, who stuck through the game despite the blemish. He finished 23 of 31 passing for 236 yards and two touchdowns.

"I have no idea what a broken nose feels like," Brady said. "It'll be fine. I need some of that anyways."

Some of what?

"I need some scars. I need some … I never mind a little blood."

Zuri Berry can be reached at zberry@boston.com. Follow him on Twitter @zuriberry.

Who gets game ball for Patriots?

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff September 9, 2012 04:25 PM
The Patriots opened the 2012 season with a convincing victory that provided some immediate answers regarding areas of the team that were question marks.

They ran the ball, the offensive line protected quarterback Tom Brady and led the running game, the defense was improved, and the top draft picks made an immediate impact. The things we were more sure of held form: Brady did his thing, tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez picked up where they left off last season as key parts of the offense, and kicker Stephen Gostkowski was as accurate as ever.

But we're traditionalists, and don't believe in the "everyone gets a trophy" philosophy. So our postgame surveys this season will force a decision. Pick one player below for the "game ball" honor.


Who gets the game ball for the Patriots' season-opener vs. Titans?

Final: Patriots 34, Titans 13

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 9, 2012 04:15 PM

Game over: The Patriots opened the season with a dominating 34-13 victory over the Tennessee Titans in Nashville. The Patriots fell behind 3-0, but then took control of the game to register an easy victory.
Tom Brady completed 23 of 31 passes for 236 yards, including one touchdown pass each to his dynamic tight end duo of Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski.
Second-year running back Stevan Ridley had an outstanding game, rushing for 125 yards on 21 carries while showing a shiftiness that makes him dangerous and adds an element missing from last year's offense.
The Patriots defense took Titans running back Chris Johnson out of the game, holding him to a ridiculous four yards on 11 carries. Tennessee only gained 20 yards rushing.
Patriots first-round draft picks Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower combined on a big play that reflected their high selections. Jones sacked Titans quarterback Jake Locker and forced a fumble. Hightower scooped it up and returned it six yards for a touchdown that gave the Patriots a 14-3 lead.

:31 left in 4th quarter: After taking over on downs at Titans' 24, the Patriots kept the ball on the ground with Brandon Bolden, nearly running the clock out before Stephen Gostkowski kicked a 25-yard field goal.

4:15 left in 4th quarter: The Patriots ran 5:02 off the clock despite using some no-huddle offense and then Stephen Gostkowski kicked a 25-yard field. Stevan Ridley and Danny Woodhead carried the load for most of the drive. Ridley even had a 20-yard reception plus a nifty 16 yards. He now has 135 yards rushing.

9:17 left in 4th quarter: After retaining possession on the reversal of the turnover, the Titans, with Matt Hasselbeck replacing Locker at QB, drove to a first and goal at the one. Then a great play by Vince Wilfork, who dumped Chris Johnson for a five-yard loss, forced the Titans to kick a field goal.


Beginning of 4th quarter: A potentially disastrous turn of events for the Titans as Jake Locker completed a pass to Nate Washington at the Patriots 25 but Tavon Wilson and Jerod Mayo both hit him and knocked the ball loose. Patrick Chung picked up the ball and returned ti to the Titans' 25. He was tackled by Jake Locker who was also injured on the play. Titans training staff was all over the field.Then play was reversed and called incomplete on review.


End of the 3d quarter: Patriots 28, Titans 10 -- After three, Stevan Ridley has his first 100-yard rushing game for the Patriots. He has 18 carries for 106 yards and a touchdown.

1:04 3d quarter: Patriots 28, Titans 10 -- Stevan Ridley plowed into the end zone for a 1-yard touchdown. Ridley broke off runs of 16 and 14 yards before the plunge into the end zone.

Ridley has 18 carries on the game for 106 yards and a touchdown now. He's having a phenomenal game.

3:59 3d quarter: Patriots 21, Titans 10 -- A Devin McCourty interception was overturned -- rightfully so -- and a holding call on Titans offensive lineman Steve Hutchison killed Tennessee's drive and forced them to punt at the their own 2-yard line.

5:44 3d quarter: Patriots 21, Titans 10 -- The Titans defense managed to get pressure on Tom Brady, forcing the team's fourth punt of the game.

10:17 3d quarter: Patriots 21, Titans 10 -- With Chandler Jones hounding him down, Titans quarterback Jack Locker threw off balance and connected with Nate Washington for a 29-yard touchdown pass. It was Locker's first career touchdown pass.

The Titans drive was only four play, covering 80 yards in 1:30. Locker hit tight end Jared Cook for 35 yards to get things going. He's 18 of 24 passing for 206 yards, with an interception in his debut against the Patriots.

11:47 3d quarter: Patriots 21, Titans 3 -- The Patriots' opening drive of the third quarter stalled after two incomplete passes, including a hopper to Julian Edelman that he tried to pass off as a reception.

15:00 3d quarter: Patriots 21, Titans 3 -- The second half is about to get underway. Stevan Ridley has nine rushes for 58 yards. That's a 6.4 yards per carry average. With 10 more yards, he'll be on pace for 1,000 on the season.

End of 2d quarter: Patriots 21, Titans 3 -- Jermaine Cunningham got a big sack on Titans QB Jake Locker and Tennessee was forced to punt before Tom Brady kneeled to end the half.

2:00 2d quarter: Patriots 21, Titans 3 -- Tom Brady hit Rob Gronkowski in the back of the end zone on a play-action pass for two yards and his second touchdown pass of the day. The play was upheld after review.

The 2-yard scoring strike capped a 12-play, 67-yard drive.

Brady is now 10 of 13 for 123 yards and two TDs.

7:17 2d quarter: Patriots 14, Titans 3 -- Tom Brady has returned to the game without missing any action. He had a bloody nose and it has been bandaged.

7:33 2d quarter: Patriots 14, Titans 3 -- Despite letting Titans quarterback Jake Locker get loose for a 9-yard scramble and first down, the Patriots locked their opponents down. Only five plays for the Titans before they were forced to punt.

11:07 2d quarter: Patriots 14, Titans 3 -- Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones had a strip-sack on Titans QB Jake Locker in the end zone and fellow rookie Dont'a Hightower picked it up, avoided a would-be tackler, and romped into the end zone. It was a 6-yard return for Hightower. So far, good day for the rookies. Jones with a sack, Hightower with a fumble recovery and touchdown. And then Tavon Wilson with an interception.

11:55 2d quarter: Patriots 7, Titans 3 -- The Patriots training staff is working with Tom Brady after he was sacked by Titans DE Kamerion Wimbley. He has a bloody nose. We'll keep you updated.

12:30 2d quarter: Patriots 7, Titans 3 -- Titans DE Kamerion Wimbley went right around Patriots tackle Nate Solder and tracked down Tom Brady for a sack. It kill a drive that started with so much promise.

Three plays earlier, Brady found Brandon Lloyd on the sideline for a 27-yard reception. After a review, the play was upheld.

14:30 2d quarter: Patriots 7, Titans 3 -- Titans rookie QB threw it up long for Nate Washington, looking for a touchdown. But Kyle Arrington was having none of it. The veteran cornerback, battling with Washington, tipped the ball into the air, giving enough time for rookie safety Tavon Wilson to get over and catch the ball on a dive in the end zone. The Patriots took over at the 20.

End of the first quarter: Patriots 7, Titans 3 -- With the first quarter of the 2012 season in the books, we've already seen the Patriots go to their hurry-up offense and fire the ball deep to Brandon Lloyd. Tom Brady wasn't able to connect with Lloyd there, but he was able to find Aaron Hernandez for a 23-yard touchdown.

It was Brady's 301st career touchdown pass, breaking a tie with John Elway for fifth all-time in the NFL. Also, on his pass to Rob Gronkowski, he surpassed 40,000 yards passing in his career.

1:59 1st quarter: Patriots 7, Titans 3 -- Tom Brady stepped up in the pocket to avoid a sack and found Aaron Hernandez for a 23-yard touchdown strike to get on the board.

It was a 5-play, 67-yard drive that spanned only 2:06. The drive was marked by a huge connection with Rob Gronkowski for 28 yards in wide open field. And then Stevan Ridley broke off a run for 17 yards.

4:05 1st quarter: Titans 3, Patriots 0 -- The Patriots held the Titans to their first three-and-out after stuffing two straight runs from Chris Johnson.

6:29 1st quarter: Titans 3, Patriots 0 -- The Tom Brady and Brandon Lloyd connection appears to still need some work. Brady bombed it out to Lloyd on a double play-action pass but the two couldn't connect. Two plays later, Brady hit Wes Welker in his shoulder pad to end the drive after six plays. Stevan Ridley came up with a huge run for 17 yards on the drive.

8:43 1st quarter: Titans 3, Patriots 0 -- The Titans moved quickly down the field, getting into the red zone, after going 12 plays for 70 yards before Rob Bironas kicked a 28-yard field goal. The Patriots were aided on the defensive stand from a non-call on CB Devin McCourty, who bumped into WR Damian Williams on a potential pass interference.

Ras-I Dowling was flagged for pass interference on the drive and CB Kyle Arrington was beat for a 24-yard pass down the sideline to Nate Washington on a fourth-and-1.

15:00 1st quarter: Patriots 0, Titans 0 -- We're moments away from kickoff here at LP Field in Nashville. The Titans won the coin toss and have elected to receive.

Stay right here on the blog for all game updates. You can also follow along on Twitter.

Some lineup changes for the Patriots. It appears Ryan Wendell will be starting at right guard instead of Donald Thomas. For the Titans, Kendall Wright is starting at wide receiver for Nate Washington. Defensive tackle Mike Martin will make the start for the injured Sen'Derrick Marks.

@zuriberry

Patriots 21, Titans 3: Halftime thoughts

Posted by Greg A. Bedard September 9, 2012 02:34 PM

NASHVILLE - Some thoughts at halftime as the Patriots lead the Titans 21-3:

  • Extremely impressive first half by the Patriots on both sides of the ball.
  • The defensive front seven continues to be stout against the run. Don’t think this was every in doubt. The Patriots are stacked up front and good luck to anybody who needs to run to beat them. Titans had 20 yards on 21 carries, and 11 yards were by QB Jake Locker. Chris Johnson had nine carries for 9 yards.
  • The Patriots’ defensive rookies look like veterans, and their impact has been immediate. Tavon Wilson had an interception, Chandler Jones a strip sack, and Dont’a Hightower was all over the field and had a fumble return for a touchdown.
  • Thought it was interesting that for some of the first half, Wilson was the base safety and went to his money position in subpackages, and then Patrick Chung entered as the safety. Think that is more to manage the wear and tear on Chung, who is coming back from a shoulder injury.
  • Patriots also rotated at right tackle with Sebastian Vollmer playing the first quarter, and Marcus Cannon the second. Like with Chung, Vollmer needs to be managed.
  • The Patriots had Tom Brady throw a lot of quick passes, and that minimized any line issues. Nate Solder gave up the sack that got Brady injured. That happens, even when Matt Light is out there.
  • The run blocking by the Patriots’ offensive line was very consistent. But Stevan Ridley ran very well. Those asking why the Patriots let BenJarvus Green-Ellis walk… Ridley is why. He’s just more talented, if he can hang onto the ball.
  • Great team tackling by the Patriots.
  • The Titans are really challenged from a talent standpoint. They have to basically be perfect to beat the Patriots, and there have been too many dropped and missed passes.

Marks among Titans inactives vs. Patriots

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 9, 2012 12:10 PM

NASHVILLE -- The Titans have announced the team's inactive players for today's game against the Patriots.

The inactive players include: QB Rusty Smith, RB Javon Ringer, LB Zac Diles, OL Mike Otto, OL Byron Stingily, DE Pannel Egboh and DT Sen'Derrick Marks.

Marks, the Titans' starting defensive tackle, had been doubtful for today's game with knee injury.

Patriots at Titans: 5 keys, prediction

Posted by Greg A. Bedard September 9, 2012 11:44 AM

NASHVILLE -- Here's what I'm looking for today as the Patriots open the season against the Titans:

  1. Protect Brady: While the Patriots seemed to prefer the line of Nate Solder, Logan Mankins, Ryan Wendell, Dan Connolly and Sebastian Vollmer in the preseason, it wouldn’t be a surprise that they go with Solder, Mankins, Connolly, Donald Thomas and Sebastian Vollmer in order to get their 'best five' offensive linemen on the field. Thomas didn’t play right guard in training camp or the preseason, but he was one of the Patriots’ best linemen in camp overall. He plays with toughness and intensity. Thomas isn’t perfect, but he does a good job. Also wouldn’t be surprised to see Vollmer and Cannon rotate since Vollmer has only played 10 snaps. The line had its issues in the preseason, but now the team will be scheming protections and how/when to give certain guys help. I expect the line play to be better with or without Brian Waters.
  2. Test the weak spots in the Cover 2: The Patriots have plenty of experience playing against the Cover 2 from the Colts. The Titans mix up the coverage a little bit more than most Cover 2 teams, but it’s still their base. The defense will force you to be very patient offensively with a lot of checkdowns. However, the weaknesses are down the sidelines at about 20 yards, and deep down the middle of the field -- especially when you use playaction. Expect the Patriots to hit the tight ends in the seam to make solid MLB Colin McCarthy run for his life, and then go to Brandon Lloyd on the boundary, and then flip back and forth throughout the game to keep the Titans on their toes.
  3. Cornerbacks must tackle well: Vince Wilfork (or Kyle Love should the Titans double Wilfork) should own the weak middle of this Titans’ offensive line, much like he/they did against the Ravens. And Brandon Spikes will do his usual bust through the line routine. Expect the Patriots to two-gap the Titans a lot up front, if not all game. The Patriots almost always want to force the running back to the sideline, even when it’s speedy Chris Johnson of the Titans. That means Devin McCourty (normally an excellent tackler) and the rest of the cornerbacks must do their part by containing the spill.
  4. Don’t give up the big play in the kicking game: LP Field and Raymond James Stadium are the two of the stadiums where, in my experience, weird things tend to happen, whether it be bounces, injuries or whatever. One thing the Patriots do not want to do is give up a big play in the kicking game, which will energize a stadium that can be a rough place to play for a visiting team. Don’t let the crowd get into it early.
  5. Keep Jake Locker in the pocket: Locker is most comfortable when he can make plays with his feet. It’s very important that the Patriots don’t let him do that, so that means a controlled pass rush where the ends aren’t tearing off the edge. Also important for the interior rushers to two-gap and then disengage from the blockers to take Locker down. If Locker has to stay in the pocket all day, the Patriots have to like their chances.

Prediction

The Patriots got a few breaks when Titans WR Kenny Britt was suspended, and the weather here is very mild for early September. And the Titans have issues on the interior of the line, and the pass rush isn’t that good. So the Patriots should, on paper, win this game rather easily. But Week 1 is always a bit strange and the Patriots have a lot of unknowns on the offensive line, in the secondary, with Josh McDaniels and Brandon Lloyd, and LP Field can be a very tough place to play. Oh, and the replacement officials will let a lot of contact go down the field in the passing game. That adds up, to me, to a lackluster win for the Patriots where the Titans hang on for a while.

Patriots 24, Titans 17

Game 1: Patriots inactives

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff September 9, 2012 11:31 AM

The Patriots have announced their inactives for today's opener against Tennessee:

DE Jake Bequette
CB Alfonzo Dennard
TE Daniel Fells
DL Marcus Forston
DL Justin Francis
OL Nick McDonald
RB Shane Vereen

The Patriots had already declared Dennard (hamstring), McDonald (shoulder) and Vereen (foot) out for the game; Fells (shin) was listed as questionable on the final injury report.

Bequette, Forston and Francis are healthy scratches.

Game 1: Patriots at Titans

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 9, 2012 09:13 AM

NASHVILLE -- The journey to New Orleans and Super Bowl XLVII begins today.

The Patriots begin their schedule against the Tennessee Titans in Nashville after an offseason of tinkering the team's roster following a heart-breaking loss to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLVI.

With a re-tooled defense, including two first-round picks and a revamped secondary, as well as a new wide receiver for Tom Brady to target, the Patriots have addressed last season's deficiencies while hoping to stave off any drop in productivity elsewhere. But questions remain.

How will the offensive line hold up with the absence of Brian Waters at right guard, with second-year pro Nate Solder at left tackle full-time, and right tackle Sebastian Vollmer (back) coming back from injury? Will the secondary be much improved with free-agent signee Steve Gregory and a healthy Patrick Chung at safety? Is Brandon Lloyd the deep threat the Patriots have been searching for since jettisoning Randy Moss?

All of those answers and more will come into a clearer focus today when the Patriots take on rookie quarterback Jake Locker, some fine receivers in Kenny Britt and Nate Washington, a formidable defensive line led by Kamerion Wimbley (42.5 career sacks in seven seasons), and stellar running back Chris Johnson.

The time for questions has come to an end.

This is the 39th time the Patriots have played the Titans franchise, with the Pats leading the overall series 22-16-1. The Patriots are 1-1 in Tennessee and the last time these two teams played it was a lopsided affair with Brady and company besting the Titans 59-0 on a snowy night, Oct. 18, 2009, at Gillette Stadium. It was a record-setting day for the Patriots for points, points in a half (45), net yards (619), passing yards in a half (345), and passing touchdowns in a game (six).

But that was almost three years ago.

Here are the details for today's game:

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

Records: Patriots 0-0 (Finished preseason 1-3); Titans 0-0 (Finished preseason 3-1).

TV/Radio info: WBZ-TV Ch. 4 (Jim Nantz, Phil Simms); 98.5-FM The Sports Hub (Gil Santos, Scott Zolak); Sports USA radio network (Eli Gold, Ross Tucker).

Projected starting lineups:
Based on information distributed to the media, practice observations, and injuries for each team.

Patriots offense: WR Wes Welker, LT Nate Solder, LG Logan Mankins, C Dan Connolly, RG Donald Thomas, RT Sebastian Vollmer, TE Rob Gronkowski, WR Brandon Lloyd, QB Tom Brady, RB Stevan Ridley, TE Aaron Hernandez.

Patriots defense: NT Vince Wilfork DT Kyle Love, RDE Chandler Jones, LB/DE Ron Ninkovich, LB Jerod Mayo, LB Dont'a Hightower, LB Brandon Spikes, CB Devin McCourty, CB Kyle Arrington, S Steve Gregory, S Patrick Chung.

Titans offense: WR Nate Washington, TE Jared Cook, LT Michael Roos, LG Steve Hutchinson, C Fernand Velasco, RG Leroy Harris, RT David Stewart, TE/FB Craig Stevens, WR Kenny Britt, QB Jake Locker, RB Chris Johnson.

Titans defense: LDE Derrick Morgan, DT Karl Klug, DT Jurrell Casey, RDE Kamerion Wimbley, SLB Akem Ayers, MLB Colin McCarthy, WLB Wil Witherspoon, CB Jason McCourty, SS Jordan Babineaux, FS Michael Griffin, CB Alterraun Verner.

Injuries

Patriots: CB Alfonzo Dennard (hamstring), OL Nick McDonald (shoulder), RB Shane Vereen (foot).

Titans: T Mike Otto (finger/knee)

Inactives

TBA

Patriots downgrade two for Titans game

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff September 8, 2012 08:50 PM

The Patriots have announced that two players have been downgraded to OUT for Sunday's game with Tennessee:

CB Alfonzo Dennard - hamstring
G/C Nick McDonald - shoulder

Dennard was injured in practice yesterday; McDonald was injured against Tampa Bay.

They join RB Shane Vereen (foot), who was downgraded to out Friday.

Inside the matchup: Patriots at Titans

Posted by Greg A. Bedard September 8, 2012 06:28 PM

We are very happy to have Alen Dumonjic, an x's and o's football junkie who blogs for The Score, back for another season to give us his insight on the intricacies of the game.

Week one of the NFL regular season is finally here! The games are now meaningful and the New England Patriots have been dealt a tough first one; they are set to face the Tennessee Titans at LP Field in Nashville, Tenn.

The last time the two teams clashed, it was 59 point drubbing by the Patriots. However, this time is expected to be different. For starters, the Titans have a different head coach with Mike Munchak, who replaced Jeff Fisher last season. Munchak’s team went 9-7 in his first season, which was a transitional year that saw the offense shift from a run first to pass first philosophy while the defense introduced rookie linebackers Colin McCarthy and Akeem Ayers, who will be the starters in week one.

Inside the Titans' offense

Staring with the offense, the Titans played a lot of 11 (1 tailback, 1 tight end), 12 (1 tailback, 2 tight ends) and 21 (2 tailbacks, 1 tight end) personnel in the preseason with new starting QB Jake Locker.

Locker is a much different quarterback than last year’s starter, Matt Hasselbeck. He is much more mobile and has a stronger arm. The latter is particularly important as the Titans are willing to throw vertically, especially in the seam, by utilizing offensive coordinator Chris Palmer’s Run and Shoot concepts out of the shotgun formation. Palmer will utilize five and six man protections in these situations.

Moreover, although Palmer has the trust in his young quarterback to throw the ball all over the field because of the talent he possesses, he knows that Locker is a bit of a gunslinger and will throw the ball up for grabs, which is why he‘s likely to call short throws early on to reel the young signal caller in and boost his confidence. Despite this, there will be turnover opportunities throughout the game for the Patriots defense.

The Titans will also look to run the ball well, which they did not do last season. The running game is led by star back Chris Johnson, who comes off a career low year in rush yards with 1,047. Despite the struggles, the former 2,000 yard rusher showed elusiveness and game breaking ability on Lead and Power plays in the preseason that once made him the league’s most dangerous running back.

Inside the Titans' defense

Defensively, the Titans lost top cornerback Courtland Finnegan in the off-season but still possesses talent in the back end.

They are led by cornerbacks Jason McCourty, who is Devin’s brother, and Alterraun Verner as well as safety Michael Griffin. All three defensive backs are able to make plays on the ball in the Titans Cover 2 scheme.

Defensive coordinator Jerry Gray emphasizes discipline to his players as they play Cover 2 and several of its variations (Tampa 2, Cover 2 Trap, Cover 2 Man Under) as well as Cover 3. In the Cover 2 scheme, the middle linebacker is crucial as he is forced to run down the middle of the field with tight ends, and the Titans have a good one in second year linebacker Colin McCarthy.

McCarthy is a disciplined MIKE linebacker that has the speed to run with pass catching threats while also possessing the instincts and intelligence to play the run. He is a promising defender that is quick to read and react, which is why the Patriots must get their hands on him when running the ball.

The Titans also spend the majority of their snaps in a 4-3 defense with Over and Under fronts complimenting it. Strong-side linebacker Akeem Ayers is one of the keys to these fronts because he plays both on and off the line of scrimmage in his attempts to cover tight ends or rush the passer. Ayers is used in a variety of alignments and roles, such as a stand-up rusher on third down when the Titans go to their three man front in their nickel (5 defensive backs) package.

What to watch for

Titans Run Defense: Whether it was against the Seattle Seahawks or Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Titans starting run defense had issues at times. Against Seattle, the interior defensive linemen got swallowed up and the defense struggled to play the run laterally. In week two of the preseason, the Buccaneers found some success running through the interior as well as finding the cutback lane where contain defenders were undisciplined. Last season, they gave up an average of 4.5 yards per carry.

Locker outside the pocket: Whether he is scrambling or rolling out, Locker is very dangerous outside of the pocket. This is where the majority of his big plays come from, especially against man coverage where he can tuck the ball and run, and the Patriots have to play disciplined in their pass defense to keep him contained.

Titans play-action defense: The Titans are a very aggressive defense that likes to swarm to the ball and because of that, they can be taken advantage of by a good play action passing team. Linebackers Will Witherspoon and Akeem Ayers can sometimes be caught out of position, consequently resulting in completed passes over their heads.

RE Kamerion Wimbley vs. LT Nate Solder: Wimbley is by no means an elite pass rusher, but he is a dangerous one. He plays with a good motor and tests offensive tackles’ pad level and quickness with a deadly speed rush. He will force Solder to bend his knees and slide his feet, which could be problematic for the young blocker. I expect Solder to get help from the tailbacks and tight ends in this matchup.

WR Kendall Wright: First round pick Kendall Wright is small and doesn’t time fast on a track (4.61) but he plays faster and is a threat after the catch. He is quick out of his breaks and can get down the field in a hurry. He poses a threat to the Patriots defensive backs as the lone Titans receiver who can really do damage after the catch consistently.

Titans no-huddle offense: Locker and the Titans ran a no-huddle offense against the Seahawks in week one of the preseason and used an empty backfield in the process. This is something that may or may not be used in week one but if it does, it is likely to force the Patriots to go to their base defense and could potentially do damage.

For more interesting football reading, checkout Alen's blog posts at The Score, and The Sideline View. Follow Alen on Twitter at @Dumonjic_Alen, or send him feedback via email.

Meet-up tonight in Nashville

Posted by Greg A. Bedard September 8, 2012 06:02 PM

If you're in Nashville tonight for the Patriots-Titans game and want to talk about the game or just say hi, I'll be dropping by the Beer Sellar around 10 p.m. to meet-up with a few Patriots fans.

Beer Sellar - Nashville
107 Church Street
Nashville, TN 37201

Nothing formal, not a big crowd, just a few fans getting together to talk about the start of the 2012 season. So feel free to drop by or tweet at me.

On the Beat: 5 questions about the Titans

Posted by Greg A. Bedard September 8, 2012 10:00 AM

Restarting an old reliable this week as we check in with the beat writers of the opposing team to get the inside scoop. This week we check in with John Glennon, who teams with Jim Wyatt to cover the Titans like a blanket for The Tennessean.

1. How much is not having WR Kenny Britt going to affect the Titans offensively?

JG: "It will certainly make a difference, as Britt -- when healthy -- is a legitimate gamebreaker, a big, athletic man with plenty of speed. On the other hand the Titans' passing attack was pretty successful last year despite having Britt for just three games. Matt Hasselbeck threw for the fourth-highest passing total in franchise history and receivers like Nate Washington, Damian Williams and Lavelle Hawkins all posted career years."

2. Who is the one Titans player most Patriots fans don't know right now, but will by the end of the game on Sunday?

JG: "I suspect it might be second-year middle linebacker Colin McCarthy. He only started seven games last season, but still led the Titans with eight tackles for loss, and added two forced fumbles and two fumbles recovered. He led the NFL this preseason with three interceptions, returning one for a touchdown."

3. What's the biggest weakness on the Titans' offense you expect the Patriots to try to exploit?

JG: "Second-year quarterback Jake Locker will be making his first career start, so I'm sure Bill Belichick will throw the kitchen sink at him. The Patriots will force Locker to beat them with his arm, not his legs. He's never been a highly accurate quarterback, but he's a great athlete who can really pick up yards if given room outside the pocket."

4. What's the biggest weakness on the Titans' defense you expect the Patriots to try to exploit?

JG: "Titans safety Robert Johnson is talented but inexperienced, having only played in three games -- primarily as a special teamer. He's likely to see a lot of action on Sunday, and I suspect the Patriots will try to get behind him on more than one occasion."

5. Finally, Titans win on Sunday if....

JG: "... they do a good job of keeping the Patriots' offense off the field. That means the Titans' offense must eat up the clock on a regular basis, and it means the Titans' defense must get off the field on third downs as well as produce a couple of turnovers."

--

Thanks to John for his time. Make sure you check out John and Jim on Twitter, and the Tennessean's coverage.

Video: Patriots, Gronkowski revolutionize tight end role

Posted by Leonard Neslin September 8, 2012 09:11 AM




The Boston Globe's Greg Bedard explains how the Patriots have driven a rise of the tight end position in the NFL, the impact of replacement referees in Week 1, and the keys for the Patriots against the Titans Sunday.

Patriots-Titans week 1 injury report

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff September 7, 2012 06:06 PM

Here is the injury report for Patriots-Titans:

NEW ENGLAND
Out
RB Shane Vereen - DNP, foot

Questionable
CB Alfonzo Dennard - LP, hamstring
TE Daniel Fells - LP, shin
OL Nick McDonald - LP, shoulder
CB Sterling Moore - LP, knee
OT Sebastian Vollmer - LP, back

Probable
S Patrick Chung - FP, shoulder

(Dennard was injured today in practice)

TENNESSEE
Out
T Mike Otto - DNP, finger/knee

Doubtful
DT Sen'Derrick Marks - DNP, knee

Questionable
DE Scott Solomon - LP, knee
DT Jurrell Casey - FP, elbow
LB Zac Diles - FP, hamstring

Update on Brian Waters situation

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff September 7, 2012 02:37 PM

There hasn't been any information given by the Patriots on what is going on with veteran Brian Waters in recent days. In the offseason, Bill Belichick said Waters was excused from taking part in OTAs and mini-camp for personal reasons, and at the start of camp the same thing was said.

Since then? No one has said much, and Waters hasn't shown up to Gilette Stadium. We did get two signs this week that things probably aren't rosy between the team and Waters when his number 54 was given to rookie Dont'a Hightower, and then his nameplate was removed from over what has been his locker.

Here is what colleague Greg Bedard and I know about this situation:

* We were told months ago that the Patriots were going to re-do Waters' deal, dropping his base salary from $1.4 million to the veteran minimum, BUT he would receive per-game bonuses for being on the 46-man game-day roster (like they did with Dan Koppen's deal earlier this year), allowing him to make at least $1.4 million - if not more, and at the time, it did not seem there was an issue with that on Waters' side;

* The Patriots were under the impression and expecting Waters to show up before the start of the season. They may have hardened their stance now that he has not shown up, and may have dropped the per-game bonus from any proposed restructuring;

* This staredown did not start over money. Waters' reason for staying away is for personal reasons. He is married with five children, and his family did not come to Massachusetts with him last year, remaining in his native Texas. When he signed with the Pats he and Belichick had an agreement that Waters did not have to come to camp in order to spend as much time at home as possible. He had a hard time last year, and the intensely private vet had trouble leaving his family every year, even when he was in Kansas City. It is understandable that would be difficult;

* First and foremost, Waters would prefer the chance to play closer to home. If that is not possible, he would like to get a pay raise to return to New England for at least one more season, making the emotional stress of being away from home worth it financially;

* New England cannot cut Waters' base salary without him agreeing to it, and if they did reduce it through renegotiation, it would not be subject to the veterans' minimum salary benefit clause in the collective bargaining agreement. It would have to expire or be terminated then a new deal signed to get that benefit;

* The Patriots are in a very tough position. They can’t change Waters’ salary unless he agrees to it. However, because Waters has not reported, he has been accumulating $30,000 in fines for each day missed of training camp. That is automatic. If and when he shows up, Waters would have to negotiate with the team for a reeducation or waiver of all fines. That could be the sticking point since he decided not to show up this week.

* If Waters reports, the Patriots have to pay him his $1.4 million (with any fines the team chooses to enforce subtracted). The team will not want to cut him, because he would likely sign with Texans near his home. The Texans have a huge need for a veteran right guard, and there’s no way the Patriots are going to let Waters walk to one of their biggest competitors for the AFC title. The team could trade Waters, but he likely wouldn’t report if it was far from home, so a trade is almost impossible.

No Brian Waters -- and now, no Waters nameplate

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff September 7, 2012 12:24 PM
Here's another wrinkle in the Brian Waters saga: When reporters walked into the Patriots locker room today, they quickly noticed that the nameplate has been taken off of his former locker.

The white No. 54 practice jersey remains, and there was a t-shirt hanging in the stall as well, but that's about it.

Earlier this week, rookie Dont'a Hightower, who had to change his number to something NFL-acceptable for a linebacker, was given No. 54, which of course Waters wore last season in what is looking more and more like his only season with New England.

We understand this seems to be dragging on, but until there's some kind of move made -- either Waters shows up, or the Patriots cut or trade him -- it's going to linger.

Patriots Friday practice peek

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff September 7, 2012 12:05 PM

The Pats are holding their final on-field practice of the week before Sunday's opener in Tennessee, and there's really nothing different to report than yesterday.

RB Shane Vereen was the only player not spotted during the media access window, and players were in shells and shorts.

Introducing the Patriots Play Predictor

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff September 7, 2012 08:22 AM

300playpredictor.jpg


Last season, the Patriots had first-and-10 situations with the football between their own 20 and 30 yard line 52 times in the regular season, not including plays like kicks or taking a knee.

Care to guess what they were most likely to do? Run? Pass? Which player do you think got the ball most frequently?

Boston.com has developed an interactive tool to provide those answers and more. We plugged every play the Patriots ran in 2011 into a database that allows you to choose a down and the distance to go and set a field position range. Then you will see the Patriots tendencies for that situation. Since predictions are often based on past performance, it provides a baseline to see the team's strategy.

In the scenario outlined, the Patriots ran the ball 50 percent of the time (BenJarvus Green-Ellis up the middle was the most frequent play) and passed 42 percent of the time (most often Tom Brady to Aaron Hernandez).

The database throws out some plays, including sacks, although it does account for incomplete passes. That is why the percentages don't add up to 100. It also includes several players no longer on the Patriots, but it still is a good look at the play choice and personnel used.

Take it for a test drive now, and keep it handy during the games this season to see how closely this year's plays stack up. Remember that the field position setting shows the position of the ball at the snap, so a wider range shows more plays, but the ball could be anywhere in between.

Interactive: Patriots Play Predictor

Patriots name 2012 team captains

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff September 6, 2012 03:29 PM

New England has announced its captains for the 2012 season, as voted on by the players:

Tom Brady
Logan Mankins
Jerod Mayo
Devin McCourty
Matthew Slater
Vince Wilfork

Those players are the same six who served as captains last year.

This is the 11th consecutive year Brady has been chosen as a captain; it is the fifth straight year for Wilfork. Mayo has been a captain since 2010, and this is the second year for Mankins, McCourty and Slater.

Belichick, Kraft remember Modell

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff September 6, 2012 02:31 PM

Former Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens Art Modell died this morning at age 87. In 1991, Modell decided to hire the Giants' defensive coordinator, Bill Belichick, as his team's newest head coach; Belichick was just 39 at the time.

Here are statements from both Belichick and Patriots owner Robert Kraft on the passing of Modell, who sold the Ravens in 2004 to Steve Bisciotti. Bisciotti remains the owner of the Ravens.

Bill Belichick statement
“My time with the Browns was an invaluable period in my career. I was fortunate to have so many outstanding players, coaches and front office staff and together we were able to rebuild the program. As with any major undertaking, the path had its challenges but by the end of four years we had a winning team, which made the process very rewarding. Unfortunately, we did not complete our task and the ultimate franchise relocation was a very disappointing result. In all, I am very grateful to Mr. Modell for providing me my first opportunity to be an NFL coach. I learned many things through our personal interactions and have applied many of those lessons in my later years as a head coach. My deepest condolences are with the Modell family.”

Robert Kraft statement
“I am deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Art Modell. I regret that I hadn’t talked to him since the passing of his wife, Pat, last year. We both shared that experience and I know how hard that was for Art. When I first entered the league, Art was quick to welcome me, and I always appreciated that. He leaves a lasting legacy for the many contributions he made to the National Football League. The one thing that I always admired most about Art was his understanding of the role television would play in the growth of the game of football and the overall popularity of the NFL. He understood the value of prime time games at a time when there really wasn’t a tremendous demand. He helped negotiate and launch ABC’s Monday Night Football in 1970. I can’t remember what Monday nights were like during the fall before Monday Night Football, nor could I imagine them without football today. Football fans everywhere owe him a debt of gratitude for that alone. I speak for my entire family in extending our heartfelt sympathies to the Modells.”

Game 1 preview: Patriots kick things off against the Titans

Posted by Steve Silva, Boston.com Staff September 6, 2012 01:46 PM
In the first of our weekly game preview video reports, Boston Globe Patriots beat reporter Shalise Manza Young previews the Patriots season-opening matchup against the Tennessee Titans.

We also hear from Patriots players Brandon Lloyd, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, and Kyle Arrington on getting the season started after a long preseason and training camp.

Manza Young then takes a closer look at the Titans and Patriots quarterback Tom Brady talks about the challenges he faces against Tennessee's defense in Week 1.

Patriots defensive back Devin McCourty also talks about facing his brother Jason, the talented cornerback for the Titans.

And Shalise also predicts the winner of Sunday's showdown at LP Field.

Week 1: Patriots Thursday practice peek

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff September 6, 2012 01:40 PM

Patriots players are in shells (soft pads) and shorts for today's practice, currently being held on the fields behind Gillette Stadium.

RB Shane Vereen (foot) was the only player not spotted during the media-access window.

OL Nick McDonald (shoulder) was in uniform after being simply observer for the last few days.

Mankins had doubts about Week 1

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff September 6, 2012 01:37 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Left guard Logan Mankins, who had offseason knee surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee -- he played with the injury during the Super Bowl -- said today that he wasn't always convinced he'd be healthy enough to play in the season opener.

"Of course," Mankins said when asked if he had doubts. "I never knew how fast I would heal and everything would progress, but so far it’s been good."

Mankins's presence might bring needed stability to an offensive line that doesn't have Matt Light (retired), Dan Koppen (released), or Brian Waters (has not reported, but has not announced retirement). Major knee surgery isn't the easiest thing to come back from, especially in such a short amount of time.

"It was difficult, we’re still only barely past six months," Mankins said. "We’re still taking it day-by-day. It still improves every day, so it’s getting better. It’s good right now, still getting a lot of ice, trying to take care of it the best I can, and hopefully it feels good all year."

Mankins was likely aided by the limited preseason load given to the starters. With the season opener three days away, is he ready to play a full 60-minute game, if needed?

"It’s a possibility. It’s always tough, but it goes for everyone in the league, not everyone plays a full game in the preseason, so it’s different for everyone," Mankins said. "Myself, not having too many reps, I just have to trust in my conditioning and hopefully it’s good enough."

Titans coach: 'Quite a challenge' to open vs. Patriots

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff September 5, 2012 06:01 PM

Tennessee Titans coach Mike Munchak discussed his team's season-opener on Sunday vs. the Patriots in a conference call with reporters today. Here are excerpts from the interview, provided by the Patriots's media relations department.

Can you start by giving us your initial impressions of the Patriots?

"I think you start with the fact that they were the best team in the AFC last year, which they’ve been for quite a few years now. They’re consistent year in and year out. To have them first on the schedule just made us realize how quickly we were going to have to focus—starting in the offseason—to get ready for this type of game that we’re expecting when you play the best team in the AFC. They’ve got a lot of great players, starting with the quarterback that makes them roll, defensively they play sound week in and week out and they are very consistent in what they do. They’re very confident in what they do, they take advantage of the other team making mistakes and they’re a team that you just can’t make mistakes [against] or you’re not going to win. It’s quite a challenge obviously for us to open the season with them."

What have you seen from the Patriots defense thus far in the preseason?

"Just playing physical. They’ve got some young players and they remind us a little bit of our defense. They’ve got nice veteran leadership sprinkled in with a lot of young players. I know the draft pick looks good—Chandler Jones, rushing at the end. We liked him in the draft also. He’s got some great skills that you saw show up in the preseason. The linebackers are heavy and play downhill. They’ve got a lot of talent there with [Jerod] Mayo and [Brandon] Spikes and [Dont’a] Hightower now that he’s in there also. So they’re very talented, very physical and play hard. Upfront with the two defensive tackles, [Vince] Wilfork is still playing very well. Again, it’s hard to go by preseason, but I think you evaluate more of the young guys during preseason because the game plans are pretty basic and simple and teams don’t like to show a lot of things. But from what you can see, obviously they’re a group that plays well together and takes away what the offense is trying to do. They try to frustrate you."

What makes Aaron Hernandez such a difficult guy to match up with?

"I think in general those guys do a great job of uncovering. Big guys, both of their tight ends have done a nice job of that. In the film, you watch the mismatching with the linebackers. They create problems to cover them and with [Tom] Brady’s ball being so accurate, even when you do cover them well they have great hands and they make plays and the next thing you know it’s second-and-two or first-and-ten. It’s frustrating because you think you’re doing all of the right things and they still make plays on you."

Have you seen a different Chris Johnson this season as opposed to last?

"I think I’d say yes to that just because of having him here since April and being a part of the offseason and I think just being more confident in what he’s doing this time of year than he was last year. As far as being in shape, when you come in and you miss all of training camp that’s definitely a factor and it was last year early in the season for him. We think we have, he’s done everything we’ve asked him to do. He’s obviously very highly motivated to have a much better season this year and obviously it wasn’t all him, it was the supporting cast also, which needs to play better. We know for us to win games, especially a game like this, he has to be a big contributor to the offensive side of the ball."

Click the Full Entry button for more Q&A.

FULL ENTRY

Video: Patriots midweek report

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff September 5, 2012 05:54 PM




Boston.com's Zuri Berry has an update on where things stand in Foxborough, from reaction to the recent cuts to looking ahead to the season opener in Tennessee on Sunday. Berry will have a midweek report each week of the season.

Belichick lauds Wendell, readying rookies for first NFL game

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff September 5, 2012 02:34 PM
The Patriots are fully entrenched in their preparations for the season opener against Tennessee, and before heading out to the practice field, Bill Belichick met with reporters.

Though Michael Hoomanawanui's agent tweeted the news that his client has signed with the Pats, Belichick did not announce the roster move, saying instead that the team still has "a couple of moving parts" and once everything was settled, they would be announced all at once.

Video: Belichick's Wednesday press conference With nine rookies on the roster and heading toward their first-ever NFL game, Belichick was asked if there's anything he tells those players.

"We talk to those guys all the way through," he said. "Before the first preseason game, the second; we try to make them aware of the things that are ahead for them...We've all been through those first time things, but the bottom line is there's no substitute for going through the experience. It's an exciting experience and a learning experience, and you do your best to prepare for it."

At this point, it seems safe to assume that Brian Waters isn't playing against Tennessee, if he ever plays again for the Patriots. So it's likely that Dan Connolly will be at right guard, and Ryan Wendell will be at center.

Wendell has been a reserve throughout his career with the Pats, but he's worked hard to be in the position he's in.

"He's been very well coached; obviously Pat (Hill) and his staff at Fresno State did a good job with him," Belichick said. "When we first had 'Wendy', we released him off practice squad and then brought him back to the practice squad, so that's a guy whose level has risen dramatically since he's gotten here.

"He's gotten better with technique, he's gotten stronger...he's just become a better football player. A lot of hard work, a lot of stringing good days together. He had an opportunity to play last year, he might have been in the same position, but he had a couple of injuries, a couple of setbacks. He's done a good job all the way through; he's always been a solid, dependable player."

Three of the Patriots rookies were undrafted; it isn't unusual for an undrafted player to make the roster in New England, but three is a higher number than usual.

Is there a common thread among those players?

"They performed well. They've come in and they've performed to a good competitive level, and shown us...that they could get higher. They've been competitive and there's upside for them to get better as a player," Belichick said. "How far does that take them, how high to they go? I don't know."

Patriots practice report

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff September 5, 2012 02:17 PM
FOXBOROUGH -- The Patriots were in full pads today on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium, preparing for Sunday's season opener in Nashville against the Tennessee Titans.

The only players not spotted during the portion accessible to the media were running back Shane Vereen and tight end Visanthe Shiancoe, who's been out with a suspected leg injury. Vereen was injured in the third preseason game against Tampa Bay, and has not practiced since. Offensive lineman Nick McDonald was on the field, but in shorts.

The newest Patriot -- tight end Michael Hoomanawanui -- was on the field wearing No. 47. Another possible newcomer who wasn't listed on the roster, receiver Kerry Taylor, was wearing No. 19.

Today is like Christmas morning to diehard football fans: The first injury report of the year comes out. Woo-hoo! How many Patriots will be on the list?

Patriots sign TE Hoomanawanui

Posted by Greg A. Bedard September 5, 2012 12:41 PM

The Patriots signed former Rams tight end Michael Hoomanawanui to the 53-man roster, according to his agent, Rick Smith.

The last name is pronounced "Oh-oh-mah-NAH-wah-NEW-ee."

Hoomanawanui was signed from Redskins' practice squad, so he has to be on the Patriots' roster for at least 3 weeks.

Interesting that at about 6-4, 260 pounds and 4.7 speed, Hoomanawanui is actually more of a Y tight end in the mold of Rob Gronkowski, than the smaller, faster F that Aaron Hernandez plays.

He has 20 catches for 229 yards and three touchdowns in three seasons.

Hoomanawanui played in Josh McDaniels' offense with the Rams, so he should be able to slide right in as far as the terminology.

The Patriots will have to make a roster move. It's possible they will slide tight end Visanthe Shiancoe to the new in-season injured reserve spot.

That, however, comes with a drawback. You only get one spot. If someone like Tom Brady or Vince Wilfork is down for two months -- but could return for the playoffs -- the Patriots would either have to keep them on the roster, or end their season by putting them on injured reserve.

Former Browns, Buccaneers and Seahawks tight end Kellen Winslow just started his visit with the Patriots. It appears that is a fact-finding mission to update the team's emergency lists, but a signing can't be ruled out.

The Patriots also brought back receiver Kerry Taylor to the practice squad.

Tom Brady: 'Lot of excitement' in Patriots locker room

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 5, 2012 11:25 AM

FOXBOROUGH -- It's season No. 13 for Tom Brady. That's 13 training camps in the bag and and 13 cut-days in which friends, teammates, and would-be stars have departed the franchise during Brady's tenure. And while the Patriots are making continued efforts to tweak this team's 53-man roster, the veteran quarterback feels the shift is already underway at Gillette Stadium toward the week-to-week grind of an NFL season and beyond a week of locker room changes.

The NFL season kicks off with the Dallas Cowboys facing the New York Giants tonight, and the Patriots open their season Sunday against the Tennessee Titans.

"There's certainly a lot of excitement for everybody in the locker room," Brady said. "It's been a long training camp. I think everyone is excited to get to this point. It's a very good team we're playing. Certainly on defense we have a lot to prepare for, it's a challenging scheme. We've spent quite a bit of time on them already. And this is really the feel of the normal week, the Wednesday morning meeting that we have with coach [Bill] Belichick. You walk out of that meeting and it's just a different sense of urgency. I think all the players recognize that and we got to go out and have a good three days of preparation and then try to put together a good game for Sunday."

On Friday, Brady lost some of his best friends in the locker room in WR Deion Branch, C Dan Koppen and fellow quarterback Brian Hoyer, who were cut as the team trimmed its roster to 53 players. Tom Brady

Tom Brady discussed the start of the NFL season today at Gillette Stadium. (Steve Silva photo)

"I think in some ways you become a bit desensitized to it," he said. "You know it's not my decision so I can't really think about it too much other than support your friends and what they're going through. It's not like I can go in and lobby for guys. What decisions have been made is always what coach always feels is in the best interest of the team. You just try to go out there and worry about doing your job. We had practiced that day, so we went out and practiced. And you try to have a good practice regardless of who is out there because if you don't, you're really doing a disservice to yourself, your teammates, and the franchise. So you got to try and go out and compartmentalize things and go out there and have good practices and ultimately be prepared for the game."

Patriots sign RB Hilliard, waive OL Tennant

Posted by Greg A. Bedard September 4, 2012 05:31 PM

The Patriots waived former Boston College center Matt Tennant just a few days after claiming him off waivers, and signed running back Lex Hilliard to take his place on the roster

Hilliard (5-11, 240) was drafted by the Dolphins in the sixth round of the 2008 draft. He signed with the Vikings this offseason but was released at final cutdown.

Scouting report from an NFL personnel executive: "Third running back, good size, downhill runner, not much burst. Average elusiveness and speed. Catches well. Solid special teams player. Tough kid. ... Has been flexed to fullback once in a while by Miami but it's not natural to him. He's a willing blocker, just doesn't excel at it."

Report: Kellen Winslow to work out for the Patriots

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff September 4, 2012 04:22 PM

It didn't work out for Kellen Winslow Jr. in Seattle. He's probably hoping for better luck in a tight end happy offense.

The nine-year pro is reportedly going to try out for the Patriots, according to ProFootballTalk.com.

Winslow, if brought on, would join a tight ends group with two other free-agent signees, Daniel Fells and Visanthe Shiancoe, plus all-pro Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Winslow has 437 career receptions, 4,836 yards and 23 touchdowns. He spent the last three seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before being traded to the Seahawks. He was cut on Saturday.

McDaniels: Brady sets an example

Posted by Staff September 4, 2012 04:19 PM
Patriots' offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels has been impressed with the work of quarterback Tom Brady.

“I think Tom has gotten better every year,” McDaniels said during a conference call Tuesday. “I wouldn’t say it’s dramatically different for Tom in terms of the way he prepares. He studies and prepares so well for each team and puts in so much hard work and does a great job of demonstrating how to get ready for each game.

“I see the same things from him. It’s a great example for our younger players to see how he goes about trying to prepare for this opening game. I see a guy that’s determined, that’s working extremely hard, that wants to play his best football and he’s trying to do everything that he can to make sure that happens this year.”

Safety Nate Ebner has emerged as one of the better rookies on the Patriot roster.

“He’ll come in and work hard every day,” defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said of Ebner. “So we’re definitely pleased with the effort and his ability to come in and work hard. But he’s obviously got a long way to go, so he’ll just keep working at it. I think the whole point of all of it is that you don’t set your standards too high and you don’t set your standards too low. You just try to see how he progresses each day, and that’s really just what we grade it off of. Make sure he comes in every day and tries to improve from the previous day, so that’s kind of where we’re at with it.”

Source: Mike Kafka works out for Patriots

Posted by Gary Dzen, Boston.com Staff September 4, 2012 01:57 PM

The Patriots had quarterback Mike Kafka in for a workout recently, an NFL source confirms to the Globe's Shalise Manza Young. The workout was first reported by Jason LaCanfora of CBS Sports.

Kafka was among 19 players cut by the Philadelphia Eagles last week. The 25-year-old out of Northwestern has appeared four regular-season games in two seasons, going 11-for-16 for 107 yards and two interceptions. He was selected in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL Draft.

The Patriots released quarterback Brian Hoyer last week, meaning Ryan Mallett is now Tom Brady's backup.

New receiver Salas knows expectations in New England

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff September 3, 2012 01:50 PM
FOXBOROUGH – Greg Salas suddenly finds himself in a situation where every catch he makes may be critical. That’s what a trade from the rebuilding St. Louis Rams to the Patriots will do, increase the sense of urgency.

As the Patriots prepare for their season-opener against the Tennessee Titans in Nashville on Sunday, Salas is familiarizing himself with the new playbook, although it’s authored by former Rams offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, now the OC in New England.

Salas was on his way to a sparkling rookie season before breaking his left leg in Week 9 last season. After failing to make an impact with the Rams in training camp, he was shipped to New England for a late-round pick in 2015. Salas wasn’t even listed on the depth chart as the team began practice, but he comes to New England hoping to boost the receiver corps.

“I’m just happy to be here and ready to do what’s asked of me. I was able to work with (Josh McDaniels) last year and I’m able to work with him again this year. He was a my coach last year and our offensive coordinator and he’s offensive coordinator here so I have familiarity with everything.

“I play hard and do everything that a team asks of me and that’s what I’m here for,” he said in the locker room of Gillette Stadium. “I feel like I can play both (slot and outside receiver). Just refreshing myself with the material and concentrating on everything about Tennessee.”

In St. Louis, Salas was playing on a team starting over with coach Jeff Fisher. The Patriots, meanwhile, are perennially competing for a Super Bowl.

"It’s a big difference. I’m just happy to be here and I know the expectations are to win every game and that’s what I’m here to help do. I talked to (the Patriots) before the draft like I talked to every other team during the draft process. Not too much familiarity, just casual talking like with every other team.”

Of course for any new Patriot, especially on offense, the first conversation with quarterback Tom Brady will elicit a reaction.

“I’ve got a chance to meet him and he seems like a great guy. He’s one of the best quarterbacks ever so it’s just an honor to play with him,” Salas said. “(Rookie season) was tough but I’ve moved on from that now and now I’m just on to this season and to Tennessee this week.

Salas said his left leg is sound and healthy after an arduous offseasoning conditioning program.

“I’m sure every rehab is difficult and I had to take my time to get ready again and work hard in the offseason to make sure I was able to play this season.”

Salas said he began to detect the hint of a potential deal of the final weeks of training camp.

“I wasn’t sure there was going a trade coming until after the initial 53-man roster, then my agent kind gave me a feeling for what was happening,” he said. “I think (playing in Hawaii’s passing offense) helped in reading defenses and adjusting routes on the go. But every offensive is different from Hawaii’s offense.”

Does new number for Hightower give clues on Waters situation?

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff September 3, 2012 01:49 PM
In today's episode of As the Waters Turns (or Flows, as the case may be) ...

With now six days until the regular-season opener, offensive lineman Brian Waters is still nowhere to be found, at least not in the Foxborough area.

Bill Belichick was asked again about the status of the right guard, and whether his designation as "reserve/did not report" changes now in the regular season.

"He's not on the roster. He's either an active player or he's not an active player, and he's not on the roster."

Asked if Waters can now be classified as a contract holdout, Belichick said, "I don't have any more to add to the situation."

But did we get a hint today about the Patriots's feelings toward the veteran? {Cue the dramatic soap opera-type music}

Since linebackers must wear numbers 50 and above in games, rookie Dont'a Hightower's had to be changed from the 45 he's worn since he was drafted by New England to something acceptable under league rules.

What number did he switch to? 54.

That's the number Waters wore last season, and that's the number that up to this point remains listed as his number on the Pats' official roster.

So if the Patriots gave Waters' number away, is it a sign that the relationship between he and the team has gone down the drain (pun intended)? Or is he returning but will get a different number?

Waters still has a locker with nameplate in the locker room, but it has only the bare essentials: chair, white practice jersey, t-shirt.

Fifty-four was also the number of one Tedy Bruschi, so that could be considered a big deal for the rookie as well.

But in the moment, one has to wonder if Hightower getting 54 is the end of Waters's tenure and one of the more bizarre personnel situations in recent Patriots history.

Patriots Monday practice peek

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff September 3, 2012 01:45 PM

The Patriots are back on the practice field today, with players wearing shells and shorts.

On the plus side, safety Steve Gregory and running back Danny Woodhead returned after both were not spotted Sunday. However, running back Shane Vereen and tight end Visanthe Shiancoe continue to be out.

Safety Patrick Chung was still wearing the red non-contact jersey, and offensive lineman Nick McDonald was present but not participating.

Youngest opening-day roster for Belichick

Posted by Greg A. Bedard September 2, 2012 09:27 PM

Compiled this for my column Monday, so I figured I'd pass it along.

In case you were wondering, this is -- by far -- the youngest opening-day roster that Bill Belichick has fielded. (Of course, they could change out six more guys by then)

The average age of the 2012 Patriots is 25 years, 274 days. The next youngest was, according to STATS, LLC, the 2010 squad (26, 280), followed by Belichick’s first, the 5-11 juggernauts of 2000 (26, 329).

The 2012 Patriots are also the youngest defense Belichick has ever fielded. The average age of the starters is 25. The only other Belichick team to be under 27 was the ’10 version at 25.1, according to numbers used from ProFootballReference.com.

To get an idea on where the current numbers rank league-wide, ESPN's Mike Sando has done some work on that.

Here is the entire chart. The offensive and defense numbers represent the predominant starters over the course of the season. Of course, that means this year's number could go up when injuries hit.

Screen Shot 2012-09-02 at 10.28.08 PM.png

Belichick: Cutting players 'hardest part of the job'

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff September 2, 2012 03:11 PM

Before heading out onto the practice field, Bill Belichick held his first post-cutdown day press conference.

He was asked, of course, about the difficulty in releasing players like Deion Branch and Dan Koppen, but Belichick said cuts are never easy.

"It's the hardest part of the job, to take players that have played for you, won for you, players that have been with us all spring, worked hard, were banged up and kept going out there, kept doing everything they could to make the team - to tell those players they can't be part of the team, it's very difficult," he said.

"At the same time, we all know in this business...it's a production business. There's not too many of us who have been in this game for very long who haven't experienced that [being let go] in some form or fashion. It's not just those guys, it's any players. You can change the names, but you're still affecting someone's life, someone's career, someone who has done everything they could to earn a spot on your team. It's not fun to deliver that news."

Belichick also confirmed that rookie Jeff Demps is out for the entire season, and is not eligible to be re-activated later in the season under the newly-enacted rule. Demps had to be on the 53-man roster on (or after) Sept. 4 to be able to be re-activated; he was never truly on the 53-man roster, so he does not qualify.

(As an example, a player who would qualify under the new rule is Dan Koppen from last season. Koppen was injured in the first game of the regular season, and thus was on the 53-man roster at the time of his injury. If the new rule were in place last year, the Patriots could have designated him, and he could have returned to the field later in the season.)

Also, when asked about the status of guard Brian Waters, Belichick affirmed that he hasn't yet joined the team when he said, "I'm just talking about the guys that are here."

Some other quick hits from Belichick:

On the trade to acquire WR Greg Salas from the Rams:
We thought he'd be able to help our football team. He's got some versatility; we'll see how it goes...He had a lot of production in college, and even last year.

If Josh McDaniels' experience with Salas in St. Louis helped
Well, sure. Josh had some firsthand experience with the player, but we scouted him out of Hawaii, we followed him last year. We had a good feel for him before Josh was here.

If Ryan Mallett's responsibilities change now that he's the No. 2 quarterback
He's in the on-deck circle. He's the next guy. He's earned that spot. His position is the same, his responsibility is the same, but he'll get more opportunities in practice and he's closer to getting in the game. I don't think the preparation is any different, don't think the process is any different...Where he was last year, he could be two plays away [from playing] instead of one. He should have prepared last year. Everyone should be preparing the same way.


FB Develin added to practice squad

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff September 2, 2012 03:05 PM

The Patriots have filled their eighth and final practice squad spot with fullback James Develin.

Develin, 6-3 and 250 pounds, spent all of last season on the Bengals' practice squad. He was also on Cincinnati's practice squad for the final five games of the 2010 season, after playing in the UFL.

The Pennsylvania native played at Brown, where he was a defensive lineman.

Patriots practice peek - Rare Sunday edition

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff September 2, 2012 02:56 PM

The Patriots are practicing today in full pads as they get ready for their regular-season opener next Sunday against the Titans.

There were four players not spotted during the media-access period: S Steve Gregory, RBs Shane Vereen and Danny Woodhead, and TE Visanthe Shiancoe.

TE Aaron Hernandez was out there, but as media were readying to walk onto the field, he walked down the stairs, back toward the locker room. He was not with a member of the training/medical staff.

RT Sebastian Vollmer returned after not being spotted on Friday, S Patrick Chung was in a red non-contact jersey, and G/C Nick McDonald was a shorts-wearing sideline observer.

Gronkowski says goodbye to friends, looks ahead to Titans

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff September 2, 2012 12:44 PM

This is the last Sunday of 2012 without NFL football, and with a trip to Tennessee on the horizon, the Patriots are at Gillette Stadium today for a day's work.

Tight end Rob Gronkowski is looking forward to the season opener.

"Definitely anxious. It's always exciting to get the season started," he said. "Tennessee is a good opponent, first game of the season, always got the jitters, always ready to go and always excited for the game to come. College football started this week, it was exciting watching all that, and it's just getting you more excited to get going."

New England did very little, if any, game-planning for its preseason games, but now will revert to its week-to-week, attention to detail, game planning approach.

"You dig in big - physically, mentally, everything. It's game time now, this is what counts, this is what starts the season is this game and everything from here on out matters," Gronkowski said.

Though it's hard to think of the day when Gronkowski won't be with the Patriots, particularly given the contract extension he signed in the spring, he got another stark reminder of the realities of NFL life last week as the team released longtime Pats Deion Branch and Dan Koppen.

"That shows the business side of the NFL and it's always tough to see your friends go," he said. "Your friends, people that are your mentors, guys that you look up to, and it's tough seeing them go. That's part of the business but at the same time you wish them the best of luck and hopefully everything works out for everyone that you see go. It's definitely a tough time."

Branch is "just a great guy overall. He taught so much on the field - how to practice, how to stay motivated out there, how to always do a rep right so we don't have to repeat it. He's a great guy and we'll always be in touch with him."

And he knows one day it could be him.

"Definitely. I think of that on days like last Friday when you see people go. It's like, 'man, that could be me one day.' It's the business side of the NFL and you have to keep working hard every week, keep working out, keep practicing hard, keep doing what you've gotta do so you can stay around."


Patriots trade for WR Greg Salas

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff September 1, 2012 03:51 PM

It seemed logical that the Patriots would be in the market for another wide receiver - after Friday's cuts, they had just four true receivers on the roster - and it appears they've found one.

The Patriots announced that they have acquired Greg Salas from the Rams in exchange for a late-round pick in 2015.

ESPN's Adam Schefter first reported the trade.

Getting Salas is a logical choice for New England, since he played under offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels last year as a rookie in St. Louis.

The 24-year old Salas, 6-1, 209 pounds, was a fourth-round pick of St. Louis last year out of Hawaii. He played in six games, with 27 receptions for 264 yards and no touchdowns. A broken fibula ended his season early.

At Hawaii, Salas was recruited as a defensive back but switched to receiver after his redshirt freshman year. He finished his career as the program's all-time leading receiver, with 285 receptions for 4,345 yards and 26 touchdowns. As a senior, he started all 14 games and had a school-record 119 catches, and his 1,889 yards were a WAC record.

Patriots add former BC center Matt Tennant

Posted by Greg A. Bedard September 1, 2012 01:59 PM

The Patriots were awarded former Boston College and Saints center/guard Matt Tennant off waivers, according to three league sources.

He was added to the 53-man roster.

Tennant, 25, is 6-5 and 300 pounds and was a fifth-round choice by the Saints in 2010.

He can play any of the interior spots, but is mostly a center. According to personnel executives, Tennant plays a lot like another former Eagle, Dan Koppen, but is nearly three inches taller. Tennant isn't overly strong, lacks a great base, but has good feet and is better in a zone scheme like the Patriots use.

I would say on first glance this doesn't bode well for a Brian Waters return, but things can change.

Right now, I would project Tennant to backup Ryan Wendell at center, and Dan Connolly to be the right guard. If Tennant gets up to speed, he could be the swing center/guard against the Titans. Donald Thomas is certainly an option as well.

News, analysis and commentary from Boston.com's staff writers and contributors, including Zuri Berry and Erik Frenz.

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