The Patriots have announced several roster moves:
DB Sterling Moore, one of the heroes of the AFC Championship game last January, has been released. An undrafted rookie out of SMU last year, Moore made his first-ever career start, at safety, last year on the road against the Jets. He has been listed on the injury report with a knee injury for much of the season but has still been playing.
To fill the spots that opened by the release of Moore and Bobby Carpenter on Tuesday, New England brought back two players who have been here before: LB Mike Rivera and DB Derrick Martin.
Rivera spent much of 2011 on New England's practice squad and was also with the team in training camp.
Martin, a veteran who has played for the Ravens, Packers and Giants, was with the Patriots in training camp but was among the final cuts on Aug. 31.
The team also released tight end Alex Silvestro from the practice squad.
Tom Brady has been named AFC offensive player of the week for his 23-for-35, 304 yard performance against the Rams in London.
Brady threw for over 300 yards for the fifth time this season (though only the second time in a Patriots win), and also had four touchdown passes.
This is the second time this season and 22nd time overall that Brady has been recognized with the weekly honor. He and friend/rival Peyton Manning are tied for most player of the week awards all-time.
The Patriots made a roster move Tuesday, releasing linebacker Bobby Carpenter. He had played in the past four games after being signed on Oct. 3 (he was with the team in training camp before getting cut on Sept. 1), and had two special-teams tackles.
The move opens a spot on the 53-man roster.
Patriots players had the day off today -- and will take Halloween off, as well -- as the team enjoys its league-mandated bye week with a light schedule. The Patriots will practice just once this week, on Thursday, before getting an extended weekend and then returning next week for the second half of the NFL season.
Tuesday, however, did include the weekly conference call with coach Bill Belichick, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia.
Among the highlights:
-- All three coaches said they'll take advantage of the bye week and look inward. "You want to get better every week, you always want to try to improve," Belichick said. "This is a good opportunity for us to look at some things that we can do better going forward, but also looking back at maybe things that we could spend more time on to try to improve."
-- Belichick was asked what instructions or reminders he gives his players as they receive some rare in-season time off. "Use good judgment, be careful, come back with a fresh attitude, be ready to go," Belichick said.
-- Fresh off a 45-7 win against the Rams, McDaniels said the game plan worked well. "When you go into any week, you hope to put together a plan that gives your guys a chance to go out there and execute and play fast and hopefully be productive," McDaniels said. "And then the players to go out and play the way they did, it always makes you feel good."
-- The only negative was the first-series touchdown (on a 50-yard pass) given up by the defense, which Patricia addressed. "I certainly don't think you want to start any game, or any drive for that matter, giving up points. That's our goal, to not allow them to score, and unfortunately we didn't do a good job of that on the first series of the game. Our guys battled back, really tried to get things corrected."
The Patriots have returned safely to the United States.
The team departed London this morning and a team spokesman confirmed the Patriots landed at Boston's Logan Airport around noon.
The team moved up its travel plan to try to get home ahead of the main impact of Hurricane Sandy. The Patriots defeated the Rams at London's Wembley Stadium in an NFL International Series game on Sunday.
To establish the record, the Patriots had to rack up yardage against the franchise they came into the game tied with: St. Louis. The ďGreatest Show on TurfĒ Rams had a 16-game streak of 350 yards-plus over the 1999-2000 seasons.
The Patriots could have set the mark a long time ago: their loss in Pittsburgh last October, when they had 213 yards, was the only game last year that they did not top 350 yards.
New England had 473 offensive yards on Sunday.
Here's the streak game by game:
11/6/2011 vs. Giants - 438 yards (332 passing, 106 rushing)
11/13/2011 at Jets - 389 yards (329 passing, 60 rushing)
11/21/2011 vs. Kansas City - 380 yards (223 passing, 157 rushing)
11/27/2011 at Philadelphia - 457 yards (353 passing, 104 rushing)
12/4/2011 vs. Indianapolis - 362 yards (289 passing, 73 rushing)
12/11/2011 at Washington - 431 yards (352 passing, 79 rushing)
12/18/2011 at Denver - 451 yards (310 passing, 141 rushing)
12/24/2011 vs. Miami - 400 yards (281 passing, 119 rushing)
1/1/2012 vs. Buffalo - 480 yards (360 passing, 120 rushing)
9/9/2012 at Tennessee - 390 yards (228 passing, 162 rushing)
9/16/2012 vs. Arizona - 387 yards (297 passing, 90 rushing)
9/23/2012 at Baltimore - 396 yards (319 passing, 77 rushing)
9/30/2012 at Buffalo - 580 yards (333 passing, 247 rushing)
10/7/2012 vs. Denver - 444 yards (193 passing, 251 rushing)
10/14/2012 at Seattle - 475 yards (388 passing, 87 rushing)
10/21/2012 vs. Jets - 381 yards (250 passing, 131 rushing)
10/28/2012 at St. Louis - 473 yards (321 passing, 152 rushing)
The Patriots wide receiver, who scored two touchdowns on Sunday, wouldn't mind spending extra time in a place like London if Hurricane Sandy keeps the team across the pond for a while.
"I've been in [the NFL] so long it's like all the plans I schedule [for bye weeks], and I had budgeted for, [them] being last-minute," Lloyd said when talking about Hurricane Sandy possibly wreaking havoc on travel along the Eastern seaboard with the team's bye week ahead of them.
If the team is indeed stranded in London for an extended period, it's fine by Lloyd. "I was hoping we'd get stranded here all week," he said.
Lloyd said he didn't know the team's travel plans, but expected to find out when the players return to the team hotel.
According to reports, the team changed its travel plans for an earlier flight in an attempt to get home ahead of the storm. The Patriots were to fly home at noon Monday (London time), but reports indicated it was moved up to 5 a.m. (1 a.m. Eastern).
It all started with the spiking of the mike at the NFL Experience on Saturday, and it was followed by two entertaining spikes after the Patriots' tight end scored two touchdowns in the Pats 45-7 whopping of the St. Louis Rams at Wembley Stadium today.
After his first touchdown, Gronkowski paced a few steps each way like a British palace guard before a signature thunderspike.
"The little nutcracker dude that's guarding the house ... yeah, guarding the palace, I like how he just sits there and stays still," Gronkowski said when describing spike No. 1. "It's pretty cool. I give that one credit to Chandler [Jones], he told me to do it."
After his second, touchdown, he held the ball above his head and danced a bit.
Gronk was not as candid about spike No. 2. When pressed to describe the wiggle-butter-churning move after his second touchdown, he said "I don't know, you gotta ask Deion [Branch], he knows.
But neither of the two post-touchdown moves during today's game were the ones he liked the most. "That microphone one was pretty good," Gronkowski replied when asked to name his favorite spike of the weekend.
It was a sound beating.
The Patriots walloped the St. Louis Rams 45-7 Sunday at Wembley Stadium in London. Quarterback Tom Brady threw for 304 yards and four touchdowns, guiding the Patriots to a record 17th straight game with at least 350 yards of offense.
The Patriots tallied 445 yards.
"It was a fun day for us offensively," Brady said. "We played pretty well in the first half and then were able to make plays in the third and fourth quarters.
"It was great to come on a trip like this [and play well]."
The Patriots and Rams played to a crowd of more than 80,000 at famed Wembley Stadium, which opened in 2007 on the site of the original stadium.
"This is a great venue," Brady said. "This is a beautiful stadium. I know how it's historical. I hope they got to enjoy [the game], the fans. I know it got out of hand, but that's how the Patriots liked it."
Brady finished the game 23 of 35 passing.
LONDON -- Some quick thoughts while the Patriots lead 28-7 at halftime and get the ball back to start the second half:
- The Rams have no answer for the Patriots' spread attack. Early the Patriots were exploiting the single high safety because the Rams refused to take a LB off the field. When the Patriots spread them out, that meant one safety had to go cover. The Rams would like to run two man -- two deep safeties and man underneath -- but the Patriots aren't letting them.
- Patriots are in complete control. What they don't need is Josh McDaniels to give the Rams an opening with a big loss on one of his deception plays.
- Rob Gronkowski had a big half, but it appeared his back got worse as the game went on and he's stiffening up. He was really trying to stay loose. It's getting colder by the minute here now that the sun went down. It wasn't bad to start the game.
- Good to see the Patriots finally trying to manufacture some pressure early. They've predictably backed off as the lead has grown, which is the right thing to do.
- Amazing that Tavon Wilson was burned on the exact same play as the Seattle game, and he butchered it the same way.
- The young Rams keep shooting themselves in the foot with penalties.
- Brian Schottenheimer is going to have to be more aggressive with his calls. The Patriots will let him dink and dunk all day. Totally plays into their hands.
- Tremendous job by offensive linemen Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer in the first half against Robert Quinn and Chris Long, who have been invisible. Brady's quick release has helped as well.
- The Rams have to hold Deion Branch, really?
The Patriots showed off their killer instinct Sunday in London, racing past the St. Louis Rams for a 45-7 victory at Wembley Stadium.
Tom Brady threw for 304 yards and four touchdowns, including two apiece to Brandon Lloyd and Rob Gronkowski, and Stevan Ridley ran for 127 yards on 15 carries and a touchdown in the blowout victory.
Gronkowski finished the day with 146 yards receiving on eight catches.
1:25 4th quarter: Patriots 45, Rams 7 -- Tavon Wilson came up with an interception on Kellen Clemens at the goal line, racing back to St. Louis territory before sliding to a halt as the Patriots take over with the ability to run out the clock.
5:26 4th quarter: Patriots 45, Rams 7 -- Shane Vereen took a Ryan Mallett screen pass and went 17 yards to pick up a first down. But the Patriots' offense was unable to keep the drive going, with Mallett throwing two straight incomplete passes before Zoltan Mesko booted his second punt of the game.
8:21 4th quarter: Patriots 45, Rams 7 -- Patriots rookie cornerback Alfonzo Dennard came up with a goal-line interception and Ryan Mallett has entered the game for the Patriots. His first playing time of the season.
11:20 4th quarter: Patriots 45, Rams 7 -- Sporting a new, comical dance, Rob Gronkowski was back to utilizing his signature spike, catching a 14-yard touchdown from Tom Brady.
It was his second touchdown of the game. Gronkowski now has eight catches for 146 yards and two touchdowns.
14:51 4th quarter: Patriots 38, Rams 7 -- Rob Ninkovich recorded an 8-yard sack on 4th-and-6 for the Rams as the Patriots forced another turnover on downs. It was Ninkovich's fifth sack of the season.
End of the 3d quarter: Patriots 38, Rams 7 -- Third quarter comes to a close with the Patriots in a commanding lead. Both Stevan Ridley and Rob Gronkowski have passed the 100-yard threshold and Tom Brady is closing in on a 300-yard day.
2:40 3d quarter: Patriots 38, Rams 7 -- Zoltan Mesko punted for the first time today after a dismal drive by the Patriots, marked by two incomplete passes and a 7-yard loss on a run by Shane Vereen.
3:35 3d quarter: Patriots 38, Rams 7 -- Chandler Jones got his sixth sack of the season, tripping up Sam Bradford for a loss of 17 yards as the Patriots forced the Rams to punt for the fourth time Sunday.
6:55 3d quarter: Patriots 38, Rams 7 -- Stephen Gostkowski kicked a 26-yard field goal.
The drive was spurred along by Stevan Ridley, who now has 119 yards rushing on the day. Ridley broke loose for a 41-yard run on the drive -- the longest for the Patriots this season -- and ran through Rams safety Craig Dahl for a 16-yard run.
11:48 3d quarter: Patriots 35, Rams 7 -- Four plays, two penalties, and two punts. The Patriots' defense has stiffened up against the Rams, with a bit of help from the Rams, too. An illegal forward pass by Sam Bradford and a holding call on St. Louis' first punt attempt, helped the Patriots get a little better field advantage after taking over after the Rams' disastrous drive.
12:34 3d quarter: Patriots 35, Rams 7 -- Tom Brady connected with Brandon Lloyd for a 9-yard touchdown, Lloyd's second touchdown of the game.
The Patriots made quick work of the Rams to start the third quarter, going 80 yards over six plays in 2:36.
15:00 3d quarter: Patriots 28, Rams 7 -- The third quarter is underway.
0:14 2d quarter: Patriots 28, Rams 7 -- Stevan Ridley ran in a 1-yard touchdown following a pass interference on the Rams' Bradley Fletcher. It was the second pass interference on Fletcher of the drive that allowed the Patriots to extend their drive and punch in a touchdown before the half.
The Patriots will receive to start the third quarter.
The team went 56 yards over nine plays in 1:42 to capitalize on the Rams' turnover on downs.
1:46 2d quarter: Patriots 21, Rams 7 -- Patriots linebacker Dont'a Hightower dinged up St. Louis quarterback Sam Bradford. On what looked like a broken play for the Rams, Bradford rolled out with Hightower in pursuit unblocked before tossing a pass to Daryl Richardson. Hightower dropped Bradford as he was throwing the ball, but Bradford came down hard on his left shoulder, which has been the source of much pain for the Rams quarterback.
The Rams burned a timeout after the play to bring Bradford back but were forced to attempt a 54-yard field goal. A bad snap on the play led to a turnover on downs.
4:09 2d quarter: Patriots 21, Rams 7 -- Tom Brady threw a 7-yard touchdown to Rob Gronkowski, who gave a rather enthusiastic spike for the London audience, as the Patriots took a two-touchdown lead.
Gronkowski has now gone over 100 yards receiving on the day, catching passes of 25, 25, 17, 32 and 7 yards. He has five catches for 106 yards.
10:13 2d quarter: Patriots 14, Rams 7 -- Patriots defensive back Marquice Cole had seemingly come up with a strip fumble on Rams receiver Steve Smith with Rob Ninkovich recovering.
After the play was reviewed, it was determined that Smith didn't have possession of the ball long enough to merit a catch. The Rams were forced to punt anyway after the third down play.
14:12 2d quarter: Patriots 14, Rams 7 -- On a gutsy call to go for it on fourth down at the 1-yard line, Shane Vereen punched in a touchdown as the Patriots took the lead.
Tom Brady had two key passes to Rob Gronkowski for 50 yards to get the Patriots into the red zone. The Rams were able to stuff Danny Woodhead on 3rd-and-goal at the 1 but were overpowered when Ridley went right behind right guard Dan Connolly for the touchdown.
End of 1st quarter: Patriots 7, Rams 7 -- First quarter comes to a close with Tom Brady completing all eight of his passes for 119 yards and a touchdown. Patriots on the 1, looking to score again.
3:43 1st quarter: Patriots 7, Rams 7 -- Kyle Arrington has left the game with a head injury and his return is questionable, according to the team.
4:43 1st quarter: Patriots 7, Rams 7 -- Brandon Spikes blitzed on third down, providing the pressure on St. Louis quarterback Sam Bradford, as the Patriots forced the Rams to punt.
Rams receiver Chris Givens, who caught a 50-yard touchdown earlier in the game, appeared to be hurt on the drive and went to the locker room.
7:50 1st quarter: Patriots 7, Rams 7 -- Tom Brady hit Brandon Lloyd for a 19-yard touchdown to tie up the game.
Lloyd ran a flag route to the corner of the end zone. The Patriots went 78 yards on eight plays. Brady found Danny Woodhead for a 24-yard gain to get into Rams territory.
Brady went 4 for 4 on the drive.
12:35 1st quarter: Rams 7, Patriots 0 -- As feared, the Rams' Chris Givens is a deep threat. Six plays into the game, Rams quarterback Sam Bradford went deep to Givens for a 50-yard touchdown pass.
Givens, a rookie, sped past safety Tavon Wilson before pulling down the touchdown catch. Givens has now set an NFL record with five straight games with a reception of at least 50 yards.
15:00 1st quarter: Patriots 0, Rams 0 -- The Rams will receive the opening kickoff. Game on.
Pregame: The Patriots will be without Logan Mankins again so Donald Thomas will likely fill in for the all-pro guard. We're getting close to game time in London. We'll have all updates, series by series, right here.
Enjoy the game.
The Patriots announced on Friday that seven players had been declared out for the game with the Rams, but then the team placed one of those seven, Ras-I Dowling, on injured reserve so that meant the team still had one more player to declare inactive.
That ended up being Logan Mankins, who will miss his third game this season. Mankins has been dealing with hip and calf injuries, and it seems fair to ask - if there was a pretty good chance he wouldn't be playing - why the team had him sit on that bad hip for flights that total 12-14 hours.
Here is the full list of the Patriots inactives, as well as the Rams. Receiver Danny Amendola (shoulder), who did return to practice this week, will not play for St. Louis.
LG Logan Mankins
TE Aaron Hernandez
S Patrick Chung
S Steve Gregory
RB Brandon Bolden
DE Trevor Scott
LB Tracy White
WR Danny Amendola
QB Austin Davis
LB Mario Haggan
DT Matt Conrath
T Wayne Hunter
T Rodger Saffold
DE Eugene Sims
LONDON Ė The Patriots would really like to get a victory to propel them into the bye week against a Rams team that will play tough. Here are five keys to victory for the Patriots:
- Get pressure on Bradford: Sam Bradford, on his third offensive coordinator in as many years, is prone to some mechanical problems if heís rushed. If the Patriots donít get pressure on Bradford, heíll carve them up worse than Mark Sanchez. This is a poor offensive line, especially on the left side and at right tackle. The Patriots must win one-on-one matchups to move Bradford off his spot and to limit the down-field shots the Rams are going to want to take.
- Offensive tackles do their job: Both Rams ends, Robert Quinn (right) and Chris Long (left) present unique challenges. Quinn possesses the type of inside moves that have given LT Nate Solder problems. Longís strength and non-stop motor, could be an issue for RT Sebastian Vollmer, who has played well for the most part but has continued to battle back issues. If the Patriots canít protect Tom Brady against the ends, itís going to be a long game.
- Double moves on the outside: We should see a lot of Brandon Lloyd against LCB Janoris Jenkins, the rookie. Jenkins has a lot of talent and will attempt to jump a few passes. But he guesses a lot. Look for the Patriots to bait Jenkins early, and then go with the slant-and-go route later to take advantage of Jenkinsí over-agressiveness. Against his former team and coming off his worst game as a Patriot, look for Lloyd to try to bust out in this one.
- Gronkowski down the middle: The Rams are really limited in the middle of the field at safety. Theyíll probably bracket Wes Welker a lot, so that could allow Gronkowski to work in the deep middle of the field. If heís healthy, it could be a big game for him.
- McDaniels needs to stay within himself: Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels has done something funky in every game, usually in a bad spot midway through the second or third quarter when the Patriots were prepared to take control of the game. McDaniels, facing one of his former teams, may be trying to show off a little bit. He should avoid that, especially against a team that is less talented. Just let Brady be Brady. Run the ball a bit, have Brady take the checkdowns to the running backs, and stay out of the way.
This feels like a close game because the Rams can pressure with four. Of course, everytime I thought it was going to be a blowout, the Patriots struggled. The Patriots must get pressure on Bradford. If they donít, itís going down to the wire again. If the Patriots canít get pressure against this line, they might be hopeless. I think they get it done. Finally.
Patriots 30, Rams 20
The Patriots help continue the NFL's foray into London Sunday, limping into their Week 8 contest against the St. Louis Rams in desperate need to get healthy.
The Patriots will be without starters Aaron Hernandez, Patrick Chung, and Steve Gregory, pressing on with a makeshift secondary. Devin McCourty and Tavon Wilson will man the safety positions for the second straight week while rookie Alfonzo Dennard will likely start in McCourty's place at cornerback.
The Patriots enter the week coming off a 29-26 overtime win over the New York Jets while the Rams are coming off two straight losses, including a 30-20 loss to the Green Bay Packers and a 17-14 loss to the Miami Dolphins.
The Rams have beaten two previous opponents of the Patriots, including the Seattle Seahawks in Week 4 and the Arizona Cardinals in Week 5. Both of those teams defeated the Patriots.
Here are the details for today's game:
Kickoff: 1 p.m. ET
Records: Patriots 4-3; Rams 3-4.
TV/Radio info: CBS (Jim Nantz, Phil Simms); 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 Daniel Fells.
Patriots defense: NT Vince Wilfork DT Kyle Love, RDE Chandler Jones, DE Rob Ninkovich, LB Dont'a Hightower, LB Jerod Mayo, LB Brandon Spikes, CB Alfonzo Dennard, CB Kyle Arrington, S Tavon Wilson, S Devin McCourty.
Rams offense: WR Brandon Gibson, LT Joe Barksdale, LG Shelley Smith, C Rob Turner, RG Harvey Dahl, RT Barry Richardson, TE Lance Kendricks, WR Chris Givens, QB Sam Bradford, FB Brit Miller, HB Steven Jackson.
Rams defense: LDE Chris Long, LDT Kendall Langford, RDT Michael Brockers, RDE Robert Quinn, SLB Rocky McIntosh, MLB James Laurinaitis, WLB Jo-Lonn Dunbar, LCB Cortland Finnegan, RCB Janoris Jenkins, FS Craig Dahl, SS Quintin Mikell.
Patriots: Steve Gregory (hip), Brandon Bolden (knee), Tracy White (foot), Aaron Hernandez (ankle), Ras-I Dowling (injured reserve), Trevor Scott (hamstring), and Patrick Chung (shoulder).
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 RAMS' OFFENSE
The Rams offense is called by a familiar face: Brian Schottenheimer, the former New York Jets offensive coordinator. Schottenheimer, who now runs the 28th-ranked offense in the league, moved to St. Louis after the Jets looked to go in a different direction offensively. Although he's in a different city now, Schottenheimer's offense hasn't changed a whole lot.
St. Louis has been utilizing a lot of 11 (1 back, 1 tight end) and 12 (1 back, 2 tight ends) personnel and utilizing both under center and shotgun snaps with quarterback Sam Bradford with a 45:55 run-pass ratio. Bradford is one of the league's most talented quarterback, but if you watched his footwork or perused his statistics, you'd never guess so.
Bradford possesses a strong and accurate arm that enables him to make throws all over the field. However, he has had a lot of issues stepping through his throws and transferring his weight, which has come as a result of the endless beating he's taken in the pocket because of his porous offensive line.
To offset the struggles of the offensive line and Bradford, Schottenheimer has integrated more three- and five-step drop-backs to get the ball out of his quarterback's hand quickly. A multitude of short passing concepts have been used with these drop-backs, such as All-Hitches, Slant/Flat and Schottenheimer's favorite, Double Slants, which often appears in the red zone, from 2x2 and 3x1 sets. Bradford is still taking a beating in the pocket however, despite Schottenheimer's tactics, which also include five and six (check-release from Steven Jackson) man protection.
When not passing the ball, the Rams are relying on veteran Steven Jackson and newcomer Daryl Richardson to do damage on the ground with the "inside" and "outside" zone concepts along with the "lead" concept.
INSIDE THE RAMS' DEFENSE
While the offense is struggling, the defense is having success. They are giving up 20 points per game, which ranks them ninth in the NFL. They are also one of the league's best in getting after the quarterback and possess a young and talented secondary that includes popular second-round pick Janoris Jenkins.
The 4-3 is the front seven of choice for the Rams and it is led by the very impressive front four, most notably defensive ends Robert Quinn and Chris Long. Long is one of the league leaders in pass rush by constantly applying pressures and racking up 4 sacks thus far. He's a different kind of rusher than Robert Quinn, however, as Quinn is more of a speed rusher that will win on the outside, as evidenced by his 7 sacks this season.
Moreover, when faced with multiple receiver sets, the Rams' 4-3 personnel grouping changes to a 3-3-5 or 4-2-5 (nickel) personnel, with star veteran corner Cortland Finnegan moving to the slot position while rookie corners Trumaine Johnson and Janoris Jenkins man the outsides.
Both cornerbacks on the outsides are still learning their position and can sometimes have issues with technique or patience in letting routes develop, thus becoming too aggressive and getting beaten. They can be seen playing man or zone coverage when the Rams go to Cover-1 (Man-Free) or Cover 2 (a soft-2) or Cover 3 concepts.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Patriots run defense vs. Rams run offense - The Rams will likely to look to run the ball. They will want to lean on it if they can so it is easier for Bradford to throw the ball vertically, particularly off of play action. Because of that, the Patriots run defense will once again have to step up and shut the opposition down. It is vital to do because it not only makes the Rams one dimensional, forcing them to rely on their passing game but it will allow more chances for hits on Bradford and force them into third and long, which they have been very poor at executing this season.
Rams DEs vs. Patriots OTs - The Rams will line up their defensive ends wide and allow them to charge up-field, especially weak-side end Robert Quinn. As noted earlier, Quinn is very dangerous off the edge because of his speed, but he also has very good flexibility and can flatten around the edge. He will be a tough task for Nate Solder. On the other side, Chris Long is relentless, a strong and very smart pass rusher who will surely work all 60 minutes.
Rams vertical passing - Whether its Chris Givens or Brian Quick, St. Louis will try to throw the ball vertically. Theyíve had many explosive plays vertically this season and they've come in different ways. Givens has taken a screen to the house and caught a vertical pass while Quick has been targeted (sometimes with little success) off of play action.
Rams' A-gap pressure and illusion - The Patriots interior offensive linemen are going to have to come up big in identifying when the Rams are blitzing or not because they will most certainly see various looks of interior pressure. The Rams have had some success using A-gap linebacker pressure ("Cross-Dogs") and showing the illusion of it, both of which are very difficult to deal with. Both create one on one matchups for the defensive ends on the outsides because of the interior offensive linemen occupied with protecting their quarterback up the middle.
Rams bracket coverage - One of the things I noticed while studying Rams tape is that they rotate their safeties at the snap to get into their desired coverage. By doing this, they don't tip-off their intentions before the snap. When they rotate their safeties, to Cover 1 (Man-Free) for instance, the strong safety coming downhill will form one half of bracket (double) coverage on a slot receiver while a linebacker forms the other half. Combined, the safety and linebacker end up creating an inside-out double coverage on the receiver. The Rams did this against the Packers, using it against tight end Jermichael Finley and slot receiver Randall Cobb. We may or may not see it again, but itís worth keeping an eye out for.
At Saturday's NFL Experience event, the Patriots tight end was on stage talking football when fans started chanting "Spike the mike! Spike the mike!" and naturally Gronk obliged by slamming the mike on the stage.
And famously stoic head coach Bill Belichick laughed.
Also during the fan rally at Trafalgar Square, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was heckled by a rambunctious fan when he spoke on the big stage. The shout of "Brady, you suck!" caught the star QB attention. "I've heard worse," Brady replied. "Trust me, I've heard worse."
Patriots owner Robert Kraft, wide receivers Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd, and punter Zoltan Mesko also addressed the large crowd at the NFL promotional event.
In addition, we caught up with sports fans from about 10 different countries who shared their thoughts on soccer vs. American football.
On the weather front, it's a cold and chilly day in London for today's Patriots-Rams game with temperatures expected to be in the 40s by game time.
The Patriots have announced that they've promoted DB Malcolm Williams off the practice squad to the 53-man roster for Sunday's game with St. Louis.
Williams, drafted last year out of Texas Christian, is considered primarily a special-teams player.
He fills the roster spot that opened when Ras-I Dowling was placed on injured reserve.
1. How do you think these young Rams are going to react to this out-of-the-ordinary experience?
HB: "Hard to say. Getting there early in the week probably helped. Their young players have responded well all season, so my sense is it wonít be that much of a factor. It will be interesting to see how kicker Greg Zuerlein. His only missed field goals this season (three) came on the road at Miami on a windy day.
2. Who is the one Rams player most Patriots fans don't know right now, but will by the end of the game on Sunday?
HB: "Wide receiver Chris Givens. He has a reception of at least 50 years in four consecutive games. Three have been long passes, and the other last week was a short pass and long run after the catch. Can the Patriotsí secondary limit the big plays?"
3. What's the biggest weakness on the Rams' offense you expect the Patriots to try to exploit?
HB: "The left side of the offensive line is vulnerable. Left tackle Joe Barksdale and left guard Shelley Smith made the first starts of their career last week and while they were solid, the game was at home. Mostly, the Ramsí offense has had issues in the red zone and on third down."
4. What's the biggest weakness on the Rams' defense you expect the Patriots to try to exploit?
HB: "Rookie cornerback Janoris Jenkins has a tendency to guess a lot, and he has given up big plays in recent games that have turned them in the opponentís favor. He has great skills, but ventures away from the defensive plan. Safety play is spotty and that could mean a big day for Rob Gronkowski, depending on his health."
5. Finally, Rams win on Sunday if....
HB: "The Rams take the ball away and score more touchdowns than field goals. They enter the game with 11 touchdowns and 18 field goals, a bad ratio. Through five games, the Rams had nine takeaways, but none in the last two games (losses to Miami and Green Bay)."
The Patriots and Rams travel to London to play at Wembley Stadium. CineSport's Justin Shackil and The Boston Globe's Greg Bedard discuss this, the Saints bounty scandal, and the Saints vs. Broncos.
The Patriots have announced that CB Ras-I Dowling has been placed on season-ending injured reserve.
Dowling injured a thigh last week against the Jets and had already been declared out for Sunday's game with the Rams, but now he won't be playing again this year.
He played in six of the first seven games (he was a healthy scratch against Arizona), with seven total tackles and a pass break-up against the Jets.
A second-round pick last year, Dowling started the first two games of his rookie season before being placed on IR with a hip injury.
New England will have to make a corresponding roster move to fill the spot opened by the move with Dowling, but there has not yet been an announcement.
The Patriots have released their final injury report of the week, and have announced a whopping seven players as out for the game, including Aaron Hernandez and Patrick Chung.
That means they won't have to announce any more downgrades on Sunday, since the NFL requires teams to have 46 players active. But with 11 players listed as questionable, even some of those who will be in uniform likely will be a very less than full strength.
For the Patriots
RB Brandon Bolden - knee
S Patrick Chung - shoulder
CB Ras-I Dowling - thigh
S Steve Gregory - hip
TE Aaron Hernandez - ankle
DE Trevor Scott - hamstring
LB Tracy White - foot
DT Ron Brace - back
WR Julian Edelman - hand
TE Rob Gronkowski - hip
LB Dont'a Hightower - hamstring
WR Brandon Lloyd - knee
G Logan Mankins - hip/calf
LB Jerod Mayo - elbow/illness
OL Nick McDonald - shoulder
CB Sterling Moore - knee
OT Sebastian Vollmer - back
WR Wes Welker - ankle
DT Kyle Love - knee
For the Rams
OT Roger Saffold - knee
DE Eugene Sims - knee
WR Danny Amendola - shoulder
DT Matt Conrath - knee
LB Mario Haggan - thigh
OT Wayne Hunter - thigh
TE Mike McNeil - knee
WR Brandon Gibson - illness
Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez is still recovering from his high ankle sprain and will not play in Sunday's game against the St. Louis Rams in London, according to a report.
ESPN's Adam Schefter reports that Hernandez is struggling to make cuts and his ankle is not responding to treatments. He'll take off Sunday and rest during the bye week before returning in Week 10.
NFL Network's Albert Breer reports that Hernandez did not make the trip to London.
LONDON -- Quarterback Tom Brady and linebacker Jerod Mayo said Sunday's game against the Rams represents a "critical" juncture for the Patriots.
If the Patriots can get to 5-3, a bye week and two-straight home games gives the team a chance to get rolling down the stretch -- not to mention healthier.
"That's what happens when you go this long and guys are playing with bumps and bruises and certainly nobody is 100 percent at this point and everyone kind of looks at that bye week as a point where, 'Man, if we can just get to the bye week, get a little bit healthy then we can hopefully put together a great stretch of games," Brady said. "You look at this game as a very critical point in our season, where if we can just get to 5-3, we feel like we're at a decent point where we've learned a lot from the last eight games, what we do well, we've learned things that we don't do so well, and you can move forward with mental toughness and playing Patriot football kind of the way that we need to the rest of the year when football season really gets going."
Mayo, who looked very tired after sleeping a few hours on the flight, agreed with Brady.
"It is very critical," Mayo said. "We always talk about stringing them together and this a time where you have to start stringing wins together. We haven't fared too well against NFC West teams so hopefully we can get this one."
LONDON - Some of the comments from Patriots coach Bill Belichick upon the team's arrival here:
"Good to be here in London. We're going to get reorganized and acclimated to the surroundings. Tomorrow will be kind of a normal Saturday for us and then Sunday we'll be ready to go. Excited to be here. Looking forward to the game, facing the Rams."
On the decision not to practice today: "We'll get done what we feel like we can get done productively. We had three days of practice this week, so that's the three days we normally have and then Saturday will be a normal Saturday for us. So today's kind of a transition day for us."
On beating the Rams in the Super Bowl: "It was a great moment for our team and our organization, but in all honesty we've kind of put that behind us now. We really need to focus on this week's game and obviously everything's different. We just have to focus on the present. We need to play better against these NFC West teams. We haven't done well enough so far so hopefully we can have a different outcome next time. Our focus is in the present."
"We're just going to get our body clocks reacclimiated to where we're at so.. Normally it's the middle of the night for us but it's not, it's early in the morning so we'll try to spend the day as the day and then sleep tonight and then hopefully tomorrow our body clocks will be back on our normally daily schedule. Get up in the morning, go through the day, sleep at night. Do that on Sunday. We'll try to make the adjustments here today so that tomorrow can be a normal Saturday day for us."
On whether they brought players who are questionable health-wise, instead of just leaving them home: "We'll probably have some guys that are game time that we're not 100 percent sure about, yes. We'll have to see how that goes. We have a lot of guys that are working really hard getting a lot of extra treatment, coming in early, staying late, trying to do everything they can to be ready. How much they'll be able to do, not sure that we know that 100 percent. Our last practice was Thursday so that's still a half week before the game. A lot of times it just takes a couple days more than that. Sometimes it takes up until game time to really figure that out for sure. We'll see where some of those guys are."
The team will not go to Wembley Stadium before the game.
On whether heís noticed an uptick in trade talks with the deadline moved back to Tuesday: ďI havenít, no. And this week has really been Ė itís a normal week for us but a short week for us. Weíve moved our preparations up so weíve really at it trying to get ready for this week. We havenít talked about it. Weíve been on the Rams all week.
Would it be tough to add someone midway through the season? ďIt would depend on the situation. I mean, historically you donít see a lot of them but if the situation was right? Sure.Ē
LONDON - The Patriots arrived here about 7:15 a.m. local time, and are making their way to the team hotel.
We're awaiting their arrival where Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and European natives Sebastian Vollmer (Germany) and Zoltan Mesko (Romania) are scheduled to talk to the media.
We'll bring you their comments here.
FOXBOROUGH -- Linebacker Jerod Mayo, who missed Wednesday's practice because of an "illness/elbow'' issue, returned for Thursday's final workout before the Patriots departed for London for Sunday's game against the St. Louis Rams at Wembley Stadium.
The Globe's Michael Whitmer reported tight end Aaron Hernandez (ankle), who was limited Wednesday, was not spotted during the media-access portion of Thursday's practice in shorts and shells at the upper fields behind Gillette Stadium.
Also absent were cornerback Ras-I Dowling (thigh), safety Steve Gregory (hip), running back Brandon Bolden (knee), linebacker Tracy White (foot), and defensive end Trevor Scott (hamstring), all of whom did not practice for the second day in a row.
The Globe's Shalise Manza Young previews the Patriots' game Sunday against the St. Louis Rams at Wembley Stadium in London, England and what matchups to watch.
FOXBOROUGH --- The Patriots conducted their final practice Thursday at Gillette Stadium before boarding their red-eye flight from Boston to London for Sunday's game against the St. Louis Rams at Wembley Stadium.
While Belichick cited "the time change" and "just getting our body clocks reset Saturday and obviously Sunday" as some of the challenges the team faced in traveling to London for a mid-season game, the team opted not to fly out early like the Rams did. St. Louis departed Monday and arrived early Tuesday morning.
The Rams held their first practice Wednesday at Emirates Stadium, home of the Arsenal Gunners, the English Premier League team owned by Rams owner Stan Kroenke.
While it was not certain if Red Sox owner John Henry offered to make available Liverpool's stadium if the Patriots opted to go out early, Belichick said the team decided to remain in Foxborough to go through its preparations in familiar surroundings.
"Thereís probably an advantage to doing that," Belichick said when asked about the Rams decision to arrive London early to get acclimated to the time change. "The drawback is moving all your stuff out there. We felt like we had a good week here of all our film, all our treatment, all the familiarity we have with what weíre doing.
"We felt like we could have a good week of preparation at this end and then make the travel adjustment on Friday and have the normal Saturday and Sunday out there,'' Belichick said. "Iím sure probably either one could work, but that was our preference. If we had gone the other way, weíd still be ready to play. As I said, thereís a lot of different ways to do it, we did what we felt was best."
Kraft will receive the award Nov. 3 in Washington, DC, during the 26th annual Lombardi Gala. His wife, Myra, died of ovarian cancer in 2011.
"Like many of us in the NFL community, Mr. Kraft has been personally affected by cancer," said DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the NFLPA who will serve as honorary chair of the Lombardi Gala. "Despite his loss, Mr. Kraft has continued to be a leader on cancer awareness, research, and treatment."
NFL coaching legend Vince Lombardi was treated for cancer at Georgetown University Hospital before losing his battle in 1970. The Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center is named in his memory.
The black-tie gala is open to the public. For ticket information, visit the event's web site.
"It felt good [to be back]," Hightower said. "I definitely wanted to be out there a little bit earlier, but we were cautious of that, waited it out, got treatment. I feel a lot better, so no looking back now. Iím doing everything I can to prevent a hamstring pull or anything like that again, doing everything I can to stay on the field."
How does someone prevent a hamstring pull?
"Keep stretching, stay hydrated, small things. Making sure youíre eating right, the weight thing," Hightower said. "More or less just stretching more, I think that was my biggest problem, but Iím taking care of that now."
Hightower, a first-round pick from Alabama, has 28 tackles and two sacks, including one against the Jets. He also returned a fumble for a touchdown in the season-opening win at Tennessee.
He's one of four rookies who saw considerable playing time on defense in Sunday's game, a shift toward youth partly due to performance, partly due to injuries. The unit might still be led by veterans Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo, but Hightower, defensive end Chandler Jones, cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, and safety Tavon Wilson are all discovering, in their first year, what roles the Patriots want them to play.
"My role is to hit the dude with the ball, so thatís what Iím doing," Hightower said. "As long as I do that, then Vince and Mayo, theyíre not yelling at me, and I feel like Iím doing my job."
The dude to hit this week will likely be Steven Jackson, who has gained at least 1,000 rushing yards in each of the last seven seasons. Hightower, while not wanting to give Jackson any added motivation, knows the challenge that awaits the defense in London.
"Iím not a big trash-talking dude, whoever has the ball thatís who Iím going after. But I will say, Steven Jackson is one of the better, bigger backs in the NFL," Hightower said. "Itís going to feel good having a big challenge going against him this weekend."
Zuri Berry has a report on where things stand for the Patriots as they come off a 29-26 overtime victory vs. the Jets and turn their attention to the Rams on Sunday in London.
FOXBOROUGH -- Linebacker Jerod Mayo was among six players who did not participate in Wednesday's practice at Gillette Stadium.
Mayo injured his elbow in the second quarter but returned with a sleeve on his arm to play the remainder of Sunday's 29-26 overtime victory against the New York Jets, He was absent from practice with the reason being "illness/elbow" on the team's injury report.
In addition to Mayo, RB Brandon Bolden (knee), CB Ras-I Dowling (thigh), S Steve Gregory (hip), DE Trevor Scott (hamstring), LB Tracy White (foot), DT Ron Brace (back) were also missing from Wednesday's practice in shorts and shells
The Patriots had 13 players who were limited in their participation, including S Patrick Chung (shoulder), WR Julian Edelman (hand), TEs Rob Gronkowski (hip) and Aaron Hernandez (ankle), LB Dont'a Hightower (hamstring), G Logan Mankins (calf/hip), OT Sebastian Vollmer (back/knee), and WR Wes Welker (ankle).
The Rams had five players miss practice and had two others participate in a limited basis, including WR Danny Amendola (shoulder).
FOXBOROUGH --- The Globe's Michael Whitmer reported the Patriots had six players missing from Wednesday's practice in shorts and shells behind Gillette Stadium, including linebacker Jerod Mayo.
Mayo suffered an arm/shoulder injury late in the second quarter of Sunday's 29-26 overtime victory against the New York Jets at Gillette Stadium and returned to the game, but was not spotted at practice.
Also absent from the media-access portion of the workout were CB Ras-I Dowling, S Steve Gregory, RB Brandon Bolden, LB Tracy White, and DE Trevor Scott.
FOXBOROUGH -- Breast cancer awareness will reach a new zenith in the NFL, thanks to the suggestion of an 11-year old fan.
The NFL will use pink flags to mark penalties in Sunday's Dolphins-Jets game in New Jersey. The idea came from 11-year old Dante Cano of Marlboro, NJ, who wrote a letter to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.
"My name is Dante Cano. I am 11 years old and I am from Marlboro, New Jersey. I wanted to know if you could use my idea of pink penalty flags in October for breast cancer awareness," Dante wrote. "Please write back."
Goodell welcomed the idea, inviting Cano and his family to this Sunday's Jets game.
"Dante had a great idea and I am looking forward to meeting with him on Sunday to put it into action," said Goodell in a statement. "Sometimes the simplest ideas can be the best. I applaud Dante for sending in his recommendation."
Many players, officials and coaches have worn pink during games throughout October, which is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
"It's never good going in with a loss, especially with the coach that we have," Hernandez said before Wednesday's practice, referring to Bill Belichick. "As long as we follow the game plan, work hard, and play hard, Patriot football, we'll be fine.
"We have enough players, enough athletes, enough dominant players to win every game, so we just got to go play our game, and not hurt ourselves, and we should be fine."
Hernandez has never been to London. It didn't sound like he was ready to gorge on fish-and-chips, hop on the tube, or take in all the sights.
"I really haven't talked about London much with the team or outside the stadium," Hernandez said. "But I'm sure it's a nice place and I'll learn a lot about it when I'm out there. It'll definitely be a good experience."
FOXBOROUGH -- Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman returned to action on Sunday, recording two receptions for seven yards. He had missed three games due to a hand injury he suffered after scoring a touchdown against the Baltimore Ravens.
After beginning the year as one of the offense's main targets and seemingly overtaking Wes Welker on the depth chart, he had a minimal role in his return, taking a back seat to Welker, who finished with six catches for 66 yards.
On Wednesday, Edelman spoke to the media for the first time since his injury, saying he is just trying to get back into the swing of things.
"It's something I can't control," Edelman said. "If I get frustrated, I'm thinking about the wrong things. It's part of the game. It's unfortunate sometimes, but if you get knocked off the horse you gotta get back on."
He said doesn't know how he was injured.
"I don't even know. But that's in the past. I'm just thinking about St. Louis."
Asked if it was hard to return and get back the snaps he had earned through training camp, he said it was. He said he continued to go to meetings, watched practice and tried to simulate a practice environment while he was out.
"I kept my shape up," Edelman said. "Usually that's the thing, you get out of shape. But that's something I could deal with, stay in shape. But like I said, that's all in the past. I'm just trying to focus on the role that I'm going to be given and I'm looking forward to that task."
Edelman, who is from Redwood City, Calif., in the San Francisco Bay area, also said he is rooting for the Giants to win the World Series. At first, he said the Giants will win in six games, but changed his answer to seven.
"I don't know, they have to face [Justin] Verlander twice."
FOXBOROUGH -- Fourth quarters haven't been kind to the Patriots of late, with the team being outscored by the New York Jets and Seattle Seahawks in the last two weeks, 27-6.
While the Patriots defense has been criticized consistently for its foibles defending the pass, the offense has relatively avoided it for its fourth-quarter trend. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said it was one of many things the team was trying to fix.
"We talk about a lot of things over the course of the week, we talk about starting a game, we talk about finishing a game, we talk about overtime," Brady said. "We end up talking about everything. And really you're trying to do everything well. That's the goal every week is to go out and play well for 60 minutes, plus if you need it like we did last week.
"There's not too many instances where we, or ever, where we just feel like we can just roll our helmets out there and say 'oh, we're just gonna get it done.' No, because you have to go out and earn it. Part of the NFL is earning it every week. And you play very good teams like we've seen this year, and they make you earn it for 60 minutes.
"If they beat the Patriots, they're going to have to play a good game," Brady continued. "Whoever we beat, we're going to have to play a good game."
The Patriots travel this week to London, where they'll face the St. Louis Rams on Sunday. The Rams (3-4) have beaten both Arizona and Seattle this season. Each of those teams managed to steal a win from the Patriots. Brady warned of looking past the Rams to the bye week.
"We've already lost to two of these NFC teams that they actually beat," he said.
As far as London goes, it's Brady's second trip as a Patriot. He traveled there in 2009 when the Patriots beat the Buccaneers 35-7 at Wembley Stadium.
"It'll be fun. It'll be a great game. It'll be a tough game. It'll be memorable for a lot of reasons. I certainly remember our last trip. It'll be nice experience for all the players. Hopefully we can go out there and play well."
McCourty also fumbled on a kickoff return in the fourth quarter, which gave the Jets the ball on the 18-yard line and allowed them to kick a go-ahead field goal with less than two minutes left. The Patriots won in overtime.
It is McCourty's first player of the week award. His kick return was the second-longest in Patriots history behind Ellis Hobbs' 108-yard return in 2007.
FOXBOROUGH -- Rams quarterback Sam Bradford said the team was "energized" by the return of injured wide receiver Danny Amendola to practice, even in a limited capacity, during the team's workout at Arsenal Wednesday in preparation for Sunday's game against the Patriots at Wembley Stadium in London.
"It was really good to see him," Bradford said of Amendola, who suffered a severe collarbone injury In a Week 4 victory over Seattle. "Obviously, me and him are pretty close. We talked about it last week and he told me he was going to be out there on this date doing some stuff and I was a little surprised.
"Just from the initial reports, I thought it was going to be quite a little bit longer for him to get back out on the field," Bradford said from London in a teleconference with reporters. "Any time you get him back out there, I think it just brought a whole spark to the group today. It lifted everyone's spirits a little seeing him back out there.
"Even though he didn't do a whole lot, just having him on the field really energized our group."
Before his injury, Amendola was a prime weapon in the Rams' passing attack, hauling in 32 catches for 395 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the first four games of the season.
"I've said it before, a lot of our offense runs through Danny when he's healthy," Bradford said. "If you look at the Washington game, when he caught 15 balls, everything really started with him. We miss him, but I think the past couple of weeks the guys who've had to step up and make plays because he's not there, I think they've done a great job.
"I expect them to do the same this week."
FOXBOROUGH -- Cornerback Ras-I Dowling, safety Steve Gregory, running back Brandon Bolden, and linebacker Tracy White were the only players not spotted at Patriots practice Tuesday, which is a walkthrough being held behind Gillette Stadium.
Dowling was injured during Sunday's win against the Jets. Gregory (hip), Bolden (knee), and White (foot) have all missed games recently because of injuries.
This time, when the Patriots play St. Louis in London, Gregory is hoping to be on the winning end.
"It's definitely a cool experience," the Patriots safety said of playing at Wembley. "Obviously it's a long flight and things like that. But it's no longer than it is going out to the West Coast."
In 2008, Gregory and the Chargers played in Buffalo the week before the London game. The Chargers traveled directly from Buffalo to London.
This week, the Patriots will travel late Thursday/early Friday. They are planning to use Friday as a rest day to acclimate to London.
"We'll get out there in plenty of time to adjust to the time and all that stuff," Gregory said. "It will be a good experience for the guys that havenít been."
Gregory has played in only four games this season because of a hip injury. Gregory does not know whether he will make the London trip.
Tuesday is a regular off day for players, but due to the overnight flight, coach Bill Belichick isn't counting on Friday being a very productive practice day. Hence the condensed schedule before they fly across the Atlantic.
"This is kind of like a Wednesday for us, quick turnaround here after the Jets game and we're on to St. Louis," Belichick said. "We're going to try to add a little bit of extra time on the back end to rest and get adjusted and all that rather than spend it on game-planning.
"Weíre going to try to do that on Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday instead of Wednesday/Thursday/Friday. We'll take Friday as a travel day, obviously we're traveling Thursday night, but the whole traveling, get adjusted, get settled, we'll see how much we actually get done that day. I won't say it's a lost day, but I think it's a big transition day for us, then Saturday, we'll get back to our regular routine, treat Saturday as a normal Saturday."
The Rams flew to London from St. Louis on Monday night, arriving locally on Tuesday morning. They'll have a three-day head start on the Patriots.
Greg A. Bedard and Jermaine Wiggins analyze the Patriots' difficulties in defending the pass this season.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick lauded the instinctive play of defensive end Rob Ninkovich who forced a Mark Sanchez fumble in the pocket and made a fumble recovery to put the icing on a 29-26 overtime victory over the New York Jets Sunday at Gillette Stadium.
"It's something we talk about and work on each week,'' Belichick said during a his weekly teleconference with reporters, which was moved up one day to Monday in light of the team's short week of preparation before its trip to London for this week's game against the St. Louis Rams.
"We talk to the players and their awareness about not only making a hit on the quarterback, but having an awareness for the ball,'' Belichick said. "We've seen Rob do that several times already this year. We saw it in the Buffalo game. We saw it in the Denver game and we sat in the Jets game.
"It's not just sacking the quarterback, but as you go to tackle them, you have an awareness of where the ball is as you make the tackle,'' Belichick continued. "As a quarterback, when you grip the ball, you don't really have it secured like a running back does when he covers the nose of the ball ... and has it between his rib cage, his elbow and the nose of the ball. It's much harder to dislodge when it's there than when it's in the quarterback's hand in his throwing grip.
"Rob has done it numerous occassions as well as last year and he has a good feel for that. It's just an instinctive play that we coach and we talk about, but every play is different and it's really every player's awareness. In this case, it was Rob's awareness that made it a game-changing play.''
"Well, I'm certainly pleased by winning," Brady said Monday morning on his paid weekly appearance on WEEI's Dennis & Callahan Show. "That's the most important thing. Whether you win by one point, 10 points or 30 points, they all count the same.
"We've been on the losing end of a 1-point game [at Seattle], a 1-point game [at Baltimore] and a 2-point game [at home vs. Arizona], so it feels good to win a 3-point game," Brady continued. "There was a moment there in the fourth quarter where it looked like we had a pretty good lead and soon after that we're fighting for our lives with a 3-point lead and then a 3-point deficit. We turned around to win it in overtime. Certainly we can do a lot of things better."
Asked why the Patriots have struggled to close out teams when they have had the lead in the fourth quarter -- they've squandered 10-point margins in their last two games -- Brady replied, "Well, we're trying to do it. It's not like you flip a switch. I don't think that's it. There's 53 guys who are trying to do their best out there and we're just not doing our best. Hopefully we get to that point. That's part of why we practice and why we meet and why we go to work every day.
"I wish it were that easy. Maybe there's times where it has looked that easy. I think you'll appreciate it when it does work and you realize the preparation that you've put into it, that it pays off.
"Maybe we've just spoiled some people in the meantime, because it's hard to win, man. It's really hard to win."
Asked if he and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, back for a second tour of duty with the Patriots, were still going through an adjustment process, Brady said, "Josh and I are on the same page.We've been on the same page since the day he got back. I wouldn't say there's any level of comfort that we're seeking. We know each other very well.
"When you're the coordinator and you call plays designed -- there's not a play on the call sheet that's not designed to gain more than 4-5 yards. There's a lot of them that are designed to score touchdowns. We have to believe that we're gonna do when we go out there, that's what we have to do. That's up to the players, that's not up to the coaches.
"The coaches coach and the players play, so no matter what they call we've got to go out there and execute it. So they could call the most perfect play in the world and if the guy's wide open and I overthrow him by 10 yards, what does it matter? So we have to go out and do a better job of playing."
FOXBOROUGH -- This is what you can call an ugly win for the Patriots.
The team didn't get any lucky bounces. Instead, the defense earned the win after momentum halting sack shared by Rob Ninkovich and Jermaine Cunningham in overtime.
The 29-26 victory over the New York Jets was an anomaly compared to the Patriots' other three wins, which were marked by mostly one thing: A 100-yard rusher. Stevan Ridley finished with 65 yards on 17 carries. With Shane Vereen's 49 yards and Danny Woodhead's 17, the team totaled 131.
Here are some thoughts from Sunday's game:
1) Mark Sanchez had a good game -- Or did the Patriots secondary have another poor outing? With Devin McCourty playing safety for Patrick Chung, Tavon Wilson in for the injured Steve Gregory, Alfonzo Dennard starting at corner in place of McCourty, and Ras-I Dowling seeing renewed playing time in sub packages, the secondary was more garbage pail than lunch pail as usual. Sanchez tallied 328 yards on 28 of 41 passing, throwing only one spectacularly ugly ball, a gimme interception for Dennard. But he also had a key drive where he was a cool 9 of 10 passing before hitting Dustin Keller for a 7-yard touchdown. The Patriots gave up six pass plays of 20 yards or more, good for 39 in the NFL. That's the most in the league. It's tough to give Sanchez the credit for his seventh career 300-yard game (53 starts) when he was facing one of the worst secondaries in the NFL.
2) Jermaine Cunningham is becoming an every-down player -- This is Cunningham's year. He has the speed and now it appears he has the strength to deal with tackles on a regular basis. His overtime sack with Ninkovich was just a matter of who got to the quarterback first. In this instance, it was Cunningham. He was providing pressure all game and has shown that he's tough to handle for opposing tackles. He's certainly come a long way from last season's healthy nine-game appearance in which he recorded a total of one tackle.
"Jermaine worked hard, he had a good offseason, he was one of our offseason award winners," said Bill Belichick. "I think thatís indicative of his work ethic. Weíve played him at several different positions this year, both outside and inside, both ends, both tackles. Heís been a versatile guy for us, as well as some plays in the kicking game. Heís been productive for us. Weíve asked him to do a lot of different things and heís done a good job."
3) The return of Julian Edelman means nothing -- It feels like centuries ago we were engrossed in a conversation about preferring Edelman over Wes Welker. After one half of play, you might have still been worried. Both had been targeted only once for a reception each. But as the game wore on, and its intensity grew, the Patriots reverted to their core group of skill players (Welker, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Brandon Lloyd, and Danny Woodhead) for their hurry-up offense. Welker finished the game with six catches for 66 yards. Edelman finished with two grabs for 2 yards. his hand looked good to me.
4) The Patriots run defense continues to be impressive -- The secondary may have a confounding rotation of characters, but the front seven is undoubtedly superb. The Patriots held the Jets to 106 rushing yards on 33 plays. It's a tick upward of the 88 yards per game the team was holding opponents to prior to Sunday, but it's still pretty good. The defense seems predicated on having Vince Wilfork and Kyle Love swallow up double teams, allowing for Brandon Spikes and Jerod Mayo to make plays while edge rushers are allowed to get after the quarterback. As simple as it sounds, it works to perfection time and time again. Spikes and Mayo combined for 21 tackles Sunday and rookie Dont'a Hightower added seven more as well as a 10-yard sack.
5) Small bites -- Devin McCourty's 104-yard touchdown was the first TD of his career. It was also the second longest kickoff return touchdown in Patriots' history behind Ellis Hobbs' 108-yard return against the Jets in 2007. Ö Rob Ninkovich's forced fumble on Mark Sanchez in overtime was his fourth of the season. Only Mike Vrabel (5) had more in one season than Ninkovich. Ö The Patriots are 6-0 when wearing their throwback red jerseys at home. Ö When Mark Sanhez kicked the ball through the back of the end zone in the second quarter, it marked the first safety for a Patriots defense since 2006 when Ty Warren sacked Buffalo's JP Losman. Ö Wes Welker has recorded a reception in 101 straight games, good for fourth all-time. Ahead of him are Tony Gonzalez, Larry Fitzgerald, and Reggie Wayne. Ö It was Dennard's first career start. He nabbed his first interception on a lame throw from Sanchez, too. Ö The Patriots have tied the Rams for the most consecutive games with at least 350 yards of total offense at 16. The Rams streak ran from 1999 to 2000.
Ninkovich and fellow Patriots defensive end Jermaine Cunningham combined on a 15-yard sack of Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez in overtime. Ninkovich forced and recovered a fumble on the play, giving the Patriots possession and ending New England's 29-26 victory.
"It was just an edge rush. Jermaine Cunningham did a great job of getting inside on the guard, so it kind of shortened that corner for me and I was able to get around the guy," the Patriots linebacker said after the game. "I saw Jermaine on his legs trying to get [Mark Sanchez] down and he tried to throw it, so I just got the ball, knocked him down and picked up the ball."
The forced fumble was Ninkovich's team-leading fourth of the season, and his fourth in as many weeks. Former Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel had five forced fumbles in 2007, the most for any Patriot within the last 20 years.
Ninkovich was asked what his mind-set at the end of a close game like Sunday's nail biter.
"Win the game. Do my job," Ninkovich said. "Whatever my job is on that particular play, do it to the best of my abilities and try and walk away with a victory. So we did that and I'm happy."
Even though Ninkovich appears to be playing at a higher level this season, he said he was playing just as hard last season.
"I feel like the opportunities are there and last year I was playing hard as well, so every time I'm out there I'm going to make the best of my opportunity," Ninkovich said.
Ninkovich talked about his comfort level with switching between linebacker and defensive end throughout the game.
"Anything they ask me to do," he said. "It helps the team to be able to play linebacker and then jump down to [defensive] end. Obviously if Dont'a [Hightower] isn't there, then I'm able to step in and Jermaine is able to bump in at [defensive] end. We're kind of versatile as far as [the] edge. It's good for us overall for me to be able to jump down to [defensive] end and then have Hightower come in. It just kind of keeps the offense guessing on who's playing what."
FOXBOROUGH -- All the Patriots had was 1:42 to either tie or take the lead Sunday against the Jets.
They had surrendered 13 points in the fourth quarter, allowing for the Jets to take a 26-23 lead. They needed their offense to come through in the clutch, again.
And the Patriots did.
Tom Brady led New England on a six-play, 54-yard drive, recording three straight first downs on throws to Rob Gronkowski and Danny Woodhead before running out of time for a shot at the end zone. The Patriots settled for a 43-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski to send it into overtime.
In the extra period, they weren't nearly as good. It took the Patriots 12 plays to go 54 yards, helped in part by a pass interference on Jets corner Kyle Wilson. Brady had a couple of misfires as well, failing to connect with Deion Branch and Aaron Hernandez.
The latter, a throw to Hernandez on 3rd-and-6, stopped the Patriots cold in their tracks, forcing them to kick a 48-yard field goal -- the eventual winner by Gostkowski.
"At some point, it's going to be tight coverage and you've got to make a tough play and they're close and weíve got to hit it," said Brady. "I think thatís what it comes down to. I mean, itís not like guys are going to be open by five yards with that kind of time left on the clock, that important part of the game. Itís close. They either make it or they donít Ė or we either make it or we donít, and we didn't."
The defense bailed out the team, forcing a Mark Sanchez fumble in the Jets' overtime possession to give the Patriots the win.
But what's more, the Patriots offense could have put the game away much earlier at the start of the fourth quarter. But the offense was stalled by a pass interference flag on Brandon Lloyd.
"Well, it was first and 10 and then we got a pass interference, and then itís first and 20 and then itís incomplete and then itís a run and then its third and 16," Brady said. "So that's not the way to play offensive football. I don't think thereís going to be a high percentage playing that way. We canít really put ourselves in that situation. Weíve all got to do a better job executing our plays. Thereís no easy way out. It's not like thereís a magic, special play that you save for those situations. Itís about doing your job and doing a better job of it."
The Patriots have made a habit of making it hard on themselves, letting teams stick around. Brady was asked if this team has the mental makeup to deal with these close fourth quarter games.
"I hope so. You know, I sure hope we do," Brady said. "Thatís part of our mental toughness and I think weíre coached very hard and we prepare for tough situations. That's the kind of pressure our coach puts on us every day in practice to perform and perform consistently. It's not like in the seventh week of the year you have all the answers. You never really have all the answers. Thereís only one team thatís really happy at the end of the year, and I think it's a building process and playing your best football at the most important times."
"Well, a win's a win," Gronkowski said from his locker after the OT victory. "I'll take it whatever way. You can win some ugly and you can win some pretty and it just doesn't matter. We work together as a team and we got the victory."
Gronkowski scored on a 17-yard touchdown in the first quarter and a 2-yard touchdown in the third quarter for his first two-touchdown receiving game of 2012 and the 10th game of his career with two or more touchdown receptions.
"We just went out and completed passes, got the run game going a little bit and everyone was just doing their job," Gronkowski said. "O-line was doing good and Tom [Brady] was putting the ball where it needed to be caught and the receivers were making good plays. Overall, we executed as an offense to get where we needed to [be] to kick that field goal."
Gronkowski gave Brady props for the two of them being in a good rhythm today.
"I just got to be ready at all times; passing wise, blocking wise, and when your number's called you just have to go out there and do your job. And when the ball is thrown to you, you got to catch it and protect it. It was just going good and everyone was just doing a good job out there."
Gronkowski set an NFL record for a tight end last season with seven games with two touchdown receptions. Since he entered the NFL in 2010, Gronkowski has 32 touchdown receptions and 33 total touchdowns. He can become the first tight end in NFL history with three straight 10-plus touchdown seasons.
FOXBOROUGH -- The Patriots' offense was stymied when it mattered most in Sunday's 29-26 win over the New York Jets, with only 14 plays in the fourth quarter before scrambling for a possible go-ahead drive with less than two minutes remaining.
The Jets ate up the clock, taking 6:58 on 14 plays while driving 92 yards. They chewed up another 2:13 of clock on six plays, and picked up a total of 10 points on two drives on a 7-yard touchdown pass to Dustin Keller and 43-yard field goal by Nick Folk. The game was tied with 2:11 left, 23-23.
Then the Patriots faced what should be deemed the worst-case scenario: Devin McCourty fumbled on the ensuing kickoff, giving the Jets the ball with 2:01 left at the Patriots' 18-yard line.
The sequence of events had disaster written all over it.
"I just knew in my heart we had seven right there, I really did," said Jets linebacker Calvin Pace. "But it just didn't happen for us. That would have been it right there. It just wasn't meant to be I guess. As tough as it is, give them credit, they stood strong and they found a way to get the win."
The Patriots defense came alive after that play, keying on the need to support their fellow teammate after such a dispiriting play.
"If one guy goes down, all of us go down," Patriots defensive lineman Kyle Love said. "We always want to encourage guys don't worry about [a bad play], on to the next play."
The Patriots held the Jets to a three-and-out, with linebacker Dont'a Hightower sacking Jets QB Mark Sanchez for a 10-yard loss. Nick Folk kicked his second field goal of the quarter and fourth of the game to give the Jets a 26-23 lead with 1:42 remaining.
McCourty, who had returned a kickoff for a 104-yard touchdown earlier in the game, returned the next kickoff for 19 yards.
But the offense sputtered. The Patriots were unable to convert on a deep pass to Brandon Lloyd with 22 second left and settled for a field goal to tie the game and send it to overtime. In the extra period, with the ball in their hands to start, the Patriots failed to convert on third downs twice, needing the help of a pass interference call to keep the chains moving before an incompletion set up Stephen Gostkowski's eventual game-winning 48-yard field goal.
The defense came alive again.
Rob Ninkovich managed to get in the backfield and tackle Joe McKnight for a 2-yard loss and Vince Wilfork stuffed McKnight on a run up the gut. On second-and-10 from the Jets' 40-yard line, Sanchez dropped back and was hit by Jermaine Cunningham and Ninkovich, causing a fumble that Ninkovich recovered to end the game. It was short of miraculous how quickly the defense had bailed out the McCourty and the offense.
"My teammates saved my life today," McCourty said. "A bad mistake in the fourth quarter, I just have to do a better job on holding the ball. This was just a total team win. We just kept fighting. Things didn't go our way the whole game. Today, we made enough plays when we needed to for the win."
McCourty jump-started the Patriots' scoring with his first-quarter 104-yard kickoff return down the Jets' sideline for a touchdown to even the score at 7-7. It was the second-longest kickoff return for a touchdown in Patriots history. Former New England defensive back Ellis Hobbs returned one 108 yards vs. the Jets. on Sept. 9, 2007.
But McCourty also had a crucial fumble on a kickoff return late in the fourth quarter that led to the Jets taking a 26-23 lead.
"My teammates saved my life today," McCourty said after the wild overtime win. "A bad mistake in the fourth quarter, I just have to do a better job on holding the ball. This was just a total team win we just kept fighting. Things didn't go our way the whole game, today we made enough plays when we needed to for the win."
McCourty was asked if he'd be thinking more about the fumble in the fourth quarter or the kick return for a touchdown when he gets home tonight.
"Yeah [the fumble], it's just that the fourth quarter is so important, my goal is to just play mistake-free in the fourth quarter, that's a big one. It's not defensively, but its something I really work on, I'm a big part of that kickoff return team and I think my teammates did a great job because on that touchdown no one touched me and I just have to work on my responsibility and that's holding on to the ball."
McCourty said once he got to Jets kicker Nick Folk, the rest was on him.
"I just ran my lane and I saw Daniel [Fells] did a great job turning his man. Once you get up to the kicker, that's your responsibility and I made a move and I got past him."
McCourty's scoring return was the Patriots' 25th kickoff return for a touchdown and was the sixth kickoff return of at least 100 yards in team history.
Here's your chance to dole out one game ball for the Patriots' 29-26 overtime victory over the Jets on Sunday.
Have a write-in candidate? That's what the comments are for.
FOXBOROUGH Ė A few thoughts as the Patriots lead 16-10 at halftime.
- Only seven points for the offense in the first half. That is extremely surprising, and probably disappointing to Patriots fans.
- I donít have any ready explanation for why that is. The Patriots probably thought they had an advantage with Wes Welker, but CB Isaiah Trufant has done a terrific job. Reminds me of the performance that Cowboys CB Orlando Scandrick had against Welker last season.
- The big worry is the Patriots have had trouble finishing off people offensively. So if they donít go on a run here to start the second half Ė the Jets get the ball Ė recent history tells us this is going down to the end.
- Too many drops by the Patriots.
- Three more plus-20 yard plays by an opponent.
- Patriots got a huge boost from special teams with Devin McCourtyís kickoff return for a touchdown.
- Good to see Alfonzo Dennard get an interception, but it was a horrible decision by Mark Sanchez throwing so late, and an even worse throw.
- The Patriots need Chandler Jones to be a force in the second half. They should flip him more to the left side to go up against RT Austin Howard.
- Big loss with Jerod Mayo going off with a left arm injury.
- Devin McCourty has settled things in the back end at safety. The Patriots should keep him there and deal with whatever they can get at cornerback.
- The Jets are trailing, but it sure seems like theyíre winning. The Patriots need to turn this game around in the third quarter. The Jets are going to come out of halftime with a lot of enthusiasm.
FOXBOROUGH -- The Patriots needed its defense to come up big tonight. Jermaine Cunningham and Rob Ninkovich came up with a huge sack and forced fumble in overtime as the Patriots held on for a 29-26 win over the New York Jets Sunday in overtime.
Devin McCourty returned a kickoff 104 yards for a touchdown and later fumbled on kickoff return, leaving an opening for the Jets to take the lead. But the defense held the Jets to a 43-yard field goal by Jets kicker Nick Folk in the fourth quarter, giving the Patriots enough of an opening to come back and tie the game. Stephen Gostkowski hit a 43-yard field goal to tie the game and nailed a 48-yard attempt in overtime for the game-winner.
FINAL 7:28 OT: Patriots 29, Jets 26 -- Jermaine Cunningham sacked Mark Sanchez and Rob Ninkovich hit Sanchez up high, forcing a fumble. Ninkovich recovered the fumble as the Patriots held on to beat the Jets 29-26.
The Patriots are now 4-3 on the season.
11:07 OT: Patriots 29, Jets 26 -- Stephen Gostkowski nailed a 48-yard field goal.
The Patriots had trouble converting on a third down at the Jets' 34-yard line, setting up Gostkowski's field goal. Tom Brady was looking for Aaron Hernandez on the sideline for a quick first down, but he was draped by the Jets' Kyle Wilson. Wilson had been called for pass interference on the drive earlier for aggressive coverage of Hernandez on third down.
15:00 OT: Patriots 26, Jets 26 -- The Patriots receive the ball first in overtime.
End of regulation: Patriots 26, Jets 26 -- Stephen Gostkowski hit a last-second 43-yard field goal to send the game into overtime. The Patriots drove 54 yards to get Gostkowski in position.
Tom Brady hit Rob Gronkowski and Danny Woodhead for two passes each to keep the chains moving.
1:42 4th quarter: Jets 26, Patriots 23 -- Nick Folk kicked his third field goal of the day as the Jets took a 3-point lead over the Patriots with 1:37 left in the game.
The Jets were able to capitalize on Devin McCourty's kickoff fumble, but have allowed the Patriots enough time to mount a game-winning comeback drive.
2:01 4th quarter: Patriots 23, Jets 23 -- Devin McCourty, who returned a kickoff for a touchdown earlier in the game, fumbled after a 15-yard return after the Jets tied up the game. The Jets' Antonio Allen recovered the fumble. The Jets take over at the 18-yard line.
2:06 4th quarter: Patriots 23, Jets 23 -- Jets receiver Stephen Hill dropped a huge third down pass that would've put New York in the red zone. Instead, the Jets' Nick Folk kicked a 43-yard field to tie the game up with a little more than two minutes remaining. It was a six-play, 40-yard drive for the Jets.
4:31 4th quarter: Patriots 23, Jets 20 -- All it takes is one bad play to mess up the Patriots' mojo. Receiver Brandon Lloyd was flagged for offensive pass interference on the Patriots' first play of the drive and the drive was dead in the water. Tom Brady threw two incompletions and Stevan Ridley rushed for 4 yards as the Patriots punted for the sixth time of the game.
5:44 4th quarter: Patriots 23, Jets 20 -- Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez orchestrated a 14-play, 92-yard drive in which he went 9 of 10 passing, hitting tight end Dustin Keller for a 7-yard touchdown to make it a one score game. The drive spanned 6:58.
13:01 4th quarter: Patriots 23, Jets 13 -- Tom Brady threw a screen pass to Wes Welker that resulted in a loss of 2 yards and threw another screen to Danny Woodhead for a loss of 3 yards as the Patriots were forced to punt for the fifth time.
End of third quarter: Patriots 23, Jets 13 -- The Patriots are in prime position to put the game away, up by 10 and driving as the third quarter ends.
1:04 3d quarter: Patriots 23, Jets 13 -- The Patriots benefited from another penalty on the Jets, who were caught holding on a 3rd-and-6 that led to their third punt of the night.
3:26 3d quarter: Patriots 23, Jets 13 -- Tom Brady hit Aaron Hernandez for a 16-yard pass that got the Patriots down to the 1-yard line, but Hernandez appeared to fumble the ball. It was ruled a fumble on the play, but it was reviewed and overturned. Three plays later, Tom Brady hit Rob Gronkowski on a quick out for a 2-yard touchdown, capping a 15-play, 83 yard drive.
9:36 3d quarter: Patriots 16, Jets 13 -- Nick Folk kicked a 21-yard field goal to bring the Jets within three points of the Patriots.
The Patriots gave up their fourth passing play of 20 plus yards on a 23-yard throw from Mark Sanchez to Dustin Keller as the Jets drove 65 yards on 11 plays in 5:27.
Patriots cornerback Ras-I Dowling defended Jets receiver Chaz Schillens well on the goal line to force the field goal.
15:00 3d quarter: Patriots 16, Jets 10 -- The Patriots are set to kick off for the second half.
Halftime: Patriots 16, Jets 10 -- The Patriots were able to come up with two turnovers, including a safety against the Jets, but the team's offense is having a tough time. Tom Brady is 9 of 17 for 112 yards and Stevan Ridley has nine carries for 34 yards as the Patriots have been helped by cornerback Devin McCourty's 104-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to keep the lead. They've punted four times and the Jets were able to at least get a field goal before half.
Mark Sanchez is 12 of 21 for 138 yards and an interception for the Jets while Shonn Greene has rushed for 34 yards on nine carries. Jets receiver Jeremy Kerley has four catches for 77 yards.
0:02 2d quarter: Patriots 16, Jets 10 -- Jets kicker Nick Folk booted a 54-yard field goal after a 12-play, 59-yard drive by the Jets to bring the second quarter to a close.
5:15 2d quarter: Patriots 16, Jets 7 -- Rob Gronkowski dropped a pass on third-and-3 as the Patriots were forced to punt but were rewarded with a generous 15-yard face mask penalty on the Jets' Nick Bellore that kept the drive going. The Patriots were unable to do anything with it though, getting three more plays on the drive before being forced to punt for the fourth time of the game.
7:37 2d quarter: Patriots 16, Jets 7 -- Mark Sanchez threw a spectacularly under thrown ball to Stephen Hill that Patriots cornerback Alfonzo Dennard was able to intercept and give the Patriots the ball back on their own 2-yard line.
11:20 2d quarter: Patriots 16, Jets 7 -- Three straight runs by Stevan Ridley followed by a sack on Tom Brady on third-and-5. The Patriots gave the ball back to the Jets after the safety, with Quinton Coples getting the sack on Brady with some help from linebacker David Harris.
13:10 2d quarter: Patriots 16, Jets 7 -- Jets RB Shonn Greene fumbled on a handoff from Mark Sanchez, who kicked the ball out of the back of his end zone to prevent a Patriots recovery as the Jets were dinged with a safety on the miscue. The Patriots get the ball back on the Jets' error.
13:30 2d quarter: Patriots 14, Jets 7 -- Patriots guard Donald Thomas was flagged for holding on a second-and-10 as the Patriots were unable to come up with their third first down on their last drive to make up for it.
End of 1st quarter: Patriots 14, Jets 7 -- They've now credited the earlier sack to Kyle Love. Originally, it had been given to Jermaine Cunningham, then Chandler Jones. Each helped with the pressure on Mark Sanchez.
Patriots guard Dan Connolly is sick. That's why he's been in and out of today's game. His return is questionable.
2:55 1st quarter: Patriots 14, Jets 7 -- A false start on Jets guard Brandon Moore and a fumble by Jets running back Shonn Greene that was recovered by the Jets helped the Patriots stall the New York's last drive.
4:11 1st quarter: Patriots 14, Jets 7 -- When in doubt, throw it up to Rob Gronkowski. Tom Brady lobbed a 17-yard touchdown to Gronkowski over Jets safety LaRon Landry as the Patriots took the lead on a 7-play, 58-yard drive.
Gronkowski also caught a 19-yard pass on the drive.
6:37 1st quarter: Patriots 7, Jets 7 -- Chandler Jones was helped by Jermaine Cunningham and Kyle Love on a 4-yard sack of Mark Sanchez as the Patriots held the Jets to a three-and-out.
8:39 1st quarter: Patriots 7, Jets 7 -- Devin McCourty returned a kickoff 104 yards for a touchdown, breaking free on the left side of the field before sprinting past Jets kicker Nick Folk for the score to tie the game.
It was McCourty's first touchdown in the NFL.
8:51 1st quarter: Jets 7, Patriots 0 -- Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez put together a 11-play, 76-yard drive that was capped by a 1-yard touchdown run by Shonn Greene.
The Patriots' secondary, which featured Devin McCourty at safety and Alfonzo Dennard at left corner, gave up two pass plays of 20 yards or more in the Jets' opening drive. Ras-I Dowling came in on a third down and was called for holding, allowing for another Jets first down on the drive.
Tim Tebow picked up a first down for the Jets in the red zone, rushing for three yards near the goal line.
13:47 1st quarter: Patriots 0, Jets 0 -- The Patriots started with Donald Thomas at left guard for Logan Mankins and Shane Vereen at running back for the first series. Vereen picked up two first downs before the Patriots' drive was stalled on back to back incomplete passes from Tom Brady to Brandon Lloyd.
15:00 1st quarter: Patriots 0, Jets 0 -- The Jets won the coin toss and have elected to defer. The Patriots will receive to start the game.
Pregame: On a beautiful fall day in New England, the Patriots are set to take on the New York Jets. It's 60 degrees right now in Foxborough with temperatures going to dip into the 50s by the time the game is over. The wind is blowing at about 13 miles per hour.
I'll have updates here throughout the day for each series. Enjoy the game.
FOXBOROUGH -- Here are the New York Jets' inactive players for today's game against the Patriots:
QB Greg McElroy, WR Clyde Gates (shoulder), RB Bilal Powell (shoulder), S Eric Smith (knee), G Caleb Schlauderaff, DT Sione Po'uha (lower back) and DT Kenrick Ellis (knee).
FOXBOROUGH -- As we saw against the Buffalo Bills, when the Patriots lose one of their offensive linemen, top backup Donald Thomas fills right in.
Logan Mankins, who is inactive for Sunday's game against the New York Jets, will likely be replaced by Thomas, who played in his place in Week 4 when the Patriots took on the Bills.
The Patriots will also have to deal with the loss of safety Patrick Chung, who suffered a shoulder injury against the Seattle Seahawks. The Patriots are currently down two safeties, with starter Steve Gregory also out with a hip injury. According to the Globe's Shalise Manza Young, that opens up the possibility for CB Devin McCourty to slide over to safety alongside rookie Tavon Wilson, who has filled in for Gregory.
In that scenario, the cornerbacks will be filled by Kyle Arrington on the right side and Alfonzo Dennard on the left. In sub packages, Arrington will slide inside and Ras-I Dowling would come on the field as the left corner.
We'll see how this plays out specifically during the game. But there's one bit of good news: Dont'a Hightower is back after missing last week's game with a hamstring injury. That should allow Rob Ninkovich to return to defensive end and allow Jermaine Cunningham to come in on sub packages only.
FOXBOROUGH -- Patriots guard Logan Mankins and safety Patrick Chung are inactive for today's game against the New York Jets.
Mankins, who has been dealing with calf and hip injuries, had limited participation through the week and missed Thursday's practice. Chung, who has a shoulder injury he suffered against the Seattle Seahawks last week, had limited participation in practice through the week. It will be Chung's first missed game of the season. Mankins missed the Buffalo Bills game.
The Patriots will also be without Ron Brace (back), Steve Gregory (hip), Brandon Bolden (knee), Tracy White (foot), and Jake Bequette. Bequette is the only healthy scratch.
FOXBOROUGH -- There's nothing better than a division opponent when there's a four-way tie to break up.
The New York Jets come to town stricken with injuries and struggling to find their offensive identity. But the Patriots have their own concerns.
Here's some things to look for:
1) Help on the injury front -- Will Dont'a Hightower return? Julian Edelman? Hightower, who suffered a hamstring injury against the Buffalo Bills three weeks ago, was on the field getting worked out by trainers two hours prior to the game. He's listed as questionable. He was joined by defensive lineman Ron Brace, who is also listed as questionable, with a back injury. Julian Edelman has not been seen on the field, painting a more doubtful picture for him.
2) Will the Patriots stick with the running game? -- Brandon Bolden is out of today's game with a knee injury, but available are Stevan Ridley (524 yards, four touchdowns), Danny Woodhead and Shane Vereen. The Patriots have been dominant in games when Ridley has picked up 100-plus yards, winning all three in which he has done so. The Jets' run defense is ranked 28th in the league, giving up 150.5 yards per game. This should be a clear no-brainer, but we've been fooled before.
3) Tebow at halfback -- Jets coach Rex Ryan has already posited that backup quarterback Tim Tebow could see time at running back. As the wildcat quarterback, and at more than 230 pounds, you can take it to the bank that the Patriots are going to have to deal with Tebow running the ball on Sunday. However, how much Tebow gets to do that on Sunday is the question of the day. And how much Tebow gets the ball in his hands has been the question of the year for the Jets.
FOXBOROUGH -- The Patriots come into Sunday's game against the New York Jets hoping to break the gridlock in the AFC East and bounce back from a disappointing 24-23 loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
It's possible the Patriots will get a boost with the return of linebacker Dont'a Hightower (hamstring) and wide receiver Julian Edelman (hand), who are both listed as questionable for today's game.
The Jets come into today's game off a 35-9 win over the Indianapolis Colts in which running back Shonn Green ran for 161 yards and three touchdowns on 32 carries while Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez passed for a paltry 82 yards. For the Jets, in their three wins this season, Greene has averaged at least 26 carries. That will probably be a point of emphasis today for the Jets who sport a 30th-ranked pass offense, even against a Patriots team that allows 288.8 yards per game in the air.
The Patriots' fifth-ranked rushing defense (82.7 yards per game) will not only look to bottle up Greene, but possibly backup quarterback Tim Tebow, who may see time at halfback. Tebow most certainly will make an appearance as the wildcat quarterback in offensive coordinator Tony Sparano's offense.
Here are the details for today's game:
Kickoff: 4:25 p.m. ET
Records: Patriots 3-3; Jets 3-3.
TV/Radio info: CBS (Jim Nantz, Phil Simms); 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, DE Jermaine Cunningham, LB Ron Ninkovich, LB Jerod Mayo, LB Brandon Spikes, CB Devin McCourty, CB Kyle Arrington, S Tavon Wilson, S Patrick Chung.
Jets offense: WR Stephen Hill, LT D'Brickshaw Ferguson, LG Matt Slauson, C Nick Mangold, RG Brandon Moore, RT Austin Howard, TE Dustin Keller, WR Jeremy Kerley, QB Mark Sanchez, FB John Connor, RB Shonn Greene.
Jets defense: DE Muhammad Wilkerson, NT Sione Po'uha, DT Mike DeVito, OLB Bryan Thomas, WLB Bart Scott, MLB David Harris, OLB Calvin Pace, CB Kyle Wilson, CB Antonio Cromartie, S LaRon Landry, S Yeremiah Bell.
Inactives (more coming)
Patriots: Steve Gregory (hip), Brandon Bolden (knee), Tracy White (foot).
It's been a pretty quiet week as the lead-up to Patriots-Jets usually goes, with very little of the trash-talking and rhetoric (admittedly usually coming from Florham Park and not Foxborough) which usually accompany their matchups.
But a report this morning from ESPN's Sal Paolantonio has probably changed all of that.
According to Paolantonio, the Jets have contacted the NFL about the Patriots' no-huddle offense because of concerns that they will not be able to substitute defensive players while the Patriots are in no-huddle and want to make sure game officials properly follow substitution rules.
"We have already talked to the league office and Rex (Ryan) will be in the ref's ear about this all game," a member of the Jets' coaching staff told Paolantonio Saturday night.
Further, a Jets senior official told Paolantonio, the Jets will emphasize the point during the usual pregame meeting with game officials, as they always do.
By rule, the defense is allowed to substitute players if the offense makes a substitution, and the Jets believe that the rule was not consistently enforced during the Patriots-Broncos game two weeks ago, which affected Denver.
On Friday, Rex Ryan addressed the issue, saying, "Sometimes when they substitute, you're supposed to be allowed to substitute with them. We'll see about that, but they move at such a quick pace that you have to be alert, and if you have to sub, you have to make your substitution extremely quick.
"What they do is super-quick. Still, the rules are (that) you have to be set a full count. They're set a full count, but you have to know it's a count and here it comes. It certainly is a challenge... After the game, I'll be able to tell you more. The fact they're playing at home, I think (you will) see more of that no-huddle than perhaps you (would) on the road."
Earlier in the week, linebacker Calvin Pace told ESPNNewYork.com that the Patriots' no-huddle is "borderline illegal." However, Pace added that he believes it is a smart tactic and that he wished his own team would do it.
FOXBOROUGH Ė The Jets and the Patriots renew acquaintances today in the surprisingly log-jammed AFC East. Here are the five keys for the Patriots to emerge with a victory:
- Stop Shonn Greene: The Jets' running back hasnít done much against anyone not named the Colts, and the Patriots need to continue that by shutting down the Jets' preferred rushing attack. The Patriots want to make the Jets as one dimensional as possible with quarterback Mark Sanchez. If he has to throw the ball 40 times to beat them, the Patriots will take that every time.
- Take care of Keller and Kerley: Tight end Dustin Keller is finally healthy, and receiver Jeremy Kerley is an improving inside receiver. The Patriots will aim to get physical with both players -- Keller off the line, Kerley when he tries shallow crosses -- to make Sanchez, he of the 49 percent completion rate, beat the Patriots down the field and outside the numbers on low-percentage throws. Then the Patriots have to hope their secondary doesn't butcher things again.
- Go fast: Nobody tests Tom Brady more than Rex Ryan with the amount of different pressures and disguises he wants to roll out. Simply don't let them, like the Broncos game. Go fast with the turbo offense, rely on the running game -- the real key to the turbo because it keeps the plays going; a pass-heavy no huddle can backfire because of incompletions. The Jets will also be worn out because their linebackers are older and bigger.
- Protect Brady: Ryan knows as well as anybody that the key to getting Brady off his game is to hit him early -- he'll increasingly feel pressure, even if it isn't there. Expect the Jets to send the house a few times early in the game in an attempt to get in Brady's head.
- Play smart: Before the Seahawks game, one of our keys was not to do the stupid things that helped cause a loss against the Cardinals. Well, here we are again with another offensively challenged opponent ready to take on the Patriots. Same thing. Don't get in trouble with turnovers, blocked punts and penalties. You do that, a weak offensive team is going to have trouble beating the Patriots.
The injury-ravaged Jets are going to do some strange things in this game, probably in all three phases, because they know they are in no position to go toe-to-toe with the Patriots. Ryan has one of the best minds in the game, so he'll come up with some good stuff. But as long as the Patriots execute reasonably well, and the coaches don't forget game situations like they did in Seattle, they should win this one rather easily.
Patriots 37, Jets 13
The Globe's Greg Bedard and the New York Post's Bart Hubbuch provide perspective from both sides of the Patriots-Jets rivalry as the teams prepare for their first meeting of the season on Sunday at 4:25 p.m. at Gillette Stadium.
The Patriots signed linebacker Jeff Tarpinian from their practice squad to the 53-man roster on Saturday and released offensive lineman Matt Tennant.
Tarpinian played in seven games last season, but was cut at the end of training camp this summer and signed to the practice squad the next day.
Tennant was on the 53-man roster but inactive for three games this season.
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 JETS' OFFENSE
It was difficult to fathom that the Jets offense was going to be more vanilla in 2012 than they were during the turbulent times it was led by offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, but that is the case. Tony Sparano, who came over from the rival Dolphins during the off-season, coordinates the 20th-ranked scoring offense that also ranks 29th in total yardage. It's an offense that lacks any kind of rhythm and is plagued by unimaginative schemes -- much more unimaginative than Schottenheimer's ever was, at least -- that are reminiscent of Sparano's Miami days.
Sparano's philosophy of choice is a ground-and-pound running game -- which ranks 15th with 111 yards per game -- that looks to manage down and distance while protecting the quarterback from making questionable decisions. Much of this comes from the 11 (1 back, 1 tight end), 12 (1 back, 2 tight ends) and 21 (2 backs, 1 tight end) personnel groupings, which are charged with executing base NFL run concepts such as 'Power', 'Lead' and 'Toss'. Sparano has also introduced the "Bone" formation, featuring two backs and a tight end or one back and two tight ends along with the running back in the backfield.
When not running with traditional running backs, Sparano turns to 'Wildcat' formations that feature the likes of wide receiver Jeremy Kerley running the ball. There's also the popular Tim Tebow, who is much more of a spectator this year than he was in Denver but still has a role on the field. When not protecting punters on special teams, Tebow comes into the game to run the ball in the 'zone-read' and 'quarterback power' concepts in short yardage situations.
Then there's the highly criticized Mark Sanchez, who has yet to develop into the elite passer that the Jets envisioned when they traded up to select him in the 2009 draft. Sanchez is completing just under half of his total passes for the year and has a 70.9 quarterback rating.
He has not received much help from his teammates, however, as his primary targets have been lost to injury (Santonio Holmes, Dustin Keller and Stephen Hill) and that has affected his play. Keller and Hill will be suiting up against the Patriots this week and are expected to be running many of the preferred short routes and concepts that Tony Sparano likes to call, such as slants, sticks, outs and snag routes, from 1x1, 2x2 and 3x2 sets.
INSIDE THE JETS' DEFENSE
There were big hopes for the defense going into the season for the Jets after adding a stud defensive lineman (Quinton Coples in the first round), a more dynamic safety (LaRon Landry) and incorporating more four-man fronts but much like the offense, it hasn't quite worked out because of injuries and a very slow team.
They lost their top player when cornerback Darelle Revis went out with a season-ending knee injury, and can't stop the run. As a matter of fact, the Jets rank 28th in run defense, allowing 150 yards per game and 4.7 yards per carry. A big reason for this is they are struggling to move laterally due to lack of foot speed and missing far too many tackles.
Against the pass, the Jets rank sixth because of their inability to stop the run. Despite this, they are still using multiple pressure packages and sub-packages that consist of nickel, dime personnel and even seven defensive backs at times, which is no surprise with head coach Rex Ryan and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine.
Further, sticking with the defensive backfield, the Jets are still playing multiple coverages, most notably Cover 0, Cover 1 (Man-Free), Cover 3 and Cover 6 (Cover 2 and 4 blend).
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Jets deep shots - The Jets are going to take some deep shots with Hill and possibly Keller. They are more than likely going to come in two ways: double moves and play action. Sparano has built in out-and-up routes that are used as an extension of the constant speed-outs and square-ins that he likes to call. This type of double move is used outside of the numbers and in the middle of the field. Furthermore, the Jets still use play action because Sanchez has success when on the move, so it should come as no surprise if they try to take a shot deep from it. It also wouldn't surprise me if the Jets tried to take a deep shot from the "Bone" formation (3 backfield set) to a single receiver depending on if they can get the Patriots to load the box.
Jets running game - Simply put: the Jets have to run the ball well to have a chance in this game (unless the defense forces turnovers). They can't rely on their passing game to carry them to a win, especially with the way it's been playing, so the Patriots have to buckle their chinstraps and start banging helmets. As always in run defense, Brandon Spikes and the defensive linemen will be key.
Tim Tebow - Whether he's on special teams or in shotgun, Tebow will be someone to keep an eye on because the Jets appear to be trying new things with him. Tebow usually plays in goal-line situations as well as between the 40 yard lines, where the Jets have the least risk involved to take chances.
Dustin Keller - The tight end is a favorite target of Sanchez and the Jets want to throw in the middle of the field, so Keller may often be looked to, especially if they can't run the ball and have to rely on the passing game.
Patriots no-huddle - The no-huddle approach has had success and could once again be a factor for the Patriots when they face the Jets. As noted, New York likes to go to its sub-packages, which is an ideal situation for the Patriots to speed up the pace of the game and attack the Jets defenders in the passing game, namely cornerback Kyle Wilson, and run the ball.
Patriots running game - The goal going into this game for the Patriots should be to run the ball as often as possible with as much success as possible. It makes the job easier for Tom Brady, who would spend less time deciphering the Jets coverages, and the offensive linemen and it minimizes the chances of a turnover. If the Patriots do run the ball successfully and choose to throw play action off of it, it wouldn't surprise me if they target the talented but undisciplined LaRon Landry in the middle of the field.
1. All right, I've avoid thinking about this for long enough ... Lot of Tebow on Sunday or just a little?
BS: "Depends on how you define 'a lot.' More than half the Jets' offensive plays? I'd say no. But with injuries to Bilal Powell and Joe McKnight compromising their depth at running back -- and eliminating their speed at the position -- I could see Tebow getting more of an opportunity to run from the shotgun, especially if the score is close."
2. Who is the one Jets player most Patriots fans don't know right now, but will by the end of the game on Sunday?
BS: "A two-way tie. The rookie receiver Stephen Hill, the Jets' second-round pick out of Georgia Tech, is tall and fast (but raw, very raw) and could create problems against the Patriots' secondary if the Jets are able to stretch the field and utilize the play-action. And the rookie defensive lineman Quinton Coples, who had two sacks against the Colts but, if he's a non-factor Sunday, could be mentioned as the player the Jets drafted instead of Chandler Jones."
3. What's the biggest weakness on the Jets' offense you expect the Patriots to try to exploit?
BS: "The Jets were thrilled with their execution as much as their performance against Indianapolis, when they ran for 252 yards. Their offensive line, with a boost from tight ends Dustin Keller and Jeff Cumberland, played very well, on the whole. But was it a sign of progress or merely an aberration? Until the Jets rush the ball well consistently against a strong defense, that element must be considered a weakness, and the Patriots, I'm sure, will try to exploit it."
4. What's the biggest weakness on the Jets' defense you expect the Patriots to try to exploit?
BS: "The middle of the field. If the coverage dictates, I'd think Tom Brady will take his shots between the numbers to Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, and to Danny Woodhead out of the backfield. And I'd think the Patriots would feel good if Stevan Ridley and Woodhead can get past the line of scrimmage and to the Jets' inside linebackers, David Harris and Bart Scott, who have loads of missed tackles this season and have been largely inconsistent, if not ineffective, against the run."
5. Finally, Jets win on Sunday if ...
BS: "It's not just one thing. It never is. They have to counter the Patriots' up-tempo offense, avoiding the sort of mismatches and staggered substitution patterns that New England wants to create. They have to get a great game out of Antonio Cromartie, who could be a factor in all three phases, and from safeties Yeremiah Bell and LaRon Landry, who'll be essential in helping to stop the run and trying to erase Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski. And Mark Sanchez has to play if not a perfect game, then pretty close to it. The Jets can't afford to give the ball back to Tom Brady."
The Globe's Greg Bedard provides his thoughts on Week 7 in the NFL, including how much blame the Patriots' coaching staff deserves for a 3-3 record, which coaches are on the hot seat in the NFL, and the Texans-Ravens game.
FOXBOROUGH --- Tight end Aaron Hernandez (ankle) and guard Logan Mankins (calf/hip), who missed Thursday's practice at Gillette Stadium, returned to practice Friday for a workout in shorts and shells at the teamís indoor facility, the Dana Farber Field House.
They were among 11 players the Patriots listed as questionable for Sunday's game against the Jets.
Also listed as questionable were S Patrick Chung (shoulder), WR Julian Edelman (hand), TE Rob Gronkowski (hip), LB Dont'a Hightower (hamstring), OT Sebastian Vollmer (back/knee) and Welker (ankle).
S Steve Gregory (hip), RB Brandon Bolden (knee), and LB Tracy White (foot), were listed as out for Sunday's game after they did not practice. Gregory, who was limited during a walk-through practice Wednesday, missed two consecutive practices while Bolden and White did not practice all week.
The Jets, meanwhile, listed DL Kenrick Ellis (knee) and Sione Pouha (low back), RB Bilal Powell (shoulder) and DB Eric Smith (knee) as doubtful. WR Clyde Gates (shoulder), OL Nick Mangold (ankle), and RB Joe McKnight (ankle) were questionable.
S LaRon Landry (heel), who missed Thursday's practice, returned to full participation Friday and was listed as probable.
FOXBOROUGH -- After they missed Thursday's practice session at Gillette Stadium, tight end Aaron Hernandez (ankle) and guard Logan Mankins (calf/hip) returned to practice Friday for a workout in shorts and shells at the team's indoor facility, the Dana Farber Field House, reported Globe colleague Michael Whitmer.
Safety Steve Gregory (hip), running back Brandon Bolden (knee), and linebacker Tracy White (foot), who were among five players who did not practice, were not spotted during the media-access portion of practice.
Mankins, Hernandez and Gregory all took part in Wednesday's walk-through session in a limited capacity, but missed practice Thursday.
FOXBOROUGH -- The Patriots had five players miss Thursday's practice in shorts and shells at the upper field behind Gillette Stadium, including three players who were limited in their participation in Wednesday's walk-through session.
S Steve Gregory (hip), G Logan Mankins (calf/hip), and TE Aaron Hernandez, who returned to the field for last week's 24-23 setback at Seattle for the first time since injuring his ankle in Week 2, did not practice Thursday after being limited on Wednesday.
RB Brandon Bolden (knee) and LB Tracy White (foot) also did not practice for the second day this week.
DL Ron Brace (back), who showed up on the injury report Thursday, was one of nine players were limited, including S Patrick Chung (shoulder), TE Rob Gronkowski (hip), LB Dont'a Hightower (hamstring), OT Sebastian Vollmer (back/knee), and WR Wes Welker (ankle).
The Jets had six players not practice Thursday, including DB LaRon Landry (heel), who seemed to suffer a setback after fully participating in Wednesday's practice. WR Clyde Gates (shoulder) and DL Sione Pouha (low back) returned to practice Thursday in a limited capacity after not practicing on Wednesday. WR Stephen Hill (hamstring) and TE Dustin Keller (hamstring) were full participants in Thursday's practice after being limited Wednesday.
Globe NFL writer Greg A. Bedard and former Patriots tight end Jermaine Wiggins break down how the New York Jets will exploit the Patriots' defense.
In this week's preview video, the Globe's Shalise Manza Young gives us her keys to the Week 7 showdown between the Patriots (3-3) and the Jets (3-3).
Patriots coach Bill Belichick said he expects Ryan to make his typical in-game adjustments and bring new looks on both offense and defense.
"Rex always does a good job of [making in-game changes]," Belichick said. "Putting in a couple of new things that complement each other."
Patriots receiver Brandon Lloyd, who is new to the rivalry, is taking the matchup in stride like most of his teammates.
"As a player, the buildup is more for the fans," Lloyd said. "... These are current teams, current rosters. We're not playing against Joe Namath or anything like that."
Manza Young looks into the challenges Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones faces on Sunday against the Jets tackles as he attempts to get to quarterback Mark Sanchez.
And with Darrelle Revis missing from the Jets secondary, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, 16-5 in his career against the Jets, talks about going up against old friend Antonio Cromartie, who will be looking to shut down New England's air attack.
FOXBOROUGH --- The Patriots were missing five players from Thursday's practice session in shorts and shells at the upper field behind Gillette Stadium, according to Globe colleague Michael Whitmer.
Not spotted during the media-access portion of practice were S Steve Gregory (hip), RB Brandon Bolden (knee), LB Tracy White (foot), G Logan Mankins (calf/hip), and TE Aaron Hernandez (ankle), who spoke to the media Thursday for the first time since returning to the roster after injuring his ankle in Week 2.
Mankins, Gregory, and Hernandez had limited participation in Wednesday's walkthrough at Gillette, while Bolden and White were the only players who did not participate.
Photo courtesy of New England PatriotsHere are two examples of counterfeit tickets to a recent home game against the Broncos. Note the telltale Ticketmaster logo on the front, which is evidence of a fake ticket.
FOXBOROUGH -- Concerned about an ongoing issue with counterfeit ticket sales, especially with a huge AFC East showdown against the New York Jets looming Sunday at Gillette Stadium, the Patriots issued a warning Thursday to their fans to be extra vigilant when buying game tickets online.
Team spokesman Stacey James said the team had seen a proliferation of counterfeit ticket sales this season , including home games against Arizona and Denver.
"People have purchased them on Craigslist and they all have Ticketmaster logos on them,'' said James, pointing out one of the telltale signs of a counterfeit Patriots' game ticket.
James produced a seized counterfeit ticket to a 2012 home game against the Cardinals with a Ticketmaster logo on the front.
"That's a fake,'' he said. "It feels like a real ticket, but we don't print any of our tickets on Ticketmaster stock. Ticketmaster prints them, but they don't print them with their logo on them.
James said counterfeiters "somehow got a hold of Ticketmaster stock and they print out our information on them.''
James indicated if fans were suspicious about their online ticket purchases, they were encouraged to contact the Patriots' box office at 1-800-543-1776 to verify the validity of their game tickets.
"We invite them to come down and show it to us and we can identify if it's a real ticket or not,'' James said. "The two places we can verify it's a legitimate ticket is if you buy it from the Patriots' box office or through Ticketmaster, but Ticketmaster does not print with the Ticketmaster logo on our tickets.''
James said the first time the team dealt with counterfeit ticket sales was about 4-5 years ago for a game against the Indianapolis Colts. There was one glaring piece of evidence that pointed to those Patriots-Colts tickets as being fake: "They spelled 'Indianapolis' wrong,'' he said.
In another instance, James said, fraudulent tickets were sold "using our game info, but Red Sox gate info and seating sections.''
"We want to get the message out that since we've been in his building, we've always said, 'Buyer beware,' '' James said. "You have to make sure you buy them from someone you know and trust and if you're selling them, we always remind people 'Seller beware,' because if a person who is using your ticket and becomes drunk or disorderly, you can lose your season ticket account.''
FOXBOROUGH -- Aaron Hernandez held his first interview session with the media since suffering an ankle injury during the home-opening loss to Arizona on Sept. 16, telling a large gathering of journalists that he initially felt his ankle had been broken, but knew he'd be back quickly after learning that it wasn't.
After missing three games (and most of a fourth, since he was hurt on the third play of the game against the Cardinals), Hernandez returned Sunday in a 24-23 loss at Seattle, catching six passes for 30 yards. Included in that was a 1-yard touchdown.
"I felt pretty good, it was good to be back out there to help the team," Hernandez said. "I came out healthy, and hopefully Iíll come out healthy this week."
Hernandez was hurt while trying to block downfield for Julian Edelman, who caught a short pass from Tom Brady and rolled into Hernandez, along with the Cardinals defender who made the tackle. Diagnosed as an ankle sprain, Hernandez feared the worst while on the turf at Gillette Stadium.
"Broke," he said. "But it healed, and Iím better now. I know we have a great training staff, and theyíre going to work hard to get us back, especially under [coach] Bill [Belichickís] supervision, so I knew I was going to have a quick recovery, and I came back pretty good."
After practicing for a few days before the Denver game (he was inactive against the Broncos), Hernandez wasted no time getting into the flow of the offense. He caught a pass from Brady on the team's first offensive play from scrimmage.
That would be Tim Tebow.
Asked on Thursday if the quarterback could see some time at running back, Jets coach Rex Ryan said, "Thatís a possibility. The thing about Tim, with him being a football player like we've always talked about, Tim can -- by playing quarterback he knows all the positions. And so, can you plug him at running back? Can you plug him at tight end? I think the answer is yes."
Joe McKnight (high ankle sprain) and Bilal Powell (separated shoulder) were both set to miss practice again on Thursday, though Ryan did not rule out either for the game against the Patriots. He said as the week went on, the Jets would judge their availability. Reports out of New York suggest that neither will play.
Without McKnight and Powell, the only two running backs on the Jets roster are Shonn Greene -- who had a breakout game against the Colts on Sunday -- and the recently signed Jonathan Grimes.
"We have guys that can go," Ryan said. "Obviously Shonn really took the majority of all the snaps, even on third down. Grimes has been here now for four or five weeks. There's other things we can do."
One of those other things is to use Tebow, who has yet to really find a place in the Jets' offense.
"I would be ready for whatever I would be asked to do, absolutely," Tebow said on Wednesday. But asked whether it would be a possibility for him to play at running back, Tebow said, "I don't know. It's not something that's been talked [about] or planned or worked on at all, so probably not."
Zuri Berry has the latest on the Patriots' injury situation and where things stand with the team as it turns its attention to the first of two meetings with the Jets.
On the plus side, Brandon Lloyd, who briefly left the late minutes of last Sunday's game in Seattle with what looked like a shoulder issue is not on the Patriots' injury report, but on the negative side, 14 players still are. But the Jets actually have more players listed on their report than New England, which might be saying something - or it's some weird little game between the two teams...
New England's practice today was a walkthrough.
For the Patriots
Did not participate
RB Brandon Bolden - knee
LB Tract White - foot
S Patrick Chung - shoulder
WR Julian Edelman - hand
S Steve Gregory - hip
TE Rob Gronkowski - hip
TE Aaron Hernandez - ankle
LB Dont'a Hightower - hamstring
G Logan Mankins - calf/hip
OL Nick McDonald - shoulder
CB Sterling Moore - knee
OT Sebastian Vollmer - back
WR Wes Welker - ankle
DT Kyle Love - knee
For the Jets
Did not participate
DL Kendrick Ellis - knee
WR Clyde Gates - shoulder
OL Nick Mangold - ankle
RB Joe McKnight - ankle
DL Sione Pouha - low back
RB Bilal Powell - shoulder
DB Eric Smith - knee
WR Stephen Hill - hamstring
TE Dustin Keller - hamstring
LB Bart Scott - toe
LB Bryan Thomas - hamstring
WR Jeremy Kerley - finger
DB LaRon Landry - heel
OL Brandon Moore - hip
LB Calvin Pace - shoulder
QB Mark Sanchez - low back
OL Matt Slauson - knee
FOXBOROUGH -- On Tuesday, Patriots wide receiver and special teams captain Matthew Slater compared playing the Jets to playing USC, the top rival of his alma mater, UCLA.
Tom Brady, asked if playing the Jets resembled Ohio State vs. his alma mater Michigan, expanded on why Jets week is special.
"It's a great rivalry, there's no question," Brady said. "We've had so many meaningful games against these guys. It's like we do the scouting report and they go through the names on the list and you're like, 'I know every single one of these guys on the list. Why are we talking about David Harris and [Antonio] Cromartie?' Theyíve got a few new faces in there, but this defense presents some great challenges for our offense and ones we've faced since Rex Ryan has been the head coach of that team.
"It's a great rivalry and it's a fun game for us players," Brady continued. "It always has meaning behind it. It's never been a meaningless game, so this one will be no different than that."
The Patriots face a Jets team coached by Ryan in the regular season for the seventh time since 2010. The Patriots lead, 4-2. The Patriots are 0-1 against Ryan's Jets in the playoffs, losing Jan. 16, 2011, 28-21. But the Jets have dramatically changed, even from a year ago when the Patriots swept season series 2-0. Jets All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis was lost for the season, giving the vaunted New York defense an entirely different feel.
"Heís a great player Ė one of the best Iíve ever gone against," Brady said of Revis. "At the same time, I think theyíve moved on from that situation and played really well last week against Indianapolis without him. They still have a very good defense. Itís built around their team and their scheme and they have very good players: big, powerful guys that run well, very instinctive. They have a lot of veteran players at safety and linebacker. [Antonio] Cromartie is a heck of a player in his own right and he's had a great season, so he's really assumed the role of matching to the opponentís No. 1 receiver Ė or perceived No. 1 receiver. They seem like they're still doing what theyíve always done and playing very well."
FOXBOROUGH -- Patriots receiver Brandon Lloyd, who missed a few plays after landing hard on his left shoulder late in Sunday's 24-23 loss at Seattle, had a simple, single-word response when asked about his health before today's practice.
"Fine," Lloyd said.
We'll see in a few hours what injury, if any, Lloyd might be suffering from, since Wednesday is the first practice/injury report owed to the league. The Patriots were going through a walk-through on the practice field behind Gillette Stadium -- no pads, no helmets -- in preparation for Sunday's visit by the Jets.
For Lloyd, it'll be his first taste of the Patriots-Jets rivalry. He was asked if he knew much about the heated history between the teams.
"No, I don't," Lloyd said. "Do you want to enlighten me?"
Told that it likely resembles any kind of rivalry game Lloyd has played in, he was able to put the game in the proper context.
"I think the best thing is just approach it like a normal game," Lloyd said. "As a player, I think the build-up is more so for the fans and the history, but these are current teams, current rosters. Weíre not playing against Joe Namath or anything like that.
"Itís a game, itís an important game, but from our standpoint, weíre just going to prepare for it like itís a regular game."
FOXBOROUGH -- Globe colleague Michael Whitmer reported from Wednesday's practice session that the Patriots went through a walkthrough on the upper fields behind Gillette Stadium.
The only players who were not spotted during the media-access portion of practice were RB Brandon Bolden and LB Tracy White.
FOXBOROUGH -- Reflecting on Sunday's 24-23 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady again lamented the offense's lost opportunities. But one thing he wouldn't allow himself to bemoan was the lack of a running game.
The Patriots racked up 475 yards of offense against the Seahawks, but were unable to punch the ball in the end zone on several drives. Despite moving the ball well, the Patriots have been criticized for abandoning the run. The team had 87 yards rushing Sunday.
"Last week we did a good job moving the ball, we had almost 500 yards of offense, we just didn't score enough points," Brady said. "I don't think it's a matter of running or passing. It's important to be able to do both. It's important to be able to run it when you need to run it. It's important to throw it when you need to throw it.
"But what you do on a weekly basis, you have to be able to do, whatever you're doing well enough to score more points than the other team," Brady continued. "A week like last week where we really get up and move the ball up and down the field, and we're one in six in the red area, that's why we lose the game. It's not like it's 110 yards offense. We're making plays, we just gotta make more of them. And certainly we've got to make more of these important ones when we're down close in the red area so we're scoring touchdowns and not kicking field goals."
Also of note:
Brady on Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman's tweets about meeting him after the game: " I don't have any control over that. I have no feelings either way."
On New York Jets cornerback Antonion Cromartie, and how the two have become civil in the media: "I think he's a great player. He's one of the best corners in the league. And has been for awhile. I usually don't get into it much. So I wish I could help you out there."
My review of the 24-23 loss to the Seahawks was posted this morning. Here, in my view, are the top and bottom Patriots performers from that game.
- Wes Welker, WR: Accounted for 29.1 percent of the Patriots' yardage as he continues to be uncoverable one-on-one. And amazing toughness to boot.
- Chandler Jones, DE: The consistency with which he is playing is truly impressive for a rookie early draft entry. He accounted for 37.5 percent of the Patriots' 12 total quarterback pressures and it's that way every week.
- Danny Woodhead, RB: Had nine touches for 71 yards and should have been used more. Errant pass by Tom Brady cost Woodhead and the team a red-zone touchdown. And, boy, what a third-down conversion when he fended off multiple Seahawks.
- Logan Mankins, LG: Has really started to turn a corner the past two weeks despite playing on one leg late in both games. No quarterback pressures allowed.
- Rob Ninkovich, LB: Switched positions and did it with ease. Had six standout plays, including a half sack (caused one of Jones'), drew a holding penalty, half tackle for a loss and a half run stuff.
Honorable mention: Brandon Spikes, Vince Wilfork, Brandon Lloyd, Ryan Wendell, Matthew Slater.
- Patriots coaching staff: There were multiple game management problems that cost the team a victory. It was startling.
- Patrick Chung, S: Was involved in three of the seven plus-20 yard plays given up and generally was out of the game. He was always a step behind and played on his heels, likely because he was playing next to a rookie and was extra cautious.
- Kyle Arrington, CB: Got benched after giving up two plus-20 plays, including a touchdown early. Not sure how much he was really to blame, but the coaches obviously thought it was on him.
- Tom Brady, QB: Had some really good plays, especially in the second half, but his two interceptions and two penalties really hurt. Ranks up there with his worst games of the past couple of years: Giants regular season '11, Jets playoff loss '10, at Jets '10 regular season, at Jets '09 regular season. Look, the guy's not perfect.
- Nate Solder, LT: Was taught multiple lessons by veteran DE Chris Clemmons as Solder allowed 1.5 sacks (one was negated by grounding), two hurries and 1.5 knockdowns.
FOXBOROUGH -- Matthew Slater played college football at UCLA, so there was no greater rival for him than Southern Cal. With the Patriots getting ready to host the New York Jets, their AFC East archrivals, in an important division showdown Sunday at Gillette Stadium, Slater said there is an unmistakable atmosphere of a college rivalry weekend.
"You almost get the feeling like you're in college and you're playing your rival school,'' Slater said. "So I feel like I'm playing USC, for me personally.''
With former Trojans Mark Sanchez and Joe McKnight on the Jets roster, this matchup may be taking on more resonance for Slater.
"The rivalry here, it doesn't really matter what the records are,'' Slater said. "It just so happens that we're 3-3 at this point, but they want to beat us and we want to beat them. We donít have too many fond feelings towards them and the same goes for them; theyíre not too crazy about us, either.
"I think in the spirit of the game itís good to have rivalries like this Ė for the popularity of game Ė to see two good teams get after it. Iím sure itíll be no different this week.''
Do rivalry games have an amazing restorative effect on injured players, pushing them to get back on the field?
"Oh definitely,'' Slater said. "You donít want to miss this one, if you can help it. We know what it means to our fans, to this city, and this organization. The same goes for their fans and their city. Itís a big game, especially with the division as close as it is right now. Itís big for both of us. I expect it to be a very competitive game on Sunday.''
FOXBOROUGH -- Matthew Slater, the Patriots' special teams captain, knows the difficulties of the role safeties play in New England's embattled secondary. Asked if the secondary's job in football was analogous to that of a bullpen in baseball -- in that they have to avoid giving up the long ball -- Slater chuckled and said, "That's a nice little comparison there.
"Obviously, you never want to give up big plays, regardless of what phase of the game it is. You don't want to give up a big turnover, you don't give up a big kickoff return or punt return. Big plays are momentum plays. In that respect, a lot of us have that responsibility to not give up the big play -- and to make the big play.''
While much was made after Sunday's 24-23 loss in Seattle about the number of big plays the Patriots secondary has allowed this season -- 33 passes of 20 yards or more -- none was more damaging than the 46-yard TD pass from Russell Wilson to Sidney Rice that beat rookie safeties Nate Ebner and Tavon Wilson for the go-ahead score late in the fourth quarter in Seattle.
"All I'll say about that is this: I have played some safety and it is much, much harder than it may look,'' Slater said. "Those guys have a tough job to do. They're trying the best as they can. They're competing, and I wouldn't want any other guy on my team than the guys we have in this locker room and the guys that we have going out there playing for us on Sunday.
"They're busting their tail and doing everything they can to go out there and help us win games. I respect every last one of them. The job they have to do is tough, as I said. We just have to keep getting better as a unit.''
In this week's second installment of our Xs and Os series, Greg Bedard and Jermaine Wiggins look at the winning touchdown scored by the Seahawks in Sunday's defeat of the Patriots.
Players will wear red jerseys with white pants, and their helmets will have the "Pat Patriot" logo on them. The Patriots are 8-3 in throwback uniforms, the team said, and they defeated the Jets, 30-21, in last season's throwback uniform game at Gillette Stadium.
Kickoff is 4:25 p.m. in Foxborough.
While the Jets may have had some spotty performances rushing the football in the first five weeks of the season, they appeared to finally establish their "Ground and Pound'' attack by rushing for 252 yards in Sunday's 35-9 rout of the Indianapolis Colts
Running back Shonn Greene led the way with a career-high 161 yards and three touchdowns on 32 carries.
"Well, I would say schematically they've changed their running game a little bit than what it's been the past couple of years from more scheme-blocking plays and less zone-blocking plays,'' said Patriots coach Bill Belichick during his teleconference Tuesday.
"They also run zone plays, too, but they run double-team blocks, pulling linemen, things like that, more so than just predominantly zone.''
As for New York's personnel groups, Belichick said, "Sometimes they have one or two tight ends in the game, sometimes three tight end sets. They've also used Jason Smith as an extra blocking tight end, so he's a pretty athletic guy. They're able to do some things with him maybe the same way we did with [Nate] Solder last year, that type of thing, so that's another element to it.
"Sometimes they line up all three guys in the backfield, two tight ends and a running back, a running back, fullback, and another tight end, or things like that that create blocking angles and different schemes.
"And Greene's run well. No question he's a powerful guy. He's got good strength and he breaks a lot of tackles and also has good foot speed, good running vision. [Bilal] Powell and [Joe] McKnight have also been in there and they're dangerous. We know how explosive McKnight is in the kicking game and he has that same element on offense, running the ball or catching screen passes, things like that.
"They've got a good group of backs and they complement each other well. Greene gets a lot of tough yards, Powell's a good solid guy who does a lot of things well, and McKnight's kind of an explosive player and then [Tim] Tebow -- whatever you want to call him. But he carries the ball quite a bit, to some degree as a running back.''
Patriots coach Bill Belichick began the business of preparing his team for Sunday's AFC East showdown against the New York Jets at Gillette Stadium, which means preparing for the multiple threat posed by Tim Tebow, not only in New York's offense but on special teams as well.
"They pretty much use him at every spot,'' Belichick said during his weekly teleconference Tuesday morning. "He's played more quarterback than anything else, but he's also played running back and I would say tight end and he's also played a little bit of receiver.
"They've put him in some different spots, but when he's the quarterback, he's the quarterback and he can run and he can throw. He can run the option, he can run their regular offense, he can run the Tebow-type plays that Denver ran last year or [offensive coordinator Tony] Sparano ran last year when he was [head coach] at Miami.
"So he gives them a lot of versatility when he's in there on offense, but you have to be ready to deal with him at other positions as well. He's a good runner, strong runner -- very strong. Mobile in the pocket, smart player, can do a lot of different things, lot of different option plays, so you have to be aware when he's in there.''
Belichick also cited Tebow's presence in the kicking game.
"He's dangerous because of his versatility, but it's really no different than any other punting situation in that you still have to cover the eligible receivers,'' Belichick said. "But you have to be alert for them to snap the ball to him, whether he runs up the middle, or runs on a sweep. But those are things you have to prepare for every week when you're on the punt return unit.
"The fact that it's him and he's a big, strong guy who's a good runner and can throw the ball, he can do a little more than a lot of guys who are back there,'' Belichick said. "At the same time, those are the things you have to defend against every week.''
"It was just poor execution by myself, and poor fundamentals, and that's the cause of it." Brady said during his weekly appearance on WEEI's "Dennis & Callahan" program. "I give Seattle a lot of [credit for] defense and I credit the way they play."
Brady completed 5 of 13 passes in the fourth quarter.
Brady wasn't the only one hit hard by the Seahawks. Receiver Wes Welker absorbed a big hit from Seahawks safety Brandon Browner, but despite that hit and many others, Welker produced his fourth-straight 100-yard receiving game.
"He got drilled, he got drilled," Brady said. "He's so tough. There's nobody as tough as Wes. His mental toughness, this physical toughness. He runs over the middle fearlessly and makes play after play.
"He made a ton of plays the other day and was open on a ton more plays that I didn't throw to him. He finds the hole and knows how to get open. He's just a great player for us."
At the end of the first half and again in the fourth quarter, Brady was flagged for intentional grounding penalties, the first of which resulted in a 10-second run-off and the loss of a field goal attempt.
"I just kind of stepped up into the pocket and threw the ball over the middle," Brady said. "Trying to throw the ball away, there just wasn't anyone very close to where I was throwing the ball and they made the right call. I've got to do a better job making a better decision with the ball."
After the game, Brady was the target of taunts from Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman.
"Everyone is entitled to their opinion," said Brady. "We just try to show up and do our job and show our opponents respect and try to go out and earn their respect by playing well. "
Now Brady and the Patriots turn their attention to Sunday's game vs. the Jets at Gillette Stadium, Both teams are 3-3, but the Jets will be without star cornerback Darrelle Revis, who is out for the season with an ACL injury.
"He's a phenomenal player," said Brady. "As good a corner as there is in the league and as good a corner I've faced, but their team has always been built around their defense and not just one player. He's a great player and I don't want to discount him, but they've got got other great players, too.
"Antonio Cromartie is a great player and they have some guys on the line that can rush, and a solid group of linebackers. It's going to be a good challenge for us; it feels like we're playing good defenses every week, and the Jets are no different."
"He's a very good player and I have a lot of respect for that defense and certainly that secondary. They play very well together. My dad taught me at a young age to play with class and respect and give my opponents respect, and certainly I have a lot of respect for the Seahawks," Brady said during his weekly appearance on Dial Global Sports' Monday Night Football pregame show.
Host Jim Gray then asked Brady if be thought Sherman was being respectful.
"My dad also told me to worry about the things that I can control and certainly not worry about the things that I can't." Brady said. "And I really don't have feelings either way toward what someone may say or think."
Sherman took to Twitter to boast after the Seahawks defeated the Patriots, 24-23. Sherman intercepted one of Brady's 58 pass attempts, and claimed there was talk between the two players on the field.
Sherman met Brady on the field after the game briefly.
His message this week?
"I want them to know and they know that I think we're going to beat them," Ryan said. "I don't buy into all that other stuff. But I recognize they're a great football team and [Bill] Belichick's a great coach. I've never once said that he wasn't. But again, we're not going to back down or concede anything."
He continued, "They're going to get our best shot. We know we're going to get theirs. So it really doesn't matter who says what, but we're going to be ourselves. We're coming up there to take our swing. We'll see if we land that punch to win the game."
After a takedown of the Colts, the Jets are tied with the Patriots (and the Bills and the Dolphins) in the AFC East standings. All four teams are 3-3. The Jets travel to Foxborough on Sunday to face the Patriots, a team that Ryan admitted the Jets never really stop thinking about, including in terms of player acquisition in the offseason.
"It's good news/bad news," Ryan said. "Let's face it. We're tied for first in our division. That's great. We're also tied for last."
Still a little blurry after taking the red eye from Seattle, but figured the Patriots' 24-23 loss to the Seahawks needed to be addressed further -- and it will be talked about all week.
It should. That was a terrible loss by the Patriots. An epic fail. Up 23-10 with nine minutes left, they have no business losing that game.
Three things to feel good about
- Wes Welker is a golden god: I believe things happen for a reason. And for the Patriots, I think believe the injuries to Aaron Hernandez and Julian Edelman made the team better for the long haul because it reminded Bill Belichick that Welker is easy to write off in your mind before the regular season -- sometimes you can forget the little things that make him great -- but once the season kicks off, the guy is one hell of a player. We will never know what would have happened had Hernandez stayed healthy and the Patriots romped over the Cardinals while Welker played about 20 plays only in three-receiver sets behind Edelman. Welker very well might have been traded. That is all forgotten now, at least for this season. And because certain things happened, the Patriots will be better.
- They're close: The Patriots have lost three games by a combined four points. That it's becoming a habit is certainly something to worry about. But the fact that the Patriots are just a few plays here or there from winning those games, that's a good sign. Now they just need to find a way to make those plays.
- Gostkowski's kicks: Very minor and he didn't have an attempt longer than 35 yards, but Stephen Gostkowski made all three of his field-goal attempts and has converted his last five kicks after missing two in Buffalo. An extended slump would have been bad -- and he doesn't have a made kick longer than 35 yards since the Ravens game -- so at least he's maintaining his confidence.
Three things to worry about
Where to start (already covered the secondary this morning -- was any safety planning on making any plays in the middle of the field?)Ö
- Inability to close out games: Patriots lead Giants 17-9 with 11:20 left in third quarter of the Super Bowl and don't score again and lose. Patriots lead Cardinals 9-6 early in third quarter and are outscored 14-0 before losing. Patriots lead Ravens 30-21 with 14:10 left in fourth quarter and go scoreless before losing. Patriots lead Seahawks 23-10 with 9:21 left in the fourth quarter and go scoreless before losing. Not acceptable. Have to find a way to execute better and get the final score to win the game. I mean, one touchdown on six trips in the red zone? And twice the Patriots were inside the 10-yard line and got zero points. Unreal. One thing that crossed my mind as I watched Tom Brady get up very slowly after the roughing penalty he took to the head, was that he might have been a little woozy. After the hit, Brady was 5-12 for 81 yards, one interception, one sack and one grounding penalty.
- Coaching decisions: I said at the time that I didn't like the decision to forgo the field goal before halftime and try for the touchdown. I thought six seconds was just too little time. It was eight seconds, I'd be ok with it. Even without the grounding, the Patriots were fortunate the clock stopped with one second left. There were plenty of other strange decisions -- no timeouts left? -- but what happened at the end of the game was really strange. The Patriots played the Seahawks' final three plays like it was the middle of the third quarter. I realize the Seahawks had 1 yard to go on second and third down, but they needed a touchdown and only had one timeout left. Why did the Patriots decide at that moment to play base defense with only four defensive backs when the Seahawks had to score a touchdown? The Patriots should have been encouraging the Seahawks to run the ball and burn clock. The decision to play Cover 2 on the final touchdown -- with two rookies at safety -- made absolutely no sense. Play Cover 3, quarters or two manÖsomething other than Cover 2. And don't even get us started on the Patriots actually falling for the play fake on the touchdown.
- Health: Everyone seems to be concerned about Brandon Lloyd, but he returned for the final two plays and didn't seem to be favoring his arm. I'd be more worried about Brady (head), Welker (ankle), Gronkowski (hip/back), Aaron Hernandez (ankle), Sebastian Vollmer (back), Logan Mankins (quad), Patrick Chung (shoulder), and Steve Gregory (hip) and Dont'a Hightower (hamstring). Those in that group that did play against the Seahawks, they didn't move around very well. The Patriots are starting to get really beat up, especially with key players, and that's never good.
Classless in Seattle?
Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman, who was on the receiving end of one of Tom Brady's two interceptions in Seattle's 24-23 win over the New England, celebrated the win by going on Twitter and taking some shots at the Patriots quarterback and their fans.
Sherman tweeted the following message along with a photo of Brady leaving CenturyLink Field with his head down.
Brady sure looks like a man who turned the 12thMan against us twitter.com/RSherman_25/stÖ— Richard Sherman (@RSherman_25) October 15, 2012
Sherman's "12th man" comment was presumably in response to Bradyís comments earlier in the week regarding turning the CenturyLink Field crowd on the hometown team.
"This will be fun," Brady said about the road trip on Wednesday. "It's always nice when you take 53 guys on the road and you say, 'This is all we've got and this is all we need and this is what we have to do.' And see 70,000 fans, if you can keep them quiet or turn them on their own team. I think thatís an exciting part for road teams, is to see if you can get them booing their own players."
Sherman spoke about the onfield trash talk after Sunday's game.
"I kept saying I'm going to get that next time. Every TV timeout, I went up and said it right to [Brady]: 'Please keep trying me. I'm going to take it from you.' That was when they were winning," Sherman said, according to the Tacoma News Tribune. "He just gave me that look and said, 'Oh, I'll see you after game.' Well, I made sure I saw him after the game."
Sherman continued with his taunts by posting a postgame photo with the "U MAD BRO" caption headline (above), which he has since taken down, along with the message: "He told me and Earl [Thomas] to see him after the game when they win... . I found him afterÖ."
Sherman then went after Patriots fans with the following tweet:
Patriots fans mad lol... Talking bout Super Bowl rings.... What have u done lately? Oh ur 3-3 lol— Richard Sherman (@RSherman_25) October 15, 2012
Sherman also said the Seahawks are "built for a heavyweight fight. I don't think they're [Patriots] built for a heavyweight fight," according to the Seattle Times.
It wasn't a pretty game to watch for Patriots fans, nor was it one the Patriots were happy to talk about afterward. But there are some positives among the negatives.
Here are some thoughts on Sunday's 24-23 loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
1) The secondary is in shambles -- Halfway through the second quarter, Kyle Arrington was replaced by Alfonzo Dennard in base coverage. It seemed prudent considering how Arrington had struggled in the first half, getting beat by Doug Baldwin for a 50-yard catch. But Dennard had his own struggles, although much less severe than his counterpart. The rookie was outmaneuvered by Braylon Edwards for a 10-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter on what was likely an offensive pass interference. It doesn't matter. This secondary is having trouble making plays and each player on the field is having a hard time locating the ball. Rookie Tavon Wilson was beat soundly by Sydney Rice for the winning 46-yard touchdown on a double move. Wilson's job was to not allow anything to get behind him. Devin McCourty continued to have issues with man-to-man coverage. And Patrick Chung, for all of his talent and experience, has showed that he too has to work on his awareness. He was flagged for pass interference and illegal contact. Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson finished with 293 yards and three touchdowns on 16 of 27 passing. The Seahawks weren't doing anything special. Just their play-action offense. The Patriots' secondary just has to play better.
2) Injurious losses -- Aaron Hernandez returned to action from an ankle injury and it felt like he hadn't missed a beat, catching the first pass of the day from Tom Brady and hauling in a 1-yard touchdown later on. But as the day wore on, the Patriots got dinged up pretty good. Brandon Bolden (knee), Matthew Slater (unknown), Patrick Chung (shoulder), and Brandon Lloyd (shoulder) were all hurt in the loss. Chung and Slater said they were fine, but both missed playing time at the end of the game. On Seattle's winning drive, Chung would have likely been back deep in coverage instead of Tavon Wilson. Slater, as the team's special teams star, missed a critical punt that the Seahawks' Leon Washington was able to return for 25 yards before the go-ahead touchdown. His coverage could have prevented that. At this point, the injuries are starting to pile up. With Steve Gregory (hip) out, Julian Edelman (hand) out, and Dont'a Hightower (knee) out, the Patriots desperately need to get healthy fast.
3) The Patriots reverted to a pass first team -- For two weeks, the Patriots were a running powerhouse. They piled up 498 yards on the ground as the offense steamrolled Buffalo and Denver. On Sunday, the Patriots amassed a measly 87 yards rushing on 26 running plays. It was clear the team abandoned the running game early on. Stevan Ridley was having a tough time finding holes and Brandon Bolden's knee injury took him out of the equation. Danny Woodhead was still able to get loose, but Sunday's game was markedly different. Tom Brady dropped back to pass 59 times. It seems, when pressed, the Patriots go to what works best: Brady with the ball in his hands. Unfortunately, he didn't have his usual superb outing.
4) The one thing nobody seems to be worried about -- The offensive line. Seems like that was last millennium's topic du jour.
5) Small bites -- Wes Welker has now caught at least one pass in 100 consecutive games. He had 10 catches for 138 yards and a touchdown. His 46-yard TD was the second longest of his career. And he tied Jerry Rice for the most 10-catch, 100-yard games in NFL history with 15. His four straight 100-yard games ties a team record set by Randy Moss in 2007 ... Jermaine Cunningham made his first start. He played defensive end while Rob Ninkovich moved to linebacker with Dont'a Hightower out ... Chandler Jones had another monster effort, recording his first two-sack game. He had nine tackles, a forced fumble, a tackle for a loss, and three quarterback hits. He has three forced fumbles this season. Praise him, you shall ... There were no playing repercussions for Brandon Spikes's homophobic tweet. He played the entire game.
One by one, the Patriots piled up the injuries Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks.
Running back Brandon Bolden left the game with a knee injury. Special teams specialist Matthew Slater limped off the field with an unknown injury. Safety Patrick Chung left the game with a shoulder injury.
Receiver Brandon Lloyd, on the final drive of the game, appeared to hurt his shoulder diving for a pass. Lloyd caught a pass out of bounds and fell hard on his left shoulder. He was not seen in the locker room after the game.
In a postgame interview with WBZ, Chung said he was fine. Slater told the Globe he was OK as well. Chung was not on the field for the final Patriots defensive series.
A goal line interception, an intentional grounding that wiped away a chance for a score at the end of the first half, and another intentional grounding that forced the Patriots to punt at a critical point in the fourth quarter led to the Patriots' 24-23 loss to the Seattle Seahawks Sunday, quarterback Tom Brady said.
"That's why we lose games, because you squander opportunities to score points," Brady said.
Brady finished 36 of 58 for 395 yards and two touchdowns. But he also had two costly interceptions, including a pick at the goal line in the fourth quarter. His intentional grounding in the fourth quarter forced the Patriots into a 3rd-and-20 situation with 4:47 left in the game. The Patriots were unable to convert on the down and ran out of time later on when the team needed to get into field goal position.
"I think we just got to do a better job when it counts," Brady said. "A lot of guys are making plays. You have opportunities to score points, we had an interception. [We need to] make a play. And then you lose by one point, [there's] a lot of things that we could have done better so we're not in that situation."
SEATTLE -- A few thoughts at halftime as the Patriots lead the Seahawks 17-10 at halftime:
- That intentional grounding penalty was somewhat iffy to finish the half, but the Patriots should have kicked the field goal with six seconds left and no timeouts. It was a risk not worth taking with the way they were playing. Go up two scores. It's a no-brainer.
- All in all a very good half for the Patriots. They played very well offensively, and got the usual formula -- big plays in big spots -- on defense.
- The Patriots are going to have to go the rest of the game with their three main options on offense -- Wes Welker (right ankle), Rob Gronkowski (hip/back) and Aaron Heranandez (ankle) -- gutting it out. Hernandez actually looks the best of all three right now. Welker and Gronkowski are really laboring after plays.
- It didn't take the Patriots long to bench Kyle Arrington for Alfonso Dennard after Arrington gave up a few big plays early on, including a touchdown.
- The Patriots had more trouble than they thought keeping QB Russell Wilson in the pocket. His escapability opened up even more holes in the Patriots' secondary.
- Outside of missed tackles by Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes, the Patriots are playing extremely well in the front seven. They seem very active.
- As for Hernandez, he looks decent, but the Patriots are trying to limit him to a few early downs, and then a lot of action in the red zone. Seems smart. It will probably be hard to keep Hernandez out of the second half. He's going to want to play.
- The Seahawks have no answer for Welker. Zero. Seems amazing to me. What film were they watching?
- Seems the Patriots' gameplan was to spread out the bigger and fast Seahawks and let Brady pick them apart. Seahawks had zero pass rush in the first half as Brady got rid of it quickly.
- Brandon Bolden seems done after limping off the field.
SEATTLE -- Patriots running back Brandon Bolden limped off the field after a Patriots kickoff, favoring his left leg. The team announced early in the third quarter that he has a knee injury, and that his return is questionable.
Bolden had six carries for 28 yards so far when he left the game.
Safety Patrick Chung has also left the game with a shoulder injury. The team said his return is questionable.
Without any timeouts, and down by one point, the Patriots failed to move the ball down field and get in position to beat the Seattle Seahawks with a little less than a minute remaining, losing 24-23 Sunday after being up by as many as 13 points early in the fourth quarter.
Tom Brady was 36 of 58 passing on the night, throwing for 395 yards and two touchdowns. But he also threw two costly interceptions and was unable to connect with any of his receivers down the stretch in two straight drives, allowing the Seahawks to come back and win the game.
Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson threw two late touchdowns, a 10-yard back shoulder pass to Braylon Edwards and a 46-yard bomb to Sydney Rice to lead Seattle to victory.
1:18 4th quarter: Seahawks 24, Patriots 23 -- Russell Wilson threw a bomb to Sydney Rice, who was running a double route, for a 46-yard touchdown with a little more than a minute remaining. Rookie safety Tavon Wilson was in coverage. On the extra point, the Seahawks took the lead.
It was a four-play, 57-yard drive.
The Patriots don't have any more timeouts.
2:52 4th quarter: Patriots 23, Seahawks 17 -- On a third-and-8, Tom Brady was unable to connect with Deion Branch for a first down and burn some much needed clock. The Patriots were forced to punt after three plays.
3:02 4th quarter: Patriots 23, Seahawks 17 -- The Patriots forced another three-and-out by the Seahawks, giving them the ball back with a little more than three minutes remaining and an opportunity to shut the door on Seattle.
4:15 4th quarter: Patriots 23, Seahawks 17 -- Tom Brady was flagged for intentional grounding after being hurried in the pocket and and the Patriots were forced to punt after six plays. This is setting the Seahawks up with enough time to make a run at winning this game.
8:09 4th quarter: Patriots 23, Seahawks 17 -- A 51-yard pass to Golden Tate and a 10-yard back shoulder to Braylon Edwards for a touchdown have brought the Seahawks to within one touchdown's length of the Patriots.
Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson hit Tate on a play-action pass with Devin McCourty in coverage for a long gain, and the 'Hawks were helped by a 15-yard penalty on Brandon Spikes after he delivered a blow to the quarterback's head with his elbow.
Four plays later, Wilson found Edwards who was covered by Alfonzo Dennard. Dennard was also called for pass interference on the play, but it appeared Edwards got away with a push himself.
Also, it appears Patrick Chung may have been injured on the drive. He left for the locker room. The team announced his return was questionable with a shoulder injury.
9:21 4th quarter: Patriots 23, Seahawks 10 -- Stephen Gostkowski nailed his third field goal try of the day, this time from 35 yards out.
The Patriots were unable to convert on a 3rd-and-2 before being forced to punt.
Tom Brady has thrown 49 passes today, completing 33. He has 359 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.
12:31 4th quarter: Patriots 20, Seahawks 10 -- Jerod Mayo forced a fumble by Zach Miller and recovered it as Miller was going down. The play was reviewed and upheld.
13:43 4th quarter: Patriots 20, Seahawks 10 -- Tom Brady threw his second interception of the game and third of the season, giving the Seahawks the ball back at their 23 after Earl Thomas returned it for 26 yards out of the end zone.
End of 3d quarter: Patriots 20, Seahawks 10 -- Tom Brady took a shot to the head by the Seahawks' Jason Jones. The 'Hawks were flagged for unnecessary roughness, allowing the Patriots to continue their drive at the Seattle 30.
The Patriots offense seems to be dominating despite the lack of a run game and Brady has more than 300 yards passing on the day.
3:30 3d quarter: Patriots 20, Seahawks 10 -- The Patriots held the Seahawks to another three-and-out, as Seattle's offense has continued to sputter.
4:45 3d quarter: Patriots 20, Seahawks 10 -- Tom Brady just threw his second interception of the season, getting picked off by Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman on a throw to Deion Branch.
Sherman is 6-3.
7:23 3d quarter: Patriots 20, Seahawks 10 -- Tavon Wilson broke up a pass on 3rd-and-20 and the Patriots forced the Seahawks to punt again. The Patriots were helped by a third down holding call on Seahawks lineman Breno Giacomini that negated a Russell Wilson scramble for a first down.
Also, the Patriots announced that Brandon Bolden had suffered a knee injury and his return is questionable.
9:21 3d quarter: Patriots 20, Seahawks 10 -- Stephen Gostkowski kicked his second field goal of the game, a 35-yard attempt to extend the Patriots' lead by at least two scores.
The Patriots' drive was stunted by huge hit on Stevan Ridley for 3-yard loss by Bobby Wagner. Wagner got into the backfield almost untouched.
Daniel Fells caught his second pass of the season on the drive. This one was for 35 yards, only one yard shy of his career long.
13:30 3d quarter: Patriots 17, Seahawks 10 -- Brandon Spikes made another play in the backfield and Chandler Jones got his second sack of the day as the Patriots forced the Seahawks to go three-and-out on their opening drive of the half.
This is the first two-sack game of the rookie Jones' career.
15:00 3d quarter: Patriots 17, Seahawks 10 -- The second half is underway.
End of 2d quarter: Patriots 17, Seahawks 10 -- The Patriots were unable to capitalize on Seattle punter Jon Ryan's gift. After Ryan bungled a punt in Seahawks territory, Tom Brady led the Patriots down to the Seattle 3-yard line. But after three straight incompletions, he was flagged for an intentional grounding, bringing the half to a close.
Despite the miscue, Brady is having another strong game. He's 21 of 30 passing for 216 yards and two touchdowns. Wes Welker is already over the century mark, catching seven passes for 102 yards.
One thing that's not going so well for the Patriots is the running game. Brandon Bolden limped off the field after a kickoff in the second quarter and Stevan Ridley has been unable to find any breathing room. He has eight yards on four carries.
0:40 2d quarter: Patriots 17, Seahawks 10 -- Seahawks punter Jon Ryan mishandled the snap and ended up with a 14-yard loss and a turnover on the downs for the Patriots.
The Patriots are within striking distance before the half.
2:15 2d quarter: Patriots 17, Seahawks 10 -- Stephen Gostkowski kicked a 25-yard field goal to cap an 11-play, 41-yard drive after the turnover.
Patriots receiver Wes Welker took a huge hit on the drive, but returned to catch two more passes before the field goal. He has six catches for 87 yards already.
7:26 2d quarter: Patriots 14, Seahawks 10 -- Patriots rookie defensive end Chandler Jones was able to strip Seahawks quarterback on 3rd-and-9 during his throwing motion, allowing for Rob Ninkovich to recover. The Patriots get the ball back at the Seattle 47.
10:33 2d quarter: Patriots 14, Seahawks 10 -- Tom Brady threw a fade to Aaron Hernandez on the goal-line for a 1-yard touchdown after a 15-play drive.
Brady went 8 of 9 on the drive, connecting with tight end Rob Gronkowski four times for 40 yards.
End of the 1st quarter: Seahawks 10, Patriots 7 -- After one quarter of play, the Patriots are seeing how hard this game is going to be and are already experiencing a bit of difficulty with the noise after a false start on Sebastian Vollmer.
1:50 1st quarter: Seahawks 10, Patriots 7 -- Russell Wilson made two huge throws to Doug Baldwin, connecting on a 50-yard pass (the longest of his career) and a 24-yard pass for a touchdown. Both were on Patriots cornerback Kyle Arrington.
And both times, the Patriots were struggling to keep up with Wilson, whose escapability from the pocket is becoming more apparent. At one point, Wilson spun out of three tackles before scrambling for nine yards and a first down.
It was the first touchdown the Patriots had given up in the first quarter all season.
5:49 1st quarter: Patriots 7, Seahawks 3 -- Wes Welker caught a 46-yard touchdown pass over his head after breaking loose from the secondary, following up on another amazing grab by Brandon Lloyd on the sideline as the Patriots responded in six plays to take the lead.
Brady went 4 of 6 on the drive, hitting Welker twice and Hernandez for his second grab of the day.
With Welker's first catch, he now has a reception in 100 straight games.
7:46 1st quarter: Seahawks 3, Patriots 0 -- Seattle's Steven Hauschka kicked a 34-yard field goal, capping a nine-play, 68-yard drive for the first points of the game. Brandon Spikes helped keep the Seahawks from driving in the red zone, stuffing Marshawn Lynch on 3rd-and-1 for a 2-yard loss at the 9-yard line.
For the Patriots, they started Rob Ninkovich at linebacker for the injured Dont'a Hightower and brought in Jermaine Cunningham at defensive end.
13:00 1st quarter: Patriots 0, Seahawks 0 -- On the first play of the Patriots' first offensive drive, Tom Brady connected with tight end Aaron Hernandez for eight yards. The Patriots picked up a first down on a throw to Brandon Lloyd on the next play, but were forced to punt after two negligible runs and an incomplete pass to Deion Branch.
15:00 1st quarter: Patriots 0, Seahawks 0 -- The Seahawks won the coin toss and have deferred to the second half. Game on.
Pregame: The game is getting ready to start at CenturyLink Field in Seattle.
It's 64 degrees in the region with thunderstorms expected through the 9 p.m. hour. We'll see if that affects the game and whether the 12th man really is as influential as advertised.
Enjoy the game.
SEATTLE -- The Patriots face a tough road test today against the Seahawks, but they should come away with a victory if they hit on these five keys:
- Stop Marshawn Lynch: The Seahawks are at their best when they are successful on the ground, and can use effective play action to open some space for quarterback Russell Wilson. If the Patriots can shut down Lynch, and make Wilson have to beat them, that's a huge boost for the Patriots.
- Mind Rice and Miller: When Wilson does throw it, he has preferred to go to tight end Zach Miller of late, so take that easy throw away from Wilson. Sidney Rice might not have the same speed as he used to, but he can still leap with the best of him. The safeties will need to give the corners some help over the top. Make Wilson beat you with Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin.
- Throw it inside: The Seahawks are very big and physical at cornerback with Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner. The safeties, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor, are also very good. Where they are suspect is at nickel corner with Marcus Trufant, and at coverage with the linebackers. This is a game tailor made for Wes Welker to own the middle of the field. I don't expect him to be limited in any way from his post-game words about Bill Belichick last week. The two have come to an understanding, though I don't know what that is. It could be, "Yeah, we don't have anybody else so we love you Wes!Ē Would not be surprised if we see Danny Woodhead also used in inside passing game, and also Deion Branch.
- Start fast: The Patriots will want to silence the crowd early, and they've been great at getting off to good starts. They'll need another one to keep the crowd from being a factor. And his Seahawks team is one that is more dangerous the longer you let them hang around.
- Don't do stupid things: This is almost the same setup as the Cardinals game Ė good defense that can slow the Patriots down a little, and a limited offense that will have trouble moving the ball. The Patriots threw an interception early in the game, had a punt blocked, had ill-timed penalties and missed the game-winning field goal Ė dumb stuff Ė that allowed the Cardinals to win the game. If the Patriots can avoid those mistakes against the Seahawks, they should win.
The Seahawks should be competitive against the Patriots defensively for much of the game. Seattle canít, however, score enough to keep up with Tom Brady if the Patriots donít give them help. Ball security is a premium today. Will be interested to see how the Patriots deal with Dontía Hightower and Tracy White being out today at linebacker. Wouldnít be surprised to see Rob Ninkovich go back to strong-side linebacker, or for the Patriots to play 3-4 with Ninkovich, Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes and Bobby Carpenter. That's their best alignment to stop the run, and I donít think the Patriots are scared of Seattle's passing attack.
Patriots 24, Seahawks 17.
Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, who was listed as questionable for today's game with an ankle injury, will be active on the roster, according to the team.
Hernandez has missed the last three games with a high ankle sprain he suffered in Week 2 against the Arizona Cardinals.
Inactive for the Patriots today include DL Jake Bequette, OL Matt Tennant, TE Michael Hoomanawanui (concussion), LB Tracy White (foot), WR Julian Edelman (hand), LB Dont'a Hightower (hamstring), and S Steve Gregory (hip).
For the Seahawks, WR Charly Martin, SS Winston Guy, CB Danny Gorrer, CB Jeremy Lane, DT Clinton McDonald, G Joh Moffitt, and DT Jaye Howard are inactive.
1. Can the Seahawks make enough plays offensively to win this, and do you think we could possibly see Matt Flynn if they fall behind by a few scores?
DO: "This is the biggest question facing Seattle. New England has failed to score at least 20 points only four times going back to the start of the 2010 season while the Seahawks are 3-16 in that time when allowing 20 or more. The Seahawks have shown the ability to sustain offense with two touchdown drives of 80 or more yards in the second half of its Week 2 game against Dallas. On the other side, of Seattle's eight offensive touchdown drives this season, four began in the Patriots' half of the field.
As for the possibility of Matt Flynn, hard to see that unless it's an absolute blowout. Seattle plays on Thursday at San Francisco, and it's unlikely that Seattle would want to make a quarterback switch in this game that would affect the preparation in a short week."
2. Who is the one Seahawks player most Patriots fans don't know right now, but will by the end of the game on Sunday?
DO: "Richard Sherman. He's the one member of Seattle's starting secondary that did not make the Pro Bowl last season, but he's a very confident, physical cornerback who wants opposing offenses to challenge him. He's a playmaker in the secondary."
3. What's the biggest weakness on the Seahawks' offense you expect the Patriots to try to exploit?
DO: "Seattle's pass protection can be suspect as Arizona and St. Louis both demonstrated, and rookie quarterback Russell Wilson has demonstrated the not-so-surprising tendency to flee at the first sign of pressure instead of stepping up into the pocket. Seattle is confident in its ability to run the ball, but the passing game is very much a work in progress, and that starts with the protection."
4. What's the biggest weakness on the Seahawks' DEFENSE you expect the Patriots to try to exploit?
DO: "The Seahawks rotate the personnel on their defense, switching between the run-stuffing base formation and a pass-rushing nickel. Expect New England to try and lock the Seahawks into a personnel group with their tempo, and if the run-stuffing defensive end Red Bryant is on the field, the Patriots can push the tempo, and if rookie defensive end Bruce Irvin is on the field in the pass-rush package, New England can try to run between the tackles."
5. Finally, Seahawks win today if....
DO: "They hold the overall advantage in time of possession. That will be a sign that Seattle's offense has been able to control the ball, minimizing the number of chances Tom Brady and this Patriots offense get at Seattle's defense. It would also point to Seattle's ability to run the ball effectively against New England, whose rush defense is significantly better than a year ago."
It's not too often that the No. 1 offense in the NFL faces off with the No. 1 defense. Sunday's Patriots-Seahawks game provides a clash of styles for two 3-2 teams in Week 6.
Here are some things watch for:
1) The Patriots are light on defense right now -- With Steve Gregory out again with a hip injury and linebackers Dont'a Hightower (hamstring) and Tracy White (foot) hurting, the team will be forced to rely on Tavon Wilson at safety and likely linebacker Bobby Carpenter in base packages. Last week, when White was hurt against the Denver Broncos, the team remained in its sub packages for the rest of the game rather than sub in the newly re-signed Carpenter. We'll see how much that's changed with a week of preparation and how the team handles Seattle's fifth ranked rushing offense led by Marshawn Lynch (508 yards).
2) Any punishment for Brandon Spikes, Wes Welker? -- Spikes' poor attempt at humor on Twitter was much discussed through the week. The Patriots declined to comment on what repercussions, if any, that Spikes would suffer. We'll see if he's in the lineup at the start of today's game and whether or not he'll sit for a couple of series. The same can be said of Welker, who tweaked Belichick after Sunday's game in a TV interview for Comcast SportsNet New England.
3) How much will noise be a factor? -- And will it affect the Patriots' no-huddle offense? Against the Broncos, the Patriots were able to turn up the tempo and run up and down the field on an out-of-position defense. By all accounts, Seattle's CenturyLink Field is the loudest stadium in the NFL. The Patriots are known to work with one word plays in their no-huddle offense, but say they can also call plays with even more limited communication. We'll likely see what that means today.
4) How good is the Seahawks' defense? -- Defensive end Chris Clemons has recorded 27.5 sacks since 2010, tied for sixth best in the NFL. His 5.5 sacks are also good for sixth best in the league this season. Add in rookie linebacker Bobby Wagner in the middle, abnormally tall corners Richard Sherman (6-3) and Brandon Browner (6-4), and you have mix of players that cause matchup problems for the Patriots. It's always interesting to see how the Patriots play teams in which they don't necessarily have the upper hand. This game will be a good measure of the team's No. 1 ranked offense and the unit's overall progression.
The Patriots are visiting the Seattle Seahawks in a stadium that is universally lauded for its deafening noise, but New England will also have to come to terms with a highly touted, yet underappreciated defense.
The Seahawks come into Sunday's game as the surprise No. 1 overall defense in the NFL, holding opponents to 258.6 yards per game and are second in points allowed (14.0). They have yet to allow an opponent to score more than 20 points in a game, and in wins against the Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers, and Carolina Panthers, the Seahawks have given up a total of 31 points. The transition to the league's top defense is a huge jump from last season's No. 9 overall ranking, when Seattle held opponents to 332.2 yard per game.
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, former head coach of the Patriots, has led the Seahawks to a 17-20 record since returning to the NFL coaching ranks in 2010. His team is coming off a 16-12 win over the Panthers. The team is led by rookie quarterback Russell Wilson (79 of 125, 815 yards, 5 touchdowns, 6 interceptions) and defensive end Chris Clemons (5.5 sacks, 1 fumble forced).
The Patriots are coming off a blistering 31-21 win over the Denver Broncos in which the team's up-tempo, no-huddle offense kept the game out of Peyton Manning's reach. They'll attack the Seahawks with the No. 1 ranked offense in the NFL (439.4 yards per game), led by Tom Brady's passing attack and a newfound running game. In the last two games, the Patriots have rushed for 498 yards, led by back-to-back 100-yard games from Stevan Ridley.
The team will again be without safety Steve Gregory (hip), wide receiver Julian Edelman (hand), and rookie linebacker Dont'a Hightower (hamstring).
Linebacker Tracy White (foot) is also out, leaving the Patriots' eighth-ranked run defense with only four linebackers available, including Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes, Bobby Carpenter, and Niko Koutouvides. Carpenter is likely to help the team in its base defense, coming out in sub packages for passing downs.
However, the team will likely be boosted by the return of tight end Aaron Hernandez, who made the trip to Seattle and is expected to play a limited number of snaps. Hernandez was injured in Week 2 of the season against the Arizona Cardinals.
Here are the details for today's game:
Kickoff: 4:05 p.m. ET
Records: Patriots 3-2; Seahawks 3-2.
TV/Radio info: CBS (Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts); 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 Bobby Carpenter, LB Brandon Spikes, CB Devin McCourty, CB Kyle Arrington, S Tavon Wilson, S Patrick Chung.
Seahawks offense: WR Sidney Rice, LT Russell Okung, LG James Carpenter, C Max Unger, RG Paul MCQuistan, RT Breno Giacomini, TE Zach Miller, WR Golden Tate, QB Russell Wilson, FB Michael Robinson, RB Marshawn Lynch.
Seahawks defense: LDE Red Bryant, LDT Alan Brnach, RDT BRandon Mebane, RDE Chris Clemons, OLB Leroy MLB Bobby Wagner, OLB K.J. Wright, LCB Richard Sherman, RCB Brandon Browner, SS Kam Chancellor, FS Earl Thomas.
Inactives (more coming)
Patriots: Julian Edelman (hand), Steve Gregory (hip), Dont'a Hightower (hamstring).
Seahawks: John Moffitt (knee).
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 SEAHAWKS' OFFENSE
When it comes to the Seattle Seahawks offense, what you see is what you get. There are few surprises with it, as they stick to their plan week in and week out. It consists of the power running game and play action with West Coast Offense principles in the passing game.
They are led by rookie quarterback Russell Wilson, who is still learning how to play in the NFL. He has a strong arm that enables him to make throws into tight windows as well as down the field to stretch defenses. He also possesses foot speed to move the pocket and avoid the pass rush. He's an accurate and smart quarterback that perhaps has too much confidence in his arm at times, which can result in questionable throws that give the defense opportunities to force turnovers.
Moreover, the passing game is simply designed for Wilson, allowing him to make quick, short reads that stretch the field horizontally in most cases. The concepts used include Snag, All-Curls, Hitch-Dig as well as screen passes; all of which are designed to get the ball quickly out of Wilson's hands and allow the pass catchers to pick up yards after the catch. They are typically ran from 11 (1 back, 1 tight end) and 12 (1 back, 2 tight ends) personnel.
When Wilson is not slinging the ball, he is handing it off to Marshawn Lynch. Lynch and the Seahawks running game is power based, featuring the base NFL run concepts: Power, Toss, Counter and Lead (weak and strong).
The run concepts are ran from several personnel groupings, including 11 (1 back, 1 tight end), 12 (1 back, 2 tight ends), 21 (2 backs, 1 tight end) and 22 (2 backs, 2 tight ends; usually used in short yardage). The running game is a vital aspect of the Seahawks' offense because it sets up their play action passing game that attacks the field vertically with concepts such as 4-verticals.
INSIDE THE SEAHAWKS' DEFENSE
Defensively, the Seahawks are not anything out of the ordinary; they show you what they're going to do and they simply do it.
They base out of the 4-3 Under scheme, which means the strong-side guard is uncovered and the strong-side linebacker is scrimmage across the tight end (on or off the line of scrimmage). As it is with every other team that bases out of the 4-3, they use the Over front to complement the Under.
The defense has a very dynamic front four that allows them to put pressure on quarterbacks without sending additional rushers and is also stout against the run. Two big reasons for their strong run defense are Brandon Mebane and Red Bryant.
Mebane is an interior defensive lineman that has a history of playing the 1 and 3 techniques but is currently at the position that suits him best: nose tackle.
At strong-side defensive end is Red Bryant, a burly defensive lineman that is naturally a defensive tackle but has shifted over to the closed end spot in Seattle's front and done a remarkable job. He doesn't offer much as a pass rusher but is a strong run defender and is spelled in passing situations by rookie rusher Bruce Irvin, who possesses rare speed off the edge and is primarily used on stunts from the 5-technique when the Seahawks go to their nickel packages (3-3-5, 4-2-5 and 2-man fronts) on long down and distance situations.
Furthermore, the linebackers and defensive backs are very long and can run. They pose problems for all pass catchers because of their size, length and physicality. The linebackers can play the run and run with pass catchers and the same can be said for the defensive backs. The cornerbacks play a lot of press-man alignment, which explains why the Seahawks spend so much time playing Cover 1 (Man-Free).
Along with Cover 1, the Seahawks will use the Cover 1-Robber, (soft) Cover 2 and Cover 3 coverage concepts. These concepts are found in every team's playbook and the Seahawks are no exception.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Patriots disciplined rush lanes - New England has to be disciplined in their pass rush lanes against quarterback Russell Wilson, otherwise he will make plays on them with his feet and arm. Wilson is a shorter quarterback and thrives outside of the pocket, which is why New England must play disciplined. Force him to stay in the pocket and throw over the long, out-stretched arms of the defensive linemen.
Stopping Seattle's run - Defensive coaches always talk about making an offense one dimensional by taking away their strength. For Seattle, their strength is the power running game, which sets up the passing game. The Patriots must stop Seattle's running game if they plan on having success defensively. By stopping them, they force Russell Wilson to put the offense on his shoulders, which is likely to result in forced throws and turnovers. New England has the defensive backs to man up on the outsides against SeattleĎs pass catchers, so I expect a lot of 1-deep safety shells.
No-Huddle - Much has been written about the Patriots no-huddle offense this season and for good reason: it's impressive. They are the league's best at it and have to use it in this game for two reasons: get defensive end Red Bryant off the field and defensive end Bruce Irvin on it. The Patriots will likely look to wear out the Seahawks' front four with the no-huddle, which should result in run stuffing defensive end Red Bryant to come off of the field. When Bryant does, the Patriots need to target rookie Bruce Irvin with the running game. Irvin is a one dimensional player at the moment and does not play the run. He is a C-gap, speed rusher in the truest sense and New England needs to take advantage of this.
Seattle's OL vs. New England's DL - Seattle's offensive line is an interesting group as it hasn't been awful nor quite good. It also doesn't have players that play with great strength, so it will be interesting to see how they play against the Patriots long and heavy defensive line. The offensive tackles, Russell Okung (LT) and Breno Giacomini (RT), have some talent but tend to have inconsistent technique, which leads to them having issues with pass rushers. Omiyale also doesn't have great quickness, so speed can give him some problems. On the interior, center Max Unger is a solid blocker but is not the type that can handle one-on-one matchups with nose tackles, which makes for an interesting matchup with Vince Wilfork.
Horizontal routes vs. Seattle's man coverage - As noted earlier, the Seahawks play a lot of man coverage because of their long athletes. But a significant weakness of man coverage, if not adjusted for, is inside-breaking, horizontal routes. Shallow crosses and square-in's force defensive backs in a trail position, meaning they have to run across the field in coverage and are a step behind. I expect New England to use quite a bit of this.
Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, who has been out since suffering a severe ankle sprain in Week 2 against the Cardinals, made the trip to Seattle and is expected to play on Sunday against the Seahawks.
Hernandez's role is to be determined based on how he feels on Sunday, but it's likely to be in a limited role. The Patriots prefer to slowly reintegrate players coming off major injuries in a platoon-type role.
It could be a situation where Hernandez only plays 15-20 plays to stay on an upward track in his rehab. But knowing Hernandez, he will likely try to push it. He came back quickly -- probably a little too quickly -- from his MCL sprain last year.
FOXBOROUGH -- Tight end Aaron Hernandez was one of three Patriots to miss practice on Friday, but was listed by the team as questionable for Sunday's game at Seattle.
The Patriots ruled the other two who did not practice -- safety Steve Gregory (hip) and linebacker Tracy White (foot) -- out for Sunday's game at Seattle. Hernandez, and 13 others, were listed as questionable.
Hernandez hasn't played in a game since injuring his right ankle against Arizona in the home opener Sept. 16. But he returned to practice last week, didn't play against Denver, and has practiced this week. Coach Bill Belichick said before Friday's practice that Hernandez could be a game-time decision. Or they might know something tomorrow, Belichick said.
The other Patriots listed as questionable: receivers Wes Welker (ankle) and Julian Edelman (hand), tight ends Rob Gronkowski (hip) and Michael Hoomanawanui (concussion), running backs Brandon Bolden (knee) and Shane Vereen (foot), defensive linemen Justin Francis (ankle) and Brandon Deaderick (ankle), offensive linemen Logan Mankins (calf/hip), Sebastian Vollmer (back/knee), and Nick McDonald (shoulder), linebacker Dont'a Hightower (hamstring), and cornerback Sterling Moore (knee). All, like Hernandez, were limited in Friday's practice.
Tight end Aaron Hernandez, who returned to practice a week ago after suffering a sprained ankle against Arizona, was not spotted during the media-access window.
Bill Belichick said at his press conference moments before practice began that Hernandez might be a game-time decision for the Seahawks game, or the Patriots could know sooner than that.
In the locker room, Hernandez was in good spirits and had a packed travel bag in front of his stall, and was bouncing around as he joked with linebackers coach Pepper Johnson. He politely declined to talk with reporters.
In addition to Hernandez, Steve Gregory (hip) and Tracy White (foot) were once again missing.
Michael Hoomanawanui (concussion) returned to practice.
As they have the previous two weeks, the Patriots removed Tom Brady from the injury report on Thursday after listing him as limited-right shoulder on Wednesday. Julian Edelman, who returned to practice after missing two-plus weeks because of a left hand injury, was listed as limited.
For the Patriots
Did not participate
S Steve Gregory - hip
TE Michael Hoomanawanui - concussion
LB Tracy White - foot
RB Brandon Bolden - knee
DL Brandon Deaderick - ankle
* WR Julian Edelman - hand
DL Justin Francis - ankle
TE Rob Gronkowski - hip
TE Aaron Hernandez - ankle
LB Dont'a Hightower - hamstring
G Logan Mankins - calf/hip
OL Nick McDonald - shoulder
CB Sterling Moore - knee
RB Shane Vereen - foot
OT Sebastian Vollmer - back/knee
WR Wes Welker - ankle
DT Kyle Love - knee
For the Seahawks
G John Moffitt - knee
Did not participate
DT Jaye Howard - foot
DT Clinton McDonald - groin
C Max Unger - hip
* Marshawn Lynch - back
* - change in designation from Wednesday
Receiver Julian Edelman returned to practice Thursday for the Patriots, but was still listed as limited in the team's practice participation and injury report.
Quarterback Tom Brady was removed from the report after being listed as limited on Wednesday because of a right shoulder injury.
Safety Steve Gregory, tight end Michael Hoomanawanui, and linebacker Tracy White did not participate.
Others listed as limited: RB Brandon Bolden (knee), DE Brandon Deaderick (ankle), DT Justin Francis (ankle), TE Rob Gronkowski (hip), TE Aaron Hernandez (ankle), LB Dont'a Hightower (hamstring), G Logan Mankins (calf/hip), OL Nick McDonald (shoulder), CB Sterling Moore (knee), RB Shane Vereen (RB), OT Sebastian Vollmer (back/knee), and WR Wes Welker (ankle).
For the Seahawks, G John Moffit remained out with a knee injury, while DT Jaye Howard (foot), DT Clinton McDonald (groin), and C Max Unger (hip) did not participate.
RB Marshawn Lynch was at full participation after being listed as limited Wednesday because of a back injury.
The Globe's Greg A Bedard runs down the top story lines in the NFL in Week 6, from the Patriots vs. the Seahawks to the Packers' struggles and the 49ers-Giants game.
In this week's second installment of our Xs and Os series, Greg Bedard and Jermaine Wiggins look at the challenges the Seahawks' formidable defensive front presents to the Patriots on Sunday.
The Patriots are practicing on the fields behind Gillette Stadium and are in shells and shorts/sweats once again.
Colleague Michael Whitmer, who was present for the media access period, reports that WR Julian Edelman was on the field, wearing protection on his left hand (it was difficult to tell exactly what it was on the hand).
S Steve Gregory, LB Tracy White and TE Michael Hoomanawanui were not present.
Crowd noise is always a factor for the visiting team at CenturyLink Field in Seattle and Patriots wide receiver Deion Branch talks about the home field environment his former team plays in.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady spoke about silencing the Seattle crowd, and possibly turning them on their own team.
"This will be fun," Brady said about the road trip. "Itís always nice when you take 53 guys on the road and you say, ĎThis is all weíve got and this is all we need and this is what we have to do.í And see 70,000 fans, if you can keep them quiet or turn them on their own team. I think thatís an exciting part for road teams, is to see if you can get them booing their own players."
And Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich also talks about containing elusive Seahawks rookie quarterback Russell Wilson.
Zuri Berry has the latest updates on where things stand and where they are headed for the Patriots.
FOXBOROUGH -- Four injured Patriots missed practice on Wednesday, while quarterback Tom Brady, tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, and receiver Wes Welker were among those limited in their participation.
Receiver Julian Edelman (hand), safety Steve Gregory (hip), tight end Michael Hoomanawanui (concussion), and linebacker Tracy White (foot) were not at practice, which was held behind Gillette Stadium in shells and sweats under an intermittent drizzle.
Welker (ankle) was one of 13 Patriots who were limited, including Brady (right shoulder), Hernandez (ankle), and Gronkowski (hip). Hernandez hasn't played since Sept. 16, but returned to practice last week and could play in Sunday's game at Seattle.
The other Patriots who were limited in practice: running backs Brandon Bolden (knee) and Shane Vereen (foot), defensive linemen Brandon Deaderick (ankle) and Justin Francis (ankle), offensive linemen Nick McDonald (shoulder), Sebastian Vollmer (back/knee), and Logan Mankins (calf/hip), linebacker Dont'a Hightower (hamstring), and cornerback Sterling Moore (knee).
Marshawn Lynch, Seattle's star running back, was limited in Wednesday's practice with a back injury.
FOXBOROUGH -- Seahawks coach Pete Carroll is more concerned about the Patriots' frenetic offensive pace than any special meaning Sunday's game might have for him because of the time he spent as New England's coach.
Carroll was the coach of the Patriots from 1997-99 -- sandwiched between Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick -- winning the AFC East once and taking the team to the playoffs twice. He'll be facing his former team for the first time, aware of the significance.
"It's a regular game for me that I look forward to because of Coach Belichick and [Tom] Brady and my relationship with Robert [Kraft]," Carroll said Wednesday afternoon in a conference call from Seattle. "I've always liked playing people that I like and that I know, it always adds something a little bit special to it."
Carroll never had a losing record with the Patriots, and went 27-21 in his three seasons. After being dismissed in 1999, he became the coach at Southern California, going 83-19 and winning the BCS national championship in 2004. His time in Foxborough, he said, prepared him for the success he's had since.
"I loved living there, itís a great fan base and I loved being connected to them," Carroll said. "I regret that we weren't able to get it done the way we wanted to. We did some really good things and we were close, but I learned so much coming out of that experience that it changed me.
"I found a lot of good stuff since then, and I'm grateful for that, but I wish I would have been able to get to fix it and finish it, but we didn't get to."
Looking at how the Patriots have used a fast-paced, no-huddle attack the last two weeks in wins against the Bills and Broncos, Carroll said there's no other team in the NFL with that kind of tempo. He can think of just one comparison.
"Yeah, the Oregon Ducks. They're the ones that play similar to this. There's nobody in the league that's close at this time," Carroll said. "It's their willingness to go this fast that separates them from other teams. They've taken on a different approach and philosophy that singles them out in their commitment to the tempo, and that's cool to watch."
How do you defend against it?
"You've got to play really fast," he said. "We'll see if we can get lined up and execute like we're capable, and they're hoping that we don't."
FOXBOROUGH -- A week ago, coach Bill Belichick lauded Champ Bailey, Denver's 11-time Pro Bowl cornerback, as being in a class by himself. While he did not suggest there was anyone in Seattle who approached Bailey's stature, Belichick was nonetheless impressed by the physical skill set of the Seahawks' bigger-than-average secondary.
"They've got really big corners, which is unusual," Belichick said, referring to Brandon Browner, a 6-foot-4-inch, 221-pounder from Oregon State, and Richard Sherman, a 6-3, 195-pounder from Stanford. "[Kam] Chancellor [a 6-3, 232-pounder from Virginia Tech] is a big safety, too, so they're a big, physical team."
The Patriots, who have the league's leading offense at 439.4 yards per game, will be challenged on all fronts when they travel to Seattle's noisy CenturyLink Field for Sunday's 4:05 p.m. contest, particularly against a Seahawks defense that ranks as the stingiest in the league, allowing an average of 258.6 yards and 14.0 points (second fewest in the NFL) per game.
"These guys are long, they're extremely big, they're 6-4, 6-3 corners," Belichick said. "You just don't see them very often, and to see them on one team, they're hard to get away from. They're big and theyíre physical and they take up a lot of space. A lot of guys aren't used to going up against that size a player Ė 220-pound corners.
"Thereís not a lot of them out there, so that's a challenge because it's a little bit unique. They're also good tacklers and good run-support players. It's hard because it's not unlike playing against a taller middle linebacker, a guy like Brian Urlacher, who's 6-4, 6-5 in the middle of the field. Their range and their height just makes those throws over the middle a little bit tougher."
FOXBOROUGH -- Four Patriots were not spotted at today's shells-and-shorts practice, which is being held behind Gillette Stadium on a drizzly, breezy day. "Looks like we have the perfect day to work on Seattle out there," coach Bill Belichick said before practice.
Receiver Julian Edelman, safety Steve Gregory, and tight end Michael Hoomanawanui, who missed Sunday's home win against Denver because of injuries, were not on the field for the portion of practice accessible to the media. Edelman has had a hand injury, Gregory a hip injury, and Hoomanawanui a concussion.
Linebacker Tracy White, who suffered a foot injury against the Broncos and didn't return, was also not at practice.
FOXBOROUGH -- If there's one Patriot who knows what it's like to play in Seattle, it's wide receiver Deion Branch.
Branch played for the Seahawks from 2006 to 2010 after being traded by the Patriots, before returning four weeks into the 2010 season on another trade. For Branch, there is no underestimating what kind of environment to expect at CenturyLink Field.
"It's by far the loudest stadium [in the NFL]," Branch said. "And it can get louder if things go bad for us on the offensive side of the ball."
The key, Branch said, is for the Patriots to do their job on offense, and quiet the crowd.
"We can control that portion of the game," Branch said.
FOXBOROUGH -- Deion Branch said he didn't have much in the way of lasting impressions when he played against the Patriots, his old team, in 2008 after being traded to the Seattle Seahawks in 2006.
"Just the loss,'' Branch said, referring to New England's come-from-behind 24-21 victory at Qwest Field, which overshadowed Branch's two TD-catch performance.
"Not the game I had,'' Branch said. "It was the loss overall. I was very excited to play against my old team.''
On Sunday, Branch will return to Seattle, but this time he'll be suited up with the Patriots, the team that drafted him out of Louisville in the second round (65th overall) in the 2002, traded him to the Seahawks for a 2007 first-round pick, then reacquired him Oct. 12, 2010, for a 2011 fourth-round pick.
Branch was released by the Patriots Aug. 31, but re-signed for a third tour of duty Sept. 19, and has three catches for 36 yards in three games since rejoining the team.
Asked if he expected to have any thoughts going against his former Seattle teammates, Branch acknowledged, "I will. I know I will. It happens to every individual who plays this game when you get the opportunity to play against your old team.''
Branch smiled and laughed when asked about the differences between playing for Pete Carroll and Bill Belichick.
"Oh, yeah, they're different,'' Branch said, choosing his words carefully. "I enjoyed my time there with Coach Carroll ... They're different coaches. I think they've proven they can get a lot out of their players, so those are the similarities. But they're different.''
Especially, it seemed, when it came to energy expended on the sidelines. Carroll has been prone to overt displays of emotion and excitablity, while Belichick has not.
"Oh, yeah, you see that,'' Branch said, smiling. "You see that with Coach Carroll, man. I enjoyed it, man. He's a great guy.''
So, will there be any special feelings for him to be going back to Seattle in a Patriots uniform?
"Special feelings?'' Branch asked. "Yeah, I hope we go out there and get the victory. Thatís the most important feeling I need to have. Itís always good to go back and see some of the older guys. But when the whistle blows, itís time to play the game. All that other stuff goes out the window until after the game.''
FOXBOROUGH -- In 2008, the last season in which the AFC East was scheduled to play the NFC West, Tom Brady was injured on the second offensive series of the Patriots' first game, a 17-10 win over the Kansas City Chiefs. So he missed trips to Seattle and San Francisco, two of only three teams he's never faced at their home stadium.
So playing in Seattle has a certain appeal for Brady, even though the 13-year pro has been around the block a few times. Add to the fact CenturyLink Field, home of the Seahawks, has a reputation for its thunderous noise, and there's added incentive to enjoy the experience.
"I'm actually excited to get out there and play in a place I've never played," Brady said. "So I think what makes it loud is they're very good. So when they make plays, the crowd is into it. And they get a lot of support. They've certainly been making a lot of them [good plays] this year at home. They beat two very good teams at home in Dallas and Green Bay. And it's gonna be a big challenge for us and I'm gonna be excited to see what I can do."
Brady certainly relishes the opportunity to play well in big road games, like in Pittsburgh last season and Buffalo two weeks ago.
"Well that's the fun part about being on the road," he said. "And there's nothing better than being on the road, like in Buffalo a few weeks ago, there were more of our fans there at the end, than their fans. We've done that in Pittsburgh and we've done that in some very loud environments. This place will be really loud. Deion [Branch] said in the opening warmups, I think just the way the stadium is built, it just feels like there's a lot of energy and a lot of sound. Certainly on the field there is. It's gonna be fun, fun for us players.
"I know when we went out there in '08, I didn't go out there, but it was a dogfight that we had. They only won two games that year, but our game came right down to the end. They have a lot of talented players. It's a challenging place to play, they play well at home."
Here are my top and bottom performers for the Patriots against the Broncos:
- WR Wes Welker: Terrific all-around performance that saw nine of his 13 catches go for first downs or touchdowns. But he was just as involved in the running game with blocks, as were all the receivers.
- DE Rob Ninkovich: Also played very well all-around as he was asked to drop into coverage at times, and played well against the run. And, of course, there were the two huge forced fumbles.
- QB Tom Brady: Picked apart the 15 blitzes by the Broncos with quick decisions, and his work making the no-huddle go was extremely impressive.
- LG Logan Mankins: Appeared to tire late coming back from injury and dealing with the no-huddle, but he was excellent outside of one false-start penalty.
- DT Kyle Love: Made two underrated great plays that I can't get out of mind. He forced RB Ronnie Hillman to bounce a third-and-1 play with 11:26 left outside that went for no gain thanks to Devin McCourty, and then Love set the stage for Ninkovich's forced fumble late by holding his spot against a double team.
Honorable mention: Nate Solder, Chandler Jones, Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo, Alfonzo Dennard, Zoltan Mesko.
On the bottom
DT Ron Brace: Had one good play in his eight snaps, but otherwise was completely ineffective as he was easily ridden out of his gap and/or ended up on the ground.
C Ryan Wendell: With a player over him, even a journeyman like DT Kevin Vickerson, the center had a tough time holding his ground as he gave up two half sacks, a hurry, 1.5 run stuffs, along with a holding penalty and a few other rough plays.
TE Daniel Fells: Had a drop and two poor run blocks in his 38 snaps.
DL Jermaine Cunningham: Was largely ineffective in his season-high 42 snaps. Have to be able to bull rush if you're going to be a pass-rushing DT in subpackages. Not one of his strengths.
RT Sebastian Vollmer: Gave up a sack, knockdown, run stuff and a half hurry. Seemed to tire in the second half.
Others: Trevor Scott, Patrick Chung, Tavon Wilson, Devin McCourty
In this segment of Inside the Playbook, Greg Bedard and Jermaine Wiggins break down Wes Welker's first touchdown catch of the season, which came Sunday vs. the Broncos.
Welker probably knew that it had blown up and didn't run from it today, speaking with reporters in the Patriots' locker room. He explained that it was said in jest.
"Yeah, I mean ... it was a joke. I don't know what else to say about it; it was a joke. But Bill and I, whether y'all believe it or not, have a good relationship and it was a joke and I'll make sure to keep that in-house going forward," he said.
Asked if he'd talked to Belichick about what he said, Welker replied, "Any discussions are between us and the team, and everything else. But he talks to all the players all the time. Heís our coach."
The receiver acknowledged that it's tough to say certain things these days.
"Yeah, obviously. So ... youíve just got to be careful with what you say. Bill does a good job of challenging us and being a great coach and doing the things necessary that he needs to do. I made a joke about it and, you know, won't happen again," Welker said.
Dan Roche did a good job of lightening the mood, asking Welker for his thoughts on Belichick - is he the greatest coach ever?
Welker laughed. "No doubt. And that's not a joke."
He added that he doesn't "think so at all" in regards to whether or not there will be repercussions.
Running back Kevin Faulk, the Patriots' second-round draft pick in 1999 out of Louisiana State, will announce his retirement on Tuesday during a ceremony at the Hall at Patriot Place.
Faulk, 36, had hoped to come back for a 14th season. His role was diminished last season because of his recovery from a 2010 ACL tear.
Faulk played in 161 games over 13 seasons.
A member of the Patriots' 50th Anniversary team, Faulk is the franchise's all-time leader in all-purpose yards (12,349), kickoff return yards (4,098), and receptions by a running back (431, which ranks fifth overall).
Tuesday's ceremony will begin at 10:30 a.m. It is open to the public, but those wishing to attend must purchase admission to the Hall. Half of the ticket proceeds from 10 a.m. to noon will be donated to the charity of Faulk's choosing.
FOXBOROUGH -- Through five games this season, and despite injuries to key players, the Patriots' offense appears to be in full bloom. What else can you parse from Sunday's 31-21 shredding of the Broncos? It was a dominating display, helped almost entirely by its offensive efficiency and cherry-topped with a timely defensive turnover.
Here's some things to consider when looking back at this game:
1) This well-oiled machine depends on balance -- Prior to Sunday's game, all the hype was about Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning. Sure, those two are future Hall of Famers and deserving of the attention. They both earned it Sunday with stellar outings, too. But the Patriots don't control the clock without 251 yards rushing. They don't get a franchise-record 35 first downs without the 18 they got on the ground. This is a dangerous offensive unit with Brady at the helm already, but it is a much scarier one with the running attack so powerful. The Patriots had 444 yards of offense to the Broncos' 404. There's a reason the Patriots were able to hold off the Broncos, and it wasn't all because of Brady's arm.
2) Alfonzo Dennard makes a decent debut -- Without checking the film, Dennard had a very successful outing in his first NFL game. The seventh-round pick out of Nebraska recorded a tackle and had a huge pass-defensed in the second quarter. Dennard had come on for Sterling Moore in the nickel package and on his first series was tested by Manning. He broke up a pass intended for Brandon Stokley and proceeded to contribute for the rest of the game, sometimes at the expense of Moore and, for one series, at the expense of Devin McCourty. It'll be interesting to see what his contributions will be like when safety Steve Gregory returns.
3) Rob Ninkovich re-introduced himself -- Four tackles, two forced fumbles, a 6-yard sack, and another hit on the quarterback should tell you a lot about Ninkovich: never write him off. While Chandler Jones has deservedly gotten the majority of attention, offenses still have to be concerned with Ninkovich. He has 17 tackles and 2.5 sacks this season.
4) Stevan Ridley has more good than bad, that's for sure -- Ridley rushed for a career-high 151 yards on 28 carries and a touchdown. He also had a fumble, an unfortunate turnover that put the Patriots' lead in jeopardy. Lucky for the Patriots, another turnover (forced by Ninkovich) helped seal the win. But Ridley has proven over five games this season that he's dependable. It was his second fumble in 103 touches. Over the course of the season, Ridley has topped the 100-yard threshold every time he's carried the ball 21 times or more, including in wins against Tennessee, Buffalo, and now Denver. The Patriots are 3-2. Certainly Ridley needs to work on his ball security, but it's imperative the Patriots keep giving him the ball.
5) Some small bites -- It was the first time since 2007 that a Patriot running back had back-to-back 100-yard games. Laurence Maroney was the last to do it ... Sunday's game was the first time in NFL history that two quarterbacks entered the game with more than 300 career touchdown passes. Brady has 308, Manning has 410 ... Wes Welker caught a personal-best nine passes in the first half. He finished with 13, his 15th career 10-plus reception game. He also passed Troy Brown for most career receiving touchdowns as a Patriot with 32. ... Tavon Wilson made his first NFL start. He was subbing for the injured Steve Gregory.
"I just feel like the first couple of weeks, I took it personally some of the things that were going around about my style and how I was playing," the Patriots linebacker said after Sunday's 31-21 victory over Denver. "Obviously that wasn't how I wanted my play to be evaluated. I kind of went back and, when I was playing defensive end in college, and I was kind of like 'high motor, keep going, never stop', not saying that I wasn't doing that early on, I just think that maybe I was thinking too much as far as run-pass, instead of just beating the guy in front of me."
Ninkovich used the high-motor attack to sack Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, causing a fumble, during a critical Denver drive in the third quarter.
"I was trying to set up my moves a little bit early," Ninkovich said. "I know those guys out there are good and they're big and you have to give it to [Peyton] Manning, he's got great pocket presence so the first couple drives I was trying to just bull-rush, trying to collapse the pocket a little bit. Then on that one rush i just changed it up and swiped and got on the field and the ball was there so we just got it out."
After the Broncos cut the Patriots' lead to 31-21 in the fourth quarter and were driving, Ninkovich stepped up to cause a big turnover again when he stripped the ball away from Broncos running back Willis McGahee at the Patriots 11-yard line.
"The fumble at the end of the game on the draw play I just saw the running back step inside so I just followed him and saw the ball on his right hand and tried to throw a hook at it," Ninkovich said.
Ninkovich never lost his confidence even though he didn't have a great start to the season.
"I knew I was capable of making some big plays and being a guy that you can count on so the first couple of weeks I didn't feel I was playing my style and the way I would like to play," Ninkovich said. "So I felt the last couple of weeks I'm doing some things that I've been trying to change."
FOXBOROUGH -- Receiver Wes Welker had a curious answer to a question when he appeared on Comcast Sports New England's postgame show.
It was either an awkward joke, or a veiled shot at coach Bill Belichick for the way Welker was used in a supporting role early in the season.
You be the judge. The question and answer come about halfway through the one-minute clip.
Michael Felger asked the following question to Welker:"Your 13 catches have got to put you in the top five in the league in receiving, which is a far cry from the three receptions you had in Week 1. A month later, it has to be more fun to come out of a game with 13 versus three."
Welker's response, which did come with a smile and a wink:"Yeah, it's kind of nice to stick it in Bill's face once in a while, so this is definitely a good one."
What makes it strange is that Welker was the one who brought Belichick into it, apparently unsolicited.
Definitely a curious exchange, at least.
FOXBOROUGH -- With 3:48 left in the game, the Denver Broncos trailed, 31-21, but were inching closer to the Patriots end zone.
Call it serendipity. For the pessimist, call it luck. Whatever it is, the timing was impeccable.
Broncos running back Willis McGahee took a handoff up the middle and lost the ball, thanks to defensive end Rob Ninkovich.
It's not the first time the Patriots happened to procure a huge turnover at the most opportune time. Earlier Sunday, Sterling Moore stripped Broncos receiver Demaryius Thomas after a 43-yard reception on what might have been a touchdown on the first series of the game.
Against the Bills two weeks ago, Brandon Spikes punched out a ball right before halftime, preventing Buiffalo from extending its lead. The week before that It was Spikes again who forced another fumble against the Arizona Cardinals with 1:01 left to play, giving the Patriots a chance to win on a field goal, which Stephen Gostkowski missed.
The timeliness hasn't been lost on the players.
"We got a lot of turnovers last year as well. You know we kind of lived off the turnovers," linebacker Jerod Mayo said. "We're just trying to get these yards down. But these turnovers are coming up at huge times in the game and really getting the momentum shifted."
Defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, who recovered a fumble Sunday and has recovered three this season, said part of the Patriots' plus-10 turnover differential should be attributed to more than luck.
"We practice very hard at that: we practice ball drills, interception drills, fumble drills," Wilfork said. "We put a lot of time and work into it, into going out and being able to force turnovers, getting our offense the ball back. We know as a defense, if we can continue to give our offense the ball, they're going to move the ball [and] they're going to give us some points.
"At the end of the day, that's what it's all about: Scoring points [and] stopping guys from scoring points.
"I think we have a pretty good defense and I think we have a hell of a good offense," Wilfork continued. "If we can continue to play together, this football team will be special."
FOXBOROUGH -- Once again, the Patriots were spurred not by the team's All-Pro quarterback, but by their unheralded running backs -- Stevan Ridley, Brandon Bolden, and Danny Woodhead.
Ridley rushed for a career-high 151 yards on 28 carries and scored a touchdown, Bolden chipped in 54 yards, Woodhead added another 47, and the Patriots totaled 251 yards on the ground in a 31-21 win over the Denver Broncos Sunday night, largely because the Broncos dared them to run the ball.
"We're getting a lot of nickel defense," quarterback Tom Brady said. "So when they put little guys out there, we [have] to take advantage of it."
It was evident that the Broncos were having trouble defending the Patriots' passing game in the first half. Brady connected with Wes Welker for nine completions through two quarters for 71 yards. (Welker finished with 13 catches for 104 yards). The Broncos adjusted, bringing more defensive backs into the game. That's when Ridley and Bolden went wild, allowing the Patriots to control the clock. The Patriots possessed the ball for 35:49.
"I think we're playing definitely a more physical style in controlling the tempo of the game by running the football and we've got to keep doing it," Brady said.
The benefit is obvious of having an offense that can rush for 250-plus yards.
"It's awesome, man. It takes a lot of pressure off [Tom] Brady," said Ridley. "And that's our leader, that's our team. A lot of people key on him and our running back group has to get some pressure off him so he can be the quarterback he can be. If they're sitting back there staring Brady in the face every play, we can't be a one-dimensional offense. So we're taking pride in that and we're thankful for it, but there's a lot of work to be done. We're not satisfied and it's still early in the year. There's a lot of football to be played."
Ridley had his third 100-yard rushing game of the season -- on 28 carries for a career-best 151 yards -- and scored a touchdown in the Patriots' 31-21 victory over the Broncos at Gillette Stadium on Sunday.
"Last week, we emphasized the run, this week we emphasized the run and the offensive line's getting a good push up front, so we're just hitting the holes that are there," Ridley said. "And trying to get downhill and make yards fast."
Ridley rushed for more than 100 yards for the third time in five weeks. It's the first time a Patriots running back has had back-to-back 100-yard games since Laurence Maroney during the 2007 season.
But it wasn't a perfect game for Ridley. His fourth-quarter fumble gave Peyton Manning and the Broncos a chance to cut into a 10-point deficit before the Patriots defense forced a turnover of its own to seal the win.
Ridley has been trying to shake the perception that he has trouble holding onto the football. In his rookie season last year, he had a couple of late-season fumbles in consecutive games, including in the playoff win over Denver.
"It didn't end the way I wanted it to, but besides that, I'm just thankful to be out there," Ridley said. "Some things are going in my favor and some things aren't. For me, I just need to come back in here on Monday and get back to work. But we're going to continue to work hard, that's the only way they do it around here."
Ridley was concentrating on holding on to the football right before he turned it over.
"It was late in the game, you've got to close it out, you've got to run the football and I told myself before the play [that] I had to hold on to the football,'' he said. "Like I said, they're getting paid to play, too. You can't make any excuses, I messed up. I'm sure coach is going to have something to say about it, but like I said there's always another day tomorrow. So I'll be back to work and working the ball security high and tight. And that's all I can do."
The Patriots ground game, which has produced consecutive 200-yard games, has been a source of pride for the running backs.
"It's awesome, man," Ridley said. "It takes a lot of pressure off [Tom] Brady. And that's our leader, that's our team. A lot of people key on him and our running back group has to get some pressure off him so he can be the quarterback he can be. If they're sitting back there staring Brady in the face every play, we can't be a one-dimensional offense. So we're taking pride in that, but there's a lot of work to be done. We're not satisfied and it's still early in the year. There's a lot of football to be played."
The Patriots' 251 rushing yards are the most for the team since 2008 and their two-game total of 498 rushing yards is the most since 1978, the last time New England had back-to-back 200-yard rushing games.
FOXBOROUGH Ė Some halftime thoughts as the Patriots lead 17-7.
- Big missed opportunity by the Patriots to go up 21-7 before halftime. They had to settle for a field goal after Brandon Bolden lost 3 yards on third down. Patriots would like to have that play back, and probably go with a pass or a Tom Brady sneak. But after that half of offensive football for the Patriots, itís almost difficult to complain.
- Loved how the Patriots used the fast version of their hurry-up offense in this game. Itís absolutely textbook Patriots. The Broncos were chirping about how new defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio would be a big difference this time around, and how the Broncos had a new attitude on defense. Patriots basically said, ďWell, how about if we donít let you line up to run these new, exotic front and blitzes?Ē Thatís exactly what the Patriots did. Broncos canít scheme and disguise if they canít line up and get the correct personnel. Great call by offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.
- The Broncos have to be kidding if they think slot corner Chris Harris can play Wes Welker (nine catches, 71 yards, one touchdown) one-on-one. Most teams that have success against Welker use a linebacker to bracket him. Denver has done none of that, and has to be thinking about making that a halftime adjustment.
- Love the Tom Brady quote that Phil Simms used during the telecast in reference to Welker. ďWhy would we ever think about changing certain things about this offense when it's worked so well?Ē That was a veiled reference to Welker being made a supporting player in the offense to start the season, instead of a major part. Funny how that worked out.
- Broncos canít get lined up correctly, and the Patriots are using the same inside rushing attack to pound the soft middle of the Broncosí defense. The only time New England has had trouble rushing the ball, itís been on a few stretch plays to the outside.
- Interesting that with Tavon Wilson starting (and staying) at safety, the Patriots elected to have Ras-I Dowling play the ďmoneyĒ dime spot against the interior receivers. The other option would have bring to have a guy like Sterling Moore play safety in dime, and allow Wilson to move up.
- Good to see Alfonzo Dennard get on the field at right cornerback. He has talent, but he needs some experience.
- Also a good move to flip Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich on the ends. Nobodyís going to beat LT Ryan Clady, so might as well give Jones a chance on the other side against RT Orlando Franklin.
FOXBOROUGH -- The Patriots accumulated a franchise record 35 first downs Sunday, but it wasn't until Rob Ninkovich forced a fumble on running back Willis McGahee with 3:42 left in the game did they secure 31-21 win.
Tom Brady, battling rival Peyton Manning for the 13th time in his career, threw for 223 yards and a touchdown while running for another. Manning was 31 of 44 for 345 yards and three touchdowns.
Patriots running back Stevan Ridley ran for a career-high 151 yards and a touchdown, but also had a costly fumble that could have put the game within striking distance for Manning.
Wes Welker had 13 catches for 104 yards and a touchdown.
3:42 4th quarter: Patriots 31, Broncos 21 -- Willis McGahee fumbled on a rush at the Patriots' 14-yard line, forced by Rob Ninkovich, giving the Patriots the ball right back. The play could possibly seal the Patriots' win.
5:19 4th quarter: Patriots 31, Broncos 21 -- Stevan Ridley broke off a 20-yard run. On the next play, he fumbled, giving the Broncos the ball back at a critical juncture in the game. It was forced by Von Miller.
6:43 4th quarter: Patriots 31, Broncos 21 -- Peyton Manning threw a 5-yard touchdown to Brandon Stokley as the Broncos have now made it a two-score game.
The Broncos scoring drive was a quick 1:43, with Manning making two key throws to Willis McGahee and Eric Decker. Time is of the essence now for Denver. The Patriots can put this game out of reach with another touchdown or a lengthy drive.
8:10 4th quarter: Patriots 31, Broncos 14 -- Going for it on fourth down didn't work out for the Patriots either. Wesley Woodyard strip-sacked Tom Brady for a 20-yard loss as the Broncos took over.
10:50 4th quarter: Patriots 31, Broncos 14 -- Willis McGahee dropped a fourth down pass from Peyton Manning as the Patriots took over on their own 47-yard line.
13:00 4th quarter: Patriots 31, Broncos 14 -- Two straight sacks on Tom Brady forces the Patriots to punt.
Derek Wolfe and Von Miller both got to Brady on the drive.
End of the 3d quarter: Patriots 31, Broncos 14 -- Peyton Manning is having a good game for himself, despite his fumble that led to another Patriots touchdown. He's 21 of 28 for 230 yards and two touchdowns now. Demaryius Thomas has six catches for 147 yards. Thomas has proven he can beat Devin McCourty and Sterling Moore consistently.
1:08 3d quarter: Patriots 31, Broncos 14 -- Peyton Manning must have gotten some smelling salt after that fumble. He orchestrated a 10-play, 90-yard drive, culminated with a 2-yard back shoulder touchdown pass that Eric Decker had to pull off the turf.
4:42 3d quarter: Patriots 31, Broncos 7 -- Stevan Ridley took a pitch left and sprinted into the end zone, diving after contact, for an 8-yard touchdown to capitalize on the Broncos' turnover.
The play was challenged and upheld.
4:51 3d quarter: Patriots 24, Broncos 7 -- Rob Ninkovich sacked Peyton Manning and forced a fumble on the play, with Vince Wilfork recovering as the Patriots took over at the Broncos' 14-yard line.
5:00 3d quarter: Patriots 24, Broncos 7 -- Tom Brady jumped over the pile for a 1-yard touchdown run as the Patriots marched 80 yards in 16 plays and 6:24 for the team's third TD.
Stevan Ridley went over 100 yards rushing on the drive. He has 20 carries for 106 yards.
11:24 3d quarter: Patriots 17, Broncos 7 -- The Patriots held the Broncos to four plays before forcing a punt. The Broncos called a run up the middle on 3rd-and-4.
On the drive, Devin McCourty was replaced at right cornerback by Alfonzo Dennard. Tracy White went to the locker room. We'll update you on this as soon as we get more information.
13:44 3d quarter: Patriots 17, Broncos 7 -- On a 3rd-and-7, Tom Brady must have heard foot steps because he started ducking when there was no one around him. And then, just a moment later, he finally did get hit, sacked for a 3-yard loss by Von Miller to give the Broncos the ball in the second half for the first time.
15:00 3d quarter: Patriots 17, Broncos 7 -- The third quarter is underway. Patriots receive the ball.
End of the first half: Patriots 17, Broncos 7 -- The Patriots offense is working at peak performance right now. Tom Brady is a cool 17 of 20 passing for 165 yards, rekindling an already sparkling relationship with Wes Welker. Welker has nine catches for 71 yards and a touchdown.
The running game seems to be a priority for the Patriots, too. Stevan Ridley has 13 carries for 70 yards while Brandon Bolden has seven rushes for 25 yards. Shane Vereen jumped in a for a 1-yard carry, scoring on his only touch so far.
On the other side, Peyton Manning is 13 of 18 for 137 yards and a touchdown. Broncos running back Willis McGahee has nine carries for 28 yards.
The Broncos have had a tough time dealing with the Patriots' hurry-up offense, especially with Wes Welker running routes over the middle of the field. Meanwhile, with the run plays coming fast and the first downs coming often (eight), the Broncos are having trouble staying on the field. The Patriots have owned the time of possession 17:04 to 12:56.
0:02 2d quarter: Patriots 17, Broncos 7 -- Stephen Gostkowski kicked a 23-yard field goal to cap a 16-play drive that spanned 93 yards.
Running backs Brandon Bolden and Stevan Ridley did the majority of the damage, switching on and off as the Patriots rumbled along before the half.
5:13 2d quarter: Patriots 14, Broncos 7 -- In his first series of his career, Alfonzo Dennard made an impact. The rookie cornerback broke up a pass by Peyton Manning on 3rd-and-5 to force the Broncos to punt. Dennard replaced Sterling Moore in the nickel package of the series.
7:57 2d quarter: Patriots 14, Broncos 7 -- Shane Vereen pulled some cleanup duty for the Patriots, rushing in a 1-yard touchdown, after teammate Shane Ridley pulled the heavy workload on a 14-play, 80-yard drive.
Ridley rushed four times for 18 yards, getting two first downs, before Tom Brady connected on a 10-yard pass to Brandon Lloyd to get the Patriots down to the 1-yard line where Vereen scampered in untouched. Lloyd beat Champ Bailey one-on-one on the play.
14:05 2d quarter: Patriots 7, Broncos 7 -- A pass interference on Patriots cornerback Devin McCourty in the end zone on a throw to Denver's Eric Decker set up a 1-yard touchdown pass from Peyton Manning to Joel Dreessen.
The touchdown throw capped a 10-play, 80-yard drive in 4:03.
Bill Belichick challenged a rushing play on the drive that resulted in a first down. That play was upheld so the Patriots were charged a timeout.
End of 1st quarter: Patriots 7, Broncos 0 -- Through one quarter of play, Tom Brady is 7 of 8 passing for 58 yards and a touchdown. Stevan Ridley has 33 yards rushing on five carries.
The Broncos are currently driving in the Patriots' red zone.
3:08 1st quarter: Patriots 7, Broncos 0 -- Tom Brady faked a handoff to Brandon Bolden, faked a throw to his right, and then threw back to Wes Welker on his left for an 8-yard touchdown.
The Patriots drove 84 yards on 12 plays in 4:44, working mostly out of the team's hurry-up offense, before the touchdown pass. It was Brady's 37th straight game with a TD pass.
7:52 1st quarter: Patriots 0, Broncos 0 -- On a third-and-5, Jerod Mayo sacked Peyton Manning for a 7-yard loss to give the Patriots the ball right back. It was Mayo's first sack of the season.
11:18 1st quarter: Patriots 0, Broncos 0 - The Patriots punted after a four-play drive after a quick first down throw to Rob Gronkowski. One rush by Danny Woodhead in the hurry-up offense for five yards was all the Patriots could manage in their quick attack.
12:22 1st quarter: Patriots 0, Broncos 0 -- Peyton Manning completed a deep pass over the middle of the field to Demaryius Thomas for 43 yards but Thomas was stripped by Sterling Moore who recovered it and returned it for 14 yards.
15:00 1st quarter: Patriots 0, Broncos 0 -- The Broncos won the coin toss and elected to receive. Kickoff is imminent. Get your popcorn.
Pregame: The Patriots, Broncos and fans are going to have to deal with the rain, which is still coming down here in Foxborough. According to Weather.com, the rain will probably drop off by the 6 p.m. hour.
This will be the first game Patriots rookie cornerback Alfonzo Dennard will be active. He essentially takes the place of Steve Gregory, who is out with a hip injury. Also active for today's game is running back Shane Vereen.
In pregame warmups, Tavon Wilson was in for Gregory at safety and Tracy White was in for Dont'a Hightower at linebacker. The team's starting offensive line was intact, including LT Nate Solder, LG Logan Mankins, C Ryan Wendell, RG Dan Connolly, and RT Sebastian Vollmer.
Stay here for in-game updates by each series.
Enjoy the game.
FOXBOROUGH -- Despite practicing for the first time this week after suffering an ankle injury a month ago, Aaron Hernandez is inactive for today's game.
He joins linebacker Dont'a Hightower on the sidelines who suffered a hamstring injury last week against the Buffalo Bills. The Patriots signed Bobby Carpenter for insurance after his injury.
Also inactive for today's game is OL Matt Tennant, TE Michael Hoomanawanui (concussion), and DL Jake Bequette. They join Steve Gregory (hip) and Julian Edelman (hand) who were deemed out for Sunday's game on Friday.
FOXBOROUGH -- It's not just Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning today. There's a slew of things to watch for as the Patriots host the Denver Broncos.
1) The secondary -- Steve Gregory is out of today's game with a hip injury and will likely be replaced by safety Tavon Wilson. This also affects the team's sub packages, where Wilson played alongside Gregory as the team increased from four to five and six defensive backs. Anyone from Ras-I Dowling to Marquice Cole will likely also contribute, but it will be key to see who handles the responsibility of coverage and who handles the responsibility of run support in those packages.
2) How is Dont'a Hightower feeling? -- The linebacker went through the week with limited participation in practice after suffering an injury to his hamstring against the Buffalo Bills. Hightower's health is important for the Patriots' run defense, which currently sits at No. 7 (85.2 yards per game) in the NFL. The team went out and re-signed Bobby Carpenter this week as insurance.
3) Will Aaron Hernandez return? -- He's listed as questionable and actually had limited participation in practice this week. But high ankle sprains are tricky. For Hernandez to return this soon (only four weeks removed) would mean he's really pushing it on a four-to-six week timeline. And for the type of player that Hernandez is, someone who depends on cuts and turns to break tackles, the likelihood that he's anywhere near 100 percent is scant. But Patriots fans should be ever hopeful. However, in case he isn't ready, expect Daniel Fells in the starting lineup again. If you recall, he caught Tom Brady's first pass against the Buffalo Bills last week.
The Patriots will down the Broncos for the third time in 11 months this afternoon at Gillette Stadium if they can execute these five keys:
- Pound it: The Broncosí run defense will be helped by middle linebacker Joe Mays coming back from suspension, but theyíre still very weak in the middle of the field at defensive tackle after Broderick Bunkley signed with the Saints, and Ty Warren was lost for the year. The Patriots should be able to use a similar inside scheme that worked so well against the Bills. That will make the Broncos bring a safety down into the box and thenÖ.
- Take your shots: Weíve seen the Patriots just miss on a few shot plays between Tom Brady and Brandon Lloyd earlier this season, but today is the day for them to hit one. The Broncos have really struggled on deep play-action shots so far this season when the receiver is matched up on right cornerback Tracy Porter and Mike Adams is the deep safety. The Texans hit on two of them against the Broncos. Same tight trips formation to one side, receiver isolated on the other.
- Flip the script?: One thing I expect the Patriots to do is to go through center Dan Koppen to make Peyton Manning nervous with pressure up the middle of the field. Would not be surprised if we see more of the 3-4 look with Kyle Love or Vince Wilfork right over top of Koppen. Maybe even put Jermaine Cunningham over Koppen in subpackages. In the secondary, Iíll be interested to see how the Patriots handle things with safety Steve Gregory out. That would push rookie Tavon Wilson into a starting role. However, the Patriots know they must disguise a lot against Manning. Can Wilson handle that? Iím not so sure. One option would be to throw something new at the Broncos by going back to Devin McCourty at free safety in some packages, like he did last year. Not for performance, but because McCourty could handle the disguises better in the back end. You would hope Kyle Arrington, Sterling Moore and Ras-I Dowling could do the job disguising at cornerback.
- Watch your drops: Manning and the Broncos are doing a terrific job of peppering the middle of the field in all three zones Ė short, middle and deep. The Patriotsí linebackers are going to have to really be sharp with their drops into coverage or Manning will pick them apart.
- Go fast: The Broncos feel they stand a much better chance at beating Brady with Jack Del Rio as defensive coordinator with his multiple fronts and different pressure packages. But theyíve only played four games doing it. The Patriots should test the Broncos to see just how far theyíve come with communication in the new scheme by going fast with the no huddle. Letís see Del Rio pressure with a bunch of guys standing up and walking around when Brady is running the no huddle. Donít think it will happen.
In a matchup of these two quarterbacks, itís going to come down to which team is able to pressure and cover the best. Obviously both go hand in hand. If the Patriots go fast, I think thereís a good chance the Broncos look disorganized on the defensive side of the ball. On the other side, Iím not so sure the Patriots should be able to use their knowledge of Koppenís weak spots to make Manning feel uncomfortable just enough to cough up the ball a few times. That will be the difference in the game.
Patriots 35, Broncos 27
FOXBOROUGH -- Of the 12 times Tom Brady and the Patriots have faced a Peyton Manning led team, the Patriots having been victorious in eight of those contests, including twice in the postseason.
But Sunday's game marks a new twist in the quarterback rivalry as Manning, strangely draped in navy and orange, leads the Denver Broncos into Gillette Stadium.
The Broncos are coming off a sterling 37-6 win over the Oakland Raiders in which Manning was 30 of 38 for 338 yards and three touchdowns. Whatever worries that were held about Manning's neck and his numerous surgeries after missing all of 2011 were evaporated.
The Broncos are 2-2 with Manning at the helm with a largely identical offense that he quarterbacked in Indianapolis for 13 seasons.
The Patriots come in to today's contest with probably the team's first serious absence on defense, having to go without safety Steve Gregory who is sidelined with a hip injury. The Patriots are also officially going without wide receiver Julian Edelman (hand), who was ruled out Friday with Gregory, and have 12 players who are listed as questionable, including Rob Gronkowski (hip), Aaron Hernandez (hip), Dont'a Hightower (hamstring), and Logan Mankins (calf/hip).
Mankins missed last week's 52-28 win over the Buffalo Bills, while Aaron Hernandez has missed the last two games after getting injured against Arizona in Week 2. With so many players up in the air, the Patriots will likely be mixing and mashing more than just its secondary and offensive line.
Also, the Patriots will also get a chance to get reacquainted with center Dan Koppen, who will make the start for the Broncos. He was released by the Patriots after training camp after spending the past nine seasons in New England.
Of course, this game's top matchup may be Brady vs. Manning, but there's also Gronkowski playing opposite his brother, Chris. Chris Gronkowski plays fullback for the Broncos.
Here are the details for today's game:
Kickoff: 4:25 p.m. ET
Records: Patriots 2-2; Broncos 2-2.
TV/Radio info: CBS (Jim Nantz, Phil Simms); 98.5-FM The Sports Hub (Gil Santos, Scott Zolak).
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 Daniel Fells.
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 Tavon Wilson, S Patrick Chung.
Broncos offense: WR Demaryius Thomas, LT Ryan Clady, LG Zane Beadles, C Dan Koppen, RG Chris Kuper, RT Orlando Franklin, TE Joel Dreessen, WR Eric Decker, QB Peyton Manning, FB Chris Gronkowski, RB Willis McGahee.
Broncos defense: LDE Derek Wolfe, DT Kevin Cikerson, NT Justin Bannan, RDE Elvis Dumervil, SLB Von Miller, MLB Joe Mays, WLB Wesley Woodyard, LCB Champ Bailey, RCB Tracy Porter, SS Mike Adams, FS Rahim Moore.
Patriots: Julian Edelman (hand), Steve Gregory (hip), Michael Hoomanawanui (concussion), Dont'a Hightower (hamstring), Matt Tennant, Aaron Hernandez (ankle), Jake Bequette.
Broncos: Caleb Hanie, CJ Davis, Sealver Siligia, Steven Johnson, Duke Ihenacho, Julius Thomas, and Knowshon Moreno.
INSIDE THE BRONCOSí OFFENSE
The quarterback is the always the focal point of a team and thatís where I start here with a look at Peyton Manning. Manning came to the Broncos this offseason after being released from the Indianapolis Colts, and heís injected a significant amount of hope into the franchise. Regardless of whatís been said, the majority of the offense that Manning runs in Denver is what he ran in Indianapolis.
What this means for the Patriots defense is that they will be seeing a lot of 11 (1 tailback, 1 tight end) and 12 (1 tailback, 2 tight ends) personnel. It also means there is a variety of pass concepts that have horizontal and vertical stretches built in to attack the defense at all levels of the field.
The stretches combine to create several concepts such as Smash and Triple Hi-Lo. In most cases, these concepts are accompanied by five- and six-man protections and in some cases, seven man when going to play action.
One of the slight changes that we have seen from Manningís old offense is the running game, which is led by the powerful Willis McGahee. McGahee is running the stretch concepts (inside and outside zone) that were seen with Manningís Colts but also the power and crack-toss concepts. Some of this can be seen from shotgun set, where McGahee is offset to either of Manningís sides.
INSIDE THE BRONCOSí DEFENSE
Defensively, the Broncos have seen a shift to multiple fronts under former Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio. Del Rio bases out of the 4-3 defense but shows a variety of looks that range from no down linemen to three. He will use an ĎAmoebaí ⎯ zero defensive linemen ⎯ or a 2 man front on third down and long situations to present confusing looks to quarterbacks like division rival Rex Ryan has done in previous years.
Moreover, Del Rio uses a 3-3-5 front with three linebackers, one of which (Von Miller) is often on the line of scrimmage. Two of the defensive linemen in this front can be seen playing three-technqiues (outside shoulder of offensive guard) with the third, the nose tackle, in a flexed (roughly a yard off the ball) 0-technique (head-up on the center).
The flexed nose tackle is also seen in four-man fronts, which also consists of the typical Under (strong-side guard uncovered) and Over (strong-side guard covered) schemes. As one can see, Del Rioís defense features varying techniques, even when they go to the traditional Under and Over schemes because he will use a reduced end that lines up in a four-technique (head up on tackle) opposed to the usual five-technique.
Along with these varying fronts, the Broncos will use stunts and twists as well as five-man blitzes.
In the secondary, there are several coverages played with cornerbacks that are tightly rolled up to the line of scrimmage. The coverages include but are not limited to Cover 1 (Man-Free), Cover 1 Robber, Cover 2, Cover 2 Man, Cover 3, Cover 4 and their variations.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Patriots deep shots - There should be an opportunity for a couple of deep shots from the Patriots offense against the Broncos defense. The defense is very aggressive and the safeties can be caught out of position, so a chance for a deep shot off play action is a possibility. Thereís also the chance of a shot off a double move because of how tight the cornerbacks play.
Outside runs vs. Broncos defense - The Broncos are eighth in run defense this year because theyíre very stout up the middle. They donít allow much yards there, so the best chance of getting yards often comes on the outside, where the linebackers can sometimes get caught in the wash and allow run lanes to be created.
WR Demaryius Thomas yards after the catch - Thomas has had some struggles this year but is still a playmaker and very dynamic. The Broncos like to throw screens to him to get him into open space and heís done damage thus far. He is one to watch.
Broncos seam routes - Like the old Colts days, Peyton Manning still likes to throw seam routes, whether its off of play action or a four verticals concept. Manning often makes throws to his tight end in the final 30 yards of opponent territory.
Broncos Interior OL vs. Patriots DL - The Patriots' interior front will be a tough test for the Broncos. Although the Broncos do a good job of doubling with blockers at the point of attack, they do tend to have an issue with powerful rushers and thatís where Vince Wilfork comes in. Wilfork will be a key in slowing down the Broncos running game and applying pressure up the pocket (along with Jermaine Cunningham) where Manning is least comfortable.
Patriots Front-7 vs. Broncos run - The hardest thing to do against Peyton Manning is to make him one dimensional because heís far too good in checking into the right plays to get a numbers advantage. Despite this, the Patriots have to find a way to slow down the Broncos running game to make the offense one dimensional and reliant on Manningís arm. The Patriots could do this with late rotation into the box to counter Manningís checks and make him wrong.
FOXBOROUGH -- Patriots linebacker Brandon Spikes was fined $21,000 by the NFL for his hit on Bills tight end Scott Chandler last Sunday, which came during a fourth-quarter interception return by Devin McCourty.
The league said Spikes was fined for unnecessary roughness (illegal blind-side block), although he was not penalized on the play.
FOXBOROUGH -- Receiver Julian Edelman and safety Steve Gregory have been ruled out for Sunday's home game against Denver, while tight end Aaron Hernandez and 11 others are listed as questionable.
Hernandez hasn't played since injuring his ankle Sept. 16 against the Cardinals, and only returned to practice Thursday. He was limited both Thursday and Friday, so his availability for Sunday is uncertain.
Neither Edelman (hand) nor Gregory (hip) has practiced all week.
The others listed as questionable: tight ends Rob Gronkowski (hip) and Michael Hoomanawanui (concussion), defensive linemen Brandon Deaderick (ankle) and Justin Francis (ankle), running backs Brandon Bolden (knee) and Shane Vereen (foot), offensive linemen Sebastian Vollmer (back), Logan Mankins (calf/hip), and Nick McDonald (shoulder), linebacker Dont'a Hightower (hamstring), and cornerback Sterling Moore (knee). Defensive tackle Kyle Love (knee) is probable.
Quarterback Tom Brady, who was limited in practice Wednesday and Thursday (listed with a right shoulder injury) participated fully Friday and was removed from the injury report.
1. If the forecast for chilly weather, rain, and wind holds up, what's the sense you get for how that will affect Peyton Manning?
LJ: "If that forecast holds, it will be Manning's first cold-weather game as a Bronco. Much was made externally last spring about Manning wanting to pick a new team based on climate, but clearly he didn't care too much about it when he picked the Broncos, who don't have their own indoor facility. Denver got its own dose of nasty weather this week, and Manning led the Broncos through two chilly, windy practices, so he won't show up in Boston shocked by cool temperatures. The Broncos think they have a balanced offense, and should the conditions turn nasty on Sunday, that could mean Manning relies even more on Willis McGahee, who has been one of the best -- if not the best -- offensive players for the Broncos through four weeks. The question with the running game for Denver is with the offensive line, where they have replaced J.D. Walton with Dan Koppen [at center] and could be bringing back guard Chris Kuper this week, and with the (lack of) depth behind McGahee."
2. Who is the one Broncos player most Patriots fans don't know right now, but will by the end of the game on Sunday?
LJ: "The Broncos' most consistent performers so far this year have been guys Pats fans know well -- McGahee, Jacob Tamme, Brandon Stokley, and even Demaryius Thomas. For the Broncos to have a shot at winning this game, [linebacker] Von Miller will need to be a positive factor, and not the negative one he was the last time the Broncos were in Foxborough. In that game in January, the Broncos had no pass rush, and Miller's biggest impact came when he incited a fight between the two teams late in the fourth quarter. Miller is waiting to have his breakout game of 2012.
3. What's the biggest weakness on the Broncos offense you expect the Patriots to try to exploit?
LJ: "The Broncos have been turnover-prone in the first four weeks of the season -- a bad thing to be against a very opportunistic New England defense. Peyton Manning will take chances, and that has gotten the Broncos into trouble in the past if he's not exactly on target."
4. What's the biggest weakness on the Broncos defense you expect the Patriots to try to exploit?
LJ: "The Broncos have given up touchdowns to Heath Miller, Tony Gonzalez, and Owen Daniels this year, a sign that they *still* haven't found a solution to slowing down top-end pass-catching tight ends. Gronkowski (and Hernandez) were so dominant against Denver last year, and if Hernandez does indeed sit out, that will help, but I still don't think the Broncos have anyone who can match up well with Gronkowski. Look for safety Mike Adams and/or nickel linebacker Wesley Woodyard to draw that duty."
5. Finally, Broncos win on Sunday if....
LJ: "Peyton Manning is error-free, if the Broncos' pass rush can get to Tom Brady, and defense can force at least one turnover. Yes, those are a lot of ifs."
Patriots rookie linebacker Dont'a Hightower, who injured his hamstring Sunday at Buffalo and had limited participation in Thursday's practice session, said he was feeling better, but would likely be a "game-time decision" for Sunday's game against the Denver Broncos at Gillette Stadium.
"Right now itís going to be a day-to-day thing,'' Hightower said before Friday's practice at Gillette. "Itís going to be up to Jimbo [trainer Jim Whalen] and Coach [Bill] Belichick, but each day Iím feeling better and moving around great, so itís going to be a game-time decision. Itís going to be up to them.''
Asked if he was frustrated about getting hurt in a game in which the Patriots recorded six turnovers against the Bills, Hightower said, "Obviously, any time you get hurt you try to do everything you can to prevent that.
"It was definitely hard going down," Hightower said. "But Tracy White did a real good job of stepping in and doing my job and definitely well-prepared, heís a great player. Rob [Ninkovich] and everybody else did a great job of picking up where I left off, so hopefully Iíll be able to get out there this weekend so I donít have to go through that."
When asked if it was his call to make, would he be likely to play, Hightower replied, "Like I said, it's up to Coach [Belichick]. If he feels I can go, then I'm going to be out there and doing everything I can. But there's no pain. I'm out there running around and doing everything I can, so what can I say? It's a day-to-day thing."
FOXBOROUGH -- Aaron Hernandez was again at Patriots' practice, which is being held inside Gillette Stadium on a sunny, warm day and is missing receiver Julian Edelman, safety Steve Gregory, and tight end Michael Hoomanawanui.
Players were in shorts and shells, meaning they'll face the Broncos on Sunday without the benefit of a full-pads practice.
Whether Hernandez plays against Denver remains to be seen. He returned to the practice field for the first time on Thursday after he injured his right ankle in the home opener Sept. 16 against Arizona.
We also hear from Patriots cornerback Devin McCourty and QB Tom Brady on No. 12's old friend with a new team Peyton Manning. Receivers Rob Gronkowski and Brandon Lloyd talk about taking on the vaunted Denver defense. And tackle Sebastian Vollmer checks in on the task of facing Broncos DE Elvis Dumervil and OLB Von Miller.
Greg Bedard's weekly review of top story lines around the NFL this week includes his thoughts on the Broncos-Patriots showdown, the shockingly bad start to the Saints' season, and the Eagles-Steelers game.
In this edition of Inside the Playbook, Greg Bedard and Jermaine Wiggins look at how Tom Brady may attack the Denver defense in their game on Sunday at Gillette Stadium.
As expected, the Patriots reported Aaron Hernandez as limited in practice Thursday. Also, Tom Brady pops up again as limited (right shoulder). Ras-I Dowling's absence was non-injury-related.
For the Patriots
Did not participate
* CB Ras-I Dowling - non-injury-related
WR Julian Edelman - hand
S Steve Gregory - hip
RB Brandon Bolden - knee
QB Tom Brady - right shoulder
DL Brandon Deaderick - ankle
DL Justin Francis - ankle
* TE Rob Gronkowski - hip
* TE Aaron Hernandez - ankle
LB Dont'a Hightower - hamstring
* TE Michael Hoomanawanui - concussion
G Logan Mankins - shin/hip
OL Nick McDonald - shoulder
CB Sterling Moore - knee
RB Shane Vereen - foot
OT Sebastian Vollmer - back
DT Kyle Love - knee
For the Broncos
CB Chris Harris - ankle
* LB Nate Irving - concussion
* G Chris Kuper - forearm
CB Tracy Porter - shoulder
WR Matt Willis - hamstring
* - change in status from Wednesday's report
FOXOBOROUGH -- The Globe's Shalise Manza Young reported that Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez returned to practice Thursday, giving rise to the remote possibility of his return for Sunday's game against the Denver Broncos at Gillette Stadium.
Hernadez suffered a serious right ankle injury in the home-opening 20-18 loss vs. Arizona Sept. 16 and was expected to be out 4-6 weeks.
Fellow tight ends Rob Gronkowski (hip) and Michael Hoomanawanui, who did not practice Wednesday, also returned for Thursday's practice session in shorts and shells on the upper practice field behind Gillette Stadium.
Missing from the media-access portion of practice were S Steve Gregory, WR Julian Edelman and CB Ras-I-Dowling.
The NFL announced today that Patriots' defensive end Chandler Jones has been named the defensive rookie of the month for September.
Jones, the 21st overall pick in the draft, started all four games, and has been credited by the Patriots coaching staff with 19 total tackles (7 solo), three sacks, five quarterbacks hits and two forced fumbles, the first of which, against Tennessee, was picked up by fellow rookie Dont'a Hightower for a touchdown.
Jerod Mayo was the last New England player to win defensive rookie in the month when he was recognized in October 2008. Mayo went on to be named defensive rookie of the year.
Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III was named offensive rookie of the month.
Tom Brady will square off with long-time rival Peyton Manning when the Denver Broncos make their way to Foxboro on Sunday. The Globe's Zuri Berry reports from Patriots practice.
FOXBOROUGH -- Guard Logan Mankins, who missed last Sunday's game in Buffalo, was listed with a calf/hip injury on Wednesday's injury report, which confirmed that five Patriots missed practice: tight ends Aaron Hernandez (ankle), Rob Gronkowski (hip), and Michael Hoomanawanui (concussion), safety Steve Gregory (hip), and receiver Julian Edelman (hand).
Mankins, whose injury last week was listed a hip, was one of 10 Patriots who were limited. The others: quarterback Tom Brady (right shoulder), running backs Shane Vereen (foot) and Brandon Bolden (knee), defensive linemen Brandon Deaderick (ankle) and Justin Francis (ankle), offensive linemen Sebastian Vollmer (back) and Nick McDonald (shoulder), linebacker Dontía Hightower (hamstring), and cornerback Sterling Moore (knee).
No Broncos missed practice. Linebacker Nate Irving (concussion) and guard Chris Kuper (forearm) were limited.
FOXBOROUGH -- Brandon Lloyd didn't have much to say about facing his former team, but he had plenty to say about a former teammate.
The Patriots receiver, who spent parts of three seasons in Denver, routinely went up against Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey in practice, and was quick to praise the Broncos star when he met the media before practice today at Gillette Stadium.
"Champ is very talented when it comes to his film study, how he plays out there," Lloyd said. "Iím sure the coaching staffís going to do a good job of mixing up the routes and the combinations weíre doing out there."
Lloyd, who caught his first touchdown pass of the season in last Sunday's 52-28 win at Buffalo, reflected on the daily practice battles he and Bailey would have, and said going up against such a strong defender before the game improved his play.
"They were good battles," said Lloyd. "I learned a lot from him from a technique standpoint, catching, finishing the play, because Champ is one of the only cornerbacks Iíve gone against that the play is never over,
"You can even catch the ball, and if youíre not bringing it in and if youíre not protecting it, heíll find a way to get it out."
The Broncos are just one of six teams Lloyd has played for since his rookie season of 2003 -- he led the league in receiving yards while with Denver in 2010 -- but going up against them on Sunday doesn't seem to have any added significance.
When asked if facing his old team was a big deal, Lloyd said, "No."
FOXBOROUGH -- On Sunday, Tom Brady will oppose Peyton Manning for the 13th time in his career.
In the 12 games they've played while Manning led the Indianapolis Colts, Brady was triumphant in eight of them. Brady has won six of nine regular-season matchups and two of three playoff games.
But to Brady, it's not about the individual effort of each quarterback.
"At the end of the day, itís the Patriots vs. the Broncos," Brady said. "I have a job to do, the defensive guys have a job to do.
"You're not blind to the fact that thereís a great player on the other side of the ball that is capable of having a great performance. I think you realize that thatís a part of the game.
"He's going to complete passes, they're going to gain yards. Itís just a matter of us playing a better 60-minute game, being good on third down, being good in the red area, situationally being good. And if we have an opportunity to win the game at the end, thatís what youíve got to do.
"It seems like it has always come down to the end against [Manning]. When he was playing for the Colts, it was always close games.
"Theyíve been in every game theyíve played this year, right down to the end. The two games they lost, the other team was in a four-minute offense and really made a couple critical first downs there at the end to win and not give them the ball back. They're a very good team."
Brady did say he viewed Manning as a quarterback from whom he has learned much over his career.
"Well, Iíve always watched him and watched his technique," he said. "You study their offense and you always try to look back at the end of the year and see the teams that have really good offenses and really good passing games.
"Certainly when Peyton was playing for the Colts, it was one of the best passing games in the history of the league. Itís really carried over to what they're doing in Denver. Itís very much the same offense, from what some of the guys tell me.
"Obviously there are different players with different skill sets and so forth. Iíve always really looked at that offense as kind of one to emulate because theyíve been so productive for so long."
The Globe's Michael Whitmer just reported from Wednesday's practice session, conducted in shells and shorts, that WR Julian Edelman, S Steve Gregory, and TEs Michael Hoomanawanui, Aaron Hernandez, and Rob Gronkowski were not spotted during the media-access portion of practice.
Gronkowski and Hernandez, who was walking without a noticeable limp, were both spotted in the locker room before Wednesday's practice.
Noticeably present at the media-access portion of practice was LB Dont'a Hightower, who suffered an injured hamstring at Buffalo, OG Logan Mankins and DL Brandon Deaderick.
FOXBOROUGH -- Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski refused to be baited into engaging his older brother, Chris, a fullback with the Denver Broncos, in any kind of trash talk before Sunday's Gronkowski family reunion at Gillette Stadium.
When he was apprised that his brother had promised to lay him out on special teams -- which is the only situation the two would find themselves on the field together -- Gronkowski smiled and replied, "He can do all the talking.''
The Patriots tight end was coming off a 100-yard receiving effort in Sunday's 52-28 victory at Buffalo, where he made 5 catches for 104 yards (20.4 yard average) and a 28-yard touchdown that gave the Pats a 28-21 lead and sparked a 31-point barrage in the fourth quarter.
Asked if his touchdown catch, in which he was wide open on a vertical route off play action, was directly attributable to the Patriots' ability to establish a run-pass balance, Gronkowski replied, "You always want to be able to run the ball,íí he said. "Thatís what sets up the play-action and thatís what sets up the passing game. You always want to be able to pass, because it helps out the running game.
"You always want to have a balanced attack, because it keeps the defense guessing.íí
FOXBOROUGH -- Despite three interceptions credited to the secondary against the Buffalo Bills Sunday, the Patriots defensive backs are coming off a shaky performance in which the team gave up 350 yards passing and four touchdowns.
Add to the fact the team will be facing Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos this week, and it's clear that the time for celebrating Sunday's 52-28 win is over.
Manning, who threw for 338 yards on 30 of 38 passing, including three touchdowns, last week in a win over the Raiders, provides a tough matchup for any team. The Patriots are keen about staying mentally sharp against such a precise and often prescient passer.
"One thing about Peyton is you know he's a smart guy," said Devin McCourty. "I think the physical tools you already know is there but the toughest thing for us is going to be, you know, trying to make things difficult for him. He does a great job of leading defenses and getting guys in the right place. We're really going to have put in the extra time that you know he's putting in to try to be prepared to play well on Sunday."
The steps it takes to prepare for a Manning team, playing in an offense that is "identical" to the Manning-led Indianapolis Colts, according to Patriots coach Bill Belichick, is all about focus, says McCourty. That's because Manning does not make many mistakes.
"And that's the hard thing," he said. "You know, I think one thing is that we get to see a lot is another quarterback that does that all the time. Playing against Brady, he's the type of guy that we know that if we're a little off, he's going to be right on. So I think that mental focus that we have to go and attack practice with, we get practice at it [already]. So it helps us a little bit going into Sunday. But I think the biggest thing is to try to really prepare and keep preparing and get ready for Sunday."
The Broncos feature a trio of wide receivers who provide their own matchup problems, including DeMaryius Thomas (21 catches, 325 yards, two TDs), Eric Decker (24 catches, 322 yards, one TD), and Brandon Stokely (13 catches, 158 yards, one TD). Thomas and Decker both stand at 6-feet-3.
"You know playing against those guys last year two times, we knew they had good receivers with DeMaryius Thomas, Decker and then a guy like Stokely who has been playing 14 years in this league," McCourty said. "It's obvious he can get open, he's been doing it for a long time. We know with Decker and Thomas, they're big, physical guys that we're going to have to challenge them when they go down the field and then when they catch underneath passes, we're just going to have to get them on the ground. It's gonna be tough, so we're gonna have to really work hard at that."
FOXBOROUGH -- For the majority of the football world, it might appear that Sunday's Patriots-Broncos game will be about Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning.
But for Brady, it may be a little more intimate than that. When the 13-year quarterback sees Dan Koppen, who played with the Patriots for the past nine years before being released after training camp, snapping the ball in another uniform, he might get a little emotional.
The two players are great friends, having won two Super Bowls together. For Brady, it was painful to see him get cut. Now, Koppen will start this Sunday's game after Broncos starter J.D. Walton fractured his left ankle.
"You know, I'm happy he's got the opportunity," Brady said. "He's a great friend of mine so we played a lot of battles together and I miss having him around here. But that's part of this business. We move on. And he's got an opportunity and hopefully we play well against him."
Add to the fact Koppen will be snapping for Manning, and this Sunday's game will be very interesting.
FOXBOROUGH -- Tom Brady was named AFC offensive player of the Week after guiding the Patriots to a 52-28 victory at Buffalo last Sunday.
The Patriots quarterback completed 22 of 36 passes for 340 yards against the Bills and threw three touchdown passes while rushing for another on a 4-yard run. After the Patriots fell behind 21-7 in the third quarter, Brady directed six second-half scoring drives, resulting in 45 second-half points, including 31 in the fourth quarter.
It was Bradyís third straight 300-yard game and the 48th of his career. Brady needs one more 300-yard game to tie Hall of Famer Warren Moon for seventh place all-time. Brady threw a touchdown pass in his 36th straight game to tie Brett Favre for the third longest streak all-time, behind Johnny Unitas (47) and Drew Brees (47).
Brady, as a result, earned AFC offensive player of the week honors for the 21st time in his career, tying Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning for most awarded a player since the inception of the accolade in 1984.
Brady threw three touchdown passes and ran for another.
It is Brady's 21st player of the week award, which ties him with Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning for most such awards since it started in 1984.
To help alleviate that issue, the team has re-signed Bobby Carpenter, who was signed during free agency and was with the Patriots through training camp.
Defensive lineman Terrell McClain, signed a week ago, was released to make room for Carpenter.
Also, the team announced that OL Thomas Austin has been released from the practice squad.
Just got done filing my game review from the Buffalo game, and a few notes, starting with my top and bottom five players from the game.
Top 5 Patriots
- Sebastian Vollmer, RT: Completely erased Bills DE Mario Williams, the $100 million man, from the game.
- Tom Brady, QB: Continued his stellar play from the Ravens. One poor throw behind Wes Welker, probably one other decision he would want back.
- Brandon Bolden, RB: Broke five tackles that accounted for 25 percent of his yards, but vision and patience were more impressive.
- Chandler Jones, DE: Once again, was the pass rush with half sack (I have Jermaine Cunningham the other half because he made the play), a hurry and 1.5 knockdowns. Didn't have a negative play.
- Devin McCourty, CB: On first interception, he was beat. The second was textbook Cover 3 coverage. No negative plays (as opposed to his secondary mates).
Just missing the cut
- Brandon Spikes, LB: Yes, his two forced fumbles were humongous. But teammates set him up for his backside pursuit on both plays. More importantly, I couldn't ignore two blown gaps on big runs and a failed jam on Scott Chandler's touchdown.
- Wes Welker, WR: You want to know why Welker is so important to this offense and Brady? Watch the 19-yard pass to him with 4:49 left in the third quarter. Welker ran an ďSĒ route where he went inside the slot corner, outside the linebacker and then bent back to the middle of the field and as he flipped his head, Brady hit him in stride. No one else on this team Ė and few other players in the league Ė can make that play. Not to mention the ridiculous catch by Welker on third down with 5:47 to play. But he, like Rob Gronkowski (who also had a drop), did fumble. Can't ignore that.
- Nate Solder, LT: Only four negative plays, including a half hurry and half run stuff, is terrific work on the edge.
- Dan Connolly, RG: Also had four negative plays, but was asked to pull a lot in this game and he teed off on the Bills' puny linebackers and defensive backs.
- Donald Thomas, LG: It's too bad the secondary spread out its bad play so much, because Thomas doesn't deserve this. He did a lot of good things in this game and was far from poor. But at the end of the day, he did allow a half sack, 2.5 hurries, two stuffed runs and a knockdown that almost injured Tom Brady.
- Stephen Gostkowski, K: He missed two very makeable kicks, and I don't think they were on the operation. Yes, holder Zoltan Mesko tilted the ball, but he always does that. I just think he missed.
- Patrick Chung, S: Had a couple of good plays, and the first Scott Chandler touchdown was a tough play, but the Donald Jones touchdown and a few other blown coverages were just inexcusable.
- Tavon Wilson, S: Had the gift-wrapped interception and a couple of nice plays early, but he really struggled in coverage at times. Not sure if it was just installed and hasn't been repped, but the Patriots were running an inverted Cover 3 with Wilson in the middle and the Bills ate that up because Wilson was late.
- Sterling Moore, CB: He's lucky the Patriots weren't playing against a good quarterback, because he blew a few coverages.
The overriding thought, which I wrote about for Wednesday's paper: Most of the Patriots' team feels like it's ready to explode and play really good football. But the secondary, outside of McCourty and Kyle Arrington, was rife with errors against the Bills. It needs to get cleaned up over the final 12 games.
Globe NFL reporter Greg Bedard explains why the Patriots wound up with two 100-yard rushers vs. the Bills on Sunday.
Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, the former head coach of the Denver Broncos, tried to downplay Sunday's home game against the Broncos at Gillette stadium as "the next game'' on the docket for the 2-2 Patriots.
"It's an important game for our team,'' McDaniels said, when asked if he had any special feelings going against the team that gave him his first head coaching opportunity in the NFL. "I guess there's a lot of times over the course of a season where there's players or coaches on either team who have had experience or been a part of another organization or team and I think that happens rather often, I would say.
"It's a big game for us because it's the next one and we're just trying to build on some of the things that we did well in our last game and really emphasize trying to play well at home.''
The Broncos hired McDaniels Jan. 11, 2009, to succeed Mike Shanahan as head coach, At the time, Denver made the then 33-year-old McDaniels the youngest head coach in the NFL, until the Tampa Bay Buccaneers wrested that distinction away five days later by hiring 32-year-old Raheem Morris as their head coach to succeed the fired Jon Gruden.
McDaniels had a checkered tenure with the Broncos, compiliing an 11-17 overall record. Before his first season, McDaniels lost the trust of incumbent quarterback Jay Cutler, who had been rumored to be on the trading block then wound up being traded to the Bears after being reassured by McDaniels he was not being dealt.
The Broncos won their first six consecutive games under McDaniels, including a 20-17 overtime home victory against the Patriots in Week 5, before losing four consecutive games. Denver squandered an opportunity for a playoff berth in a 44-24 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, marking the Bronco's third straight home loss to a division opponent.
The season-ending loss to the Chiefs, which left the Broncos with an 8-8 record, was pockmarked by McDaniels' controversial benching of Pro Bowl wide receiver Brandon Marshall, who wound up being traded to the Miami Dolphins after the season.
Controversy shrouded McDaniels' dismissal when his second season in Denver ended with a 3-9 record after a loss to the Chiefs Dec. 5, 2010. The next day, McDaniels was fired, in part for his failure to immediately report a videotaping scandal in which the team's director of video operations, Steve Scarnecchia, shot video of a 49ers' walkthrough at Wembley Stadium in a Week 8 game against San Francisco in London, England.
The NFL wound up fining the Broncos and McDaniels $50,000 each and Scarnecchia was fired from his position.
Asked what he had learned from his time in Denver, McDaniels replied, "Any time you take on another role or another position, there's always a lot of things that you learn. It's hard to really pinpoint one thing or another, but it gave me a great opportunity. It's a great organization and a great owner.
"You go out there and try to do the best you can with what you know and the things you're capable of doing,'' McDaniels said. "I think that, ultimately, it's really hard to pinpoint one or two things about exactly what you learn.
"You learn a lot of different things on all different levels because you're so involved in so many aspects of the organization as a head coach. Hopefully all those different experiences will pay off and make me a better person and coach going forward in the future.''
Tom Brady can keep a secret. Wes Welker apparently cannot.
When the CBS cameras captured Patriots quarterback Tom Brady cursing on the sidelines in Buffalo on Sunday -- uttering the words ď[expletive] you, [expletive]Ē with Wes Welker seated beside him -- speculation ran amok that the wrath of Brady's saucy soundbite was probably select Bills defensive players, Buffalo fans, or even the newly-returning referees.
Welker cleared all that up today when he revealed the true targets of Brady's outburst.
ďI think it was kind of directed at, towards me and Deion [Branch] a little bit," Welker said today on WEEI's Mut and Merloni show. "We were giving him a hard time that his knee was down and we didnít know what he was doing on the bench over there. He better get his butt up and get back out on the field because his knee was down and so heís like, Ďwhat are you talking about, I was in.í So I think they caught him at a perfect moment where we were just kind of just jawing back and forth and things like that."
During his weekly appearance on WEEI's Dennis and Callahan show on Monday, Brady shed little light on the moment.
ďIíd rather not say," was Brady's response when asked whom the vulgarity was directed toward. "It wasnít the fans and it wasnít the refs or anything like that,Ē said Brady. ďIt was an emotional thing. I was just fired up.Ē
FOXBOROUGH --- When New England hosts the Broncos Sunday at Gillette Stadium, the Patriots will not only see a familiar nemesis at quarterback for Denver in Peyton Manning, but will welcome back another familiar face in center Dan Koppen, the former Pro Bowl center who for nine seasons served as Tom Brady's batterymate.
Now, it appears, Koppen will be doing the honors for Manning.
The 6-foot-2-inch, 300-pound Koppen, who was New England's fifth-round pick in the 2003 draft out of Boston College, started 120 games over eight seasons before he fractured his left ankle in the first half of last year's season-opening 38-24 victory at Miami.
Koppen missed the remainder of the season as well as the Patriots' Super Bowl appearance and wound up being released Aug. 31. The Broncos signed him last month as a free agent and threw him into the breach last Sunday against the Raiders when starting center J.D. Walton fractured and dislocated his left ankle on the final play of the second quarter vs. Oakland.
ďI thought he did very well,'' coach John Fox said. "One thing about NFL football is the tape is never as good as you think and itís never as bad as you think. We still have a lot of improving to do.
"Dan, with more reps in practice and a better understanding of our offense, heís capable of playing better, but he did a good job, kind of on-the-job training, just getting thrown out there quickly when J.D. went down. Considering all that, he did an excellent job.Ē
Walton was placed on injured reserve Monday, likely thrusting Koppen, 33, into a starting role against his former team.
"He had a similar injury [a year ago] as J.D.just had,'' Fox said. "Thatís why he wasnít with a team. We felt really good about the addition of him because he brings top-notch experience at that position. We had the opportunity to sign him, and we did, and Iím glad we did.Ē
Asked if it will be as strange to see Koppen in a Broncos uniform as it will be to see Manning in one, Patriots left tackle Nate Solder broke into a laugh.
"You know, that's kind of the way thise league is," said Solder. "People change and move. I wonder if it's more shocking for him than it will be for us.''
Solder doesn't expect any tearful reunions on the field before the game.
"I just think the focus will be on beating him more than anything,'' he said.
FOXBOROUGH -- Patriots coach Bill Belichick said he kept a close watch on what was perhaps the biggest story of the NFL offseason -- former Colts quarterback Peyton Manning hitting the open market as a free agent, touching off a frenzy among several teams for his services.
"Definitely interested to see where [he ended up],'' Belichick said during his Monday press conference at Gillette Stadium following Sunday's 52-28 victory at Buffalo. "He's been an impact player for whatever team he's on, so I'm not saying that I'm real excited about having to face him again. But you've got to play somebody.''
This Sunday, the Patriots will renew their rivalry against their old nemesis -- who landed in Denver after an offseason courtship that involved Miami, Arizona, and Tennessee -- when they face Manning and the Broncos at Gillette Stadium.
Manning parted ways with the Colts as part of a youth movement in Indianapolis, which selected Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck with the No. 1 pick of the 2012 NFL Draft. Manning has the Broncos at 2-2, having completed 67 percent of his passes for 1,162 yards and 8 touchdowns, with 3 interceptions.
"It's a great competitive [situation] with Denver as well as with Peyton,'' Belichick said. "So now those two are combined.''
Think he was happy about it? Decide for yourself - check out this photo taken by Patriots team photographer Keith Nordstrom:
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. Ė Five parting thoughts as I attempt to leave Buffalo at some point today:
- Wrote about the second-half offensive explosion for the paper. When a team plays that well, it usually starts with terrific execution Ė and the Patriots got that Ė but I thought there were a few slight adjustments. Namely, I liked how Josh McDaniels elected to put Tom Brady in shotgun to start the first five drives. He didnít do that at all in the first half. I thought that started those drives on the right foot with Brady back in the familiar shotgun/empty sets, got the Patriots in an offensive mentality and put the Bills on their heels. A couple players told me Brady was in charge more in the second half. Not sure how that differs from the normal method of operation, because he has a lot of freedom built into the plays. I also like how the Patriots stayed committed to the run. If you canít run against six defensive back packages, youíve got problems. The Bills started the first play in their base defense, and then didnít put MLB Kelvin Sheppard or SLB Alvin Moats on the field again until late in the fourth quarter. Make you also give it up for the offensive line, which was terrific in the run and pass game in a game some feared it would be exposed.
- The argument could be made that the goal-line forced fumble by Brandon Spikes before halftime was a season-changer, but Iím not sure that I fully agree. Even if the Patriots got down 28-7, I still think they could have exploded like they did and won going away. But, boy, that was some kind of play by Spikes. It woke everybody up. Not to mention his second forced fumble in the fourth quarter, which resulted in a touchdown. Thereís no question that Spikes can be an impact player, but he canít be considered a good player until he plays with more consistency. You canít disappear for two-straight games like he did against Arizona and Baltimore (after a great game at Tennessee) and be considered a top-flight player. Does Spikes want to be a one-hit wonder, or does he want to be a good player? The Patriots need him to be a good player on a consistent basis.
- Thought the cornerbacks did a terrific job in this gave after some early shaky moments at playing the type of tight coverage needed to throw Bills QB Ryan Fitzpatrick off his game. Devin McCourty did a terrific job and continued his strong early-season showings (sorry, but this is true). The Patriots, with Tavon Wilson in his money role, really clamped down on TE Scott Chandler after his quick start. That affected Fitzpatrick. Stevie Johnson caught just two of his 10 targeted passes. Thatís great work.
- That being said, the Patriotsí safety play was again atrocious in Buffalo (what is it about this place?). Bad angles, bad reads, bad tackling, bad coverageÖ.just bad for far too long in his game. Thought Patrick Chung had a really rough game, but it was interesting that after Donald Jonesí 86-yard touchdown where Chung took a bad angle and Steve Gregory provided zero last-line defense, that it was Gregory that was sent to the bench for Tavon Wilson. It appeared like Gregory only played in the dime package after that. Wilson played 34 of 69 snaps while Gregory had 49. Not sure if Gregory had an injury that had to be managed Ė he had a quad issue in the preseason Ė but in my opinion, the coaches have been looking for an excuse to play Wilson more. He could be headed for a startersí role.
- After a rough game in Baltimore, it appeared as if the run defense was back to doing a solid job with their gap assignments and they did a terrific job against Fred Jackson (13 carries, 29 yards). If Chan Gailey had to do it all over again, he probably would have played Tashard Choice (two carries, 14 yards late) more over injured C.J. Spiller (8 for 33). He seemed to play cautious with the shoulder injury.
"If teams want to leave their nickel groupings on the field, then we've got to be able to ... we ran for what -- 250 yards or 240 yards -- something like that," Brady said regarding taking advantages of Buffalo's small defensive packages. "So it was a great effort by the offensive line, who played just great yesterday against a defensive front that really improved itself over the course of the offseason with Mario Williams and Mark Anderson and adding to [Marcell] Dareus and Kyle Williams and other guys they rotate in, they're all very, very good players."
Brady heaped praise on his running backs and also his offensive line for driving the ground game in Orchard Park.
"Our offensive line really met the challenge," Brady said. "I think you give those guys all the credit in the world to create holes for the running backs, who also did a great job running the ball, finding the holes, taking care of the football, running with good pad level, breaking tackles, yards after contact.
"We really got challenged by our coach, who really wanted us to run the ball better than we've been running the ball, and I thought those guys really answered the call."
The Bills had an upset in sight before the Patriots took complete control of the game in the second half.
"We took advantage of some opportunities we got in the second half that we didn't take advantage of in the first half," Brady said. "In the first half, we were very much up and down. We have yet to really play a 60-minute game. We played 30 minutes yesterday, 30 pretty good minutes -- offensively and defensively, special teams. We covered kicks. We ran the ball well. We were efficient in the passing game. We got a lot of turnovers on defense so that's a winning formula and that's what obviously has been lacking the last few weeks is our ability to take advantage when we get the opportunities from the opposing team and I thought we did a great job of that yesterday."
More from Brady's Q&A on WEEI:
On linebacker Brandon Spikes causing C.J. Spiller to fumble near the goal line: "I love being on the team with Brandon Spikes. What he does for our defense and creating fumbles and really the hard-hitting presence that he is in the middle of the field Ö I know when we play linebackers, and we've got some really good linebackers with Jerod [Mayo] who's obviously the leader of that group, and Brandon and Dont'a Hightower's a young player ... Brandon brings that physical element and to knock the ball off [C.J.] Spiller like he did was awesome. And that play he made against Arizona where he knocked the fumble off of, I don't remember the name of the back [Ryan Williams], but that was one of the best plays I've ever seen anyone make. He has a nose for the ball, he has a nose for knocking the ball out and that was a huge play in the game yesterday and for Vince to be on the top of it and to recover it, that was a huge play in the game."
On mixing the running and passing game in the second half: "That's part of the chess game. Look, they got little guys on the field, we gotta run it, run it, run it, and then play action. Boom and then you hit a big play. So that's part of good offensive football and being able to make the adjustments and say these are the runs we want to get to, these are the play-actions off the run, and that's how you compliment the entire passing game with the run game."
On Kyle Williams hitting his knee: "I've got a knee brace on. Kyle's a hell of a player. Certainly, that's part of the game, and that's why I wear a knee brace. I honestly don't think about it at all. I'm really removed from that experience. You just take the precaution, you try to use good technique back there in the pocket. I'm glad everything's OK."
On offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels: "I have 100 percent confidence in Josh and what he's calling and what's he wants me to do. We've been in a lot of games together and it doesn't always go well in the first half, sometimes you've got to make adjustments. I thought we did a great job of adjusting to what they were doing. Because it's still early in the year so you really haven't seen the entire playbook of the opposing defenses that we're faced with."
On Vince Wilfork's wife Bianca texting her husband during the game: "No [I don't check my phone at half time.] Maybe that works for Vince, obviously. What an incredible player he is. And Bianca does know football, so she always lets me know what we needed to do after the game, so I appreciate that, too."
On his missing helmet at the start of the second half: "I couldn't find it man, I was looking around and normally someone there, because they go to check the microphones in them before the game and before the start of the second half. So normally someone is there just to give it to me that it's been checked. No one was there. I looked on the bench and then I looked. I couldn't find it so I was freaking out a bit ... We eventually found it thank God. One of our equipment guys took it. It was on top of, behind the defensive bench."