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Josh McDaniels answers job opportunity questions

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff December 31, 2012 11:16 AM
Black Monday has already claimed a number of head coaches in the NFL, with Philadelphia parting ways with Andy Reid, Kansas City letting Romeo Crennel go, the Browns doing the same with Pat Shurmur, Chicago firing Lovie Smith, and Buffalo telling Chan Gailey that his services were no longer needed.

That creates at least five head coach openings, and Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels might generate attention as a potential replacement. McDaniels spent one full season, and part of a second, as the Broncos head coach in 2009-10, compiling a record of 11-17. He rejoined the Patriots late last season, and this season has been overseeing the offense, which scored 557 points in the regular season, third-highest total in NFL history.

Asked on Monday about the possibility of becoming a head coach again, McDaniels stressed how happy he is working for the Patriots. But he certainly didn't slam the door on potentially going elsewhere.

"Here’s what I’ll say about that: I’m thrilled to be back here, I came back here for all the right reasons, to learn, and to get better as a coach, to work in an organization that I really have a great deal of respect and appreciation for," McDaniels said. "I’m happy here, my family’s happy here, and we’re excited about what’s ahead of us here in the playoffs.

"To talk about any other opportunities at this point is, to me, irrelevant, because I’m totally focused on this season and what this season holds, and couldn’t be more excited to be here and be a New England Patriot and try to do the best job that I can with the title that I have now."

If he has the chance to change titles and become an NFL head coach again, McDaniels was asked, would he be better equipped the second time around?

"I think that every opportunity that you have, and that certainly I’ve gone through, since I started a long time ago, in 2001 here, has been a learning experience for me," McDaniels said. "There’s certainly going to be mistakes along the way in every role that you hold and that you have an opportunity to work in, and as long as you can go through that process and try to get better from each mistake you make, or each positive result that you get, there’s always something to learn from those things that try to make you a better coach, a better leader, a better teacher, a better person, a better communicator, a better staff member.

"Hopefully that’s what I’ve tried to do with all my experiences, including the ones that I’ve recently had that weren’t here in New England. I hope every day that I’m better than I was the day before, and every year I can say the same thing, so hopefully going forward, in any role that I have, I want to be as good as I can be for that organization that I’m working for. And like I said, I couldn’t be more happy to be here in New England."

Patriots coach Bill Belichick said McDaniels benefited from his return last season, since plenty of the team's personnel had changed since McDaniels first left, and has been pleased with the coordinator's performance this season.

"Josh, he does a good job in all areas: player evaluation, scheme, technique, play calling, getting everything coordinated. He does a good job," Belichick said. "He’s done a solid job for us. He’s meant a lot."

As for possibly losing McDaniels again to another team in need of a head coach, Belichick said, "As far as any other situation, I really couldn’t comment on any other team or situation. I have no idea what somebody else is looking for or what their criteria are or what their situation is, for that matter, as an outsider. As I said, I think Josh has done a great job this year. How that fits into some other situation, I have no idea."

Watch: Bill Belichick postgame interview

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff December 31, 2012 07:50 AM
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Watch Patriots coach Bill Belichick's comments after Sunday's 28-0 victory over the Dolphins.

Watch: Tom Brady postgame interview

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff December 31, 2012 07:38 AM
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Tom Brady was in a considerably better frame of mind Sunday at his postgame interview than the previous week. This week, the Patriots dominated the Dolphins and seized a first-round playoff bye. Last week, the Patriots played poorly in a narrow win over the Jaguars.

Watch his postgame interview above.

5 takeaways from the Patriots-Dolphins

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff December 30, 2012 11:03 PM

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Patriots defensive lineman Justin Francis was flying high after recording three sacks against the Miami Dolphins Sunday. (Matthew J. Lee / Globe Staff)

FOXBOROUGH -- The season has come to a close and the Patriots are the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs.

After a 28-0 pillow fight with the Miami Dolphins, I think we're all ready for a little better competition. But before we move on, let's looks at some of the key sticking points from Week 17's matchup and in extension the season in review.

1) Rob Gronkowski's return reminds me of … -- Super Bowl XLVI. If you recall, Gronkowski returned from an ankle injury suffered in the third quarter of the AFC championship against the Baltimore Ravens. He left the game, and afterward the status of his right ankle was the most guarded secret in Foxborough. Two weeks later in the Super Bowl, he was a shell of himself. He was targeted three times, catching two passes for 26 yards. By all means, he was a decoy. But even as a decoy, he was a worthy adversary. On Sunday, Gronkowski caught two passes for 42 yards, including a 23-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. Gronkowski was again a shell of himself, hesitant to use his big left club when engaging defenders, running around holding his arm low to his body as if it were some billy club he was trying to protect. And yet he still was able to get open across the middle and catch a couple of passes. With a couple of weeks to get healthy, we only suspect he'll be tad less shy to get tangled up. But until then, the status of that left forearm will be the most closely guarded secret in Foxborough.

"It felt good," Gronkowski said of getting hit for the first time. "I mean, I haven't got hit in awhile. It's been a couple of weeks, about six weeks since I got hit. It's football. I was ready to get hit, I was ready to get knocked down. So you just gotta get back up and get back in the huddle. It felt good to be back out there."

Thank goodness nothing bad happened.

2) Patriots defensive line shows its depth -- It may have felt like garbage time against the Dolphins Sunday, but we all actually got to witness the depth the Patriots have on their defensive line. They picked up a season-high seven sacks against the Dolphins with undrafted rookie Justin Francis leading the way with three. Brandon Deaderick, a backup defensive tackle, got his first sack of the season in the finale. Trevor Scott (1 sack) got in on the action, as did Vince Wilfork (1 sack). The output was a welcoming sign considering one of the most consistent pass rushers, Rob Ninkovich, left the game with a hip injury. Francis has been working hard to get to this point, impressing early in training camp and then continued to work hard after being inactive for the first four games of the season.

"It's just a blessing of God," Francis said. "It's been a long journey and the journey continues."

The Patriots have to account for the loss of Ninkovich, which will certainly be a blow. But with Scott, Chandler Jones, Jermaine Cunningham, and now Justin Francis emerging, the Patriots appear to be in good hands.

"I think we have a lot of depth defensively, on the d-line," Scott said. "We have a lot of different things we can do. And that's why we're so deep, because everybody is a little bit different. So we just try to put everyone in a situation to make plays.

"We don't know what's going on with Rob yet, but it's definitely a big loss. If I am that guy that's going to be going in, then I'm going to take it full steam ahead."

3) Scoreboard watching -- The Patriots did their best not to do any scoreboard watching on Sunday, playing off the impact of the Colts' win over the Houston Texans. As soon as Houston lost, the Patriots had an opportunity to snag a first-round playoff bye with a win over the Dolphins. So who knows if there was a separate game plan afoot if the Texans had managed to win their game. There wasn't even a ton of excitement about getting the bye. As Bill Belichick put it, "we wrapped up the division a month ago."

4) Secondary up in the air -- Aqib Talib didn't play even though he was active. He's been dealing with a hip injury. Alfonzo Dennard missed the game with a knee injury. Without either of the two on the field, the Patriots put Devin McCourty at left corner and went back to Kyle Arrington at right corner. Patrick Chung and Steve Gregory played the safeties. It's certainly a workable group, the original starting quartet, but there's a reason why the Patriots' defense has changed. Two weeks will mean a lot for the health and prospects of Talib and Dennard.

"I'm just day to day," Talib said postgame. "I'm trying to get better everyday. I'm going to be in here early tomorrow, try to get a little bit better. We got a little bit of time now."

5) Stats in review -- This season, the Patriots have shown a staggering dominance on offense. The team now owns the NFL record for first downs in a season (444). They finished with 67 touchdowns for the fourth most all-time and recorded an NFL leading 557 points. Needless to say, the players had impressive years in contributing to this record-setting offense. Tom Brady passed for 4,827 yards, 34 touchdowns, and only eight interceptions. He had a 98.7 quarterback rating. He passed Drew Bledsoe for ninth all-time passing with 44,8-6 yards and passed Vinny Testaverde on the all-time completion list for eight, with 3,798.

Meanwhile, running back Stevan Ridley's 1,263 yards this season were the fourth best in franchise history. He's the fifth Patriots running back to ever get to 1,200, joining Corey Dillon, Curtis Martin, Jim Nance, and Craig James. His 12 touchdowns were two off Martin's franchise record.

Wes Welker had another great season, catching 118 passes for 1,354 yards and six touchdowns. His 1,354 yards are fourth best in Patriots history, behind only himself in 2011, Randy Moss, and Stanley Morgan.

Brandon Lloyd finished with 74 catches for 911 yards and four touchdowns.

And in only 11 games, Gronkowski had another stellar season with 55 receptions for 790 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Those are all first-rate numbers, spread around nicely in an offense that is the envy of the NFL. It's certainly not in their nature, but the Patriots would be well in their right to boast about it.

@zuriberry

NFL playoff schedule announced: Patriots play Jan. 13

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff December 30, 2012 09:16 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- The NFL has announced the schedule for the first two rounds of the playoffs, including the Patriots' game schedule.

The Patriots will play in the AFC divisional matchup slated for 4:30 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 13 on CBS. They'll face either the Houston Texans, Baltimore Ravens, or Indianapolis Colts, depending on how the wild card weekend shakes out.

The full schedule is as follows:

Wild card round
Saturday, Jan. 5
4:30 p.m., Cincinnati at Houston (NBC)
8 p.m., Minnesota at Green Bay (NBC)
Sunday, January 6
1 p.m., Indianapolis at Baltimore (CBS)
4:30 p.m., Seattle at Washington (FOX)

Divisional round
Saturday, January 12

4:30 p.m., Baltimore/Indianapolis/Cincinnati at Denver (CBS)
8 p.m., Green Bay/Washington/Seattle at San Francisco (FOX)
Sunday, January 13
1 p.m., Washington/Seattle/Minnesota at Atlanta (FOX)
4:30 p.m., Houston/Baltimore/Indianapolis at New England (CBS)

The conference championship games will be Jan. 20. The AFC game is at 6:30 p.m. on CBS, the NFC game at 3 p.m. on FOX.

The Super Bowl is Feb. 3 in New Orleans, beginning at 6:30 p.m.

Watch: Patriots-Dolphins highlights

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff December 30, 2012 08:50 PM
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Check out the recap of Sunday's Patriots game, a 28-0 victory over the Dolphins that gave New England the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs.

Patriots players looking forward to bye week

Posted by Gary Dzen, Boston.com Staff December 30, 2012 08:34 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Almost an hour after the Patriots ended their regular season with a 28-0 win over the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium, an unidentified player yelled from behind a closed door in the team's locker room.

"Bye week, yeah!" said the player enthusiastically.

The sentiment was shared by other Patriots even if it was expressed in a more subdued manner.

"It's good to get the bye," said Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker. "It helps us prepare. It helps us get healthy. It helps us do a lot of things. We've got a week where we can still get better and still improve going into the playoffs."

Welker said he watched "bits and pieces" of Houston's loss to Indianapolis Sunday afternoon. That game ended before the Patriots took the field, though Welker and teammate Nate Solder each said they did not think about that result. With Houston's loss, the Patriots were able to control their own seeding with a win against the Dolphins. Whether or not they were playing with the week off in mind, Patriots players said they would gladly take it.

"It's good to get that rest, get some guys healthy," said safety Steve Gregory. "I know some guys are banged up, so it's good for us."

One player who was not banged up but is now is defensive end Rob Ninkovich, who left the game in the second quarter with a hip injury and did not return. Ninkovich was not in the locker room after the game, and his status going forward is unknown.

Tight end Rob Gronkowski, who returned Sunday after missing five games with a broken forearm, will get a week to get even healthier. Gronkowski wore a large covering on his left arm vs. the Dolphins and shied away from a question when asked if he was favoring his right arm to block.

"Everyone on the team, with their nicks and bruises and stuff, can get better and hopefully take it to our advantage and work hard," said Gronkowski.

The Patriots don't know who they'll be facing in two weeks. The No. 1-seeded Denver Broncos will face the lowest remaining seed following next weekend's wild card games. Houston, the No. 3 seed, will host the No. 6 Cincinnati Bengals, while No. 4 Baltimore will host No. 5 Indianapolis.

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick was typically unhelpful when asked about the advantage of getting the bye, saying, "I don’t know," but the coach will now have an extra week to prepare his team for their first playoff game.

Even though the Patriots can't prepare for one opponent, the mental advantage of the bye is still significant.

“It kind of lets you get away a little bit but be able to focus on the practice field and getting better," said Welker. "Not really gameplan quite yet, but get an idea of how we need to go about things going forward.”

Rob Gronkowski happy to be back on the field

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff December 30, 2012 08:22 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots' all-pro tight end and holder of the NFL record for most touchdowns in a season at his position, had been focused all week on returning to the lineup.

After missing the past five weeks with a broken forearm, suffered in Week 11 against the Indianapolis Colts, Gronkowski returned in the season finale against the Miami Dolphins Sunday. He caught two passes for 42 yards, including a 23-yard touchdown, helping the Patriots to a 28-0 win.

Despite using his left forearm gingerly throughout the game -- with more care than he gives those unlucky spiked footballs -- the burly tight end was still happy to be back on the field.

"I was out there having a good time with my teammates. It was a blast being back out on the field," Gronkowski said. "It was up to the coaches, the training staff how much I was going to play. They control everything. I was just glad we got the win versus a good Miami Dolphins team. They have a good defense."

Gronkowski was apprehensive to talk about when he got cleared to play medically, saying instead that he was already in the mindset to play last Monday.

"I just prepared all week thinking I was going to play," he said. "And, um, really I just didn't get an answer like 'All right, Rob, you're good to go.' The doctors cleared me and everything, so that was good. But I was just preparing myself and my mind all week that I was going to play. So It really wasn't when I got cleared, cause I was just preparing myself all week since Monday that I was going to come out here with the teammates.

"It was up to the coaches how much I was playing, how limited I was."

He was limited, and missed several series in the second and third quarters before returning in the fourth and catching a 23-yard touchdown pass.

"I got limited reps, obviously," he said. "Not that many, but you always want to get some reps before heading into the playoffs. So it's good to get the speed down, the feel of the game. There's practice, you can go higher, but that was game time. So it was great to get some reps in, get the flow back into it, and be out there with your teammates and connect with some chemistry with your teammates."

Which Patriot deserves game ball vs. Dolphins?

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff December 30, 2012 07:30 PM

There wasn't much to find fault with across the board for the Patriots in their methodical dismantling of the Dolphins in the season finale, but as usual, a few performances stood above the others.

Cast your vote below.


Which Patriot deserves the game ball vs. Dolphins?

Rob Ninkovich (hip), Daniel Fells (hand) leave with injuries

Posted by Gary Dzen, Boston.com Staff December 30, 2012 07:28 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich was helped off the field after sustaining a hip injury with 6:28 remaining in the second quarter of the season finale vs. the Dolphins. His return was listed as questionable but he did not return to the game.

Members of the Patriots training staff had to help Ninkovich as he shuffled to the sideline. Ninkovich did not stop on the bench, instead going directly to the Patriots locker room.

The team also announced during the second quarter that tight end Daniel Fells had a hand injury. Fells later returned to the game.

Patriots clinch No. 2 seed in AFC playoffs

Posted by Gary Dzen, Boston.com Staff December 30, 2012 07:23 PM

The Patriots (12-4) clinched the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye in the AFC playoffs Sunday with a 28-0 win over the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots moved up to the No. 2 spot after the previously top-seeded Houston Texans lost to the Indianapolis Colts, 28-16, earlier in the day.

The Patriots were denied the No. 1 overall seed in the AFC by virtue of Denver's easy 38-3 win over the Chiefs. The Broncos (13-3) will have home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs, meaning a potential AFC Championship game between the Patriots and Broncos would be played in Denver.

Here's how the seeding of the AFC playoffs breaks down:

No. 1: Broncos
No. 2: Patriots
No. 3: Texans
No. 4: Ravens
No. 5: Colts
No. 6: Bengals

In the wild card round of the playoffs, the No. 3-seeded Texans will host the No. 6 Bengals, and the No. 4-seeded Ravens play the No. 5. Colts in Baltimore.

Patriots' 2013 opponents in place

Posted by Gary Dzen, Boston.com Staff December 30, 2012 06:52 PM

The Patriots' 2013 opponents are now set.

The AFC East teams will play the NFC South and AFC North division teams next season, and additionally as the first place team in the division this year, the Patriots will host the AFC West winner and play on the road against the AFC South winner.

So New England will host: New York Jets, Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers, New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Denver Broncos (AFC West winner).

The Patriots will travel to: New York Jets, Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, and Houston Texans (AFC South winner).

Patriots 21, Dolphins 0: Halftime thoughts

Posted by Greg A. Bedard December 30, 2012 06:00 PM

FOXBOROUGH – A few thoughts as the Patriots lead the Dolphins 21-0 at halftime:

  • We didn’t see any good replays, but it looked like DE Rob Ninkovich suffered one of those non-contact injuries that usually don’t turn out very good. It was announced as a hip injury in the press box, but it sure looked like a left knee injury. Ninkovich couldn’t put any weight on it as he came off. It doesn’t look good.
  • That would be a big loss for the Patriots. Ninkovich does so many things and does them well, he’s a big part of what they do on defense. Ninkovich isn’t just a pass rusher, so he’s harder to replace. Patriots would need a couple guys to do what Ninkovich does, so a platoon would likely be in order.
  • We saw the return of Rob Gronkowski, who is doing anything he can not to use his left arm. Not a big fan of that. Patriots shouldn’t press their luck in the second half with a big lead.
  • Tremendous job by the offensive line in the first half. Tom Brady had been knocked to the turf 45 times in the past five games. Not only has he not been hit, he hasn’t been pressured. The Dolphins have zero pass rush. Part of it is because the Patriots are using a quick passing game, but the other portion is the Dolphins not looking like they want to be here.
  • Patriots are also averaging 4.1 yards per rush. Danny Woodhead is having a tremendous game. A few of the plays have been blocked poorly for Stevan Ridley. Nice work from Shane Vereen, though I wouldn’t expect to see him in many pass protection situations.
  • The Patriots’ defense is handing it to the Dolphins up front, whether they bring pressure or not. Brandon Deaderick and Justin Francis have gotten sacks that were set up by rushes from the outside.
  • Aaron Hernandez still isn’t himself, but he at least looks healthier. That’s a good step.

Brady moves up two all-time lists

Posted by Gary Dzen, Boston.com Staff December 30, 2012 05:48 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Patriots quarterback Tom Brady moved up two all-time lists during the first half of Sunday's game vs. Miami.

Brady passed Drew Bledsoe for ninth in career passing yards, surpassing Bledsoe's 44,611. Later in the half, Brady passed Vinny Testaverde for eighth-most completions with 3,787.

Final: Patriots 28, Dolphins 0

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff December 30, 2012 04:19 PM

Final: Patriots 35, Dolphins 0 -- The Patriots wrapped up the Miami Dolphins quickly with Stevan Ridley punching in two second-quarter touchdowns in a 28-0 win Sunday to end the regular season.

With the win, the Patriots clinched the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs, assuring the team a week off with a first-round playoff bye.

Ridley finished with 74 yards on 20 carries.

Tom Brady was 22 of 36 for 284 yards passing with two touchdowns.

Tight end Rob Gronkowski, who had suffered a broken left forearm Nov. 18, returned to much fanfare, catching two passes for 42 yards, including a 23-yard touchdown. Gronkowski still appeared apprehensive with his arm, refusing to use that limb to engage defenders. But he managed to catch both passes over the middle.

Wes Welker caught eight passes for 94 yards and a touchdown.

6:30 4th quarter: Patriots 28, Dolphins 0 -- Justin Francis is cleaning up for the Patriots. He got his third sack of the game. Pretty good for a rookie free agent. Defensive back Derrick Martin also got a sack on the Dolphins' last series, marking seven sacks in the game for the Patriots, a season high.

9:20 4th quarter: Patriots 28, Dolphins 0 -- The fans were awoken from their slumber with another monstrous spike by Rob Gronkowski. They hadn't seen one of those in more than a month.

Tom Brady found Gronkowski over the middle of the field for a 23-yard touchdown to cap a 6-play, 47-yard drive. Fans at Gillette Stadium celebrated by throwing snow up in the air.

Just a play prior, Brady hit Wes Welker for a 7-yard catch on fourth down to extend the Patriots' drive.

11:47 4th quarter: Patriots 21, Dolphins 0 -- Armon Binns dropped a pass on fourth down as the Dolphins turned the ball over on downs. Sort of represents the Dolphins' whole day. They can't get back to the beach fast enough.

13:33 4th quarter: Patriots 21, Dolphins 0 -- The Patriots just went three-and-out, with Tom Brady targeting Danny Woodhead twice after getting a pass tipped on first down. Not a good drive.

End of 3d quarter: Patriots 21, Dolphins 0 -- I think both teams want to get out of this game at this point without any injuries. The Patriots for playoff purposes, and the Dolphins to properly enjoy their soon-to-be extended vacation.

Tom Brady is 17 of 29 for 231 yards and one touchdown.

0:24 3d quarter: Patriots 21, Dolphins 0 -- Justin Francis got his second sack of the day, taking down Ryan Tannehill for a 1-yard loss as the Patriots forced the Dolphins' fourth punt of the night.

1:18 3d quarter: Patriots 21, Dolphins 0 -- Despite a 20-yard pass to Wes Welker, and what appeared to be another catch he made in between his legs, the Patriots were unable to get their second drive of the third quarter past the 50.

A Tom Brady pass to Welker, that appeared to be caught in between his legs as he rolled over, was picked up by a Miami defender and returned for a touchdown. But after reviewing the play, Welker never made the catch and the play was overturned.

4:13 3d quarter: Patriots 21, Dolphins 0 -- Talk about shooting yourself in the foot. The Dolphins wer marching down the field on their best drive of the game, before Ryan Tannehill fumbled at the Patriots 3-yard line with Patriots linebacker Dont'a Hightower recovering.

Miami has slept through half of this game, but it looked like they were serious about making this competitive for at least one drive. That just went up in smoke.

7:49 3d quarter: Patriots 21, Dolphins 0 -- Miami's Bryan McCann got loose on a cornerback blitz and picked up an 8-yard sack on Tom Brady to force the Patriots' second punt of the game.

The Patriots appeared to come out lethargic in the second half. Let's see if they pick it up.


Daniel Fells, who left the game with a hand injury, has returned.

11:48 3d quarter: Patriots 21, Dolphins 0 -- Back to back sacks by Vince Wilfork and Trevor Scott forced the Dolphins to punt on their opening drive of the second half.

Ryan Tannehill did complete a 19-yard pass to Reggie Bush. But Jerod Mayo tracked him down before he could get far.

End of the 2d quarter: Patriots 21, Dolphins 0 -- The first half comes to a close with the Patriots holding a firm lead over the Dolphins.

Tom Brady is 14 of 22 for 193 yards and a touchdown. Stevan Ridley has 10 rushes for 30 yards and two touchdowns.

The Dolphins have picked up eight first downs in the game have only 22 rushing yards. Ryan Tannehill is 7 of 13 for 95 yards with an interception.

1:00 2d quarter: Patriots 21, Dolphins 0 -- Stevan Ridley punched in a 2-yard touchdown run as the Patriots have now taken a three-touchdown lead over the Dolphins.

The touchdown capped a 14-play drive that ate up 5:25 of game clock.

1:53 2d quarter: Patriots 14, Dolphins 0 -- Rob Ninkovich has a hip injury and his return is questionable. It was not a leg injury, as I previously indicated.

Also, Daniel Fells has a hand injury. His return is also questionable.

6:28 2d quarter: Patriots 14, Dolphins 0 -- Rob Ninkovich is being helped off the field after the Patriots forced a 41-yard field goal try by the Dolphins' Nate Kaeding that was wide left.

It looks like Ninkovich suffered a left leg injury. We'll keep you posted with any updates.

10:26 2d quarter: Patriots 14, Dolphins 0 -- On fourth-and-goal, at the Dolphins' 1-yard line, Stevan Ridley punched in the touchdown as the Patriots took a two-touchdown lead over the Dolphins.

The Patriots finished a 13-play, 92-yard drive that spanned 7:28. There were a couple of big plays to Danny Woodhead (25 yards) and Wes Welker (23 yards) on the drive.

After the Patriots scored, fans in the stadium picked up the snow near their seats and began throwing it up in the air to celebrate. Definitely one of the more awesome scenes we've seen at Gillette all year.

End of 1st quarter: Patriots 7, Dolphins 0 -- After one quarter of play, Tom Brady is 9 of 14 for 140 yards and a touchdown. The Dolphins have managed only three first downs with Ryan Tannehill tossing an interception, picked off by safety Steve Gregory.

The Patriots went up on a 9-yard touchdown by Brady to Wes Welker. Rob Gronkowski has a catch for 19 yards. He still looks a bit ginger, but better than he did in Super Bowl XLVI when he was coming off the ankle injury.

2:40 1st quarter: Patriots 7, Dolphins 0 -- Patriots defensive lineman Brandon Deaderick sacked Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill for a 7-yard loss as the Patriots forced the Dolphins to punt again.

It was Deaderick's first sack of the season.

6:40 1st quarter: Patriots 7, Dolphins 0 -- It took only two plays to capitalize on Ryan Tannehill's interception.

First, Tom Brady hit Rob Gronkowski for a 19-yard pass across the middle. Then Brady followed it up with a 9-yard touchdown pass to Wes Welker over the middle. Welker was wide open.

7:15 1st quarter: Patriots 0, Dolphins 0 -- Patriots safety Steve Gregory intercepted a Ryan Tannehill pass that was thrown right into coverage. The Patriots took over at the Dolphins' 28-yard line.

8:27 1st quarter: Patriots 0, Dolphins 0 -- Tom Brady looks a little off, unable to connect on a number of passes today already. He missed normally easy throws to Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd and then a pass to Aaron Hernandez on third down was broken up by Dolphins safety Jimmy Wilson leading to a 25-yard punt by Zoltan Mesko. Brady is 4 of 9 for 54 yards.

Because of the wind at Gillette Stadium today, expected to average 25 miles per hour, the Patriots have already made a couple of questionable calls in regard to the kicking game. They passed up on field goal opportunity on their first series to go for it on fourth down and then punted at the Dolphins 33.

10:35 1st quarter: Patriots 0, Dolphins 0 -- Patriots defensive lineman Justin Francis came up with a coverage sack, a loss of four yards, on Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill as Miami went three-and-out on their first drive.

Devin McCourty and Kyle Arrington started at corner for the Patriots. Aqib Talib was not spotted on the first defensive series.

11:43 1st quarter: Patriots 0, Dolphins 0 -- Tom Brady threw two straight incompletions as the Patriots turned the ball over on downs just outside the Dolphins' red zone.

Stevan Ridley, who rushed for 19 yards on four carries, crossed the 1,200-yard threshold on the season. He's the fifth Patriots running back to reach 1,200.

15:00 1st quarter: Patriots 0, Dolphins 0 -- The Dolphins won the coin toss and elected to defer until the second half. The Patriots will receive the opening kickoff.

Game on!

Pregame: We're about to get underway here at Gillette Stadium for the Patriots' final game of the regular season.

With the Indianapolis Colts win over the Houston Texans earlier this afternoon, the Patriots can clinch a first-round playoff bye with a win.

It's 28 degrees here in Foxborough with temperatures expected to fall to 18 degrees. Wind is supposed to averaged 25 to 26 miles per hour, so that will definitely be a factor.

Stay tuned right here for all the updates, series by series.

@zuriberry

Gil Santos to be inducted into Patriots Hall of Fame

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff December 30, 2012 04:12 PM

In a pregame ceremony honoring the broadcast tandem of Gil Santos and Gino Cappelletti, Patriots owner Robert Kraft announced the team would induct Santos into the team's hall of fame as a contributor next year.

Santos, who has called Patriots games for 36 years, teared up at the announcement.

"You made me cry, and now I'm blowing my tough guy image," Santos said.

Cappelletti returned to the booth to call the first series of the Patriots-Dolphins game with Santos. The two had worked together for 28 years before Cappelletti retired after the 2011 season.

"[Gil] is my friend, my partner, my compadre," Cappelletti said. "And the best play by play partner on the planet."

With Colts win, Patriots' chance for first-round bye boosted

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff December 30, 2012 03:41 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- The Colts scored three unanswered touchdowns to beat the Houston Texans Sunday, 28-16, giving the Patriots a chance to take one of the first two seeds in the AFC playoffs.

The Colts' win drops the Texans to 12-4 this season. With a Patriots win over the Miami Dolphins Sunday, they can clinch one of the first two seeds in the AFC playoffs to get a first-round bye.

The Patriots can end up with the No. 1 seed if the Denver Broncos lose their game against the Kansas City Chiefs and the Patriots beat the Dolphins.

Dolphins at Patriots: 5 keys, prediction

Posted by Greg A. Bedard December 30, 2012 03:23 PM

FOXBOROUGH – The Patriots are looking to close out the 2012 season with a win over the Dolphins and a 12-4 record. They’re still in a mix for a bye as the Texans trail the Colts by a five points heading into the fourth quarter, and the Broncos to play later against the Chiefs.

To end the season with a win, the Patriots need to hit on these five keys:

  1. Hold the edge against the run: With the cold winds whipping here, the Dolphins know they won’t be able to ride quarterback Ryan Tannehill to a victory. So the Dolphins are going to try to run the ball well. They have the talent in Reggie Bush and Lamar Miller. Look for them to take a different approach than last game when they couldn’t get anything going between the tackles. The Dolphins will hit the edges, which means ends Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich will need to play disciplined.
  2. Make Tannehill air it out: Again, with the weather conditions, the Patriots will aim to increase Tannehill’s degree of difficulty. That means the Patriots will have to be heads-up on screens, play the short stuff well, and be physical with TE Anthony Fasano. Make Tannehill throw deep to beat you, which he had trouble doing down in Miami in perfect weather conditions.
  3. Protect beyond the whistle: Tom Brady has been knocked to the turf 45 times in the past five games. In the first 10 games, Brady was knocked down 37 times. That’s way, way, way too many at the end of the season. The Patriots will need to hold their blocks a shade longer against the Dolphins because defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle does a great job of changing up his looks. That means Brady needs a little more time after the snap to figure things out. The line has to give it to him.
  4. Help Vollmer: RT Sebastian Vollmer had a rough time against Dolphins OLB Cameron Wake in the last matchup, and Vollmer’s not playing his best ball of the season. The Patriots are going to need to give him a little help at the start of each half, when Wake seems to play his best ball.
  5. Get back to running the ball and play action: The Patriots threw the ball way too much last week against the Jaguars, though I do think they were working on a few things and playing it like a preseason game. There’s no reason to do that again. Running the ball well this week will help Brady stay healthy, and to pepper a depleted Dolphins secondary with some good play-action shots to Brandon Lloyd and Rob Gronkowski.

Prediction

A lot depends on whether the Patriots have anything to play for after the Texans-Colts game, but expect the Patriots to want to start quickly in any event. Their starts the previous two games have not nearly been good enough. I like this Dolphins team a lot, but can see Ryan Tannehill having a tough time spinning it on a cold and windy day.

Patriots 27, Dolphins 20

Rob Gronkowski activated for Sunday's game

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff December 30, 2012 02:52 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, who suffered a broken forearm Nov. 18, will make his return after dealing with his injury for five weeks in Sunday's game against the Miami Dolphins.

Gronkowski missed the last five games after the injury in Week 11 against the Indianapolis Colts. He had surgery on Nov. 19. He was not listed among the inactives for Sunday's game.

Patriots who are inactive for Sunday's game are starting cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, safety Nate Ebner, defensive lineman Jake Bequette, offensive lineman Nick McDonald, wide receiver Kamar Aiken, cornerback Marquice Cole, and offensive lineman Markus Zusevics.

Dennard will likely be replaced by Kyle Arrington at the starting cornerback position.

Inside the matchup: Dolphins at Patriots

Posted by Greg A. Bedard December 30, 2012 01:26 PM

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

INSIDE THE DOLPHINS OFFENSE

The season finale is here and the Patriots are facing the Dolphins for the second time in five weeks. As expected, not much has changed for the Dolphins on the offensive side of the ball. They’re still featuring three major personnel groupings: 11 (one back, one tight end), 12 (one back, two tight ends), and 21 (two backs, one tight end).

In the last preview, I wrote about tight end Charles Clay potentially making an impact as an H-back, but he’s since been lost for the season. The Dolphins haven’t changed their offense much since the loss of Clay, only introducing rookie running back Lamar Miller and tight end Michael Egnew into the mix. Egnew was a non-factor last week against the Buffalo Bills, logging only eight snaps.

The offense is still led by the explosive Reggie Bush, who is the primary ball carrier on their favored inside zone, outside zone, power and lead run concepts. As noted, they’ve introduced rookie runner Lamar Miller into the fold in the last couple of weeks, and he presents some challenges. He is a dynamic ball-carrier, showing the acceleration, explosiveness and instincts to get into the open field. He possesses better vision than Bush and could be a big play threat against the defense.

In the passing game, the Dolphins utilize short passing concepts that focus on attacking the middle of the field, typical of West Coast Offense schemes. They use a lot of pattern combinations that work across the field, such as Flanker Drive and various Hi-Lo’s. As noted in the Week 13 preview, the Snag (spot and a flat route), double Smash (two square-ins and a corner route) and slant-flat are also factors.

INSIDE THE DOLPHINS DEFENSE
Note: The following section has been copied from the Week 13 Inside the Matchup preview. The Dolphins’ scheme simply has not significantly changed.

The Dolphins' defense, coordinated by Kevin Coyle, is particularly stout up front, where big tackles Paul Soliai and Randy Starks man the middle. Starks is a quality pass rusher who has also done good work against the run while Soliai is the nose tackle, eating up space but still showing the versatility to play more than the typical zero or one technique.

Accompanying them is pass rush aficionado Cameron Wake, who is one of the league's best at getting after the quarterback and has an endless motor. Those three players have allowed the Dolphins to mix in some three-man fronts in their base four man scheme.
In the four-man scheme, Wake is a five technique end while Starks and Soliai play various techniques, which include zero, one, two and three. Three fronts used include the Over (strong-side guard covered), Under (weak-side guard covered) and Even (double three techniques). The Dolphins have also overloaded sides, creating a one on one matchup on one side of the formation, typically where Wake is stationed. Further, they’ve used three man fronts with a LEO on the weakside, as seen in the first meeting.

The Dolphins have gotten creative with their pass defenders, playing a multitude of coverages, which includes Man-Free, Man-Free Robber, Cover 2 (traditional and inverted), Cover 2 Man, Cover 2 Trap, Cover 2 Man Trap, Cover 3 (and all its variations of Sky, Buzz, and Cloud) and the always popular Cover 4 (Quarters).

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Patriots OL vs. Dolphins DL – The last time these two teams met, Tom Brady was sacked four times and beaten up throughout the game. Can the Patriots keep him upright against the Dolphins’ pass rush? Cameron Wake had 1.5 sacks and is always a handful, possessing elite speed off the edge and an endless motor. Interior defensive linemen Randy Starks and Paul Soliai shouldn’t be forgotten either, as they both have quickness to them, although Starks is the superior pass rusher.

Patriots Run Offense vs. Dolphins Run Defense – Going into the playoffs, I expect the Patriots to try to continue to keep their running game going strong, and it will be a tough task against the Dolphins’ stout front four. The last time these two met, the Patriots averaged 3.4 yards per carry, which has to go up if they plan on keeping Brady up as well as tiring down the Dolphins.

Tom Brady vs. CBs Dimitri Patterson & Bryan McCann – It’s hard not to see Tom Brady finding yet another weak link in the Dolphins’ secondary and exposing it. Last year, nickel corner Benny Sapp was beaten like a drum and this time around, there are two players to keep an eye on. The first one is boundary corner Dimitri Patterson, who was claimed off of the waiver wire from the Cleveland Browns. Patterson is a talented corner with quality mirror skills, but he can be taken advantage of when he’s playing on the line of scrimmage. He tends to play with dead hands, meaning he doesn’t make any contact at the line and tries to run with his assignment. This could be a problem with Brandon Lloyd because Lloyd is quick enough to beat Patterson at the line and can win vertically. Moreover, Bryan McCann is very sloppy with technique and has a strong tendency to open his hips up too early, exposing him vertically. He’s very impatient and the Patriots should take advantage of him, especially when he slides inside across the slot receiver.

Dolphins’ A-gap Blitz – As noted last time, the Dolphins will show pressure in the A-gaps. This creates a one-on-one matchup on the outside for the defensive ends. They will show pressure, but back out at the last second or they will show it and blitz. In the last meeting, the Dolphins sometimes backed out of it when the offense spread the defense out, which could happen again this week.

Game 16 preview: Dolphins at Patriots

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff December 30, 2012 12:53 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Not only will the Patriots' seeding in the AFC playoffs be determined after Sunday's game against the Miami Dolphins, with a legitimate chance at a first-round bye, but the Patriots can also sweep the AFC East, a feat the team has only accomplished once, in 2007.

The Patriots faced the Dolphins at the beginning of December, winning 23-16 in a more contested affair than the odds had foreseen. Tom Brady led a fourth quarter drive that ate up seven minutes of game clock and Stephen Gostkowski kicked a game-clinching field goal.

The Dolphins have won their last two games and are fighting to finish the season at .500 with a win today. They'll be without wide receiver Davone Bess, who is suffering from a back injury.

The Patriots' Rob Gronkowski could return today. He's been limited in practice the past two weeks after suffering a broken forearm on Nov. 18. He had surgery the following day.

New England can hit a number of milestones today. Stevan Ridley needs 11 yards to become the fifth Patriots player to reach 1,200 yards in a season. The Patriots need one more first down to break an NFL record for first downs in a season. They currently have 416.

The game will be dedicated in part to broadcasters Gil Santos and Gino Cappelletti. This is Santos's final season with Patriots before he retires and Cappelletti retired before the season started.

It will be Santos' 743rd game called. Both Santos and Cappelletti will be introduced to fans before the game and will call the first series together.

Here are the details for today's game:

Kickoff: 4:25 p.m.

Records: Patriots 11-4; Dolphins 7-8.

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 Michael Hoomanawanui, WR Brandon Lloyd, QB Tom Brady, RB Stevan Ridley, TE Aaron Hernandez.

Patriots defense: NT Vince Wilfork, DT Kyle Love, DE Chandler Jones, DE Rob Ninkovich, LB Dont'a Hightower, LB Jerod Mayo, LB Mike Rivera, CB Aqib Talib, CB Kyle Arrington, S Devin McCourty, S Steve Gregory.

Dolphins offense: WR Brian Hartline, LT Jonathan Martin, LG Richie Incognito, C Mike Pouncey, RG John Jerry, RT Nate Garner, TE Anthony Fasano, WR Marlon Moore, QB Ryan Tannehill, FB Jorvorskie Lane, RB Reggie Bush.

Dolphins defense: LE Jared Odrick, DT Randy Starks, DT Paul Soliai, RE Cameron Wake, LB Kevin Burnett, LB Karlos Dansby, LB Koa Misi, CB Sean Smith, CB Nolan Carroll, S Chris Clemons, S Reshad Jones.

Inactives
(more to come)

Patriots: TBA

Dolphins: WR Davone Bess (back).

@zuriberry

Cunningham activated, Patriots release Brace

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff December 29, 2012 06:48 PM

The Patriots have announced several roster moves:

DL Jermaine Cunningham, whose four-game suspension for violation of the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing drugs ended on Monday, was activated off of the exempt list;

WR Kamar Aiken and DB Malcolm Williams were promoted off of the team's practice squad. Aiken was promoted last week before the Jacksonville game, played in that game, then was released and re-signed to the practice squad. Williams, a seventh-round pick last year, has gone back and forth between the practice squad and 53-man roster over the last couple of seasons;

and DL Ron Brace was cut. Brace, a Massachusetts native and Boston College product who was a second-round pick in 2009, had struggled with injuries. He played in 10 games this year but was inactive for five.

The Patriots drafted four players in the second round in 2009 (they did not have a first round pick), and Darius Butler and now Brace has been released from that quartet, and Patrick Chung has yet to establish himself as a standout safety. Only Sebastian Vollmer, a second-team All-Pro two years ago, is a top-level player at his position.

Vollmer, Chung, Julian Edelman (on injured reserve) and Myron Pryor (on physically unable to perform list) are the only players still on the roster from the 12-player '09 draft class.

On the Beat: 5 questions about the Dolphins, Part Deux

Posted by Greg A. Bedard December 29, 2012 10:57 AM

We check in again with beat writer Ben Volin of the Palm Beach Post to shed some light on what's being going on with Dolphins over the past month since we saw them last:

1. Of all the many replacements the Dolphins are using since we last saw them, who has been the most impressive?

BV: "LB Jason Trusnik has played well, but he'll go back to being a special teams player on Sunday with Koa Misi likely to return from a sprained ankle. CB Dimitri Patterson did an admirable job last week, playing all 67 snaps just five days after being claimed off waivers from the Browns. But the guy who has Dolphins fans most excited is rookie RB Lamar Miller, who is finally getting some carries after taking a back
seat to Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas (out with a knee injury) for most of the season. Miller rushed 10 times for 73 yards last week against Buffalo, including a 28-yard run to open the second half. The belief is that next season Miller will assume more of a role in the offense, and Bush will be used more as a slot receiver (assuming he re-signs)."

2. Who is the one Dolphins player most Patriots fans don’t know right now, but will by the end of the game on Sunday (we had Jones last time)?

BV: "I think Pats fans are pretty well versed with the Dolphins' roster at this point, but I'll go with strongside linebacker Kevin Burnett, who isn't much of a household name but quietly has put together a strong season. Burnett, an eight-year veteran who previously played for Dallas and San Diego, is second on the Dolphins with 99 tackles (75 solo), and has 2.5 sacks and five passes defended. Pro Football Focus ranks him as the second-best run defender on the team this year (right behind Cameron Wake), and even named him to its AFC Pro Bowl team."

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

BV: "The Dolphins' playmakers don't scare anybody, as they average just 19.2 points per game, 25th in the NFL. All season long defenses have been loading up the box to stop the run and daring Brian Hartline, Davone Bess, Anthony Fasano and whoever happens to be the third receiver that week to beat them in 1-on-1 coverage, and the Dolphins haven't been able to. I expect the Patriots to attack them similarly, especially with rookie Jonathan Martin now at left tackle with Jake Long out and utility backup Nate Garner at right tackle."

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

BV: "The Dolphins should have their full stable of cornerbacks (except for Richard Marshall, who has been out with a back injury for the second half of the season) but they're still pretty banged up in the secondary. CB Sean Smith hurt his knee last week and had to leave the game, but avoided ligament damage, and Nolan Carroll also will return after missing last game with a sprained knee. But the Dolphins are 25th in pass defense as it is, and I expect Tom Brady to pick them apart in the cold weather."

5. Finally, Dolphins win on Sunday if …

BV: "They play an absolutely perfect game. That means not turning the ball over -- especially deep in their own end, like last time -- converting every Red Zone opportunity into touchdowns, hitting Tom Brady throughout the game and not giving up any big plays on defense. They played pretty flawlessly against Jacksonville and Buffalo the last two weeks, but expecting them to do it in frigid weather against the Patriots is a bit much.

Patriots playoff seeding scenarios

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff December 28, 2012 03:57 PM

The Patriots can end up as anything from the No. 1 to the No. 4 seed for the AFC playoffs following Sunday's Week 17 action. Here's a look at the scenarios:

Patriots get No. 1 seed if: Patriots win, Texans and Broncos lose.

Patriots get No. 2 seed if: Patriots win, either Texans or Broncos lose and the other wins

Patriots get No. 3 seed if: Patriots, Texans and Broncos all win, or all three plus the Ravens lose

Patriots get No. 4 seed if: Patriots lose, Ravens win

Notes

  • The Colts and Bengals are locked in as the No. 5 and No. 6 seeds, respectively.

  • The top two seeds in the AFC get first-round byes.

  • In the wild card round of the playoffs, the No. 3 seed plays No. 6 and No. 4 plays No. 5.

For complete NFL playoff scenarios, click here.

Injury report: Marquice Cole doubtful, 20 Patriots questionable

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff December 28, 2012 03:56 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Defensive back Marquice Cole has been listed as doubtful to play in Sunday's game by the Patriots, who designated the other 20 players on the injury report, including tight end Rob Gronkowski, as questionable.

Cole suffered a finger injury against the Jaguars, and did not practice Thursday or Friday. The Dolphins ruled out receiver Davone Bess with a back injury.

The full list of Patriots who are questionable:

Patrick Chung (shoulder), Dan Connolly (back), Alfonzo Dennard (hamstring/knee), Nate Ebner (hamstring), Rob Gronkowski (forearm/hip), Aaron Hernandez (ankle), Dont'a Hightower (hamstring/shoulder), Chandler Jones (ankle), Brandon Lloyd (knee), Kyle Love (knee), Logan Mankins (ankle/calf), Jerod Mayo (elbow), Nick McDonald (shoulder), Mike Rivera (ankle), Nate Solder (abdomen), Brandon Spikes (knee/ankle), Aqib Talib (hip), Sebastian Vollmer (back/knee), Wes Welker (ankle), and Tracy White (elbow).


NFL fines Vince Wilfork $30,000

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff December 28, 2012 03:43 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- The NFL on Friday said that Patriots defensive lineman Vince Wilfork has been fined $30,000 for a hit that drew a penalty during Sunday's win at Jacksonville.

Wilfork was flagged 15 yards for unnecessary roughness after hitting Jaguars offensive lineman Steve Vallos at the conclusion of a fourth-quarter interception return by Patrick Chung. According to an NFL spokesman, Wilfork "struck the opponent in the head with his forearm."

Following the game, Wilfork said he was sticking up for teammate Trevor Scott, after Vallos sent Scott to the turf from behind with a questionable hit.

Chung was not fined for his fourth-quarter hit on Jaguars receiver Cecil Shorts, which was flagged by five referees on the field and cost the Patriots 15 yards.

Greg Bedard on NFL Week 17

Posted by Robert Burgess December 28, 2012 02:15 PM




The Patriots host the Dolphins with hopes of earning a first-round bye in the playoffs. CineSport's Tara Petrolino and The Boston Globe's Greg Bedard discuss this, Texans-Colts and NFL Black Monday.

Friday roll call: Marquice Cole out again

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff December 28, 2012 11:46 AM

FOXBOROUGH -- For the second straight day, cornerback Marquice Cole is the only player not spotted at Patriots practice, which is again being held inside Gillette Stadium.

Cole injured a finger in Sunday's win at Jacksonville -- a game in which he had his only interception of the season -- and he missed Thursday's practice, as well. If he doesn't practice on Friday, his availability for Sunday's regular-season finale against the Dolphins could be in jeopardy.

There have been 21 players on this week's injury report. We'll know later today if the Patriots think Cole can play, since they must designate everybody on the list as either out, doubtful, questionable, or probable.

Q&A: Shalise Manza Young on Patriots

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff December 28, 2012 08:25 AM

Globe Patriots reporter Shalise Manza Young answered readers' questions about the Patriots and the NFL's final week on Friday.

Review the discussion below.

Chat with Shalise Manza Young at noon

Thursday's injury report: Cole sidelined

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff December 27, 2012 04:52 PM
FOXBOROUGH -- There were still 21 players listed on the Patriots' injury report on Thursday, same as Wednesday, with one slight change: Defensive back Marquice Cole did not participate with a finger injury.

Unlike Wednesday, when the Patriots conducted a light walk-through inside the practice bubble, they were on the Gillette Stadium game field on Thursday, preparing for Sunday's regular-season finale against the Miami Dolphins.

In addition to Cole, 20 Patriots were limited in practice:

For the Patriots

Limited participation
S Patrick Chung - shoulder
G Dan Connolly - back
CB Alfonzo Dennard - hamstring
DB Nate Ebner - hamstring
TE Rob Gronkowski - forearm/hip
TE Aaron Hernandez - ankle
LB Dont'a Hightower - hamstring/shoulder
DE Chandler Jones - ankle
WR Brandon Lloyd - knee
DT Kyle Love - knee
OL Logan Mankins - ankle/calf
LB Jerod Mayo - elbow
OL Nick McDonald - shoulder
LB Mike Rivera - ankle
OT Nate Solder - abdomen
LB Brandon Spikes - knee/ankle
CB Aqib Talib - hip
OT Sebastian Vollmer - back/knee
WR Wes Welker - ankle
LB Tracy White - elbow

Thursday practice roll call

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff December 27, 2012 01:06 PM

The Patriots are holding practice on the game field inside Gillette Stadium today, with players wearing shells and sweats.

Only CB Marquice Cole was not spotted during the media access window. Cole was listed on the injury report Wednesday with a finger injury.

UPDATE: Seven Patriots named to AFC Pro Bowl roster

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff December 26, 2012 07:07 PM

The NFL has released the AFC and NFC rosters for the Pro Bowl, and seven Patriots have been chosen: Tom Brady, Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski, Logan Mankins, Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo and Matthew Slater.

Six of the seven were also Pro Bowlers last year; only Mayo was not, though he was in 2010.

Gronkowski, Mankins, Mayo and Wilfork are designated as starters, while Brady and Welker are backups. There is only one player from each conference recognized for his special teams play, with Slater getting the nod there.

Peyton Manning, who led all players in fan voting, is the AFC starting quarterback.

This is the eighth time Brady has been a Pro Bowler; it is the fifth for Mankins, Welker and Wilfork, and the second each for Gronkowski, Mayo and Slater.

The Pro Bowl is set to be played Jan. 27, on the Sunday between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl.

UPDATE (8 p.m.): The Patriots have sent an email with comments from the Pro Bowlers who also serve as team captains.

Vince Wilfork
“To be selected to my fifth Pro Bowl is amazing. I am honored and humbled. More importantly, I am proud that the other guys on my team are getting the recognition they deserve.”

Jerod Mayo
“It’s an honor to be recognized by my peers, the coaches and the fans, but it’s more of an honor to be one of seven of my teammates going to Hawaii, since that is a reflection of our overall team success. We’ll all enjoy the recognition tonight with our families and be right back to focusing on the Dolphins in the morning.”

Matthew Slater
“I am very thankful to be selected to the Pro Bowl. God has blessed me with this opportunity and the ability to stay healthy. I have a lot of people to thank. An honor like this does not come without your teammates next to you making plays. I want to thank coach Belichick for believing in me and taking a chance on me so I can live out my childhood dreams of playing in the NFL. Coach Scott O’Brien has pretty much changed my career with the way he teaches and coaches me. I also need to thank Joe Judge for what he has been able to teach me.”

Logan Mankins
“We have a lot of guys who earned the honor this year, so that is pretty cool. It’s always nice to have your peers, coaches and fans select you to the Pro Bowl. Getting voted in is always a reflection of our team success. While I do appreciate this recognition, we need to get ready and keep our focus on the game this week against Miami.”

Tom Brady
“It is flattering to be selected, but I have always considered Pro Bowl recognition as a reflection of the team’s overall success. I am happy for my many teammates who were selected again this year. I know that there are many others who are equally deserving of the opportunity. One day, I am sure I will have a greater appreciation for individual accomplishments, but this week my focus is simply on our preparations for Miami.”

Wednesday injury report: Patriots' list now at 21 players

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff December 26, 2012 06:11 PM

The Patriots' practice on Wednesday was a walkthrough, but they still added two players to their injury report: Marquice Cole and Nate Ebner, both of whom were likely injured in Sunday's game against the Jaguars.

That means New England is now listing 21 players on its injury report - or more than 40 percent of the active roster.

Miami practiced without receiver Davone Bess and cornerback Sean Smith.

For the Patriots

Limited participation
S Patrick Chung - shoulder
CB Marquice Cole - finger
G Dan Connolly - back
CB Alfonzo Dennard - hamstring
DB Nate Ebner - hamstring
TE Rob Gronkowski - forearm/hip
TE Aaron Hernandez - ankle
LB Dont'a Hightower - hamstring/shoulder
DE Chandler Jones - ankle
WR Brandon Lloyd - knee
DT Kyle Love - knee
LB Jerod Mayo - elbow
OL Nick McDonald - shoulder
LB Mike Rivera - ankle
OT Nate Solder - abdomen
LB Brandon Spikes - knee/ankle
CB Aqib Talib - hip
OT Sebastian Vollmer - back/knee
WR Wes Welker - ankle
LB Tracy White - elbow

For the Dolphins

Did not participate
WR Davone Bess - back
LB Koa Misi - ankle
CB Sean Smith - knee
DT Randy Starks - not injury related

Limited participation
CB Nolan Carroll - knee
S Reshad Jones - hip

Full participation
S Reshad Jones - hip
WR Armon Binns - groin
LB Karlos Dansboy - biceps
WR Brian Hartline - back

Rob Gronkowski: 'I'm anxious to get out there. I want to go'

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff December 26, 2012 05:53 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski took questions from a large media contingent after Wednesday's walk-through, the first time he's spoken publicly since breaking his forearm on Nov. 18.

Gronkowski, with a pink scar still visible down his left arm, has been practicing since Dec. 14, but has yet to play in a game since the injury, which happened late in a 59-24 home win over Indianapolis.

And while he said he'd like to be out on the field playing, Gronkowski will be waiting on the medical staff to give him the green light.

"The doctors know what they're talking about. They've had many injuries like this. When they know it's safe and sound and ready to go, that's when it's going to be ready to go," Gronkowski said. "I'm going to trust in them and when they say so. I'm anxious to get out there. Obviously I want to go."

Wednesday practice report

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff December 26, 2012 05:40 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Every member of the Patriots participated in the light walk-through on Wednesday inside the practice bubble, but a whopping 21 were listed by the team on its injury report.

Compared to last week's final injury report, two Patriots are new to the list: cornerback Marquice Cole was added with a finger injury, and defensive back Nate Ebner with a hamstring injury.

All 21 were under the limited participation category. In addition to Cole and Ebner, the others are: defensive backs Patrick Chung (shoulder), Aqib Talib (hip), and Alfonzo Dennard (hamstring/knee), offensive linemen Dan Connolly (back), Nick McDonald (shoulder), Nate Solder (abdomen), Logan Mankins (ankle/calf), and Sebastian Vollmer (back/knee), tight ends Ron Gronkowski (forearm/hip) and Aaron Hernandez (ankle), linebackers Dont'a Hightower (hamstring/shoulder), Jerod Mayo (elbow), Brandon Spikes (knee/ankle), Mike Rivera (ankle), and Tracy White (elbow), defensive linemen Chandler Jones (ankle) and Kyle Love (knee), and receivers Brandon Lloyd (knee) and Wes Welker (ankle).

Jermaine Cunningham back at Patriots' practice

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff December 26, 2012 03:32 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Defensive end Jermaine Cunningham returned to Patriots' practice on Wednesday, since his four-game suspension handed down by the NFL for violating its performance-enhancing substance policy expired with Sunday's game at Jacksonville.

Cunningham was suspended on Nov. 26, becoming the second Patriots player this year to violate the league's policy. Brandon Bolden returned for the Dec. 10 game with the Texans.

With Cunningham's return, Wednesday's walk-through -- at least the brief period made accessible to the media -- featured a full house. No pads or helmets were being worn, but every player was spotted and accounted for inside the practice bubble.

Patriots add 3 to practice squad

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff December 26, 2012 02:33 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Three players who have spent time on the practice squad this year before being released were re-signed by the Patriots on Wednesday.

Receiver Kamar Aiken, running back James Develin, and defensive back Cyhl Quarles have rejoined the team. Aiken was signed to the practice squad on Nov. 19, and was activated to the 53-man roster Saturday, playing in Sunday's win at Jacksonville. Develin was added to the 53-man roster on Nov. 28 and played against the 49ers. Quarles was on the practice squad from Sept. 12-28.

Gino Cappelletti will rejoin Gil Santos in the booth on Sunday

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff December 26, 2012 12:44 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Gil Santos and Gino Cappelletti, who were together for 28 years calling Patriots games on the radio, will be briefly reunited in the booth for Sunday's regular-season finale.

Cappelletti, a former player and coach for the Patriots, retired as the radio analyst following last season's trip to the Super Bowl. Santos, the longtime play-by-play voice of the team, is retiring at the end of this season. Former Patriots quarterback Scott Zolak replaced Cappelletti and has been Santos's analyst this year.

The Patriots announced on Wednesday that Cappelletti will be in the booth for the start of Sunday's game against the Dolphins, and that he and Santos will call the first series. They will be honored by the team at halftime.

"Gino and Gil have been doing it for so many years … it’s changed this year, and will be another one next year, but it’s kind of a passing-of-the-torch at that role," coach Bill Belichick said. "To the fans, that’s huge, because that’s often times their connection to the team. I know Gil and Gino have meant a lot to this organization, and I know there’s a great affection for them from our fans."

This is Santos's 36th season calling Patriots games, and Sunday will be game No. 743. He started calling Boston Patriots games in 1966 when the team played home games at Fenway Park, and has had two stints as play-by-play voice: from 1966-79, then since 1991.

Cappelletti played for the Patriots from 1960-70, and also had two stints in the radio booth as analyst. The first, from 1972-78, ended when he became the Patriots' special teams coach from 1979-81. He returned to the booth in 1988, working with Dale Arnold until 1990, then he and Santos called games until last season.

Even players, despite not being aware of the radio calls during games, understand what the presence of Santos and Cappelletti have meant to the organization through the years.

"It’s a pretty great twosome they’ve had for a long time," quarterback Tom Brady said. "Gino was a hell of a player here and Gil, it’s always nice to see both those guys after the game or before the game, and the kind of support that they’ve given us over the years.

"I don’t get to hear them much on the radio, obviously, but on some of those highlight videos that we’ve had where you hear Gil’s calls, it’s pretty special. Yeah, they’ll be missed; they're a great group."

Bill Belichick: Rob Gronkowski 'not ready yet'

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff December 26, 2012 12:22 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Rob Gronkowski has been back at practice for more than a week now while recovering from a broken forearm, but coach Bill Bellichick said the tight end won't play in a game for the Patriots until he's cleared medically, which hasn't happened yet.

In perhaps his strongest comments regarding the tight end's injury since Gronkowski suffered it on Nov. 19, Belichick said his player simply isn't ready to play yet.

"He did more last week than he did the week before, and we’ll see where he’s at today and tomorrow when we go out there, see what he can do," Belichick said on Wednesday, prior to the team's practice. "We’ll take it day-to-day, based on where he’s at. He’s moving along, not ready yet."

Ideally, Gronkowski will get some game snaps prior to the playoffs. With the Patriots currently holding the No. 3 seed in the AFC race, there's no guarantee they'll receive a first-round bye, which means that Gronkowski's last chance to play before a playoff game is Sunday's regular-season finale against the Dolphins.

Even though getting Gronkowski some pre-playoff snaps might be best for the player and the team, Belichick said a rash decision won't come at the expense of the player's health.

"Those are really decisions that are made medically. If players are able to play, then we play them. If they’re not, then we don’t. It’s the same for every player, we treat them all the same," Belichick said. "There’s nothing more important than a player’s health and safety, so when they’re cleared to play, then we make a playing decision, and if they’re not cleared to play, then there’s no decision to make.

"I don’t think that’s a decision that a coach makes or influences, that’s a medical decision if it’s a medical situation. Once it’s a competitive decision, then that’s a coach’s decision. [If it's a] medical decision, that’s made by medical people."

Patriots make roster moves on Christmas Eve

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff December 24, 2012 04:59 PM

The Patriots announced a series of roster moves on Christmas Eve, releasing two players from the 53-man roster and another two from the team's practice squad.

The team released fullback James Devlin and wide receiver Kamar Aiken from the 53-man roster. Offensive lineman Jeremiah Warren and wide receiver Tony Logan were released from the practice squad.

Brady knew Patriots were in for battle vs. Jaguars

Posted by Staff December 24, 2012 08:14 AM
Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady said he knew Sunday's victory over the Jaguars was going to be a fight from the start.

For the second straight week, the Patriots fell behind early. This week, the Patriots recovered for a 23-16 victory.

“It’s hard to dig yourself out of those things,” Brady said during his weekly appearance on WEEI’s Dennis and Callahan program. “You’ll get away with them once in a while, but on a consistent basis it’s hard to keep getting down like we get down and come back and win.”

The final weekend of the season will determine the Patriots' playoff seed and opponent, but Brady isn't preoccupied with playoff scenarios. The Patriots face the Dolphins on Sunday at 4:25 p.m.

"I don't really care," he said. "I would just like to go out there and play our best football here next week and beyond. I don't care who we play or where we play or when we play or the time or the place or the opponent. It's about us. We've lost four games this year. We were pretty capable of winning all four of those games. If it wasn't for some of our own mistakes that we made, we could have. I'm sure a lot of teams could say that, too. I have a lot confidence in our team and what we're doing. I just hope that our best football is still ahead of us."

Like last week when the Patriots fell behind and ultimately lost to the 49ers, Brady said the mistakes the team keeps making is what is keeping them from playing their "best football."

“I think it’s the self-inflicted errors,” said Brady. “I think that’s the biggest problem. I think the thing is that we show that we’re capable of doing that, we just don’t do on a consistent basis ... There was too much up and down for us yesterday."

The Patriots had two turnovers in the first quarter, plays that allowed the Jaguars to take a 13-3 lead.

“That’s the frustrating part is to have opportunities like that and really not take advantage on either play, so what should be good gains end up being interceptions or incomplete passes … Those are the ones that we have to make,” he said.

Brady also talked about running back Danny Woodhead and how trust between teammates was crucial to pull out a win over Jacksonville.

"He's had a great year," Brady said. "He's a great player and he's got so much poise back there and he's really improved since the day he got to our team. He's a great Patriot ... It's always about trust and dependability and Woody certainly has that. You trust that he's doing his job and he's so dependable. He's in the right place and he makes the right play and that's what football is all about."

Overall, Brady said he thinks that the team has to go back to practice this week, analyze its mistakes and fix them for good if they want to finish the season strong.

"We have to do a better job protecting the football, I certainly have to do a better job protecting the football and that’s going to be really critical here coming down the stretch,” he said.

The Patriots will face the Miami Dolphins for the second time this season on Sunday. Until then, Brady said he feels lucky to get spend the holidays with his family.

“It’s a great time of year and in the wake of several tragedies we had over the last month, to be with my family and my loved ones is certainly most important,” said Brady. “This will be nice to spend a couple days certainly getting prepared for the Dolphins but also have a few extra hours to spend and I’m sure everyone will enjoy their holiday.”

Watch: Vince Wilfork on Patriots' win

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff December 24, 2012 07:17 AM
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Watch Patriots defensive lineman Vince Wilfork's complete postgame news conference Sunday.

Patriots Week 17 matchup flexed to 4:25 p.m.

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff December 23, 2012 11:01 PM

The NFL has moved the Patriots and Miami Dolphins Week 17 matchup on Dec. 30 to 4:25 p.m.

The game, originally slated for 1 p.m., will still be broadcast on CBS.

The start times for two other games were also changed. The Redskins-Cowboys game, with the NFC East title on the line, was moved to 8:20 p.m., and the Packers-Vikings game will also be a 4:25 p.m. start.

5 takeaways from Patriots-Jaguars

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff December 23, 2012 10:09 PM

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Bill Belichick showed on Sunday he still has faith in Stevan Ridley. (Sam Greenwood / Getty Images)

You wouldn't know that the Patriots had won Sunday, judging by the mood and comments from the team. The Patriots won, 23-16, over the Jacksonville Jaguars, but it wasn't close to being pretty. Sunday seemed like a perfect day to get another win, avoid injuries, and coast into the playoffs. But we know that for Bill Belichick, looking past opponents is not his team's modus operandi.

With that in mind, here are some takeaways from the game.

1) Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers -- The Patriots lead the NFL with a +23 turnover differential. They've now gone 26 straight games forcing either an interception or a fumble. It seems, more and more, that if the Patriots do not win the turnover battle, or in a case like Sunday's game against the Jaguars get a timely turnover, the team's chances of winning plummet dramatically. But despite the drama of Sunday's game, including two first-quarter interceptions by Tom Brady that put the Patriots in a 13-3 hole, that really doesn't bear out when looking back over the past two seasons. Dating to the beginning of the 2011 regular season, the Patriots have played in 17 games in which they have lost or were tied in the turnover battle. In those games, they've won 12. Coincidentally, they've played in 17 games in which they've won the turnover battle since that time, winning 14. While the drop-off in wins is real, as could be said about any team when they lose the turnover battle, there is a resiliency that has defined this Patriots team. One only has to look back at Brady's comeback bid against the 49ers last week. So while perfection is the goal, there is unnecessary fretting about the Patriots giving the ball up. They've proven to have fight in them, even when they're hurting themselves.

2) Stopping the big play on a big day -- The defense changed significantly with the addition of Aqib Talib in the secondary. Kyle Arrington shifted to the nickel corner, Devin McCourty took up real estate at safety, Alfonzo Dennard occupied the right corner, and the Patriots' secondary appeared to settle down. But those pesky chunk plays of 20 yards or more kept coming. Since Talib was inserted into the lineup against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 11, the Patriots have given up 21 plays of 20 yards or more in the air. On Sunday, Talib was hobbled by a hip injury and Dennard was out with a knee injury as the secondary reverted to its early season form with McCourty and Kyle Arrington at corner and Patrick Chung at safety. The result of which led to a big day for Chad Henne, who threw for 348 yards and a touchdown. But surprisingly for the first time all season, the Patriots held an opponent to only two passing plays of 20 yards or more, a 53-yard catch and run by Montell Owens and a 36-yard strike over the middle to Jordan Shipley. So despite letting the game go down to the wire, and allowing Henne to lead the Jaguars to the 12-yard line with time expiring, the Patriots secondary managed to not let themselves get beat by the big play. It was a small victory in a day when the statistics and the play didn't necessarily matchup.

3) Trust has been earned? -- Ridley's fumble last week against the 49ers had many close observers of the Patriots wondering if he would be banished to the bench again. That simply wasn't the case Sunday. He had 18 carries for 84 yards in a another Brady dominated game (41 pass attempts). It appears that Ridley has either gained Bill Belichick's trust, or the coach recognizes that he can't just sit a talent like No. 22 anymore. Ridley now has 1,105 yards and 10 touchdowns this season. As the team's horse, he's pivotal to the offense. However, the same can't be said for Shane Vereen. He recorded no touches this week. Instead, backup Brandon Bolden had five carries for a meager 3 yards. It looks like some clout has been built up for Ridley while Vereen still has some work to do. And for once, there was no ailment on the injury report for Vereen to point to.

4) Taking a bite out of Jerry Rice -- Wes Welker, like Brady, is a constant in the offense. And also like Brady, Welker's longevity in the Patriots offense has allowed him to leave quite a mark on the NFL's record books. On Sunday, his 10-catch, 88-yard performance gave him the most 10 or more reception games in NFL history, breaking a tie with Jerry Rice. Welker now has 18 games in which he has caught 10 passes or more. (On Saturday, Detroit Lions receiver Calvin Johnson broke Rice's record for total receiving yards in a season (1,848) with an 11-catch, 225-yard performance. He now has 1,892 yards.) It's likely to be a record that won't last long, with the Houston Texans' Andre Johnson (17) and the Chicago Bears' Brandon Marshall (16) not far behind. But it will be a record that Welker can point to when contract negotiations come up again. Certainly these are the kind of things that bolster Welker's value to the Patriots and his impact on the league's No. 1 offense.

5) Small bites -- Brady now has thrown a touchdown in 47 straight games, tying Johnny Unitas. Only Drew Brees (54) has thrown a touchdown in more consecutive games … Belichick now has 10 seasons to his credit in which he has coached an 11-win team. That's tied with Tom Landry. Only Don Shula is ahead of Belichick and Landry with 13. So if you didn't already believe it, Belichick will be a first-ballot Hall of Fame inductee … With one more first down against the Miami Dolphins next week, the Patriots will have the most first downs in NFL history for a regular season. The team has tied New Orleans' 2011 record with 416 and has surpassed the franchise record of 399 set last season.

@zuriberry

Watch: Patriots-Jaguars game highlights

Posted by Gary Dzen, Boston.com Staff December 23, 2012 05:46 PM
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Watch video highlights from the Patriots' 23-16 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars Sunday.

Patriots are no happy campers with win

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff December 23, 2012 05:10 PM
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The Jaguars caught the Patriots off guard at first, namely with their no-huddle offense, which helped Jacksonville build a 13-3 lead.

But it didn't help that Tom Brady threw two interceptions in the first quarter, leading to two Jaguars field goals off the turnovers. The Patriots had just come off a disappointing 41-34 loss to the San Francisco 49ers in which they had a season-high four turnovers.

But on Sunday, the Patriots were able to bounce back, reeling off 20 straight points before Jacksonville threatened to tie the game with seconds still on the clock. Thanks to a last-second interception by Patrick Chung, his second of the day, the Patriots held on for a 23-16 win.

After the game, both Brady and defensive captain Vince Wilfork were still upset that the team had been down against the lowly Jaguars, who are now 2-13, and let the game stay so close.

"Yeah we played pretty terrible out there," Brady said, opening his press conference. "We started slow, couldn't do anything offensively, couldn't make any plays.

"In the run game, the pass game. It was just a poor game overall."

Said Wilfork: "I don't know if we were flat or what. [But] it showed that we wasn't ready to go right away."

He added: "I'm proud of the way we responded. But at the end of the day, it won't be good enough."

The Jaguars set a franchise record with 202 yards of total offense in the first quarter led by Chad Henne. Henne finished the game with 348 yards on 29 of 51 passing with a touchdown and three interceptions.

Henne's final pass, with five seconds in the game, was lobbed up to the end zone, a free for all that Chung easily came away with. Henne had been forced into the awkward throw after pressure from Patriots defensive lineman Chandler Jones, Jones' second pressure on the quarterback that resulted in a Chung interception.

"We had some pressure, but we had pretty good coverage," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "We don't really want to put ourselves in this situation, but fortunately we were able to bail out of it.

"We've had a couple of those, one in the Denver game, similar situations," Belichick continued. "So [we] stepped up and made the plays. And those are the plays we need to make to win. And defensively I think we've made them."

The Patriots have an NFL leading +22 takeaways and have gone 26 straight games causing a turnover.

Vote: Who gets the game ball for the Patriots?

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff December 23, 2012 04:22 PM


Who deserves the game ball?

The Patriots beat the Jaguars 23-16 Sunday. Who do you think deserves the game ball? Vote in the poll above.

Patriots 13, Jaguars 13: Halftime thoughts

Posted by Greg A. Bedard December 23, 2012 02:34 PM

JACKSONVILLE – A few thoughts as the Patriots and Jaguars are tied at the end of the first half:

  • Not a good half for the Patriots, and a terrible start for a team that was clearly going through the motions against a 2-12 team.
  • Jaguars took the kickoff and drove it right down the throat of the Patriots. Chad Henne didn’t have an incompletion, and the shortest gains for the Jaguars were two for 3 yards, and one was a touchdown.
  • A subpar first quarter for Tom Brady started when he underthrew a wide open Stevan Ridley down the left sideline. Ridley had a good five yards on the linebacker yet Brady brought the defender back into it with an underthrow.
  • The second interception thrown by Brady wasn’t a great throw or decision, but Brandon Lloyd needs to do a better job putting himself between the ball and the defender and not allow himself to be undercut.
  • There was way too much Lloyd, who is being annoyed by CB Derek Cox, in the first half. That will happen when Aaron Hernandez and Wes Welker are visibly injured at this point.
  • Defensively, it looked like Dont’a Hightower was benched for Tracy White. It might have been for injury prevention, but Hightower was one of the guys who clearly didn’t show up for this game.
  • The Patriots were doing a better job pressuring Henne in the second quarter. Justin Francis is doing some nice work.
  • Marquice Cole (hand) and Aqib Talib (left hip) are playing injured in the secondary. With no Alfonso Dennard, and Talib clearly hurt, the Patriots moved Devin McCourty back to cornerback for this game. The result, with mostly Patrick Chung playing and Tavon Wilson getting a series, is a reinforcement that Chung is not good enough at this point to play.

Final: Patriots 23, Jaguars 16

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff December 23, 2012 12:53 PM

Patrick Chung picked off two passes, including one as time was expiring in the end zone, to preserve a 23-16 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Tom Brady was 24 of 41 on the day with 267 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions. His two interceptions both came in the first quarter, allowing the Jaguars to build a 13-3 lead before the Patriots scored 20 unanswered points.

Wes Welker caught 10 passes for 88 yards and a touchdown and Stevan Ridley had 18 carries for 84 yards. Danny Woodhead had two catches for 38 yards and a touchdown.

Jaguars quarterback Chad Henne threw for 348 yards on 29 of 51 passing, including a touchdown. But an injured Patriots secondary picked him off three times, including twice by Chung, who was filling in because Aqib Talib was limited and Alfonzo Dennard was out. Marquice Cole, playing as a nickel defensive back, also picked off Henne.

Henne led the Jaguars down to the Patriots' 12-yard line with eight seconds left in the game, with a chance to tie. But with pressure in his face, he tossed up a pass in a free for all that Chung came down with.

The play made up for a 15-yard unnecessary penalty on Chung, who delivered a vicious hit on Jaguars receiver Cecil Shorts's head that took him out of the game with less than a minute left.

1:09 4th quarter: Patriots 23, Jaguars 16 -- Tom Brady was sacked on third down by the Jaguars' Tyson Alualu, forcing a Patriots punt with a little more than a minute remaining in the game.

Jacksonville has no timeouts remaining.

3:14 4th quarter: Patriots 23, Jaguars 16 -- On fourth down at the Patriots' 10-yard line, Chandler Jones hit Jaguars quarterback Chad Henne as he was throwing the ball, affecting his throw enough for Patrick Chung to intercept and return the pass for 27 yards.

The interception killed an 11-play drive by the Jaguars to help the Patriots seal the game.

7:48 4th quarter: Patriots 23, Jaguars 16 -- The Patriots went three-and-out, giving the Jaguars an opportunity to tie the game.

A first down pass to Brandon Lloyd looked like a catch, but was bobbled when Lloyd went to the ground and ruled incomplete. On 3d-and-6, Tom Brady couldn't hit Aaron Hernandez as he was making his way toward the sideline.

8:42 4th quarter: Patriots 23, Jaguars 16 -- The Jaguars cut the Patriots' lead down to a touchdown with a 42-yard field goal by Josh Scobee, his third field goal of the game.

The Patriots can seal the game with a lengthy touchdown drive to follow.

14:15 4th quarter: Patriots 23, Jaguars 13 -- Wes Welker caught a magnificent 25-yard pass from Tom Brady over the middle of the field. Brady led him enough where he had to practically dive for it even though he was wide open. Brady came back to Welker for a 2-yard touchdown as the Patriots opened a 10-point lead on the Jaguars in the fourth quarter.

It was a 9-play, 59-yard drive where Welker touched the ball three times, including a 9-yard reverse.

3:42 3d quarter: Patriots 16, Jaguars 13 -- Brandon Deaderick deflected a Chad Henne pass on third down as the Patriots forced the Jaguars punt after three plays.

5:04 3d quarter: Patriots 16, Jaguars 13 -- Tom Brady was sacked twice in a row, the first of which was a 15-yard helmet-to-helmet penalty on Jeremy Mincey. But the 7-yard loss on the next play proved to be too much for the Patriots to salvage the drive. Brady couldn't connect with Wes Welker on a 3d-and-10 after a toss to Brandon Lloyd to get back to the original line of scrimmage.

Russell Allen and C.J. Mosley were credited with the other sack on Brady.

6:45 3d quarter: Patriots 16, Jaguars 13 -- Sitting back in zone coverage, Patriots cornerback Marquice Cole was able to step in front of a Jaguars receiver for a an interception.

8:51 3d quarter: Patriots 16, Jaguars 13 -- The Jaguars just held the Patriots to their second three-and-out of the game. Tom Brady was pressured on third down and threw an incomplete pass to Deion Branch.

9:40 3d quarter: Patriots 16, Jaguars 13 -- Trevor Scott and Rob Ninkovich got pressure on Chad Henne to force another Jacksonville punt in the third quarter and give the Patriots a chance to extend their lead.

Kyle Arrington was flagged for pass interference on the drive, giving the Jaguars five yards on a third down.

11:44 3d quarter: Patriots 16, Jaguars 13 -- Stephen Gostkowski kicked his third field goal of the day, a 38-yard attempt, as the Patriots took the lead over the Jaguars.

Tom Brady completed three passes to Brandon Lloyd for 39 yards on the drive.

A tipped pass attempt to Danny Woodhead by the Jaguars' Jeremy Mincey prevented a Patriots touchdown on third down.

End of the 2d quarter: Patriots 13, Jaguars 13 -- The first half comes to a close with the game knotted after four field goals and a couple of touchdowns.

The Patriots' two turnovers, both Tom Brady interceptions, turned into two Josh Scobee field goals for the Jaguars. Chad Henne threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to rookie wide receiver Justin Blackmon to start the game and Tom Brady tied it up with a 14-yard TD pass to Danny Woodhead.

Brady is 14 of 24 for 124 yards and a touchdown. He has a 58.0 quarterback rating right now. Henne is 15 of 24 for 210 yards and a touchdown. He has a 104.5 quarterback rating.

Wes Welker has six catches for 51 yards.

0:18 2d quarter: Patriots 13, Jaguars 13 -- Tom Brady orchestrated a 10-play, 66-yard drive, culminating in a 14-yard touchdown pass to Danny Woodhead in the flat.

It was another quick drive, only 3:31. But most importantly, it tied the ball game up.

Brady threw four passes to Wes Welker on the drive to help move the chains.

The touchdown pass marked the 47th consecutive game Brady has thrown a touchdown pass, tying Johnny Unitas for 2d all-time in NFL history.

3:59 2d quarter: Jaguars 13, Patriots 6 -- A first down holding call on the Jaguars' Mercedes Lewis helped the Patriots hold the Jaguars to four plays before forcing a punt.

Cornerback Aqib Talib appears to be favoring his hip on every play. He was listed with a hip injury this week.

5:25 2d quarter: Jaguars 13, Patriots 6 -- Stephen Gostkowski nailed a 49-yard field goal following an 11-play, 52-yard drive.

The Patriots' drive was stalled by an illegal motion penalty by Aaron Hernandez on third down. On 3d and 13, Tom Brady was pressured and while attempting a pass to Danny Woodhead had the ball swiped at by Jacksonville's Jeremy Mincey to cause the incompletion.

10:48 2d quarter: Jaguars 13, Patriots 3 -- Chad Henne missed a wide open pass to Jordan Shipley as the Jaguars went three-and-out as well.

12:19 2d quarter: Jaguars 13, Patriots 3 -- The Jaguars have held the Patriots to a three-and-out. Tom Brady was pressure twice on second and third downs, with Jason Babin getting to him both times.

13:11 2d quarter: Jaguars 13, Patriots 3 -- Montell Owens caught a Chad Henne pass in the flat and raced away for a 53-yard gain as the Jaguars put themselves in position to score again. Josh Scobee finished the drive with a 35-yard field goal as the Jaguars capitalized on the Patriots' second turnover of the game.

End of 1st quarter: Jaguars 10, Patriots 3 -- The Jaguars had a franchise record for yards with 202. That should say it all about this game so far. But again, the turnovers are killing the Patriots.

0:16 1st quarter: Jaguars 10, Patriots 3 -- Tom Brady was picked off for the second time of the game. Derek Cox jumped in front of a pass intended for Brandon Lloyd over the middle of the field. That's three Tom Brady interceptions in the last two weeks.

1:15 1st quarter: Jaguars 10, Patriots 3 -- Josh Scobee was wide right on a field goal attempt as the Patriots take over.

Chad Henne had thrown a 36-yard pass to Jordan Shipley to get the Jaguars into field goal range.

3:18 1st quarter: Jaguars 10, Patriots 3 -- The Patriots revved it up on offense, going 73 yards in 2:28 before being held to a 25-yard Stephen Gostkowski field goal.

Stevan Ridley got four straight rushes for 41 yards and Tom Brady completed a 32-yard pass to Michael Hoomanawanui.

5:43 1st quarter: Jaguars 10, Patriots 0 -- The Jaguars were able to capitalize on the Patriots' turnover. Josh Scobee nailed a 41-yard field goal attempt after the Jaguars went 31 yards on seven plays.

Marquice Cole had a nice tackle for a loss on a slot corner blitz, forcing a 3d-and13 the Jaguars couldn't convert.

8:49 1st quarter: Jaguars 7, Patriots 0 -- Tom Brady was eyeing Stevan Ridley, who started the game after fumbling last week, on a wheel route but the pass was bobbled and then tipped into the hands of Jaguars safety Chris Prosinski. It was Brady's first ever interception against Jacksonville.

9:34 1st quarter: Jaguars 7, Patriots 0 -- Chad Henne went 6 of 6 on the opening drive of the game, finishing with a 3-yard touchdown pass to Justin Blackmon in the back of the end zone as the Jaguars cured their red zone woes with a first quarter touchdown.

Blackmon beat Devin McCourty, who started at cornerback, for the touchdown. Patrick Chung started at safety.

15:00 1st quarter: Patriots 0, Jaguars 0 -- The Patriots won the coin toss and have elected to defer until the second half. The Jaguars will receive to begin the game.

Let's go.

Pregame: We're getting ready for the game to start. It's 60 degrees in Jacksonville and should remain that way through 4 p.m. hour, according to Weather.com.

It looks like Trevor Scott will start at defensive end and Rob Ninkovich will move to outside linebacker to take Brandon Spikes' (ankle, knee) place.

Kyle Arrington will be the starter at cornerback with Alfonzo Dennard (knee) out for today's game.

Stay right here for all the updates, series by series. Enjoy the game.

@zuriberry

Patriots at Jaguars: 3 things to watch, prediction

Posted by Greg A. Bedard December 23, 2012 12:17 PM

JACKSONVILLE – The Jaguars are 2-12 and not a good football team, so let’s just dispense with the keys because they’re obvious -- show up, take care of the football, avoid major injuries, tackle, limit big plays – and just go with the three things I’m curious about:

  1. The running backs: Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen have had a few issues hanging onto the ball, so I’m interested to see if there will be any play-time ramifications. I don’t think there will be, but with how bad the Jaguars are against the run, we could see all four running backs have big days (though I think Danny Woodhead will get a breather after 70 snaps against the 49ers).
  2. Nate Solder vs. Jason Babin: The second-year player has played well this season, but he did have a few struggles last week against the 49ers. The pass rushers are only going to get better in the postseason, so reps are always good. Babin isn’t a great all-around end, but he’s a very good pass rusher. This is a good challenge for Solder.
  3. Patriots’ pass rush: This Jaguars line is atrocious and thinned by injuries. If they don’t harass Chad Henne the entire game and stuff the run, there’s a problem (I don’t expect there to be an issue). Expect big games from the hustle guys, Trevor Scott and Justin Francis, along with Rob Ninkovich.

Prediction

The Patriots should have zero problem in this game, and should dominate defensively even with some guys sitting out.

Patriots 42, Jaguars 10

Talib, Rivera will suit up for Patriots against Jaguars

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff December 23, 2012 11:38 AM

There were no surprises on the Patriots' inactive list for today's game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Already ruled out for Sunday's game were tight end Rob Gronkowski (forearm), linebacker Brandon Spikes (ankle, knee), and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard (knee, hamstring), who were ruled out Friday and Saturday.

Also inactive are OL Markus Zuscvics, DL Jake Bequette, DL Ron Brace, and RB James Develin. They are all healthy scratches.

Active but hampered are CB Aqib Talib (hip) and LB Mike Rivera (ankle). Both Talib and Rivera are expected to start with Rivera taking Spikes' place in the lineup.

Game 15 preview: Patriots at Jaguars

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff December 23, 2012 10:58 AM

Don't let the record fool you, the Jacksonville Jaguars have been competitive with Chad Henne under center and you shouldn't overlook them.

That's the message Patriots coach Bill Belichick has no doubt drummed into his players' heads. Henne, who is 1-3 in his four games as the Jaguars' starter (and 1-4 in his career against the Patriots) has been able to move the chains for Jacksonville in a way that Blaine Gabbert could not. But the Jaguars still have issues getting into the end zone.

Henne began his tenure as the Jaguars' starter with a 24-19 win over the Tennessee Titans. The Jaguars followed with a 34-18 loss to the Buffalo Bills, a 17-10 loss to the New York Jets, and a 24-3 loss to the Miami Dolphins last week. He also had solid games in relief against the Houston Texans, a 43-37 OT loss, and the Indianapolis Colts, a 27-10 loss. Henne has thrown for 1,438 yards, eight touchdowns and five interceptions and has a 75.7 quarterback rating.

The last time Henne faced the Patriots, he was a member of the Miami Dolphins. On Monday Night Football, he went 30 of 49 passing for 416 yards and two touchdowns in the season opener. He also ran for 59 yards and a touchdown. The Patriots won in the game in a shootout, with Tom Brady throwing for 517 yards and four touchdowns in a 38-24 win.

Bill Belichick had nothing but kind words for Henne earlier in the week.

"With Henne, you really got to defend everything," Belichick said. "You gotta defend all the receivers, you gotta defend the short balls, you gotta defend the play-action, the deep balls, a little bit of scrambling. I think he does a pretty good job of everything. And that's really the hardest thing for a defense is when you gotta defend everything as opposed to just nailing it down to this is what he likes to do and it's this small thing that they're pretty good at but it's just that one thing.

"You just can't say that about Henne. He does a nice job of distributing the ball and getting it to places where the defense is light. That's really what I think a quarterback should do. He's certainly done it well against us. He's had some of his best games against us. So we got a lot of respect for him."

With Maurice Jones-Drew out for the ninth straight game, and Rashad Jennings out with a concussion, the Patriots will likely see a large dose of running back Montell Owens, who played college ball at Maine. Owens has led the Jaguars in carries the past two weeks. He has 32 carries this season for 167 yards and one touchdown. The Jaguars also feature talented rookie wide receiver Justin Blackmon (51 catches, 707 yards, 3 touchdowns) and tight end Marcedes Lewis (41 catches, 410 yards, 4 touchdowns).

The Patriots will be looking to rebound from their 41-34 loss to the San Francisco 49ers, a game in which they turned the ball over four times and went down 31-3 at one point in the third quarter. They'll have to do without linebacker Brandon Spikes, who was ruled out Saturday with knee and ankle injuries, as well as cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, who suffered a knee injury against the 49ers. Both players practiced during the week.

Here are the details for today's game:

Kickoff: 1 p.m

Records: Patriots 10-4; Jaguars 2-12.

TV/Radio info: CBS (Kevin Harlan, Solomon Wilcot); 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 Michael Hoomanawanui, WR Brandon Lloyd, QB Tom Brady, RB Stevan Ridley, TE Aaron Hernandez.

Patriots defense: NT Vince Wilfork, DT Kyle Love, DE Chandler Jones, DE Rob Ninkovich, LB Dont'a Hightower, LB Jerod Mayo, LB Mike Rivera, CB Aqib Talib, CB Kyle Arrington, S Devin McCourty, S Steve Gregory.

Jaguars offense: WR Cecil Shorts III, LT Eugene Monroe, LG Austin Pasztor, C Brad Meester, RG Uche Nwaneri, RT Cameron Bradfield, TE Marcedes Lewis, WR Justin Blackmon, QB Chad Henne, FB Greg Jones, RB Montell Owens.

Jaguars defense: LDE Jason Babin, DT Tyson Alualu, C.J. Mosley, RDE Jeremy Mincey, OLB Julian Stanford, MLB Paul Posluszny, OLB Russell Allen, LCB Mike Harris, RCB Derek Cox, SS Dawan Landry, FS Dwight Lowery.

Inactives
(more to come)

Patriots: TE Rob Gronkowski (forearm, hip), LB Brandon Spikes (knee, ankle), Alfonzo Dennard (hamstring, knee).

Jaguars: RB Maurice Jones-Drew (foot), RB Rashad Jennings (concussion).

@zuriberry

Inside the matchup: Patriots at Jaguars

Posted by Greg A. Bedard December 23, 2012 12:31 AM

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 JAGUARS OFFENSE

The Patriots are coming off a dramatic loss against the San Francisco 49ers and now have a chance to get back to their winning ways against the struggling Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jaguars are 2-12 this year under new head coach Mike Mularkey and after an injury to starting quarterback Blaine Gabbert, they are led by familiar foe Chad Henne.

Henne was previously with the Miami Dolphins, where he never established himself as the face of the franchise. He is one of the more erratic quarterbacks in the NFL, lacking the vision to see the entire field and has a tendency to be late with passes regardless of the location of his target.

He is a part of a Jaguars offense that features base NFL run concepts Lead, Power, Toss, Zone Stretches, and Counter from 11 and 21 personnel. They are not limited to this but Mularkey and offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski have an affinity for pulling, power run concepts as seen last season when they were with the Atlanta Falcons.

In the passing game, the Jaguars struggled significantly because of their quarterback situation and are currently ranked 24th in passing. They utilize screen passes and various passing concepts that are commonly seen around the NFL, such as Spacing (mini-curls), Mesh (crossers), 4-verticals and Smash (hitch-corner).

Their most dangerous weapon in the passing game is wide receiver Cecil Shorts, who is one of the league’s best vertical threats. He’s done a good job of getting vertical with quick feet and overall speed. Rookie receiver Justin Blackmon has also had success, catching a team-leading 51 passes. Both of the receivers have had touchdowns of at least 80 yards this season.

INSIDE THE JAGUARS DEFENSE

On the other side of the ball, injuries have hurt the Jaguars’ defense, which has talented players but overall has struggled this season. They give up an average of 27.4 points per game, which is fourth worst in the NFL.

They’ve struggled defending the run, giving up a league-high 148 yards per game. A big reason for this appears to be the lack of gap discipline with the defenders, particularly on the backside of the formation. The backside contain defenders have been far too undisciplined at times, leaving gaping running lanes, which cost them on a few occasions last week against the Miami Dolphins.

The fronts that the Jaguars have played have been primarily the typical Under (strongside guard uncovered) and Over (strongside guard covered) fronts that are associated with the 4-3 defense.

Moreover, the linebackers and secondary have had some injury issues but have stuck to their coverages, which is expected. It consists of a lot of Cover 2 and its variations along with Cover 1 (Man-Free), Cover 2 Man (Man-Under), Cover 3 and Cover 4.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

  • Patriots run game vs. Jaguars run defense: As noted earlier, the Patriots are going to have the chance of establishing a running game against the Jaguars because of the lack of gap discipline that the Jaguars have played with. Backside contain has been an issue and could be moving forward with in-season acquisition Jason Babin.
  • WR’s Cecil Shorts & Justin Blackmon: Shorts has been very productive this season despite the injuries at quarterback and is one of the league’s most dangerous vertical receivers. He has left defenders looking at only the back of his jersey on numerous occasions by hauling in long touchdown passes and is one to watch this game. He has quick feet that enable him to win at the line of scrimmage and the long speed to outrun defenders. He is tied for 20th in the NFL in yards after the catch with 353 yards. Blackmon has also done a good job of winning underneath against cornerbacks.
  • LT Eugene Monroe vs. DE Chandler Jones: The Patriots’ pass rush against the Jaguars’ bookends, in general, will be a very interesting matchup, especially with Guy Whimper replacing Cameron Bradfield at right tackle. Whimper is not known as a quality pass blocker and is expected to be taken advantage of by the Patriots’ pass rushers. However, I’m mostly interested in Monroe vs. Jones because Monroe is actually a pretty good pass blocker. He is light on his feet and a technician, which will be a good matchup for the lengthy Jones.
  • Potential Patriots pass breakups: Something to watch for in this game will be the potential of a lot of pass breakups and tipped passes by the Patriots defenders. Chad Henne is often late throwing the football and taps the ball before throwing it, which should be something that the Patriots’ defensive linemen look for.

On the Beat: 5 questions about the Jaguars

Posted by Greg A. Bedard December 21, 2012 06:17 PM

When check in this week with our good friend Ryan O'Halloran, the Jaguars beat writer for the Florida Times-Union, to take the temperature of the 2-12 sons of Mike Mularkey.

1. Ok, let's go with the Apollo 13 approach with the Jaguars: what do they have on the team that's working right now?

RO: "Not much. They’re 31st in yards gained and yards allowed and have been outscored by a combined 111 points in their seven home games. But while just about everything is broke, a couple of players require watching. Receiver Justin Blackmon, the fifth overall pick last spring, had the usual rookie growing pains but has a team-high 51 catches. On defense, another rookie, cornerback Mike Harris has gone from sixth-round pick to starter and he’ll get the assignment of covering Wes Welker. He’s not a big guy but will blitz from the slot and is a good tackler. Also on defense, the Jaguars are last in sacks, which is why they claimed defensive end Jason Babin in late November. In three games, he has 1.5 sacks and two forced fumbles."

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

RO: "Receiver Cecil Shorts has 925 yards receiving and seven touchdowns – he’s a big-play threat (TDs of 80 and 59 yards this year) who can beat teams on a ‘9’ route as easy as well as he can on a skinny post. The former coaching staff buried him on the bench last year, unwilling to give him a chance and early this year, he wasn’t getting nearly the playing time of other receivers. But he flashed when given the chance and is now the team’s no-doubt No. 1. He could be in line for a fifth 100-yard game if New England does what it should do – lead big early, forcing the Jaguars to throw."

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

RO: "Only three teams have allowed more than the Jaguars’ 43 sacks. A primary point of exposure isn’t so much quarterback Chad Henne’s lack of mobility because he knows how to slide around the pocket and is tough enough to stand tall and throw before taking the hit. It’s the unblocked rusher. The Jaguars on their fourth left guard this year (rookie Austin Pasztor, who went from practice squad to starter last week) and ‘A’ gap blitzes and other things like stunts and safety blitzes have thrown this offensive line for a loop. The Patriots can pick pretty much what they want to do."

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

RO: "Receivers Andre Johnson (14-273), Reggie Wayne (8-96), Calvin Johnson (7-129), Brandon Marshall (12-144) and A.J. Green (6-117) have all had success against the Jaguars this year, but by far the biggest challenge is who covers New England tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez? The Jaguars don’t have a linebacker on the roster that can do it with any effectiveness so that likely means plenty of dime personnel. The Jaguars’ defensive philosophy is to keep everything in front of them and make teams chip their way down the field. But New England will be another team to likely expose that."

5. Finally, Jaguars win on Sunday if …

RO: "Wow, all kinds of punch lines apply, like the Patriots not showing up. But realistically, the Jaguars’ best hope is that New England has one of those four-turnover days where a dropped pass hits their hands for a defensive touchdown or the Patriots have the kind of fumbling day they did last week against San Francisco. Anything that gives the offense a short field and keeps the defense off the field. The Jaguars were 15.5-point underdogs at Green Bay (lost by nine) and Houston (lost by six) and the current 14.5-point spread is the largest in home franchise history."

Friday injury report: 19 limited, 19 questionable

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff December 21, 2012 03:52 PM

The Patriots have submitted their injury report for today in advance of Sunday's game with Jacksonville.

There are 19 players listed on the team's injury report, all of them listed as limited in practice today and all of them listed as questionable for the Jaguars game. That includes Rob Gronkowski, but as we reported earlier, Gronkowski will not play this week.

Jacksonville has designated each of its top running backs, Maurice Jones-Drew (foot) and Rashad Jennings (concussion) as out.

The full list of Patriots limited/questionables:

Patrick Chung (shoulder), Dan Connolly (back), Alfonzo Dennard (hamstring/knee), Rob Gronkowski (forearm/hip), Aaron Hernandez (ankle), Dont'a Hightower (hamstring/shoulder), Chandler Jones (ankle), Brandon Lloyd (knee), Kyle Love (knee), Logan Mankins (ankle/calf), Jerod Mayo (elbow), Nick McDonald (shoulder), Mike Rivera (ankle), Nate Solder (abdomen), Brandon Spikes (knee/ankle), Aqib Talib (hip), Sebastian Vollmer (back/knee), Wes Welker (ankle), Tracy White (elbow).


Bill Belichick cracks a few jokes for press

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff December 21, 2012 12:15 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Patriots coach Bill Belichick met the media for the final time before his team flies to Florida for Sunday's game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. With the game plan installed, Friday is typically a lighter day, both at practice and in Belichick's mood.

He cracked a few jokes, talked about the importance of playing well at the most important times, and said Sunday's game, while important, isn't a playoff game, the way other teams fighting for postseason spots likely view these late-season matchups.

"Glad to see everyone's still here," Belichick opened with, in recognition that the Mayan prediction of the world ending on Friday was, fortunately, inaccurate.

When asked about longtime Jaguars center Brad Meester, Belichick said, "It’s a critical position, not because I played it, but because of just the structure of the game. Communication offensively starts from the inside and works its way out. There’s a line of communication between the quarterback and the center, the center to the offensive line, the quarterback to the skill players."

The 10-4 Patriots have already locked up the AFC East title, and are currently projected as the No. 3 seed in the AFC playoffs. It takes any pressure off because a playoff spot is already secured, but seeding is still to be determined, with the Patriots challenging for a first-round bye.

"If you have to win a game to get into the playoffs, then you’re really playing a playoff game. I think it’d be a stretch to call this a playoff game," Belichick said. "It’s a big game for us, but it’s not a playoff game.

"I think the most important thing for a team is to be playing well for the most important games of the season, and they’re ahead for all of us. Hopefully we’ll be able to do that when the time comes. The season is going to come down to a game, a quarter, a series, a play, and the team that’s able to execute at a high level at that particular point in time, that’s going to decide which team moves on, which teams are the champions, and which teams aren’t."

Friday roll call: Perfect attendance

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff December 21, 2012 11:59 AM

FOXBOROUGH -- All Patriots were present and accounted for at Friday's practice, which is being held inside the bubble as a steady rain continues to fall outside.

Linebacker Mike Rivera, who had missed practices on Wednesday and Thursday after injuring his left ankle in Sunday's game against the 49ers, was back on the field.

The Patriots will conduct a final workout today, then fly to Jacksonville on Saturday in preparation for Sunday's game against the 2-12 Jaguars.

Source: Gronkowski to sit Sunday

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff December 21, 2012 11:56 AM

Tight end Rob Gronkowski will not play in Sunday's game in Jacksonville, according to a league source.

Gronkowski, who suffered a broken left forearm in the Patriots' win over the Colts last month and underwent surgery a day later, returned to practice on a limited basis last Friday. He has also taken part in practices this week, again on a limited basis.

Given that the Patriots have already clinched a playoff spot and may not need Gronkowski against the 2-12 the Jaguars, it is not much of a surprise that he will not play this week. New England will need its All-Pro as close to 100 percent as possible when January comes.

Watch: Greg Bedard on NFL Week 16

Posted by Gary Dzen, Boston.com Staff December 20, 2012 06:09 PM




Coming off a loss to the 49ers, do the Patriots have something to prove against the Jaguars? Where do you rank Adrian Peterson's season? CineSport's Noah Coslov and the Globe's Greg Bedard discuss.

Brady removed from injury report

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff December 20, 2012 04:34 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- The Patriots took Tom Brady off the injury report on Thursday, strengthening the assumption that Brady was given Wednesday off as an extra day of rest.

Brady attempted 65 passes in Sunday's loss to the 49ers, a new career high. He missed his first practice of the season on Wednesday, listed with a right shoulder injury. He was back at practice on Thursday, and participated fully.

The only player missing from practice was linebacker Mike Rivera, who injured an ankle against the 49ers. Brady was the only change to the injury report.

Tom Brady back at practice

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff December 20, 2012 12:54 PM
FOXBOROUGH -- It's OK to exhale, Patriots fans: Quarterback Tom Brady was back at practice on Thursday.

Brady missed his first practice of the season on Wednesday, and was listed on the team's post-practice injury report with a right shoulder injury. The assumption was that Brady, who attempted a career-high 65 passes in Sunday night's loss to San Francisco, was simply being given an extra day to rest.

The only player not spotted at practice was linebacker Mike Rivera, the other Patriot who didn't practice on Wednesday. Rivera suffered an ankle injury against the 49ers.

Game 15 video preview: Patriots at Jaguars

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff December 20, 2012 12:23 PM
Get Adobe Flash player

The Patriots take on the Jacksonville Jaguars who have the second-worst total offense in the NFL but Tom Brady knows they will still compete. The Boston Globe's Shalise Manza Young breaks down the matchups.

Wednesday injury report: Tom Brady (shoulder) sits out

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff December 19, 2012 04:36 PM
FOXBOROUGH -- Tom Brady met with the media on Wednesday morning, as is his custom during the season. He was in the locker room following Patriots practice, also not uncommon.

But for the first time since the season began, Brady did not practice, sitting out Wednesday's workout with what the team listed as a right shoulder injury. He attempted a career-high 65 passes in Sunday's loss to San Francisco, so it's likely that Brady was the beneficiary of a "maintenance day," to borrow a hockey term during the NHL lockout.

Linebacker Mike Rivera was the only other eligible player to miss practice. He left Sunday's loss to the 49ers with an ankle injury, and did not return.

Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, who left Sunday's game with a knee injury and did not return, was back at practice, participating in a limited role. He was one of 18 Patriots who were listed as being limited, a list that included tight end Rob Gronkowski.

The full injury report:
Patriots
Did not practice
QB Tom Brady, right shoulder
LB Mike Rivera, ankle

Limited participation
S Patrick Chung, shoulder
G Dan Connolly, back
CB Alfonzo Dennard, hamstring/knee
TE Rob Gronkowski, forearm/hip
TE Aaron Hernandez, ankle
LB Dont'a Hightower, hamstring/shoulder
DE Chandler Jones, ankle
WR Brandon Lloyd, knee
DT Kyle Love, knee
G Logan Mankins, ankle/calf
LB Jerod Mayo, elbow
OL Nick McDonald, shoulder
OT Nate Solder, abdomen
LB Brandon Spikes, knee/ankle
CB Aqib Talib, hip
OT Sebastian Vollmer, back/knee
WR Wes Welker, ankle
LB Tracy White, elbow

Jaguars
Did not participate

RB Rashad Jennings, concussion
FB Greg Jones, thigh
RB Maurice Jones-Drew, foot
S Drew Lowery, foot
CB Brad Meester, foot
LB Paul Posluszny, groin
WR Cecil Shorts, concussion

Limited participation
DT Tyson Alualu, calf
CB Derek Cox, hamstring
CB Rashean Mathis, groin
CB Aaron Ross, calf
DE Steve Selvie, concussion

Bill Belichick has a ton of respect for Chad Henne

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff December 19, 2012 01:57 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- It's not hard for Patriots coach Bill Belichick to get up for a 2-12 opponent. All he has to do is break down the film and he'll find a reason or two to motivate himself, and in turn motivate his team.

But on Sunday, when the Patriots face the struggling Jacksonville Jaguars, he'll also be able to point to the team's history against quarterback Chad Henne.

Henne is in his first year playing for the Jaguars, taking over for the injured Blaine Gabbert. In four games as the team's starting quarterback, he's gone 1-3, and he's thrown for 1,438 yards with eight touchdowns and five interceptions. He has a 75.1 quarterback rating.

Henne showed his best stuff against the Patriots while playing for the Miami Dolphins last season. On Monday Night Football, he was 30 of 49 passing for 416 yards and two touchdowns in the season opener. He also ran for 59 yards and a score. It took 517 yards passing and four touchdowns from Tom Brady, including a 99-yard catch and run by Wes Welker, to help the Patriots hold off the Dolphins for a 38-24 win.

Belichick said he respects Henne, who is 1-4 all-time against New England, because he's had some of his best performances against his team.

"With Henne, you really got to defend everything," Belichick said. "You gotta defend all the receivers, you gotta defend the short balls, you gotta defend the play-action, the deep balls, a little bit of scrambling. I think he does a pretty good job of everything. And that's really the hardest thing for a defense is when you gotta defend everything as opposed to just nailing it down to this is what he likes to do and it's this small thing that they're pretty good at but it's just that one thing.

"You just can't say that about Henne. He does a nice job of distributing the ball and getting it to places where the defense is light. That's really what I think a quarterback should do. He's certainly done it well against us. He's had some of his best games against us. So we got a lot of respect for him."

Henne has a bit of talent at wide receiver and tight end for the Patriots to concern themselves with. Rookie Justin Blackmon has 51 catches for 707 yards and three touchdowns. Cecil Shorts has 49 grabs for 925 yards and 7 TDs. And veteran tight end Mercedes Lewis has 41 receptions for 410 yards and four scores. And then there's backups Laurent Robinson and Jordan Shipley.

"I would just say that Henne does a good job of reading coverages and getting the ball to the weak point of the coverage," Belichick said. "He uses Shipley and Lewis in the inside part of the field, he uses his backs and checkdowns well, and he certainly can get the ball to the perimeter with Shorts and Blackmon. So he does a good job of spreading the ball around or taking where the defense is light."

Here's a snapshot of Henne's games against the Patriots:

L 38-24 …. Sept. 12, 2011 -- 30 for 49 for 416 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT, 7 rushes for 59 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 fumble
L 38-7 … Jan. 2, 2011 -- 6 of 16 for 71 yards, 1 INT
L 41-14 … Oct. 4, 2010 -- 28 of 38 for 305 yards, 2 TDs, 3 INTs
W 22-21 … Dec. 6, 2009 -- 29 of 52 for 335 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT
L 27-17 … Nov. 8, 2009 -- 19 of 34 for 219 yards

Wednesday roll call: Brady not at practice

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff December 19, 2012 01:54 PM

The Patriots are practicing on the upper fields behind Gillette Stadium Wednesday afternoon in advance of Sunday's game with Jacksonville.

Tom Brady and Mike Rivera were the only players not spotted during the media-access window.

That means that Rob Gronkowski and Alfonzo Dennard, who was injured against the 49ers, were present.

I wouldn't worry about Brady's absence; it's possible he showed up after media were kicked off the field, or it could be a day of rest following a career-high 65 pass attempts on Sunday night. It is the first practice Brady has missed this season.

49ers' Kaepernick named NFC player of the week

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff December 19, 2012 12:58 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick was named the NFC offensive player of the week for his performance against the Patriots on Sunday.

In a 41-34 win for the 49ers, the second-year quarterback threw a career-high four touchdowns and had a passer rating of 107.7. The win also snapped the Patriots' 20-game winning streak at home in December.

Kaepernick is only the third quarterback to throw four touchdowns or more at Gillette Stadium. The others are Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.

Tom Brady takes loss to 49ers tough

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff December 19, 2012 11:57 AM
Get Adobe Flash player FOXBOROUGH -- Tom Brady is one of the winningest quarterbacks in NFL history, but it's the losses that leave a lasting imprint, he said. Sunday night's 41-34 loss to San Francisco is the most recent defeat, but Brady said they don't get any easier to deal with.

"I don’t think you get over any loss you ever had. I probably remember every single one," Brady said. "That’s part of being mentally tough, is to move forward and learn from your mistakes, understand what you need to do better. That’s what the last two days have been about, as well as getting ready for Jacksonville and the different things that they do to try to screw up offenses."

Brady and the Patriots will practice Wednesday afternoon, the first time they've been on the field since losing to the 49ers, and the first time in preparing for the 2-12 Jaguars. The Patriots were consistent in saying the last two weeks -- in preparing for 11-1 Houston and 9-3-1 San Francisco -- that records don't mean much. That extends to the Jaguars and the other end of the spectrum, too.

Brady spent much of his press conference talking about learning from the mistakes made in the loss to the 49ers, especially when it comes to turnovers. The Patriots lost two fumbles and threw two interceptions, losing the turnover battle for the first time this season. They came in with a plus-24 turnover margin.

In Brady's opinion, have there been any good losses in his time with the Patriots?

"I don’t think losing is the key to that. I think learning from your mistakes, whether you win or lose, is important," he said. "Progressing over the course of a season, through practices and games, and realizing what you do well and what you don’t do well, the final score, I don’t think, really does the trick. It’s your ability to accelerate through the course of a season, and not really level off or regress."

Two games remain in the regular season, giving the Patriots time to determine their playoff seeding (they're currently third in the AFC) and possibly get tight end Rob Gronkowski back from a broken forearm. With the playoffs approaching, a sharper focus is necessary, Brady said.

"The other night we do some things really well and we do plenty of things that were the reason why we lost. I think it comes back to, a lot of times, eliminating turnovers. We had four turnovers, and you lose the turnover battle, a lot of times you lose the game," Brady said. "We have to protect the ball this week, so that’s a big point of emphasis, and hopefully we can do a better job."

Will Josh McDaniels be Cleveland bound?

Posted by Greg A. Bedard December 19, 2012 09:42 AM
On Dec. 9, after speaking to two influential NFL sources, I wrote that NFL Network analyst Michael Lombardi was a serious candidate to be the next general manager of the Browns should owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner decide to part ways with general manager Tom Heckert and coach Pat Shurmur.

And if Lombardi was hired, Alabama coach Nick Saban would be the top target followed by Oregon coach Chip Kelly and Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.

With the hiring of Alec Scheiner as Browns president on Tuesday, it looks like we're a step closer to everything becoming reality.

From long-time Browns beat writer Tony Grossi:

Banner will oversee football operations and, we’ve been told by sources, will name Lombardi to a glorified player personnel director position.

As far as the coaching front once that happens, Grossi names the targets: Saban (long shot), Kelly (long shot because he can demand personnel control if he wants) and McDaniels.

Independently, Saban, who has built a national powerhouse at Alabama, is believed to be Haslam’s first choice to coach the Browns. ... There is one rumor that Haslam is prepared to offer Saban a $100 million deal over 10 years to coach the Browns. ....Two sources who know Saban have told me that Saban is leaning toward staying at Alabama and if he ever sought to scratch that NFL itch again, it would not be in Cleveland.

In my job, I don't really care what happens with Saban and Kelly, but the McDaniels situation is certainly interesting.

Mary Kay Cabot of the Plain Dealer also had this to say about McDaniels and the Browns:

A source told The Plain Dealer that McDaniels, who coached the Broncos in 2009, would jump at the chance to coach the Browns.

Would he leave after just one season? Yes, if it was the right situation. A Banner-Lombardi-McDaniels trio, McDaniels being a born-and-bred Ohioan, and a chance to rebuild where the Bill Belichick tree was first planted, would be factors that would likely get a blessing from Belichick.

What would the Patriots do at offensive coordinator? Wide receivers coach Chad O'Shea is the only viable candidate currently on the staff, and now three years into his Patriots tenure, the former college quarterback should be ready.

An outside (and probably long shot) candidate could be former tight ends coach Brian Ferentz, who spent last season as the offensive line coach for his father, Kirk, at Iowa.

One more log to throw on the fire: those two initial sources said that if Lombardi and McDaniels indeed team up in Cleveland, the chances are good that they will attempt to trade for Patriots backup quarterback Ryan Mallett and install him as the franchise quarterback. Brandon Weeden would be out, or in a backup role.

Chat with Shalise Manza Young

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff December 18, 2012 06:01 PM

Globe Patriots beat reporter Shalise Manza Young will join Boston.com readers at 12:30 p.m. on Wednesday to discuss the Patriots, the NFL and the upcoming playoffs.

Get your questions ready for lunchtime, and set a reminder in the chat window below.

Chat with Shalise Manza Young

Patriots moving on to Jacksonville

Posted by Amalie Benjamin December 18, 2012 01:53 AM

With the 49ers behind them, the Patriots are turning to this Sunday's upcoming game and an opponent that isn't quite as exciting as the ones from the previous two weekends. Those came with hype and anticipation. This one doesn't.

The Jaguars are last in the AFC South with a 2-12 record.

"We don't talk a lot about records," Bill Belichick said. "We just don’t do it – we didn’t talk about Houston’s record or San Francisco’s record or Jacksonville’s record. It doesn’t really mean anything.

"What we do is we look at our opponent and try to analyze their strengths and the things that we have to do to be competitive against them and the areas of weakness that we feel like we can attack. Whatever their record is doesn’t really matter."

Belichick said the team spends its time, instead, working on the particular matchups, analyzing the particular players. That, right now, is the focus.

There are other issues for the Patriots at the moment, like filling the 53d spot on the roster. It was empty last week after the Patriots waived Visanthe Shiancoe and put Donte' Stallworth on injured reserve, filling one of the spots with Deion Branch and leaving the other unfilled.

"That’s something that I’ll talk to Nick [Caserio] about today," Belichick said. "We’ve had a couple preliminary thoughts on it but nothing definitive. We’re both doing a little research and thinking and trying to see where some of our players are relative to their availability this week. We’ll have that conversation probably later on this afternoon and meet with the coaching staff on it and figure out where we are.

"But as you know, we have to have seven inactive players anyway, so signing a player at that position to then have to inactivate him, the gain on that is marginal."

The Patriots could simply wait and fill the spot with Jermaine Cunningham, who will serve the final game of his four-game suspension on Sunday. Belichick said that remains a possibility.

Belichick: Loss doesn't look any better after reviewing film

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff December 17, 2012 05:56 PM

Patriots coaches and players were at Gillette Stadium on Monday, just hours after suffering their fourth loss of the season. Since Bill Belichick typically gives players Monday off the day after a win in the second half of the season, and New England hasn't lost a game in November or December (or very early January) since 2009, it's been a long time since players were required to come to work on a Monday.

In a midday conference call with reporters, Belichick said his feelings on the 41-34 loss to San Francisco didn't change once he got to review things in detail.

"After watching the film, I don’t feel much differently than I did last night. We just didn’t do anything very well or certainly well enough with any kind of consistency," he said. "There were times when we had our moments but not enough of them, not consistently enough. We just didn’t coach well enough, didn’t play well enough, didn’t execute well enough; too many things we had to overcome in every area.

"It wasn’t anything that stood out above the rest; it was just too many problems. We all can do a better job than that; it’s just not winning football."

New England did not pack it in after going down 31-3 in the third quarter, and instead fought back to tie the game. Though the comeback did not result in a win, Belichick found he liked the resiliency.

"I thought they fought hard, absolutely. I thought they fought hard and competed well, it just wasn’t good enough. It was just too many bad plays, too many mistakes; it just wasn’t good enough. But yeah, I thought we competed, we fought, we hung in there until the end. But we just didn’t perform well enough in any area," he said.

Belichick allowed that there were some things in the game that were done well, and those would be reinforced. The things that weren't done well would be corrected.

On a couple of personnel notes, Belichick was asked why Mike Rivera started at linebacker in place of Brandon Spikes. Spikes sat out the first defensive series and then came on for the rest of the game. He said it was because Spikes had been limited in practice leading up to the game.

But Spikes has been limited because of knee and ankle ailments for a couple of weeks.

On Patrick Chung playing safety in place of Steve Gregory in the second half - there was no announcement from the team that Gregory had been hurt leading to speculation he may have been benched - Belichick said, "I wouldn’t say it was performance based. Patrick has come back, I think he’s a good player for us. Steve’s done a great job. Steve has really been solid and played well for us; so has Devin [McCourty].

"I know they’re all disappointed in some plays from yesterday, like we all are, but I think those guys are all good players and we give them an opportunity to play."

Watch: Patriots-49ers game highlights

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff December 17, 2012 07:41 AM
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Check out a video recap of Sunday's Patriots-49ers game at Gillette Stadium. The 49ers won, 41-34.

5 takeaways from the Patriots-49ers

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff December 17, 2012 03:05 AM

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Danny Woodhead was a bright spot for the Patriots in Sunday's loss to the 49ers. (Matthew J. Lee / Globe Staff)

FOXBOROUGH -- There's the good, the bad, and the unacceptable from Sunday night's 41-34 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. The Patriots' comeback attempt would have been a fantastic story had they completed the job. But they didn't. And it will certainly hurt the team going ahead because of the playoff implications.

The Patriots went down 31-3 in the third quarter before reeling off four straight scoring drives to tie the game. Too bad we're not writing about a sweet Tom Brady comeback.

Here's some takeaways from the game:

1) The Patriots no longer control their destiny -- The immediate aftermath of losing Sunday's game is the unlikely chance for the Patriots to claim the No. 2 seed in the AFC and earn a playoff bye. The Denver Broncos (11-3) beat the Baltimore Ravens Sunday and are now positioned to finish the season behind the Houston Texans atop the conference. The Broncos have the Cleveland Browns and Kansas City Chiefs left on the schedule. If the playoffs were to begin today, the Patriots would hold the No. 3 seed and face the Cincinnati Bengals (8-6) before moving on to either playing Houston or Denver, both of which they've beaten. We're sure both teams would love to see the Patriots again. Meanwhile, the 49ers clinched a playoff berth.

2) The turnovers are nothing to laugh about -- Coming into Sunday's game, the Patriots owned a league best +24 takeaways. They had four giveaways on Sunday and managed to come up with a fumble recovery. It was by far the worst day the Patriots had endured in the turnover department this season. They previously had two two-turnover games, against the Seattle Seahawks and the Buffalo Bills. There was no answer or excuses given for the way the ball was handled Sunday night and it's not acceptable, especially given the fact that those four turnovers led to a 28-point deficit over the second and third quarters and what appeared to be an insurmountable lead. Lucky for the Patriots, they have Brady. Lucky indeed.

3) When it's crunch time, the Patriots can depend on Danny Woodhead -- Woodhead may be the smallest member of the team, but his stature has no bearing on production. Both in the passing game and running game, Woodhead shows why he's so valuable. He picked up a season-high 61 yards rushing and caught five passes for 23 yards. His two rushing touchdowns were crucial to the team's comeback hopes. He made plays in the open field no one else could, and when Brady needed to check down, Woodhead was open and ready to make the first guy miss. He's like a slot machine with only one number. Of course, Woodhead would not have gotten the 17 touches he received Sunday night had Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen not fumbled in their limited time on field. Bill Belichick is tough on his backs. There were only occasional sighting of either after their turnovers. It's no wonder that Woodhead has stuck around despite the talent in the Patriots' backfield. After Sunday night, you know he is the most consistent among them.

4) The pass interference calls are both a blessing and a curse -- In the second quarter, Aqib Talib was flagged for a questionable pass interference call that gave the 49ers 35 yards and a trip to the Patriots' red zone. Three plays later, Colin Kaepernick threw a touchdown pass to Delanie Walker. In the fourth quarter, Brady targeted Wes Welker for a pass but he was hounded by an aggressive Donte Whitner. There was no flag although he deserved one. One play later, the 49ers' Tarell Brown was flagged for pass interference on Brandon Lloyd in the end zone after Lloyd appeared to trip up over his own feet and fall down. The Patriots were awarded 38 yards on that one. Brady hit Aaron Hernandez for a 5-yard touchdown on the next play. The inconsistency with which this particular penalty has been called has both helped and hurt the Patriots all year long. Sunday sort of put it all in perspective for me. Pass interference should be a 15-yard penalty. It's simply too punitive given the stakes and the officials' habit for making errors on the call.

5) Statistically speaking -- Despite the loss, two Patriots hit some significant milestones against the 49ers. Wes Welker caught five passes for 56 yards, giving him 100 receptions for the season. He now has five straight years with 100 receptions or more, an NFL record. He had been tied with Jerry Rice and Marvin Harrison. And then Brady, with his 443 yards passing, passed the 4,000 mark for the season. He has 4,276. It marks the fifth time in his career he's crossed the 4,000-yard threshold. Only Peyton Manning (12), Drew Brees (7), Brett Favre (6) and Dan Marino (6) have done so.

Stevan Ridley: 'I have to do better holding onto the football'

Posted by Steve Silva, Boston.com Staff December 17, 2012 02:31 AM
FOXBOROUGH – There were plenty of mistakes made by the Patriots in Sunday night's 41-34 loss to the 49ers. And running back Stevan Ridley knows they can't keep making them if they want to go deep into the postseason.

"We played a good football team and you can’t beat a good football team playing like we did today, all the way around starting with myself," Ridley said. "You can’t have balls on the ground. You can’t have turnovers. You can’t give them opportunities to go down there and capitalize and that is exactly what they did. We just can’t hang our heads. We just have to get back to work."

Ridley had just 23 yards rushing on nine carries on the night. He lost a crucial third-quarter fumble and was on the field for just one snap the rest of the way. He has three fumbles in the last two games.

"No one is harder on myself than me," Ridley said. "Nobody is more upset when I fumble than Stevan is. For me I just have to keep working. There is lot of football left to be played. You can’t look back and that’s something we haven’t done all year, wins or losses. We have moved forward. So for me that is just what I have to continue to do. But I have to do better. I have to do better in game situations holding onto the football. We can’t have mistakes like that."

Overall, Ridley was impressed by a 49ers team that took it to the Patriots from the opening kickoff.

“They are a solid team," Ridley said. "The 49ers are a great football team. We gave them too many opportunities. We couldn’t come in here and play them that way. We gave them opportunities to capitalize on and that’s exactly what they did. So for us as a team we just have to keep working. We’re going to be alright. There is a lot of football left to be played. We’re just going to keep grinding it out."

Vince Wilfork: 'We shot ourselves in the foot'

Posted by Steve Silva, Boston.com Staff December 17, 2012 01:44 AM

FOXBOROUGH – They came back. But Vince Wilfork and the Patriots could not come all the way back in a wild game against a tough San Francisco 49ers team at Gillette Stadium Sunday night.

Wilfork talked about the Patriots ability to get things going after falling behind 31-3 in the third quarter.

"Yeah, we just dug ourselves a hole early and we couldn’t fight out of it," Wilfork said. "But the way we played, we can’t beat anybody. We had opportunities, but we didn’t make anything happen with some opportunities and we left a lot of plays on the field. You have to give them credit. They came in, they capitalized on our mistakes and that’s what any good football team does. They were a better team tonight. They definitely were."

For a team that had been playing solid football for the past couple of months, the Patriots looked like they weren't ready for prime time Sunday night until it was too late.

"We have to be consistent," Wilfork said. "Over the past few weeks and months, we were playing consistent. We were being consistent and tonight we were inconsistent. We made plays; we didn’t make plays. We played a brutal half and then all of a sudden in one quarter we came out and everything clicked. So we just have to be more consistent. We have to stick together. You know everything -- character. It’s a test of character. We knew it was going to be a physically tough game and a mentally tough game. So we took one on the chin; we definitely did. But at the same time, this team showed some fight, but it just wasn’t enough at the end. We basically blew a half off and it cost us big time."

The 49ers were who the Patriots thought they were, and nothing San Francisco did surprised them.

"They came in and they did what they do," Wilfork said. "They didn’t change anything. They executed very well and we didn’t. In one quarter you saw us executing and we were on the field and off the field, on the field and off the field. The offense was scoring. I mean, it was like clockwork. But it just wasn’t enough. At the end of the day, it just wasn’t enough. They made a lot more plays than us. They executed at a high level and the gap was just too big."

While Wilfork said the loss was upsetting, he said the team would learn from the miscues and move forward.

"You’re always upset," Wilfork said. "Anytime you lose, you’re upset. But that’s a good football team. There are some things that we’re going to watch on film. We shot ourselves in the foot. It wasn’t those guys being great; it was just some of the things were bonehead plays from us and giving up plays we shouldn’t have given up. But, hey, what can you do? You live and you learn. You coach off of mistakes and you move forward. It’s not going to damper anything or any of our goals. We’re taking it one game at a time. So tonight we just weren’t the Patriots. We just didn’t play well."

Wilfork, like most of Patriots Nation, was encouraged when New England tied the game at 31-31 and seemed to have momentum going in their favor.

"[I] always thought that we were in the game; we just needed to get on a roll," Wilfork said. "When we’re on a roll, we play very well. But at the end of the day, when you blow off 30 minutes of a football game, it’s going to be tough to come [back] on any type of team, especially a very good team like the ‘9ers were. So we were lucky that we got it that close. But you know, we come in, we watch film, we make the corrections and we move forward. We don’t have time to cry over things and missed opportunities. You have to learn from them, you have to coach from them, you have to play better from them and you have to move forward. So it’s going to be critical for us to move forward -- put one foot in front of the other and just keep grinding.”

Tough pill to swallow for Tom Brady

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff December 17, 2012 12:55 AM
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FOXBOROUGH -- This might be considered a freak game when it's all said and done. After coming off one of the team's best all-around performances against the Houston Texans, the Patriots appeared inept on offense for at least one half, followed by a stunning comeback to tie the game, and ending with disappointment. The Patriots lost Sunday night, 41-34, to the San Francisco 49ers, in large part because of a terrible first half and even uglier third quarter.

For Tom Brady, who had a career-high 65 pass attempts, it was a matter of mental toughness.

"I had a feeling we'd be able to come back," Brady said. "We hung in there. We battled back from a 28-point deficit. [But] we made too many mistakes when we needed to make the plays.

"It's a tough loss, but we've got to try and get some things corrected."

Brady threw two interceptions in the game, one of which bounced off the hands of Aaron Hernandez into the clutches of 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith. Running back Shane Vereen fumbled on a screen pass and Stevan Ridley also fumbled. The 49ers were able to take two of the turnovers and turn them into quick touchdowns.

"We just spotted them 28 points," Brady said. "We fought hard but you can't play poorly against a a good team and expect to win.

"We made some mistakes early in the game and they capitalized. We couldn't stay on the field on third down. [We] turned the ball over. I don't know what our time of possession was, but I'm sure it wasn't good. The first half was a terrible first half. We got down - fortunately we were in it after the first half, but we didn't play well to start the second half. And then we went on a little run, but you can't play 30 minutes against a good team."

Brady finished with 443 yards passing, a touchdown, and a rushing touchdown. He completed 36 passes and had a 68.9 quarterback rating.

Kaepernick, Niners prove resilient in victory

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff December 17, 2012 12:48 AM
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FOXBOROUGH -- It was more or less impossible to watch how the 49ers' 41-34 victory over the Patriots Sunday night played out, with two talented, tough and imperfect football teams trading blows, and wonder whether there may be a rematch in the making come February.

Not that anyone on the Niners, who built a 31-3 lead, watched it evaporate in less that a 15-minute stretch in the second half in which the Patriots scored 28 straight points, and then showed remarkable resolve behind young quarterback Colin Kaepernick in breaking the Patriots' 20-game December win streak at home, would admit to looking that far ahead.

"We're just going to keep working as a team and take one game at a time,'' said running back Frank Gore, who ran for 83 yards on 21 carries. "We've got another one next, a big game against Seattle, a great team that is playing great.''

But it was apparent that the magnitude of the victory, which locked up a playoff spot for the 10-3-1 Niners, was not lost on them.

"It's a huge task. It's a huge challenge,'' said coach Jim Harbaugh. "This environment, in December, not a lot of teams have been successful. Really only in the last 11, 12 years, only one team has been successful. So I'm immensely proud of our team for that."

Harbaugh apparently knows his Gillette Stadium history. The Patriots' only other December home loss since the stadium opened in 2002 was a 30-17 loss to the Jets that first season.

"As a coach, as a player, you love all these wins,'' he said when asked if this was the Niners' biggest regular-season win in his tenure. "This is a great win. Our team has played in a lot of big-time pressure games, they've overcome adversity. Shown they can do that. I used to live next to a train station in Chicago. The more you hear the train, the less you hear it. I feel that way with our team in terms of pressure in big games. The more you hear it, the less you hear it. The more you feel it, the less you feel it.''

Harbaugh had high praise for Kaepernick, who finished 14 of 25 for 216 yards with four touchdown passes, including one for the first points of the game to former Patriot Randy Moss.

"[He had] over a 100-passer-rating [actually 107.7], in a real tough environment,'' Harbaugh said. "It was raining the entire game, but he did a nice job powering the ball through the elements and through the defense at times. He didn't make every play, but that's a good football team we played.''

After the Patriots tore off their four second-half touchdowns ("Tom Brady-like,'' said Harbaugh when asked to describe the performance, ''nothing else really to compare it to") to tie the score, the Niners showed remarkable poise.

LaMichael James, following Delanie Walker down the left sideline, returned the kickoff 62 yards to the New England 38 with 6:43 remaining.

"I trust Delanie, he always gets his block, and that took me to the promised land,'' James said. "I did as much as I could to help the team win, and that's pretty much it. One play doesn't win a game, though.''

But for all intents and purposes, the next play did. On the first play from scrimmage after the return, Kaepernick, under siege from an all-out blitz, found Michael Crabtree matched up against Kyle Arrington, who was in for the injured Alfonzo Dennard. After catching the pass along the left sideline, Crabtree shook Arrington and sprinted into the end zone for a 38-31 lead. It was a sharp move by Crabtree, and according to Harbaugh, a great read by Kaepernick.

"That was not where he was supposed to go with the ball,'' he said. "Wasn't the intended play. But he saw what he saw and kicked it out to Michael and Michael made a huge play."

Kaepernick wasn't flawless -- he fumbled four times, losing one, while struggling with the exchange from center. But he did make the big play in the big moment, something rarely happens for opposing quarterbacks at Gillette Stadium in December.

"It's a little bit crazy, a little bit surreal,'' Kaepernick said, "but I'm just trying to keep my head down and trying to keep it going as long as I can.''


Belichick unhappy with what he saw

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff December 17, 2012 12:23 AM
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FOXBOROUGH -- The Patriots had four turnovers Sunday night against the San Francisco 49ers, leading Bill Belichick to address the media with a rather obvious distaste in his mouth after his team lost 41-34 at Gillette Stadium.

"We just didn't play well. We didn't coach well, we didn't play well," Belichick said. "We just got to perform better than that. We didn't so that's the result."

The Patriots were down 31-3 before storming back to tie the game. A fumble by Stevan Ridley and an interception by Tom Brady led to two 49ers touchdowns in less than one minute of game time during the third quarter.

That's when Brady turned it up a notch and led the Patriots on four straight scoring drives, throwing a touchdown and sneaking in for another. But the 49ers were able to put together one more touchdown drive and one more defensive stop to keep Brady out of reach from an outstanding comeback.

"We did some things that were alright," Belichick said. "But we made too many mistakes. We just did too many things that weren't good."


Wes Welker becomes first player in NFL history with five seasons of 100 or more receptions

Posted by Steve Silva, Boston.com Staff December 16, 2012 11:50 PM
FOXBOROUGH – Move over Jerry Rice, Marvin Harrison, and Brandon Marshall, there’s a new sheriff in town.

Wes Welker became the first player in NFL history to have 100 pass receptions in five seasons when he caught a 12-yard pass from Tom Brady in the fourth quarter of Sunday night’s game against the 49ers, breaking a tie with Rice, Harrison, and Marshall – who joined the club last Sunday.

“It won’t mean anything if we don’t win the game,” Welker said after Thursday’s practice. “My focus is on the 49ers, trying to go out there and execute to the best of my ability and try to help us win this game.”

Welker’s been averaging 7.2 receptions per game in his six seasons since being traded here from Miami in 2007, and he traditionally performs well in big games.

Welker started slow this season, taking part in just 70.5 percent of the offensive snaps in the first two games of the season. Julian Edelman, now on injured reserve, started in Welker’s place in the second game against.

With the catch, Welker moved into second place in the NFL lead in receptions with 100. He entered tonight’s game ninth in the league with 1,116 yards receiving entering the game.

Two weeks ago in Miami, Welker set a league record for the most 10-catch, 100-yard games with 16, passing Jerry Rice and the Texans’ Andre Johnson. He also tied Rice’s NFL mark with his 17th career game of 10 or more receptions.

In the last six seasons, Welker has more receptions than anyone else in the NFL with 654, Brandon Marshall is second on the list with 575.

Welker’s five 1,000-yard seasons as a member of the Patriots are a team record. He also now has a reception in 108 straight games.

49ers 17, Patriots 3: Halftime thoughts

Posted by Greg A. Bedard December 16, 2012 10:23 PM

FOXBOROUGH – A few thoughts as the Patriots trail 17-3 at halftime:

  • The Patriots are fortunate to still be in this game. They could be down about 27-3 at this point if Colin Kaepernick didn’t fumble three snaps from center in the first half.
  • Tom Brady was intercepted but saved a touchdown when he tackled Carlos Rogers at the 5-yard line. 49ers fumbled on the second play to give the ball back to the Patriots.
  • 49ers ran a fake punt for 31 yards but failed to get any points when David Akers missed a field goal from 39 yards.
  • Shane Vereen fumbled on the next possession, but the 49ers blew at least a field goal when Kaepernick fumbled from center on fourth-and-1.
  • The 49ers did a great job taking Wes Welker (zero catches on two targets) away. They basically doubled him all the time. Patriots are going to find an answer for that.
  • Basically, the Patriots’ offense was throwing at 49ers cornerback Tarell Brown and running and throwing with Danny Woodhead, who was exploiting his matchup against the linebackers.
  • Patriots front seven did a decent job for the most part after they switched from a 4-3 to a 3-4. But that limits Chandler Jones’ effectiveness because he basically has to played 3-4 end. Dont’a Hightower is the OLB opposite Rob Ninkovich in the 3-4.
  • The Patriots did have some trouble towards the end of the first half with contain against Kaepernick.
  • The 49ers were able to hit some of the open receivers the Patriots have allowed the past few weeks, which inferior opponents missed.
  • The Patriots’ offensive line also had some issues, but it wasn’t terrible. The Patriots will probably have to go more no huddle in the second half.
  • Huge 49ers possession to start the second half.

Final: 49ers 41, Patriots 34

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff December 16, 2012 08:17 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Despite coming back from a 31-3 deficit to tie the game, the Patriots couldn't come up with two yards when they needed it most.

On a 4th-and-1 with 2:24 left in the game, Tom Brady couldn't connect with a leaping Danny Woodhead to keep the team's drive alive and any chance to win Sunday's game.

The 49ers kicked an insurance field goal with 1:56 left, going on to win 41-34 and drop the Patriots to 10-4 on the season.

The Patriots had four turnovers in the game. Brady threw two interceptions -- a rarity -- and was sacked twice. He threw for 443 yards and a touchdown. He broke his record for pass attempts in a game with 65, completing 36.

Niners quarterback Colin Kaepernick completed 14 of 25 passes for 216 yards and four touchdowns, including a hitch to Michael Crabtree that he turned into a 38-yard score, putting the 49ers up 38-31 with a little more than six minutes remaining in the game.

David Akers added a 28-yard field goal with less than two minutes to hold off the Patriots.

Danny Woodhead had 12 carries for 61 yards and two touchdowns.

0:38 4th quarter: 49ers 41, Patriots 34 -- Stephen Gostkowski kicked a 41-yard field goal as the Patriots raced down field to keep the game within reach. An onside attempt is up next.

1:56 4th quarter: 49ers 41, Patriots 31 -- David Akers seals it with a 28-yard field goal against the Patriots, putting the game out of reach.

2:45 4th quarter: 49ers 38, Patriots 31 -- Tom Brady couldn't connect with Danny Woodhead on 4th-and-2 as the Patriots turned it over on downs.

If the 49ers even kick a field goal, they'll put the game out of reach.

3:09 4th quarter: 49ers 38, Patriots 31 -- On three straight runs, the Patriots held the 49ers to only seven yards, forcing the punt and what will surely be the pivotal game-tying drive.

Stay in your seats for this one.

4:59 4th quarter: 49ers 38, Patriots 31 -- Tom Brady was sacked two times in a row, once by a helmet-less Ray McDonald and then again by Ricky Jean Francois who replaced Justin Smith on the 49ers' defensive line. The Patriots were forced to punt.

6:25 4th quarter: 49ers 38, Patriots 31 -- The 49ers' LaMichael James returned the kickoff 62 yards and on the very next play Colin Kaepernick threw a quick hitch to Michael Crabtree who turned it up field and ran away for a 38-yard touchdown with the Patriots' Kyle Arrington in pursuit.

The 49ers just wrested the lead right back. But the Patriots' offense seems to be clicking right now. This game is far from over.

6:43 4th quarter: Patriots 31, 49ers 31 -- After being down 31-3, the Patriots have roared back to tie the game. Tom Brady hit Brandon Lloyd on a 53-yard pass to get into 49ers territory and Danny Woodhead ran in a 1-yard touchdown to even up the score.

This will be considered an epic collapse by the 49ers.

9:56 4th quarter: 49ers 31, Patriots 24 -- The Patriots defense held up again, helped in part by a self-destructing 49ers team. The 49ers were flagged for an illegal hands to the face by G Alex Boone, forcing the team into a desperate 3d-and-22 situation. They went four plays before punting.

The Patriots can now tie the game up.

12:13 4th quarter: 49ers 31, Patriots 24 -- Helped by a pass interference call on the 49ers' Tarrell Brown, Tom Brady threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Aaron Hernandez after driving 66 yards in 1:04.

Brady showed a little fire earlier, yelling at referee Ed Hochuli for allowing a 49ers timeout in the middle of his no-huddle offense.

It's now a one-touchdown game.

13:27 4th quarter: 49ers 31, Patriots 17 -- This could be the makings of a comeback. The Patriots held the 49ers to a three-and-out. Colin Kaepernick couldn't connect with LaMichael James on a third down pass as San Francisco was forced to punt.

The 49ers' Justin Smith has an elbow injury. His return is questionable.

14:58 4th quarter: 49ers 31, Patriots 17 -- The Patriots spread out the 49ers on the goal line and called a QB sneak for Tom Brady who dove in for a 1-yard touchdown.

The Patriots surely needed it. They're now down two touchdowns with a whole quarter of play left. The drive was 9 plays, 86 yards, in 3:41.

It was Brady's fourth rushing touchdown of the season, a career high.

End of the 3d quarter: 49ers 31, Patriots 10 -- A 41-yard pass by Tom Brady to Michael Hoomanawanui has the Patriots within the 49ers' 5-yard line.

They'll be attempting for a touchdown on fourth and goal at the 1.

Alfonzo Dennard is jogging on the sideline, trying to get ready to come back to the game. We'll see if he can.

The 49ers' Justin Smith just walked off to the locker room with an ailment.

3:39 3d quarter: 49ers 31, Patriots 10 -- The Patriots defense woke up. They held the 49ers to only four plays. It helped that Colin Kaepernick sailed a pass to Michael Crabtree on third down. But the Patriots will take whatever they can get at this point.

5:59 3d quarter: 49ers 31, Patriots 10 -- Danny Woodhead has taken over the rushing duties for the night. Woodhead touched the ball five times, including four rushes, before running in a 6-yard touchdown -- the Patriots' first touchdown of the game.

The Patriots ran a harried 13-play, 73-yard drive in 4:22.

10:26 3d quarter: 49ers 31, Patriots 3 -- Tom Brady threw an improbable interception to Aldon Smith after attempting a screen pass to Aaron Hernandez. The ball popped right out of Hernandez's hands after he was hit and right into the clutches of Smith, who returned it six yards.

On the very next play, Colin Kaepernick threw a 27-yard touchdown down the seam to Michael Crabtree.

10:44 3d quarter: 49ers 24, Patriots 3 -- Another fumble by Stevan Ridley recovered by the 49ers' Dashon Goldson. On the very next play, Frank Gore runs in a 3-yard touchdown on a botched play.

Goldson returned the fumble and raced 66 yards before being knocked out of bounds by Aaron Hernandez.

Donte Whitner forced the fumble.

11:37 3d quarter: 49ers 17, Patriots 3 -- On a deep pass intended for Randy Moss, Devin McCourty stepped in and intercepted the pass from Colin Kaepernick to end the 49ers' second-half opening drive.

15:00 3d quarter: 49ers 17, Patriots 3 -- The third quarter is about to get underway. The 49ers are receiving to start the half.

End of the 2d quarter: 49ers 17, Patriots 3 -- 49ers kicker David Akers chipped in a 20-yard field goal s the first half came to a close.

The 49ers went 64 yards on 15 plays to close out the half.

This is a stunner for the Patriots. They're not used to such a poor offensive output in a half. This is the first time they've been held to 3 points in a first half this season.

Tom Brady is 10 of 19 for 76 yards and an interception, Shane Vereen fumbled on a screen pass, and the team has punted four times already.

Colin Kaepernick has led the 49ers on 8 of 15 passing for 107 yards and 2 touchdowns. He hit Randy Moss for a 24-yard TD and tight end Delanie Walker for a 34-yard score.

Niners running back Frank Gore has 15 carries for 73 yards.

6:04 2d quarter: 49ers 14, Patriots 3 -- The Patriots went three-and-out with Tom Brady failing to connect on two passes to Brandon Lloyd. Lloyd dropped one and the other was too low.

On the punt, it looked like 49ers returner Ted Ginn Jr. had the ball hit his shin and was recovered by the Patriots. The officials spent a good amount of time discussing the play before ruling it was in fact not touched. The Patriots challenged the play and it was upheld.

6:59 2d quarter: 49ers 14, Patriots 3 -- Colin Kaepernick hit a wide open Delanie Walker for a 34-yard touchdown.

The drive was spurred along in part by a questionable pass interference call on Patriots corner Aqib Talib that gifted the 49ers 35 yards. It went only three plays and covered 80 yards.

8:32 2d quarter: 49ers 7, Patriots 3 -- Stephen Gostkowski kicked a 32-yard field as the Patriots finally got on the board.

Tom Brady was sacked on third down at the 49ers' 7-yard line, finishing a the Patriots' most promising drive of the night so far. The Pats went 62 yards on 16 plays and converted on a fourth down to get into the 49ers' red zone. But Ray McDonald managed to get loose in the Patriots' backfield to take down Brady for a six-yard loss.

14:55 2d quarter: 49ers 7, Patriots 0 -- On a fourth and 1, Colin Kaepernick's quarterback sneak went for no gain as the Patriots took over on downs.

The 49ers' Vernon Davis dropped a wide open touchdown in the end zone.

If the 49ers had elected to kick a field goal on fourth down, David Akers would've attempted a 43-yarder.

End of 1st quarter: 49ers 7, Patriots 0 -- The quarter comes to a close and I'm sure the Patriots already want to put it behind them. They've punted the ball three times and turned it over twice. The 49ers are driving, looking to add to their lead.

1:00 1st quarter: 49ers 7, Patriots 0 -- Shane Vereen fumbled a screen pass from Tom Brady. The fumble was forced by the 49ers' NaVorro Bowman and recovered by Chris Culliver at the sideline.

This is wacky game in which the Patriots haven't been able to get anything going. This 49ers defense is proving to be worth the hype.

2:14 1st quarter: 49ers 7, Patriots 0 -- A fake punt by the 49ers caught the Patriots by surprise. Safety Dashon Goldson rushed for 31 yards on fourth down. The 49ers weren't able to capitalize on it though. David Akers missed a 39-yard field goal in the drizzly weather at Gillette Stadium.

6:13 1st quarter: 49ers 7, Patriots 0 -- The Patriots take the gift of a fumble and go three-and-out. Tough start for the Tom Brady led offense.

7:15 1st quarter: 49ers 7, Patriots 0 -- Two plays into their new drive deep in the Patriots red zone, a Colin Kaepernick pass is fumbled by Delanie Walker after being forced by Steve Gregory. Aqib Talib recovers and the Patriots take over. What a frantic start to this game.

7:45 1st quarter: 49ers 7, Patriots 0 -- Tom Brady was intercepted by Carlos Rodgers on a deep pass to Wes Welker. Rodgers returned it 53 yards.

8:02 1st quarter: 49ers 7, Patriots 0 -- A fumble by Colin Kaepernick at the line of scrimmage on third down, helped the Patriots force a punt by the 49ers after three plays.

9:54 1st quarter: 49ers 7, Patriots 0 -- Aldon Smith got a hit on Tom Brady and hurried him on another play as the 49ers forced the Patriots to punt after four plays.

Brady did connect with Brandon Lloyd on a 23-yard pass down the sideline.

10:55 1st quarter: 49ers 7, Patriots 0 -- 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick threw a 24-yard touchdown pass to Randy Moss after guiding his team down the field seamlessly. Kaepernick was 4 of 5 on the drive as the 49ers went 63 yards in six plays.

The 49ers did seem to get away with a fumble by LaMichael James. The play was not reviewed.

With the touchdown catch, Moss now has 15,219 yards in his career. That's the third most all-time in the league.

13:35 1st quarter: Patriots 0, 49ers 0 -- Stevan Ridley was hit in the backfield for a 2-yard loss on third down by 49ers LB Navorro Bowman as the Patriots punted.

14:23 1st quarter: Patriots 0, 49ers 0 -- On the Patriots' second play, Steven Ridley appeared to fumble after a gain of 2 yard. But upon further review, the ball had come loose after he had already hit the ground. It was a lucky review for the Patriots, because the 49ers would've taken over a little outside of the red zone.

14:53 1st quarter: Patriots 0, 49ers 0 -- We're underway here with Devin McCourty returning the opening kick 13 yards to the 15-yard line.

15:00 1st quarter: Patriots 0, 49ers 0 -- The 49ers won the coin toss and have elected to defer to the second half.

A moment of silence was held for the victims of Newtown, Conn.

Pregame: We're close to getting underway here at Gillette Stadium with the Patriots hosting the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday Night Football.

Because of the tragedy in Newtown, Conn., President Barack Obama's remarks from tonight's vigil will be televised on NBC. The network will cut back to game coverage after his remarks.

It's 34 degrees out and there's a light rain. The elements will definitely be a factor. Niners quarterback Colin Kaepernick is not wearing gloves or sleeves. We'll see how that goes with a Patriots' defense that has an NFL best +24 in takeaways.

Stay here for game updates throughout.

@zuriberry

Gronkowski officially listed as inactive for Sunday's game

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff December 16, 2012 06:59 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- The Patriots listed tight end Rob Gronkowski as inactive after the burly tight end practiced for the first time on Friday. He has been recovering from a broken forearm and has missed the past three games.

Also inactive for the Patriots are LB Tracy White, DL Ron Brace, DL Jake Bequette, DB Derrick Martin, and OL Markus Zusevics.

49ers at Patriots: 5 keys, prediction

Posted by Greg A. Bedard December 16, 2012 06:45 PM

FOXBOROUGH – Huge AFC-NFC showdown tonight at Gillette Stadium between the 49ers and Patriots, a matchup that could be a Super Bowl XLVII preview. Excited for this one. Should be a real slobber knocker between two tough teams.

The Patriots will win their eighth-straight game and move closer to a first-round bye in the playoffs if they hit on these five keys:

  1. Stop the run: The 49ers will give standout running back Frank Gore all the touches he can handle to make sure quarterback Colin Kaepernick doesn’t have to beat the Patriots by himself. If the Patriots can limit the run, that puts Kaepernick in tough down-and-distance situations on second and third downs, which will make it easier to defend. To stop the run, the Patriots must be very disciplined against the 49ers’ pistol formations where Kaepernick is in a shorter shotgun and surrounded by one, two and sometimes three (full house) offensive weapons. From that they will run the read option. It’s a lot to prepare for on a short week, but the Patriots have some practice from defeating the Tim Tebow-led Broncos twice last season.
  2. Make Kaepernick beat you from the pocket: Expect the Patriots to be very careful with the pressure they apply to Kaepernick because he’s a dynamic athlete that can take off from the pocket and score 50-yard touchdowns, which he did last week against the Dolphins. He’s also at his best throwing the ball as plays break down.
  3. It’s vitally important for the Patriots make Kaepernick beat them by being a pocket passer. It’s not his strength. He’s still growing in the position, so his reads and delivery are slow. His reads are also basic, so the Patriots should be able to get him off his first option, which make him even more indecisive and prone to turnovers, which the Patriots get a league-leading rate (plus 24).
  4. Handle the stunts: The Patriots are going to have a lot to handle on the offensive line between outside linebackers, Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks, and ends Justin Smith and Ray McDonald. The Smith duo is perhaps the best stunting tandem in the league. They will work together by having Justin Smith take offensive linemen outside, while Aldon Smith crosses behind and rushes from the inside. The Patriots have had a lot of trouble (Giants in both Super Bowls) dealing with stunting lines. The communication between the tackles and guards is going to have to be perfect. And center Ryan Wendell is going to have the right decision on where and when to help if he’s uncovered.
  5. Don’t give up on the run: Yes, the 49ers are very good against the run but you can run against them if you stick with it. Expect the Patriots spread the 49ers out a bit to start with to get a look at their coverages and how they plan to defend Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez. The Patriots will likely return to the run in short order and it’s important for them to have some success. It will give Tom Brady and the offense a chance to run playaction passes. They are probably now the best at it in the league, and the 49ers’ safeties run downhill so quickly that some plays should be there. If the Patriots make any big plays in the pass game, it will likely be off playaction.
  6. Account for the backs, get in Crabtree’s head: The Patriots had all sorts of problems covering the running backs underneath against the Texans, it’s just Matt Schaub never took advantage of it. Expect the 49ers to quickly go to the checkdowns to Gore and James. Both are very good with the ball in their hands after the catch. It’s actually a big mismatch against the Patriots’ linebackers, so they’re going to need to be careful. And with the weather the way it is, the one person I’ll be watching is 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree. He has become the go-to guy for Kaepernick and with Mario Manningham out, he’s the one real dependable receiver for the 49ers. He’s from Dallas and went to Texas Tech … I’m just wondering how many of these bad weather games he’s played in. If he’s affected by the elements, I have a tough time seeing the 49ers win.

Prediction

This should be a really good game. These are two well-rounded teams. But I think Tom Brady’s experience in bad-weather games, the fact that the 49ers had to travel all the way East, and that the Patriots are at home in December lead to a New England victory in a tight affair.

Patriots 24, 49ers 20

For more on the game, checkout my column for NBCSports.com

What to watch for as the Patriots host the 49ers

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff December 16, 2012 04:47 PM

vernondavis607.jpg

Watch out for the 49ers' Vernon Davis. San Francisco may want to go back to him after three weeks with low production. (Beck Diefenbach / REUTERS)

FOXBOROUGH -- It's cold and ugly outside. Perfect New England weather.

We're going to see a high of 37 degrees by 10 p.m. around the fourth quarter and we'll continue to have small bouts of precipitation, according to Weather.com. Coming to Gillette Stadium, there was definitely some hail in the air.

But outside of tonight's weather forecast, Patriots fans should be prepared for the last heavyweight bout of regular season. The San Francisco 49ers have all kinds of weapons on offense, sport the league's second ranked defense for yards allowed, and feature at least two Smiths worth fretting about. Here are some things to watch as you take in the game, either from the comfort of your own couch or here in the cold with the rest of us. (It's worth it!)

1) The battle of the clock -- The 49ers are going to want to run the ball and the Patriots obviously don't want to let that happen given the implications. Frank Gore is an impressive veteran that is averaging 4.9 yards per carry this season. He's proven to be crafty between the tackles and is small enough at 5-feet, 9-inches to catch defenses off guard. If he gets going, it'll open up the 49ers' play-action and option plays. And what's more, it'll slow the Patriots' fast-paced attack that has been working seamlessly for the past month. Conversely, the Patriots want to get off to a fast start like they did last week against the Houston Texans and put the game in the young Colin Kaepernick's hands. The fast pace would kill any hopes for this 49ers team, so the first quarter will be extremely important.

2) How will the Patriots handle the Smiths? -- Whether it's Justin Smith, who can rush the passer from both the end and tackle positions, or Aldon Smith, who is moved from side to side to create havoc, the 49ers have two extraordinary defensive linemen that will require extra attention. The last time the Patriots faced two outstanding pass rushers like this was in the team's Week 2 loss to the Arizona Cardinals with Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett. Justin Smith is regularly double teamed, allowing for players like Aldon Smith and Ray McDonald to rush the passer in one-on-one situations. Aldon Smith has a league-leading 19.5 sacks in his second season. The duty of taking him on regularly will likely fall on left tackle Nate Solder, who has a history with him in college. With the Patriots' zone blocking scheme and penchant for keeping in an extra tight end like Michael Hoomanawanui, both Smiths will likely find themselves doubled up on. We'll see if that is successful tonight.

3) Do the 49ers have the big play in them? -- The Patriots certainly hope not. Kaepernick threw a deep pass to old friend Randy Moss last week against the Miami Dolphins that was dropped. The 35-year old receiver showed he can still get behind a secondary and it's something both safeties Devin McCourty and Steve Gregory are acutely aware of. But beyond Moss, the 49ers often look at tight ends Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker as deep threats. Davis has only three catches in the last three games. As one of the best tight ends in the NFL, the 49ers will try to increase his output. As a bonus, the Patriots will have to set the edges to make sure they don't allow Kaepernick to run the option well. They don't want Kaepernick breaking off long runs as he has done in the past two games. He had 50-yard runs against Miami and St. Louis.

On the Beat: 5 questions about the 49ers

Posted by Greg A. Bedard December 16, 2012 03:30 PM

We check in this week with Eric Branch, beat writer at the San Francisco Chronicle, to get the inside slant on the 49ers:

1. OK, after looking over the 49ers, I have a two-part question: where the heck is Vernon Davis in this offense, and what's your confidence level that Colin Kaepernick can win this game from the pocket -- which the Patriots will make him do?

EB: "Vernon Davis...that's a very good question. They're drawing up plenty of plays for him, but he's been getting a lot of attention, though sometimes I do see him open. The last three games he's had two drops so I don't know if there's a confidence level (thing) with Kaepernick not trusting him but Michael Crabtree has 20 targets the past few weeks and Davis has five. Even with Alex Smith, Davis has disappeared from the offense for long stretches, not just with Kaepernick.

"I think Kaepernick can do it. Last week he completed 18 of 23 passes, it should have been 21 of 23 with a couple drops and a throwaway in there. Generally speaking, he's not working on the move a whole lot. In training camp, he was wildly inaccurate. Certainly myself, I thought that would prevent him from playing this year; I just didn't think he was ready yet.

2. Who is the one 49ers player most Patriots fans don’t know right now, but will by the end of the game on Monday?

EB: "I'd say Chris Culliver, their No. 2 cornerback. He's arguably playing just as good if not better than their starter, Tarell Brown, and Carlos Rogers. Brown has gotten better and better this year, and he had maybe his best game against the Dolphins. He was a third-round pick in last year's draft. He has good skills and is starting to put everything together. He's going to be on the field a lot, so they'll notice him."

3. What’s the biggest weakness on the 49ers’ offense you expect the Patriots to try to exploit?

EB: "I don't know if it's measurable, and you can argue it's not true, but I think it's Kaepernick's inexperience in not having seen all sorts of different looks. It's just his fifth career game and it's the kind of matchup against (Bill) Belichick where he's going to get a lot thrown at him. It could be an issue. I think it's why Jim Harbaugh inserted him, for a game like this, kind of a playoff-type game, to get him ready in a game on the road."

4. What’s the biggest weakness on the 49ers’ defense you expect the Patriots to try to exploit?

EB: "Obviously it's pretty solid. They've tightened up the secondary. It was really durable last year. Dashon Goldson has played better back there. Last year they were so dominating against the run. They're still very good this year, but there are some times where teams have been able to run it down their throat, it's been very surprising. The Giants, and it could have been just a lack of motivation, in the fourth quarter of their win, they shoved it down the 49ers' throat. Marshawn Lynch went over 100, Stephen Jackson went over 100. So they have been a little vulnerable against the run.

5. Finally, 49ers win on Sunday if …

EB: "...it's not a novel strategy and probably hard to execute, but keep the ball away from the Patriots' offense by running the ball with Frank Gore and LaMichael James. If they can get that going with the short passing game, Kaepernick can be accurate with the underneath stuff, and get a couple long touchdown drives, I think that's the best formula. I don't think they want to try a shootout with the Patriots."

Inside the matchup: 49ers at Patriots

Posted by Greg A. Bedard December 16, 2012 03:09 PM

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

INSIDE THE 49ERS’ OFFENSE

Let’s get it out of the way now: The San Francisco 49ers are going to be the most complete team the Patriots will have faced all season. They are dynamic in all three facets of the game and have several playmakers all over the field.

Offensively, they are led by second year QB Colin Kaepernick, who is a more dangerous quarterback than Alex Smith ever was and it’s not simply because of his mobility. Kaepernick is indeed mobile and can pick up yardage in chunks on the ground but it’s his arm strength and deep ball accuracy that really stands out. It’s an area which Smith struggled mightily and as a result, the offense was limited. However, now they are able to utilize their vertical threats – tight ends Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker and to a lesser degree, wide receiver Randy Moss – and attack all three levels of the field.

The offense was created by Jim Harbaugh, who took West Coast Offense principles in the passing game and married it to a power running game. The latter sets up the former and it comes in various fashions. The 49ers’ running game consists of all sorts of run concepts, such as the base plays of Inside Zone, Outside Zone, Lead, Power as well as the old school Wham play (seen with NYJ last year) and recently popular Zone Read. They will use these from various formations, including Bill Walsh’s old split-backs and the recently implemented Pistol set that Kaepernick was familiar with at Nevada. The formations consist of 11, 12, 21, 22, and 13 (including tackle-eligible) personnel.

As noted, the passing game consists of West Coast Offense concepts, such as the popular Smash concept (Hitch + Corner route), Mesh (crossers) and endless variations of the Hi-Lo concept, and utilizes 3 and 5 step dropback passing. The goal of every West Coast Offense passing game is to keep the ball in between the hashes and attack the defense through the seam. The 49ers do this very well with the aforementioned tight ends and a big reason why is because of their pre-snap movement.

The 49ers use a plethora of shifts and motions to mess with the keys of the defenders, leaving them confused as to who their assignment is. The pre-snap movement is the biggest reason why defenses struggle against the 49ers because of the sheer multitude of them. There is no offense in the NFL that is built this way and does such an excellent job of getting the numbers advantage in the passing game as well as the running game, where they do a very good job of getting numbers at the point of attack.

INSIDE THE 49ERS’ DEFENSE

As good as the offense looks for the 49ers, it is still the defense that shines. This unit might be the most complete in the NFL and it shows in how they play.

A four man rush is a constant with them because they can rely on the front four to get pressure. Aldon and Justin Smith speak for themselves and are most popular but the other rushers are very good as well. Outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks is a very good rusher and defensive end Ray McDonald is underrated. These rushers get after the quarterback through various fronts in Vic Fangio’s defense, which includes but is not limited to 2, 3 and 4 man fronts. They can be seen lined up in the Okie front (both guards uncovered), Even (center uncovered) and various other techniques that are typically seen in Under (strongside guard uncovered) and Over fronts (weakside guard uncovered). Regardless of the front, the 49ers are stout in run defense as they work as a team to get after ball-carriers.

While the rushers get after the quarterback, the linebackers do an excellent job of covering. The unit is led by arguably the two best inside linebackers in the NFL, Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman. Both have range and speed to run with running backs, wide receivers or tight ends. When outside linebacker Aldon Smith is not getting after the quarterback, he can be seen dropping in coverage (usually in the curl-flat area) with fluidity.

In the secondary, the cornerbacks are sometimes very physical with wide receivers and are quality in man coverage, mirroring receivers throughout their routes. The safeties are also very physical, laying the wood often and coming down very aggressively in run defense. They are quick to identify run or pass, which allows them to play fast. Altogether, they play a variety of coverages, which include Cover 1 (Man-Free), Cover 1 Robber, Cover 2 Man (Man-Under), Cover 3 (4-under, 3-deep) and Cover 4 (Quarters).

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

  • 49ers’ offensive shifts: As stated earlier, the 49ers’ offensive shifts are the key to their offense. They utilize them very well to help set up blocking schemes and get the numbers advantage, so it is imperative that the Patriots defenders communicate throughout the game. They need to make sure they are lined up properly and have their assignments; otherwise, they will go down in flames like the Chicago Bears’ once dominant defense did earlier in the season.
  • 49ers’ play-action passing: Kaepernick has made some impressive throws off of play action, especially deep, so the Patriots must be conscious of deep routes. Kaepernick does a very good job of buying time and is willing to step up in the face of pressure to deliver down the field. Davis is a threat but so is Walker, who flies under the radar.
  • Patriots’ no huddle: The 49ers don’t make many substitutions defensively because all of their defenders are able to play all three downs. This benefits the Patriots, who should be able to go to the no huddle offense and move the ball. The 49ers have yet to deal with an offense like the Patriots’, so it will be interesting to see how this works out. I fully expect to see the no huddle.
  • Patriots’ deep passing: One of the most interesting things to watch for is if the Patriots will be able to attack the 49ers deep. The 49ers’ safeties are aggressive but disciplined. However, the Patriots have the players to attack vertically. It wouldn’t surprise me if we see the Patriots take shots outside the numbers against the 49ers when they are playing with one deep safety.
  • 49ers’ defensive stunts: The 49ers’ front four is very good at destroying offensive lines with stunts, the most famous of them being the T-E (tackle-end) with Justin and Aldon Smith. Aldon Smith is particularly dangerous looping inside on this stunt.

Game 14 preview: 49ers at Patriots

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff December 16, 2012 12:58 PM

For the second week in a row, the Patriots have an opportunity to polish their standing in the NFL on national TV with another marquee matchup.

The Patriots host the San Francisco 49ers in Week 15 for only the second time the two team's will have played at Gillette Stadium and 12th time in the history of the two franchises, a series in which the 49ers lead 7-4.

The last time the two teams played each other was Oct. 5, 2008. Matt Cassel filled in for an injured Tom Brady as the Patriots won 31-21 at Candlestick Park.

Four years later, this 49ers team poses a much different threat under the helm of second-year coach Jim Harbaugh. The 49ers feature the league's leader in sacks in Aldon Smith (19.5), the second best defense in the NFL, and the second best running game (161.5 yards per game). The Patriots match up well, holding opponents to an eighth best low in yards per game rushing (100.8), sporting an offense that leads the league in scoring (36.3), and an offensive line that has allowed only 20 sacks on the quarterback.

San Francisco is coming off a 27-13 win over the Miami Dolphins in which second-year quarterback Colin Kaepernick was 18 of 23 passing for 183 yards in his fourth start of the season. He took over for veteran Alex Smith after Smith suffered a concussion against the St. Louis Rams in Week 10. Kaepernick is getting his fifth start and this will be his sixth game with significant action. The University of Nevada product has a strong arm and can run the ball well. He broke off a 50-yard touchdown run, the longest in 49ers franchise history, against the Dolphins. The 49ers liked to run the option with Kaepernick even before he took over for Smith, subbing him in during five games early in the season for just that reason.

The Patriots offense, No. 1 in the NFL, will have to deal with a physical defense led by Pro Bowl players Justin Smith, Patrick Willis, and Dashon Goldson, representing a cross section of the unit's position groups. San Francisco linebacker NaVorro Bowman is sixth in the NFL with 116 tackles. New England will have to do without tight end Rob Gronkowski for another week. He's still sidelined while rehabbing a broken forearm despite practicing this week.

The 49ers will be without wide receiver Mario Manningham, who has been dealing with a shoulder injury. Randy Moss, who played with the Patriots from 2007 to 2010 and scored 50 touchdowns with the team, will likely start in Manningham's place. Moss has been a nominal piece in the 49ers' run-heavy offense. He has caught 21 passes for 326 yards and two touchdowns. By comparison, 49ers running back Frank Gore has caught 23 passes for 179 yards and a touchdown. Gore leads the team with 1,035 yards rushing and seven touchdowns.

Here are the details for today's game:

Kickoff: 8:20 p.m

Records: Patriots 10-3; 49ers 9-3-1.

TV/Radio info: NBC (Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya); 98.5-FM The Sports Hub (Gil Santos, Scott Zolak); Dial Global Radio Sports (Dave Sims, James Lofton, Steve Tasker).

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 Michael Hoomanawanui, WR Brandon Lloyd, QB Tom Brady, RB Stevan Ridley, TE Aaron Hernandez.

Patriots defense: NT Vince Wilfork, DT Kyle Love, DE Chandler Jones, DE Rob Ninkovich, LB Dont'a Hightower, LB Jerod Mayo, LB Brandon Spikes, CB Aqib Talib, CB Alfonzo Dennard, S Devin McCourty, S Steve Gregory.

49ers offense: WR Michael Crabtree, LT Joe Staley, LG Mike Iupati, C Jonathan Goodwin, RG Alex Boone, RT Anthony Davis, TE Vernon Davis, WR Randy Moss, FB Bruce Miller, RB Frank Gore, QB Colin Kaepernick.

49ers defense: DT Ray McDonald, NT Isaac Sopoaga, DT Justin Smith, OLB Ahmad Brooks, ILB NaVorro Bowman, ILB Patrick Willis, OLB Aldon Smith, LCB Carlos Rogers, RCB Tarell Brown, FS Dashon Goldson, SS Donte Whitner.

Inactives
(more to come)

Patriots: TE Rob Gronkowski (forearm).

49ers: WR Mario Manningham (shoulder)

Patriots to donate $25,000 to Newtown, will wear town decal on helmets for tonight's game

Posted by Steve Silva, Boston.com Staff December 16, 2012 12:06 PM

Patriots Newtown CT decal on helmet

The Patriots will honor the victims of the Newtown, Conn., elementary school tragedy by wearing the town decal along with a black ribbon on their helmets during tonight's game against the San Francisco 49ers.

The Patriots will also donate $25,000 to help Newtown, Conn. and the families affected by Friday’s tragedy, team president Jonathan Kraft told NFL.com on Sunday morning. Rand-Whitney, a corrugated box company owned by the Kraft family, had a factory less than one mile from Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Kraft told NFL.com that he had called the factory on Friday to send along well-wishes to a longtime employee that was retiring from the company. Kraft was then informed of the tragedy nearby and that instead of a holding a retirement celebration the company was hosting counseling sessions and providing space to media members covering the school shooting.

"To me, the adults who lost their children in this are so important, the future of the school and how it moves forward is important, the town is important," Kraft told NFL.com on Sunday morning. "It's not for us to make the decision on what to do with the money. But we're gonna help."

Kraft also said that the school shooting had an a noticeable impact in the Patriots’ locker room.

"The players have been really affected by it, just hearing guys talk," Kraft told NFL.com. "You never hear guys talk about current events, but the guys were talking about it on Friday afternoon and Saturday in the building. A lot of guys have young children. A lot of guys have guns. There was a lot of talk here."

Before the game, 26 white flares will be lit up at Gillette Stadium during the moment of silence to honor the 26 victims of the shooting.

The New York Giants also will honor the victims by having S.H.E.S. (Sandy Hook Elementary School) written on their helmets for Sunday's game against the Atlanta Falcons.

Photo courtesy of New England Patriots via Twitter

49ers downgrade Manningham to out

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff December 15, 2012 09:04 PM

San Francisco has announced that WR Mario Manningham has been downgraded to out for Sunday night's game against the Patriots.

The 49ers had listed Manningham has doubtful in Friday's report.

It will be the second consecutive game that Manningham will miss because of the right shoulder injury.

49ers beat reporter Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area said Manningham's absence will mean more opportunities for Randy Moss to play in two-receiver sets.

Patriots-49ers Friday injury report: Gronkowski, 18 others questionable

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff December 14, 2012 04:53 PM

The Patriots have released their final injury report of the week, with 19 players listed as questionable for Sunday night's game with San Francisco.

TE Rob Gronkowski (left forearm/hip) is one of the 19 after practicing for the first time since undergoing surgery for his broken arm on Nov. 19. However, he is not expected to play this week.

Niners WR Mario Manningham (shoulder) is listed as doubtful.

For the Patriots
Questionable
CB Kyle Arrington - knee
DT Ron Brace - elbow
S Patrick Chung - hamstring
G Dan Connolly - back
CB Alfonzo Dennard - hamstring
TE Rob Gronkowski - forearm/hip
TE Aaron Hernandez - ankle
LB Dont'a Hightower - hamstring
DE Chandler Jones - ankle
WR Brandon Lloyd - knee
DT Kyle Love - not injury related
G Logan Mankins - ankle/calf
OL Nick McDonald - shoulder
OT Nate Solder - abdomen
LB Brandon Spikes - knee/ankle
CB Aqib Talib - hip
OT Sebastian Vollmer - back/knee
WR Wes Welker - ankle
LB Tracy White - elbow

Probable
LB Jerod Mayo - elbow

For the 49ers
Doubtful
WR Mario Manningham - shoulder

Probable
K David Akers - pelvis
LB Navorro Bowman - shoulder
CB Tarell Brown - shoulder
CB Chris Culliver - knee
LB Tavares Gooden - ribs
RB Frank Gore - wrist
RB Bruce Miller - shoulder
CB Carlos Rogers - knee
LB Aldon Smith - shoulder
DT Will Tukuafu - wrist
LB Patrick Willis - shoulder

Belichick talks Welker, Mayo & 49ers

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff December 14, 2012 01:09 PM
Patriots coach Bill Belichick addressed the media at Gillette Stadium on Friday. Among the topics he discussed were Wes Welker, who heads into Sunday night’s game against the San Francisco 49ers needing five receptions to become the first player in NFL history to record five 100-catch seasons.

"I think what it says most about him is his dependability and durability," said Belichick. "That’s a lot of catches for a lot of years. To be able to go there and do it, week after week, against all the different coverages and all the different matchups we see, it’s a real credit to Wes’s ability but also his toughness and durability. He’s taken a lot of hits out there. Our slot receivers historically, Troy Brown, Wes, have always caught a lot of balls but he’s caught a lot for a long time. And he returns kicks for us at times and blocks. He’s a tough kid. He’s in there on a lot of plays. It’s not all catches."

On whether the 49ers reflect the personality of their coach, Jim Harbaugh:

"They play very competitively, they’re physical with an edge. [He] was a tough guy for a quarterback definitely and his teams reflect that. He’s a strong personality and they play that way, aggressively."

On San Francisco’s kicking game:

"[Kicker David Akers] can definitely change field position. He’s got a huge leg. Akers had the 63-yard field goal this year [against Green Bay]. We know he’s an excellent kicker and skilled. He had the on-side kick against us when he was with the Eagles in ’07. Good returners. They’ve got a solid kick game. They led the league last year. They’ve got a good balance of speed, size, toughness and specialists – kicker, punter, returners."

On linebacker Jerod Mayo’s development:

"I think a lot of times rookies come in and they’re talented, they’re big and fast. They can run and chase the ball. But a lot of times, they’re just kind of running around out there. As they gain more experience and more understanding of the total defense, and where their teammates are and how things fit on different runs, they play with maybe a little more patience, maybe a little bit more recognition in terms of play-action passes and missed direction plays and things like that. Although Jerod is very good and has been very good at those. But I think certainly you get better at them through time.

"It’s kind of like the quarterback. A linebacker has to make multiple, multiple decisions on every play. Not only what assignment is but what the play is but all the way along the line. Different angles and how to take on blocks, how to tackle, the leverage you play with, the angle to run to and so forth. There are so many things that happen in a split second during the course of a play. Just like there is for a quarterback. The more of those things that you can do right, slow down and get the most important things, not get distracted by all the stuff that’s happening, just really zero in on the target. I think a good quarterback, or a good linebacker, the safety, it slows down for them and they can really see it. Then there are other guys, it’s a lot of bodies moving and they don’t see anything. It’s like being in a busy intersection with cars going everywhere. The guys who can really sort it out, they see the game at a slower pace and they can really sort out and decipher all that movement, which is hard but experience certainly helps that."

Game 14 video preview: Patriots offense faces a formidable test in 49ers

Posted by Steve Silva, Boston.com Staff December 14, 2012 12:21 PM
One team is known for its high-scoring offense. The other is known for a shutdown defense. And neither team knows the other one all that well.

It's another prime time matchup for the Patriots, who face the San Francisco 49ers Sunday night at Gillette Stadium in only the 12th meeting of the teams in their history.

While the Patriots enter this week’s game first in the NFL with an average of 36.3 points per game and 425.7 yards of total offense per game, the San Francisco defense ranks first in the NFL, allowing just 14.2 points per game.

In this week's preview video, the Globe's Shalise Manza Young gives us her keys to the Week 15 showdown and looks into how the Patriots match up against some of the 49ers biggest weapons on offense and defense. We'll also hear from Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, and Nate Solder on taking on one of the toughest defenses in the NFL. And Rob Ninkovich talks about a Patriots defense that has forced a turnover in 24 straight games, dating back to 2011 and including the first 13 games of 2012.

New England is an NFL-best 43-5 in December since the 2001 season and is 21-0 in the second half of the season since 2010. The Patriots have won 20 consecutive games at Gillette in December. Belichick is 45-7 in December with the Patriots and the team has now won 13 consecutive regular-season December games.

Jim Harbaugh is in his second season as head coach after leading the 49ers to a 13-3 regular season record, its best since 1997, and a NFC West Division title last year. The 49ers are 10-4 on the road overall under Harbaugh.

With 19.5 sacks on the season, 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith set the single-season franchise record, surpassing Hall of Fame defensive end Fred Dean. San Francisco's defense has allowed just 25 drives to reach the red zone this season, ranking first in the NFL.

On the offensive side of the ball, running back Frank Gore eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark for the season last week, marking his franchise-record sixth 1,000 yard rushing season, while Niners quarterback Colin Kaepernick is always a threat to run the ball.

Friday roll call: Gronkowski returns

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff December 14, 2012 12:14 PM

The Patriots are holding their final on-field practice of the week on the Gillette Stadium field.

Rob Gronkowski was on the field and participating during the media-access window, returning for the first time since breaking his left arm on Nov. 19 against the Colts.

Kyle Love was the only player not spotted.

Players are in shells and sweats.

Talib on hip injury: 'Day-to-day'

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff December 13, 2012 05:39 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Cornerback Aqib Talib, who left Monday's win over the Texans with a hip injury, hasn't missed any practice time this week, but has been limited.

After Thursday's sweats-and-shells practice, Talib was asked about the injury.

"I’m all right, just a day-to-day injury, just working hard three times a day trying to get healthy," Talib said.

How did it happen?

"Oh man, just have to check the tape," he said. "I just remember falling, I don’t remember too much how it happened."

Talib has played in four games since the Patriots acquired him from Tampa Bay Nov. 1, and his arrival has coincided with the defense playing some of its best football of the season. The point total for Patriots opponents has gone down in five straight games.

Another cornerback, rookie Alfonzo Dennard, also left Monday's game with what the team called a hamstring injury.

"I feel pretty good," said Dennard, who also has been limited in practice this week.

Branch comes back to Patriots, steps right into old role

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff December 13, 2012 05:04 PM

When Deion Branch returned to the Patriots Wednesday, he wasn’t met with much fanfare.

His stall, just to the right of quarterback Tom Brady’s, had remained intact since he was released Nov. 17. His reception was cordial and businesslike.

"All the guys just walk past my locker like nothing ever happened," said Branch. "So I didn’t get any hugs or anything like that. Just like, 'How you doing? What’s up?' Just another day, man. That’s what happens in this business."

Branch said that while he was away he watched Patriots games, keeping abreast of how the team was playing and waiting for a chance to return after he rehabilitated a hamstring injury.

"It was a little different," said Branch. "I was talking to Tom about that. You realize how much you miss the game when you’re down and you’re away from it. But at the same time, you really realize how good of a team we have because I understand what’s going on when I’m watching plays and stuff.

"But we still have a lot of work to do. I can still see the plays where we’re messing up on. But at the same time, you see what we’re doing as a fan. It was fascinating."

Because he knows the Patriots playbook, he was able to predict some of what transpired on the field.

"Tom pretty much dictates everything," he said. "But I can see from the plays I remember, other than the ones that they put in that were new, some of the things that I was looking at I can see what I think his reads are. It’s amazing for me to do that."

When asked how Brady did, Branch laughed.

"He did great," he said.

Branch said it was almost as if he never left, and he is pleased for the opportunity to fill a role created by the injuries to Julian Edelman and Donte Stallworth.

"Nothing’s changed around here," he said. "The guys are the same. They’re still winning. That’s good and I’m just glad to be back."

Branch was released before the Patriots opener but was re-signed Sept. 19, three days after Aaron Hernandez went down with an ankle injury.

He played seven games but was released again because of the hamstring injury.

"It’s just situations," he said. "Every situation is different. It’s part of the business. You understand certain things. This is what happens, but at the same time, you know what your goals are. I know what’s important, the team knows what’s important. We sit down every time with things like this whether it’s me or someone else. Coach Belichick and this organization is straightforward. He let’s you know what’s what. Everything is a lot better when you’re straightforward with guys and they do a great job with that."

Branch said he didn’t pursue opportunities elsewhere because he was waiting for a call from the Patriots.

"This is where I want to be," he said. "Someone else may be different. I only speak for myself. This is where I want to be. This is where I want to retire. That kind of makes everything a lot more easier."

Branch said his No. 1 goal is to help the team.

"I’m stepping in as if I never left," he said. "I’m here to just do whatever guys need me to do, whatever Tom needs me to do on offense, whatever my team needs me to do. That’s my job."

He said he was always hopeful the Patriots would call.

"I expected that but anything can happen," Branch said. "The team had to do what was best for them. Everything works out for a reason. I think in this case, it worked out in the right way."

It was almost eight years ago when Branch was named Super Bowl MVP, and he said it seems like an eternity.

"That was a long time ago, when we won," he said. "That stuff is in the past. We all need to be grateful and thankful just to play the game that we play. Trust me, I’m one of the guys [who] is very thankful. I seize every moment that I get. I’m just glad to be back. I’m a very blessed individual."

When asked about his hamstring, Branch just smiled.

"I’m feeling OK, I feel good," he said. "Everybody’s hurting. No one is 100 percent. It’s the NFL."

Thursday roll call: Gronkowski still out

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff December 13, 2012 12:58 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Tight end Rob Gronkowski was the only player not spotted at Patriots practice, a sweats-n-shells workout on the upper field behind Gillette Stadium.

Still recovering from a broken left forearm, Gronkowski hasn't practiced since the Nov. 18 injury, and was expected to miss 4 to 8 weeks. Returning this soon, then, would be on the early part of that scale.

Defensive tackle Kyle Love was back on the field, after missing Wednesday's walkthrough to be with his wife for the birth of their child.

Gronkowski, Love miss practice

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff December 12, 2012 07:21 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Rob Gronkowski was the only player to miss Wednesday's Patriots practice because of an injury, although a league source maintains he will return to practice this week.

Gronkowski has missed three games with a broken forearm, an injury suffered Nov. 18. He had surgery the next day, and is supposed to be out from four to eight weeks.

The only other player who didn't practice was Kyle Love, who had permission to miss. He and his wife, Constance, welcomed the birth of their first child, a son, on Wednesday.

Linebacker Brandon Spikes wasn't spotted at the beginning of practice, but according to the team-issued report, he was on the field inside the Dana-Farber bubble, limited with knee and ankle injuries.

Fifteen other Patriots were also listed under limited: defensive backs Kyle Arrington (knee), Patrick Chung (shoulder/hamstring), Alfonzo Dennard (hamstring), and Aqib Talib (hip); defensive linemen Ron Brace (elbow) and Chandler Jones (ankle); offensive linemen Dan Connolly (back), Logan Mankins (ankle/calf), Nick McDonald (shoulder), and Sebastian Vollmer (back/knee); tight end Aaron Hernandez (ankle); linebackers Dont'a Hightower (hamstring) and Tracy White (elbow); and receivers Brandon Lloyd (knee) and Wes Welker (ankle).

Patriots sign two, including Deion Branch

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff December 12, 2012 07:09 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- As we wait for the week's first practice report (albeit off a light walk-through), we'll note the Patriots' official announcement on Wednesday of receiver Deion Branch being re-signed.

Branch has played in seven games this season, catching nine passes for 80 yards. He was with the Patriots in training camp, was released before the season, then signed on Sept. 19. He was released again on Nov. 17 after suffering a hamstring injury.

He was at practice on Wednesday, but was not spotted in the locker room, and did not meet with reporters. Coach Bill Belichick, though, was asked about what Branch brings to the team.

"Same thing he brought to the team before: Good level of experience, knows our system, has played for us," Belichick said.

The Patriots also signed receiver Tony Logan to the practice squad. Logan played at Maryland, and was a return specialist, averaging 18.1 yards per punt return as a junior.

Wednesday roll call: Gronkowski not seen at practice

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff December 12, 2012 03:44 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Rob Gronkowski was one of three players who was not spotted at Patriots practice Wednesday, which was a light walk-through (no pads or helmets) inside the Dana-Farber bubble.

Gronkowski has missed three straight games with a broken forearm, and was projected to be out four to eight weeks.

The other two players not spotted during the portion made accessible to the media were linebacker Brandon Spikes and defensive tackle Kyle Love. Earlier on Wednesday, Love posted a Twitter message about the impending birth of his child, so his absence is likely excused and not related to injury.

Aqib Talib and Alfonzo Dennard, who left Monday's games with injuries, were at practice. Talib suffered a hip injury, while Dennard had a hamstring issue.

49ers coach Jim Harbaugh flummoxed by Patriots offense

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff December 12, 2012 03:42 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh has looked at the Patriots on film and is searching for answers to try to contain the league's No. 1 offense.

"Very impressed in all phases," Harbaugh said via conference call Wednesday afternoon. "Kicking game, return game, offensively, defensively, [they're] playing at a very high level. Very impressive."

Asked about how his second-ranked defense can do what the Texans failed to do, disrupt the Tom Brady-led offense, Harbaugh was stumped.

"Well we'd sure like to find the answer to that," he said. "And then implement it. But it's really difficult. They're tough to do that against."

He pointed to the Patriots strengths, which he said were numerous.

"[The have a] really good scheme, really good play-calling and then great individual effort at each position," Harbaugh said. "[And] great ability they have to play as a team. So, you could talk for hours about how good they are."

Other comments from Harbaugh:

On Randy Moss
"He's done a nice job. He's been a contributor. He's produced and he's been a great teammate."

On his defensive end Aldon Smith
"He's got a very high motor. He really likes football and he's got a lot of physical attributes, speed and power. And he's a very smart guy."

On all-pro defensive lineman Justin Smith
"Well I really thought this for a long time that everybody should have a Justin Smith. He is a football player in every sense of the word, which encompasses all the good qualities. Great teammate, great worker, talented, [and] smart, has it all. He makes it a joy to come out here and coach when you got guys like that."

On how the Patriots' defense has changed with the acquisition of Aqib Talib
"I think it's allowed them to do some things they weren't doing before, definitely. Moving a corner to safety, a lot of man coverage as you saw the other night against Houston, and probably a number of things that are there."

On the options available in his team's full-house pistol formation
"That's the idea, trying to have a formation that we can do different things out of; run, pass, etc."

On the similarities between the Patriots' Jerod Mayo and the 49ers' Patrick Willis
"Definitely. They both stand on their own, but they're both really good players. Jerod has all the skills that you want a linebacker to have, physical, good tackler, can cover side to side. He's just a really good football player."

Brady put in extra work to prepare for 49ers

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff December 12, 2012 01:36 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- From one tough task to another, the Patriots move on to dealing with the San Francisco 49ers this week and Tom Brady has put in extra work to be prepared for the league’s second-ranked defense.

As early as Black Friday, Brady was watching film on the 49ers to get ahead.

“After the Thursday night game against the Jets I tried to do a bunch of work on the 49ers,” he said. “Put a couple of days in there. After the game on Monday night, I felt like I had to watch their most recent game and I was caught up. I tried to take advantage of a little extra time, [with a] little extra planning. I probably wouldn’t have done that 10 years ago.”

What Brady saw was physical defense all around, tough in the secondary and disruptive up front. Similar to the Texans, but different schematically. The 49ers feature the league leader in sacks with Aldon Smith (19.5) and have two top-notch safeties in Donte Whitner and Dashon Goldson. At one point, Goldson had been courted by the Patriots to come to New England.

“[It’s a] very hard-hitting group,” Brady said of the secondary. “I’d say the whole defense is that way. It’s a very physical defense. Certainly at the safety position, we played Donte Whitner probably a few times and he’s as physical as there is. Dashon Goldson, I’m really impressed by his ability. Watching him, we never played them -- I’ve never played against them -- but he’s really an impressive player.

“I think the linebackers they have are all good. They sack the quarterback. The guy Aldon Smith is on an incredible pace. What a start to a career. So it’s a lot of challenges. We’re gonna have to play our best game. I know our guys have been preparing hard the last 24 hours. We’re going to have to continue through the rest of the week.”

Two weeks in a row, the performance of the Patriots’ offensive line will be key with players like Aldon Smith and Justin Smith, an All-Pro at defensive end and tackle, anchoring the 49ers defense. Justin Smith is often credited with attracting enough attention to create favorable and one-on-one matchups for teammates.

“Justin Smith is a great player,” Brady said. “He’s got a great motor. He’s big, powerful, takes up two guys. He allows those other guys some one-on-one matchups. He’s in there every play. He plays hard. He plays to the end of the play. He’s a great player. They’ve got a great front. There’s no real weakness on this defense. They do everything well.”

Other Brady comments:

On Donte’ Stallworth being placed on injured reserve after scoring a touchdown on Monday:

“It’s a bummer for Donte’. He was so excited to be back. And he makes a great play. And he gets injured on the play. That was disappointing.

On reports of Deion Branch’s signing, before it was officially announced by the team:

“I haven’t heard anything about Deion. If we have, that’s from you and not from me.”

On comparisons to Joe Montana:

“I don’t think about that much. I don’t think about comparisons much. I really don’t.”

Bill Belichick talks 49ers, Gronk, Moss, Doc Rivers

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff December 12, 2012 01:26 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- A short week against a challenging opponent certainly has the attention of Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who was peppered with a wide range of questions during his press conference Wednesday.

Belichick was asked about the 49ers, who meet the Patriots at Gillette Stadium Sunday night. The Patriots (10-3) are currently the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoff race; San Francisco (9-3-1) is No. 2 in the NFC race, giving the Patriots a second straight game against a quality, playoff-bound opponent.

"These guys do a lot of things well, very physical football team, well coached, very good fundamentally," Belichick said. "We know we’ve got a big challenge in front of us this week, the entire week, not just Sunday, but the whole week of preparation, getting ready to play these guys will be tough."

Belichick also commented on a number of other topics.

On the status of tight end Rob Gronkowski, who has been out with a broken forearm: "Day-to-day. Hopefully today’s better than yesterday, and hopefully tomorrow is better than today."

On former Patriots receiver Randy Moss, now with the 49ers: "Randy’s Randy; he can still run through the defense."

On Celtics coach Doc Rivers, who visited the coaches before Monday's game, then watched from Belichick's box: "It’s great to have Doc here, I have a lot of respect for Doc and the program that the Celtics run, I think he does a tremendous job coaching his team. I really admire the way his teams play, the way his players play. He gives great leadership to a lot of those guys. You can learn a lot from watching them."

On the relationship he has with Rivers: "We talk, we exchange ideas, I’m certainly pulling for them, they’re pulling for us, so there’s a rooting interest. But beyond that, on a professional level, there’s certainly a lot that I’ve learned from watching Doc and the Celtics, the way they do a lot of things organizationally, his coaching style, some of the things he’s talked to me about, the way he’s handled players and situations, things like that. He’s talked to our team, he’s said a lot of things that really made sense, really hit home. It’s a good relationship, we’ve learned from each other."

Belichick also confirmed the signing of receiver Deion Branch, added to the roster after Donte' Stallworth suffered an ankle injury in Monday's game.

Brady is AFC offensive player of the week

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff December 12, 2012 12:25 PM
FOXBOROUGH -- Perhaps it's appropriate on 12-12-12, but Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who wears No. 12, has been named the AFC's offensive player of the week for his role in Monday's 42-14 win over the Houston Texans.

Brady completed 21 of 35 passes for 296 yards, with four touchdowns and no interceptions. It's his 23d time winning the award, an NFL record.

Pictures: Boston's most famous No. 12's

Gronkowski expected to practice

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff December 12, 2012 09:46 AM

Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, sidelined with a broken arm since Nov. 18, will try to practice this week, the Globe's Shalise Manza Young has learned from a league source.

Gronkowski had surgery Nov. 19, the day after breaking his left forearm on an extra-point play vs. the Colts.

Stallworth placed on IR, Shiancoe released, Branch returning

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff December 11, 2012 06:45 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Donte' Stallworth's return to the Patriots, at least this stint, will be for just one game. The receiver was placed on injured reserve Tuesday with an ankle injury, presumably suffered during Monday night's 42-14 win over the Houston Texans, a game in which Stallworth caught one pass, a 63-yarder that went for a touchdown.

With Stallworth now unavailable, it opens room on the roster for receiver Deion Branch, who will return to the Patriots this week, according to a league source. Branch has nine catches in seven games this season, but was released last month after suffering a hamstring injury.

Stallworth had been signed last Monday, rejoining the organization that he spent the 2007 season with. He was also with the Patriots in training camp before being released, but with injuries to Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski, the team's receiving corps had thinned, prompting the move last week to bring Stallworth back.

"Donte' is always in good shape, works hard, dependable player that got an opportunity, stepped up and made it happen," coach Bill Belichick said, before Tuesday's roster announcement. "I think that's kind of what sometimes football is about, but certainly it's what football at this time of year is about. It's getting opportunities and taking advantage of them."

Said offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, also before the team announced the move: "I don't want to understate how hard it is to come in off the street and get acclimated to not only what the game plan is, but who the opponent is, how they play. And then, go out there and have to perform on short notice. Credit to him for putting himself in position to be able to go out there and do that."

The Patriots on Tuesday also released tight end Visanthe Shiancoe, who did not have a reception in any of the four games he played during his first season with the team. Signed as a free agent in July, Shiancoe was placed on injured reserve at the end of training camp, but with a designation to return. Each team is able to designate one player on IR for a return, and the Patriots used it on Shiancoe, who didn't play much at all, even when healthy.

Offensive lineman Tommie Draheim, a member of the practice squad, was also released.

Teleconference Tuesday

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff December 11, 2012 02:15 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Monday's 42-14 beatdown of the Houston Texans was barely 12 hours old when Patriots coaches Bill Belichick, Josh McDaniels, and Matt Patricia participated in their weekly conference call with members of the media.

Questions were split pretty evenly between looking back at Monday's win, and ahead to another prime time matchup at home, on Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers.

A sampling of what the coaches had to say.

Belichick, on beating the Texans, who came in with the best record (11-1) in the NFL: "Not really a whole lot I can add to what was said last night. It was a good team win. The players really stepped up and did a great job in all three phases. It was good to win last night and it was good the way that we won. I felt like we, like I said, we got a lot of contributions from everybody on the team. Everybody was ready to go. The players did a great job and played well against a good football team."

On the 49ers: "We’re on to San Francisco; quick turnaround here. The 49ers are a great football team, do a lot of things well and present a lot of challenges. We have to turn the page here – we’ve already turned it, really – turned the page and moved on to the 49ers."

On San Francisco's defense: "Yeah, really impressive. They have a lot of good players everywhere: up front, linebackers, corners, safeties, a lot of disruptive players. They’re a real physical defense. They’re hard to run against, they’re hard to block, period. They do a good job in man-to-man coverage. They do a good job in zone coverage. They’re, again, really physical, a lot of guys in zone. Guys catch the ball, but they have two or three guys there hitting them right away as soon as they catch it. Obviously, long yardage is not where you want to be against this team with their pass rush and multiples of zone, man, blitz, zone pressure, man pressure. They give you a lot of different things to work on. They have a lot of good players. They’re a strong, physical, tough football team that does a good job of tackling. They make you earn all your yards. They’re really solid in everything."

McDaniels, the offensive coordinator, on getting off to a fast start against the Texans: "I think it’s always something you’d like to do, is get off to a good start and get ahead in the game. You always try to run the best plays you can or put the groupings out there that you think can give you the most success or try to put the players in the best positions to be successful as many times as you can and that starts with the beginning of the game. I don’t think that changes based on who you’re playing. You always try to get out there and play well early. And against a really good team as we played yesterday, to go out there and put some points on the board in the first quarter, credit goes to the players. They did a great job of executing some of those things and really made some adjustments there and made some critical plays under pressure that helped us get off to a good start yesterday and play from ahead."

Patricia, the defensive coordinator, on the play of the defensive line against Houston: "Yeah, you really have to give credit to those guys up front. They did a heck of a job playing really good fundamental, disciplined football. Vince [Wilfork], obviously, leads the charge and is really just a tremendous player for us in the front. He obviously commands a lot of attention from the opponent, which in other cases can help free up teammates. It’s something we talked about earlier in the year – kind of those unsung plays that present themselves where he's obviously just such a force in there. [He] gets those plays once in a while where he is singled up or he has a chance, the opportunity, to make a big play, which he did quite a bit last night. Really those guys did a great job of reading their keys and using their good fundamental skills and playing the blocks that presented themselves last night and really working off each other based on the schemes we saw."

Jerod Mayo, in the middle of 12 acts of kindness, pulls for another Brady MVP

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff December 11, 2012 01:16 PM
Jerod Mayo with Jared the Subway guy in Boston.

Jerod Mayo was racing around Boston Tuesday doing 12 random acts of kindness for Subway less than 12 hours after the Patriots demolished the Texans, 42-14, at Gillette Stadium.

He pumped gas for strangers, paid the toll for people at the Mass. Turnpike, and made sandwiches with Subway front man Jared "the Subway Guy" Fogle at the franchise's Summer Street location.

Still elated with Monday night's mastery of the Texans, Mayo couldn't think of another time the Patriots had such a commanding performance.

"Against a quality opponent like the Houston Texans, I really can't put it into words," Mayo said.

However, after some nudging, he gave his opinion on the MVP race.

"I gotta go with my own guy. I gotta go with Tom [Brady]," Mayo said. "He's playing well for us. It's just amazing when you're on the sideline and he's throwing the ball like that. When he's in the zone, you can't stop him."

The Subway guy added his two cents on Monday night's win as well.

"I was the biggest Patriots fan last night," Fogle said. "I'm from Indianapolis. I am a Colts fan, I'll be honest. We needed the Houston Texans to lose. We needed [the Patriots] to win. Although now I think they'll be a little too angry because you guys killed them so bad."

Other comments from Mayo during his stop at Subway:

Will it be hard to turn the page after such a huge win?
"It's very easy. When you go against a team like the San Francisco 49ers. And we struggled against that division. When you go against a team that's physical on both sides of the ball. Great running back in Frank Gore, another challenge for us this week, it's very easy to change the page."

On spending the day with his wife
To be honest with you, my wife, she enjoys doing things like this. She enjoys coming out, doing these random acts of kindness today with Subway. Or getting to Boston Medical, it's something our family really enjoys doing."

On how he's been received across the city Tuesday
"It's always easier doing these things after a win. Especially on a Monday night game. It's been good. We just left the fire department. Those guys were amped up. Anything to get those guys going I'm happy about."

5 takeaways from the Patriots-Texans game

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff December 11, 2012 02:06 AM

FOXBOROUGH -- There's nothing better than going on national TV and showing the whole world why you're the best at what you do.

Here's some takeaways from the Patriots' 42-14 win over the Houston Texans.

1) The Patriots defense deserves a ton of credit -- It starts up front with Vince Wilfork, who played like a man possessed. He wanted to destroy the Texans, perhaps inspired by the relentless hype around Houston defensive end J.J. Watt. His penetration led to key stops in the backfield by his own hand and others, and he recorded a strip-sack, a tackle for a loss, and a pass defensed. Add in safety Devin McCourty, playing at his converted position, picking off Matt Schaub and Jerod Mayo (7 tackles) flying around the backfield, and what once was a unit marked by its ineptitude and scarred by ridicule, should have praise heaped upon it for such an outstanding performance. The defense's play showed that it was worthy of the same respect and adoration the team's offense receives, particularly given the opponent it just manhandled. The fifth-ranked Texans offense went 4 for 14 on third down and 0 for 2 on fourth. If that's not a top-notch, stand-up defense, I don't know what is.

2) Injuries or a change of pace? -- For the first time, two healthy and active Patriots who were mainstays of the team's starting lineup found themselves doing spot duty. Chandler Jones and Kyle Love were backups behind Trevor Scott (0.5 sack) and Brandon Deaderick (5 tackles, 1 tackle for loss). Whether it was a change of pace or because the two are battling some sort of ailment, it provided a lesson for this observer. Scott performed well, holding the edge while providing pressure, a sign that the team is relatively deep among its ends. But Deaderick found himself blocked out of plays at defensive tackle, allowing holes for Arian Foster to run through easily in the first and second quarter. Kyle Love's playing time rose significantly afterward. Outside of Wilfork and Love, the Patriots are pretty thin at tackle, which would explain why Jermaine Cunningham would often line up over guards before he was suspended for violating the NFL's performance-enhancing drugs policy. This bears watching going forward, but no reason to ring alarm bells.

3) Brandon Lloyd stepped up when it counted -- He didn't produce many yards after the catch, but his impact goes much further than the stat sheet implies. Lloyd provided the outside-the-numbers threat he's become known for, and took it up a notch. He caught passes over the middle, drew a pass interference call, and stretched the field in a way that made the Texans respect the entire field of play. He finished with seven catches for 89 yards and two touchdowns, one on a fumble recovery. It was an impractical and improbable way to score such a touchdown, but it fit right in with his up-and-down season. This marks a high point for Lloyd, and it couldn't come at a bigger moment.

4) Donte' Stallworth's return a fantastic one -- He was a free agent signee in the summer, cut before training camp, and sat on a couch for 13 weeks of the season before being brought back to replace the injured Julian Edelman. On limited snaps, he managed to break free and get loose twice in the Texans secondary. Tom Brady looked for him early in the third quarter on a 3d-and-8, but the two couldn't connect. That was about all the practice throws it would take though. One series later, Brady went right back to Stallworth on a 3d-and-10 and hooked up on a deep pass over the middle of the field. Stallworth caught the ball over cornerback Brandon Harris, made a move, and then started racing before dragging safety Quintin Demps the final five yards to the end zone. It was a phenomenal play for a guy who couldn't get a job after two workouts during the year with the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins. I guess the Bills and Dolphins have a better idea of what they passed up now.

5) Small bites -- Stevan Ridley has 10 touchdowns. I think it's safe to say he earned them the hard way. … Brady's four-touchdown performance passed Johnny Unitas on the list of most four-touchdown pass games. He has 18 four-touchdown games, tied with Drew Brees. … The Patriots piled up 28 first downs against the Texans. They have 361 on the season. With three games to go, the Patriots are poised to break the NFL record of 416. … Bill Belichick improved to 45-7 in December as head coach of the Patriots.

Big night for Brandon Lloyd

Posted by Steve Silva, Boston.com Staff December 11, 2012 01:57 AM
FOXBOROUGH – It was a big night for Brandon Lloyd, who had his first two touchdown game as a Patriot.

One touchdown was a perfectly executed pass play that looked like a run at the start. The other was a pass-play-turned-fumble where Lloyd happened to be in the right place at the right time.

For his first touchdown, Tom Brady found Lloyd wide open in the middle of the field after the Patriots QB faked a handoff and Lloyd blew past the confused Texans defense that bit on the run. Lloyd breezed into the end zone and the Patriots went up 14-0 in in the first quarter of what would be an eventual 42-14 demolition of Houston.

“That was definitely a scheme play,” Lloyd said. “We worked hard on that all week, and when the opportunity presented itself, Coach [Josh] McDaniels called it at the right time and we were able to take advantage of it.”

Lloyd's second touchdown came on a fumble recovery in the end zone, after Danny Woodhead lost the ball after catching a screen pass early in the fourth quarter. Texans defensive lineman J.J. Watt punched the ball out of Woodhead's arms and it bounced 13 yards into the end zone, where Lloyd grabbed it like he was pulling in a Brady pass.

“Just a screen pass, we do our best to block downfield, and unfortunately the ball popped out,” Lloyd said. “But we were there to make the play.”

Lloyd played the role of the humble team player after the game.

“Obviously the Texans are a really good football team," he said. "We did a pretty good job of executing in the first half, for the most part, but we still have things that we need to improve on. I think we had a great week of practice and we did things that were necessary to come out and execute well. It was a team effort.”

Lloyd caught seven passes for 89 yards, his second-highest total of the season.

Donte’ Stallworth scores, and gives an assist to the big screen at Gillette

Posted by Steve Silva, Boston.com Staff December 11, 2012 01:28 AM
FOXBOROUGH – Newly acquired Patriots wide receiver Donte’ Stallworth caught a 63-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady in the third quarter of Monday night's 42-14 dismantling of the Texans, and he credited the big video screen at Gillette Stadium with the assist.

“I didn’t even see the guy behind me until I looked up at the screen,” Stallworth said after the game. “So that’s why I grabbed it with two hands… last time I was here and I did that I got myself in trouble doing that I got caught from behind so I didn’t want that to happen again this time… guys do it all the time, it’s like having eyes in the back of your head.”

The touchdown was Stallworth's longest reception since he caught a 69-yard touchdown pass from Brady at Dallas on Oct. 14, 2007. The touchdown was Stallworth’s first in a Patriots uniform since Oct. 21, 2007 at Miami.

“We had a game plan that we wanted to execute and I felt like for the most part we did," Stallworth said. "We came in and we wanted to play a 60-minute game. You watch [the Texans] on film all year and there is a reason why they came in here at 11-1. They are a really good team. Today, we just played well and ended up winning the game."

Stallworth was the 16th Patriots player to score a touchdown this season. The 16 players with a touchdown is the most by the Patriots since 2007, when they tied an NFL record when 21 players reached the end zone.

“That particular play is something that we had worked on, even in the spring," Stallworth said regarding his TD reception. "It was just an opportunity where they were kind of flat-footed and it gave me an opportunity to run by the guy and Tommy made a great throw. He put it up for me to catch it and that’s what I did.”

All in all, Stallworth is just happy to be back and producing on the field.

“Just being out here with the guys. When I first got signed earlier this week it was really good being back around the guys, being back here in the locker room with the fellas," Stallworth said. "It’s been a good week. I wanted to come in and make sure that I was prepared. I’ve been studying hard all week and I felt like I was prepared coming in. The coaches did a good job of preparing me. My coach, Chad O’Shea, did a great job of preparing me and we ended up making some plays today and winning the ball game.”

Tom Brady takes stock of the AFC after dominating win

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff December 11, 2012 12:41 AM




FOXBOROUGH -- There was a lot of hype for Monday night's game against the Houston Texans for good reason.

Houston came into the contest 11-1, tops in the AFC, having won all six games on the road and sporting one of the toughest defenses as well as one of the most resilient running games. In response to such a daunting task, the Patriots ran off a 42-14 win that showed its strength in the league.

"It was a big game because they were 11-1 and leading the AFC and we had to see where we we're at, see where we match up against the better teams in the league," Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said. "We lost to Baltimore, who is winning their division, we beat Denver, who is leading their division, and we beat the Texans, who are leading their division. So it's always good to win these games, certainly a Monday night game. We played in a lot of good games here. So Monday night in December is an important one for us and we came out ready to go."

Brady was efficient in the win. He threw for 296 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions. Teammate Jerod Mayo said it was the first time the team had put together four solid quarters.

"Well our defense is playing with a lot of confidence," Brady said. "And offensively we feel like we can move the ball. We feel like we can put points on the board. We've done that consistently throughout the season. Our defense has shown us they can really get the ball to us and play some complementary football. I thought we did that for the most part tonight."

Is it all coming together now?

"Well it needs to come together now. This is the perfect time for it," Brady said. "We can't wait any longer than this. We've got three games left to play. They're the three most important games of the year."

Kubiak: 'They make you look really bad'

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff December 11, 2012 12:11 AM
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FOXBOROUGH -- Maybe it wasn't obvious Monday night in a 42-14 loss to the Patriots, but Gary Kubiak has put together an excellent offense with the Houston Texans. And the Texans coach has been around potent offenses for much of his football life, whether it was as John Elway's backup with the Broncos, quarterbacks coach for the Super Bowl champion San Francisco 49ers in 1994, or offensive coordinator for a pair of Broncos championship teams.

Perhaps his appreciation of a relentless offense is one reason Kubiak sounded more impressed than frustrated after Tom Brady and the Patriots dismantled his defense with 419 total yards and 27 first downs en route to the 28-point rout in front of a national television audience.

"That's the type of team they are,'' said Kubiak, whose Texans fell to 11-2 and own a one-game lead over the Patriots for the top seed in the AFC. "They make you look really bad. They're hurrying up and getting in a formation and if you're not on top of your stuff, No. 12 is not going to miss it. He doesn't miss many, and he sure as hell didn't tonight. That's what it takes to get to where that team has been for a long time. They did it again tonight. Credit to them."

J.J. Watt, the Texans' outstanding defensive end, kept it simpler.

"We played a very good football team and they executed everything very well and had a great game plan. They came in and played a great game and we didn't play a great game and they won.''

There were indications the Texans weren't quite ready for the anticipated matchup early -- such as on the very first play from scrimmage.

"First play of the game, we line up wrong,'' said Kubiak. "That's really concerning. You know what you're fixing to do on the first play of the game for about three days, and we line up and get a penalty.''

While the Texans' first drive stalled, the Patriots converted theirs into 7 points, with Aaron Hernandez scoring the first of his two first-half touchdowns on a 7-yard pass from Brady. Kubiak was asked whether the Texans were caught off-guard by the Patriots' hurry-up offense.

"That's what they do. We expected that. We worked on that,'' he said. "The best thing you can do is do something when you have the ball. We go move the ball on our first possession, can't get a third down, they have a big punt return, and we're down 7-0. It gets magnified against the type of team that they are. When you've got an opportunity to make a big play, you can't miss it. Not when you're trying to win a game of this magnitude against that type of opponent."

Brandon Lloyd's 37-yard touchdown reception put the Patriots up, 14-0, with 2 minutes and 49 seconds remaining in the first quarter. They built the lead to 21-0 just 3:59 into the second quarter, when Brady found Hernandez for a 4-yard touchdown pass, capping an eight-play, 70-yard drive.

"We had some opportunities in the first half to sit there and go toe-to-toe with a great team," Kubiak said, "and then we missed a couple of plays, we give up a return, and suddenly you're down 21-0. But that's the type of team they are."

Kubiak said it would be a mistake to suggest Monday's bad performance is more indicative of his team's true identity than its 11 victories.

"I think losing is a part of football whether it's this week or Week 2,'' Kubiak said. "That's the thing about the NFL. There's a chance you're going to lose a game or two. That's the nature of this business. How you respond to defeat or how you respond to not playing well says a lot about your team.''

Quarterback Matt Schaub echoed his coach's sentiment.

"We have to take a hard look and be better going forward. Especially next week with the [9-4] Colts coming in, because they are playing well. We have to refocus on that, learn from this one, and move on. In this business, good or bad, you have to have a short-term memory.''

Survey: Which Patriot gets game ball?

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff December 10, 2012 11:20 PM

The Patriots made a big statement with their rout of the Texans on Monday Night Football, and several players had huge impacts on the outcome.

Cast your vote for the one player most deserving of the game ball honor below.


Which Patriot deserves the game ball for the win over Houston?

Patriots 21, Texans 0: Halftime thoughts

Posted by Greg A. Bedard December 10, 2012 10:13 PM

FOXBOROUGH – Some thoughts at halftime:

  • I would believe the Texans have the ability to come back if they showed any sense of urgency. Despite the score, they keep running into bad plays, Matt Schaub is afraid to throw deep after his interception, and he’s missing some wide-open receivers.
  • Vince Wilfork is just a beast. He’s been unblockable. Again.
  • Patriots put CB Aqib Talib on Texans WR Andre Johnson just about the entire first half. That’s the first time we’ve seen the Patriots utilize Talib like that. I think that plays to Talib’s strengths. He has been struggling keeping his focus in some off coverages and zone leading up to this game, but having Talib with one responsibility has kept him locked in. He’s done a nice job, but it’s amazing the Texans haven’t tried to exploit that matchup even though Johnson has four catches for 58 yards. The Patriots were usually giving safety help.
  • The apparent left hip injury Talib had raised some eyebrows because he tore a tendon from the bone in 2010 with the Bucs and missed the rest of the season. But that was the other, right, hip.
  • Tom Brady has had complete control of this game, going 13 of 19 for 165 yards and three touchdowns.
  • The offensive line has done a great job against J.J. Watt. A lot of double teams, but just real good work. Having Logan Mankins back has returned a nasty attitude to the Patriots.
  • Big comeback game for Brandon Lloyd, but we kind of expected that. Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez just can’t be covered one-on-one.
  • The Patriots have really been taking aim at Texans LB Darryl Sharpton in the run and the pass game.

Final: Patriots 42, Texans 14

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff December 10, 2012 08:27 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- On the biggest stage possible for the Patriots this season, Tom Brady led his team to a resounding 42-14 win over the Houston Texans at Gillette Stadium.

Brady was 21 of 35 for 296 yards and four touchdowns, including two scoring strikes to Aaron Hernandez.

The Patriots held the Texans to 100 yards rushing and Pro Bowl running back Arian Foster to 46 as the defense proved to be a difference maker in the game. Nose tackle Vince Wilfork accounted for four tackles, a sack, a tackle for a loss, a pass defensed, and a fumble forced. Devin McCourty had an early interception to help stunt the Texans' offense as the Patriots jumped to a 21-0.

New Patriots Donte' Stallworth caught a 63-yard touchdown and Brandon Lloyd scored twice, catching a 37-yard TD pass and recovering a Danny Woodhead fumble in the end zone for a touchdown.

Running back Stevan Ridley rushed 18 times for 72 yards and a score.

The Patriots move on to 10-3 and drop the Texans to 11-2.

2:00 4th quarter: Patriots 42, Texans 7 -- Texans backup quarterback T.J. Yates took advantage of the turnover by the Patriots and punched in a 1-yard TD on a quarterback sneak.

3:10 4th quarter: Patriots 42, Texans 7 -- Ryan Mallett threw an interception on his first pass, a ball that was tipped into the air and caught by the Texans' Shiloh Keo. Mallett had taken over for Tom Brady as the game was out of reach. Brandon Bolden also made an appearance, carrying the ball three times on the short drive.

5:10 4th quarter: Patriots 42, Texans 7 -- Another four-play drive by the Texans as the Patriots hold Houston to their seventh punt of the game.

7:23 4th quarter: Patriots 42, Texans 7 -- Stevan Ridley broke off a 14-yard touchdown run to cap a 10-play, 68-yard drive that was relatively slow for the Patriots tonight. The drive took 4:24, with the Patriots favoring eight running plays.

11:52 4th quarter: Patriots 35, Texans 7 -- The Texans ran four times in a row, with the Patriots holding them on 3rd-and-1 to force a punt as Houston's ability to come back and make this game competitive was severely diminished.

14:15 4th quarter: Patriots 35, Texans 7 -- A nifty catch and run by Danny Woodhead, turned into a miraculous touchdown for Brandon Lloyd. Woodhead had the ball punched out by J.J. Watt as he was running toward the end zone and Lloyd dove on it for a touchdown as the ball bounced forward. It was a 16-yard catch before it was a fumble forced by Watt and a fumble recovery by Lloyd.

End of 3d quarter: Patriots 28, Texans 7 -- A six-yard run by Tom Brady ends the third quarter with him all pumped up. A short "M-V-P" chant rang out afterward. The Patriots are at the Texans' 27 to start the fourth.

3:35 3d quarter: Patriots 28, Texans 7 -- Kyle Arrington broke up a pass to Keshawn Martin as the Patriots held the Texans to a three-and-out.

5:18 3d quarter: Patriots 28, Texans 7 -- Texans linebacker Whitney Mercilus sacked Tom Brady for a 5-yard loss on third down. It's the first sack the Patriots have given up today. The Patriots punted after only three plays.

6:12 3d quarter: Patriots 28, Texans 7 -- Helped by a pass interference on Kyle Arrington, the Texans finally got on the board after a 7-play, 88-yard drive in 3:37. Arian Foster punched in a touchdown at the goal line.

Matt Schaub hit a critical pass to fullback James Casey for 30 yards to get the Texans into the red zone.

9:49 3d quarter: Patriots 28, Texans 0 -- Tom Brady threw a bomb to Donte' Stallworth and the new (and old) Patriot took it 63 yards for a touchdown.

Stallworth made a play and then dragged Houston's Quintin Demps the final five yards into the end zone. Talk about making an impact in your first game back with the team after being cut in training camp.

Also of note, Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib has a hip injury. His return to the game is questionable.

11:03 3d quarter: Patriots 21, Texans 0 -- The Patriots held the Texans to a three-and-out. Matt Schaub hit Andre Johnson for an 8-yard completion on third down, a yard shy of the first down marker. The Patriots stuffed Arian Foster on second down for a 2-yard loss. Brandon Deaderick was credited with the tackle for the loss.

13:13 3d quarter: Patriots 21, Texans 0 -- Donte' Stallworth may not be on the same page as Tom Brady yet, despite their history with each other. Brady and Stallworth couldn't connect on a 3rd-and-8 pass as the Patriots were forced to punt for the fourth possession in a row.

15:00 3d quarter: Patriots 21, Texans 0 -- The second half is about to get underway with the Patriots receiving the ball. We'll see if things get more competitive after those first two quarters.

End of 2d quarter: Patriots 21, Texans 0 -- Vince Wilfork has dominated for the Patriots, tallying a sack for 20 yards, a forced fumble, a tackle for a loss, and a pass defensed. He certainly has set the tone for the Patriots.

Along with Devin McCourty, the defense has held up well against the Texans. Houston has gone 2 of 8 on third downs and is 0 for 2 on fourth down attempts.

Meanwhile, Tom Brady is 13 of 19 at half for 165 yards and three touchdowns, connecting with Aaron Hernandez twice and Brandon Lloyd for another.

Cornerback Aqib Talib took a bit of a spill, breaking up a pass to Andre Johnson. There's no word on him yet. He appeared to be favoring his left side.

0:41 2d quarter: Patriots 21, Texans 0 -- The Patriots went three-and-out on their drive. Tom Brady went deep to Aaron Hernandez on third down but the play was broken up by Glover Quinn.

1:52 2d quarter: Patriots 21, Texans 0 -- Jerod Mayo went untouched to lay a hit on Matt Schaub and force a turnover on downs after another Houston fourth down attempt.

3:33 2d quarter: Patriots 21, Texans 0 -- J.J. Watt made himself big, interfering with a Tom Brady pass on 3rd-and-16, to cause an incompletion.

The Texans have now strung together a couple of defensive stops on the Patriots.

4:44 2d quarter: Patriots 21, Texans 0 -- On a fourth down, Kevin Walter couldn't hold on to a Matt Schaub pass as the Texans turned the ball over on downs.

Kyle Arrington was credited with a pass defensed.

8:38 2d quarter: Patriots 21, Texans 0 -- The Texans defense got its first stop on the Patriots. Some pressure on Tom Brady on third down forced the punt.

9:51 2d quarter: Patriots 21, Texans 0 -- The Patriots held the Texans to a three-and-out, with Vince Wilfork batting down a Matt Schaub pass on third down intended for Kevin Walter.

Wilfork might have been mad about all the hype about J.J. Watt. He's already got a sack, forced fumble, pass defensed, and tackle for loss.

11:01 2d quarter: Patriots 21, Texans 0 -- The Patriots are now sticking it to the Texans, who aren't helping themselves. Danieal Manning was flagged for a pass interference on Wes Welker three plays before failing to get in Aaron Hernandez's face, allowing Tom Brady to throw a quick 4-yard touchdown pass as the Patriots took a three-touchdown lead.

Welker had two catches on the drive.

End of 1st quarter: Patriots 14, Texans 0 -- The first quarter comes to a close with the Texans almost coughing up the ball again. Matt Schaub, scrambling to evade pressure, had the ball knocked from his hand as he was escaping the pocket. The Texans recovered and were forced to punt on a 4th-and-32.

Vince Wilfork was credited with a 20-yard sack and a forced fumble. He's having a great game.

The Patriots will get the ball to start the second quarter at their 30.

2:49 1st quarter: Patriots 14, Texans 0 -- Giving a little bit of Houston medicine, the Patriots utilized a play-action stretch pass to Brandon Lloyd for a 37-yard touchdown, capitalizing on Devin McCourty's interception.

It was a quick, 6-play, 82-yard drive over 2:41.

The play-action touchdown followed another impressive play-action pass from Brady to Aaron Hernandez. Brady is 6 of 8 for 114 yards and two touchdowns.

5:30 1st quarter: Patriots 7, Texans 0 -- Devin McCourty picked off Texans QB Matt Schaub on a throw to Kevin Walter, killing a Texans drive that had gone 79 yards.

Patriots take over at their own 18-yard line.

9:27 1st quarter: Patriots 7, Texans 0 -- The Patriots are going to prove that mistakes and lost opportunities will kill the Texans. Tom Brady hit Aaron Hernandez for 7-yard touchdown pass a play after Stevan Ridley coughed up the ball. The Texans had a chance to recover, but Hernandez hit the turf and got to it first.

The Texans' Quintin Demps was also flagged for holding on the drive, extending the Patriots' lifeline on a 3rd-and-6.

12:39 1st quarter: Patriots 0, Texans 0 -- After giving up a 16-yard run to Arian Foster, the Patriots hold the Texans to only three more. Vince Wilfork tripped Foster up in the backfield for a loss of 2 and Texans QB Matt Schaub couldn't connect with receiver Lestar Jean on a deep pass as the Patriots took over.

Wes Welker had a nice punt return in Julian Edelman's place.

On defense, the Patriots favored Trevor Scott over Chandler Jones and Brandon Deaderick over Kyle Love. We'll see if that holds.

15:00 1st quarter: Patriots 0, Texans 0 -- Patriots win the coin toss and defer. The Texans will receive to start the game. According to Dan Shaughnessy, the game is already over.

Game on.

Pregame: The game is about to get underway here at Gillette Stadium. Despite the rain earlier today, it's a great crowd here with a playoff vibe hanging heavy in the air.

It's 59 degrees here in Foxborough, with winds traveling at 7 miles per hour southwest. It will be a warm New England evening for December, with a 10 to 15 percent chance to rain again before midnight.

I'll have all the updates for the game right here. Stick around and share your comments and thoughts. Enjoy the game.

@zuriberry

Texans at Patriots: 5 keys, prediction

Posted by Greg A. Bedard December 10, 2012 07:37 PM

FOXBOROUGH – The Patriots are looking to knock off the Texans (11-1) and gain their seventh straight victory tonight at Gillette Stadium.

New England will move up among AFC playoff seeds if they hit on these five keys:

  1. Control Chris Myers: The Texans’ terrific inside and outside zone running game is keyed by the ability of standout center Chris Myers to control the middle of the line and to pick off linebackers on the second level. If the Patriots can keep Myers occupied, it’s going to be very tough for the cutback lanes to open up. Wouldn’t be surprised if the Patriots line up Vince Wilfork right over Myers on early downs, and then move Wilfork around in passing situations. But the Patriots might very well think that Kyle Love, who played well last week following a couple of mediocre games, can do the job himself, and that will allow Wilfork to be impactful in a three-technique role on the outside shoulder of a guard. Both LG Wade Smith and rookie RG Ben Jones are ripe for the taking.
  2. Go fast on offense: The Texans will have some pressures schemed up with an extra day off, and would like to get end J.J. Watt moved around. Don’t let them. With the extra rest, the Patriots should be ready to use the turbo no huddle, at least in spurts. The key to that is run game, which leads to…
  3. Run successfully against the dime: The Texans don’t run a nickel defense – it’s either their base or a dime with safety Glover Quin playing the linebacker role. Look for the Patriots to get that package and then to run on it. The Patriots have to run the ball well against the four-man front or else it could be a tough night for Tom Brady throwing against that many defensive backs. If the Patriots go fast, it will be with the run, to keep the clock moving and the defense on the field, and they’ll also use the short passing game. It’s possible, with four running backs active, that they could envision a role for Shane Vereen in the passing game, maybe in a Julian Edelman-type role.
  4. Linebackers must be disciplined: While it will be important that Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones set a hard edge against the stretch runs of the Texans, it will be more important that the linebackers – Brandon Spikes, Jerod Mayo and Dont’a Hightower read their keys, be patient and get off blocks. The linebackers must also be disciplined in the play-action game. No one runs it better than the Texans, and QB Matt Schaub will look to hit TE Owen Daniels, H-back James Casey and occasionally the receivers on shallow crosses off play-action. If the linebackers don’t do a good job in their drops, that means the safeties will have to be more aggressive, and that could leave them at a disadvantage in the short plays the Texans are bound to take.
  5. Go deep: Brady will always take the easy money underneath with Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez if it’s there, but the Texans play the underneath routes well with a lot of single-high safety looks. That means the outside, against cornerbacks Jonathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson, will be a one-on-one situation. Joseph wasn’t playing well before he missed time with injury, and Jackson often bites on double moves. Look for the Patriots to take some shots with Brandon Lloyd and Aaron Hernandez on the outside.

Prediction

These two teams are pretty evenly matched given the injury problems on the Patriots’ offense and the Texans’ defense. But this has the feel of a Patriots-type game: December at home on nationally TV with an upstart opponent coming in. The Patriots should hold the advantage in special teams, and they’ll get a couple big plays on defense to win this one comfortably.

Patriots 34, Texans 20

Nick McDonald, Ron Brace inactive for Patriots

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff December 10, 2012 07:15 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Patriots offensive lineman Nick McDonald (shoulder) was declared inactive for tonight's game against the Houston Texans, leaving the team short on veteran guards.

Also inactive for the Patriots is defensive linemen Ron Brace and Jake Bequette, safety Derrick Martin, running back James Develin, and offensive lineman Markus Zusevics.

Patriots activate RB Brandon Bolden

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff December 10, 2012 06:11 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- The Patriots have activated running back Brandon Bolden after a four-game suspension for performance enhancing drugs.

Bolden was placed on the 53-man roster just hours before kickoff of Monday night's game against the Houston Texans, but it's undetermined if he will be suited up for action.

What to watch for as Patriots host Texans

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff December 10, 2012 06:09 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- How the Houston Texans' secondary recovers may very well determine the outcome of tonight's game.

But defending the Texans' running game will be the Patriots' No. 1 priority.

Texans cornerback Johnathan Joseph returns from hamstring and groin injuries after missing Houston's last two games. The 5-11, 198-pound corner is one pass defense away from 100 in his seven-year career. But he's going to be tested by one of the best receivers in the game in Wes Welker.

Here are three things to watch for in the Patriots' Monday night matchup with the Texans:

1) Welker can make history -- With eight catches tonight, which is not a stretch of the imagination after averaging eight over the last four games, Welker will have recorded his fifth 100-reception season, an NFL record. We're sure he'll get it done this season, but if he gets it done tonight, it'll be an indication of the Patriots' success passing the ball in the rainy weather against Joseph and the Texans' secondary. Joseph, an All-Pro cornerback, will not necessarily be tasked with covering Welker the entire night. But we're sure he'll get the man-on-man assignment if Welker creates havoc.

2) Will the Patriots run defense stand up? -- For all the criticism the Patriots' secondary receives, a blight on the team's defense, the run defense has been and continues to be a bright spot. The Patriots hold opponents to 100.8 yards per game, eighth best in the league. And what's more, this team has risen to the occasion when the league's top runners have come up on the schedule. The Patriots held Chris Johnson to four yards, Willis McGahee to 51 yards, Marshawn Lynch to 41 yards, Stephen Jackson to 23 yards, and Reggie Bush to 64 yards. The Patriots need that kind of performance to stunt the trio of backs Houston will deploy, led by Arian Foster. We'll see early if a healthy Chandler Jones, as well as Rob Ninkovich, help the Patriots set the edges for what will be an onslaught of stretch running plays.

3) How will the Patriots handle J.J. Watt? -- Watt's 15.5 passes defensed are better than Devin McCourty (11), Kyle Arrington (8) and Brandon Spikes (7). And he's a defensive lineman. Add in the 16.5 sacks this season and you can see why Bill Belichick called him the most disruptive player the Patriots have seen all season. Watt will move around from the end spot, lining up over both guards and the center at times. Whether the Patriots will dedicate more than one man to him will bear out over the game. Of course, the risk is allowing somebody like Antonio Smith (5 sacks) to get loose.

On the Beat: 5 questions about the Texans

Posted by Greg A. Bedard December 10, 2012 02:04 PM

We checked in this week with Tania Ganguli of the Houston Chronicle to get the inside scoop on the Texans.

1. After giving up 42 points to the Packers, 37 to the Jaguars and 31 points to the Lions, how are the Texans going to hang defensively, especially in the secondary, with the NFL's top offense by yards and points?

TG: "The Texans have struggled against elite and pretty-decent quarterbacks this year. The return of cornerback Johnathan Joseph will certainly help. He is a crucial piece to their pass defense. If you look closely at Chad Henne's numbers when the Texans face the Jaguars, he had 354 yards but only completed 16 passes. Against short-yardage passing plays which are a big part of the Patriots' offense, the Texans are very good. It's big plays that can kill them and have."

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

TG: "I don't sense that many fanbases outside east Texas know the Texans' roster all that well, so there could be quite a few. I would go with Antonio Smith, the defensive end opposite J.J. Watt, who sometimes gets lost despite making the Pro Bowl last year, but Belichick ruined that by likening Smith and Watt to Carl Banks and Lawrence Taylor. Instead: fullback James Casey. He used to be a tight end and is often used just like one still. With backup tight end Garrett Graham out with a concussion, Casey will feature prominently."

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

TG: "The right side of the offensive line has been a work in progress the whole season with the loss of two longtime starters last offseason. Today the Texans won't have starting right tackle Derek Newton. Ryan Harris, who will replace him, has plenty of starting experience and typically rotates with Newton when he's healthy. But they will rely much more heavily on him than before."

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

TG: "The value of getting Johnathan Joseph back cannot be understated partly because of their lack of corner depth. The more receivers, the more difficult it'll be for the Texans. Injuries to their nickel guy, Brice McCain (injured reserve), and first backup corner Alan Ball (he's questionable and didn't practice all week), mean they have guys with very little experience trying to fill those roles."

5. Finally, Texans win on Monday if …

TG: "..they don't turn over the football."

Game 13 preview: Texans at Patriots

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff December 10, 2012 10:52 AM

The lights shine the brightest on Monday Night Football.

For the NFL's grand stage of the regular season, the prime time slot has finally landed a marquee game worthy of its pedigree.

In only the fourth matchup between the two franchises, the Patriots and Houston Texans will fight for a shot at a first-round bye and ultimately home field advantage in the NFL playoffs. The winner will have a leg up on which team claims the No. 1 seed in the AFC.

This is the first game the Patriots have faced an opponent that is ranked in the top 10 of the league in both offense and defense since Week 5 against the Denver Broncos. The Texans come into Monday's game on a six-game winning streak, sporting the NFL's No. 5 offense (389.6 yards per game) and No. 6 defense (322.6 yards allowed per game).

With a trio of offensive stars, the Texans' Arian Foster (1,102 rushing yards, 13 touchdowns) leads the way for Houston. Foster has helped the Texans to a sixth best 142.5 rushing yards per game in the NFL. He's backed up by two stalwart runners in Ben Tate and Justin Forsett, allowing the the Texans to have a steady play-action based offense quarterbacked by Matt Schaub (94.5 quarterback rating, 3,062 passing yards, 21 touchdowns, 9 interceptions).

The Patriots will match new cornerback Aqib Talib, playing his fourth game for New England, against Pro Bowl receiver Andre Johnson (74 catches, 1,114 yards, 3 touchdowns).

The Texans will be boosted on defense by the return of cornerback Johnathan Joseph. Joseph missed the past two games with hamstring and groin injuries. He'll be tasked with slowing down the Patriots top-ranked offense.

For Tom Brady and company, this game provides a measuring stick against one of the NFL's elite teams. They'll do it without utility player Julian Edelman, who was placed on injured reserve with a leg injury.

Brady (102.6 quarterback rating, 3,537 yards, 25 touchdowns, 4 interceptions) will be looking to Wes Welker (92 catches, 1,064 yards, 4 touchdowns) who is vying for his fifth 100-reception season, an NFL record. Brady is 12-4 on Monday night. The last time he was on Monday night, he put up 517 yards passing against the Miami Dolphins in the 2011 regular season opener.

Here are the details for today's game:

Kickoff: 8:30 p.m

Records: Patriots 9-3; Texans 11-1.

TV/Radio info: ESPN/WCVB-TV Ch. 5 (Mike Tirico, Jon Gruden, Lisa Salters); 98.5-FM The Sports Hub (Gil Santos, Scott Zolak); Dial Global Radio Sports (Kevin Harlan, Boomer Esiason, Mark Malone).

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 Donald Thomas, C Ryan Wendell, RG Dan Connolly, RT Sebastian Vollmer, TE Daniel Fells, WR Brandon Lloyd, QB Tom Brady, RB Stevan Ridley, TE Aaron Hernandez.

Patriots defense: NT Vince Wilfork, DT Kyle Love, DE Chandler Jones, DE Rob Ninkovich, LB Dont'a Hightower, LB Jerod Mayo, LB Brandon Spikes, CB Aqib Talib, CB Alfonzo Dennard, S Devin McCourty, S Steve Gregory.

Texans offense: WR Andre Johnson, LT Duane Brown, LG Wade Smith, C Chris Myers, RG Ben Jones, RT Ryan Harris, TE Owen Daniels, WR Kevin Walter, QB Mat Schaub, FB James Casey, RB Arian Foster.

Texans defense: DE J.J. Watt, NT Shaun Cody, DE Antonio Smith, SLB Connor Barwin, MLB Tim Dobbins, MLB Bradie James, WLB WHitney Mercilus, LCB Kareem Jackson, RCB Johnathan Joseph, SS Danieal Manning, FS Glover Quin.

Inactives
(more to come)

Patriots: TE Rob Gronkowski (forearm).

Texans: T Derek Newton (knee), OLB Brooks Reed (groin).

Inside the matchup: Texans at Patriots

Posted by Greg A. Bedard December 10, 2012 09:47 AM

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 TEXANS OFFENSE

The NFL has been recently infiltrated by spread formations from the collegiate game, which originally dates back to TCU’s Dutch Meyer in the 1950s, but the Texans haven’t budged; they’re still running the ball and running it well. They’re one of the league’s best teams and their offense is built around a zone running game.

Houston’s running game consists of base NFL run concepts, but most notably the inside and outside zone concepts that they run incessantly. These two concepts are commonly bunched together and labeled “stretch runs,” which they indeed are, but there’s a slight difference between the two. In layman terms, inside zone is the “shorter” one, designed for the ball-carrier to identify the cutback lane once he puts his foot in the ground and goes to the backside. Conversely, outside zone is designed to attack the outside of the formation and continues in that direction unless an opportunity for a cutback presents itself.

The Texans run these concepts from one and two back sets, with the latter having an H-back (James Casey) accompanying the running back (usually Arian Foster). They also run these with two tight ends along with the two back set, creating 22 personnel, and one back and one tight end, establishing the 11 grouping. The running game is used to set up the passing game, which features a significant amount of West Coast Offense principles. There are dozens of horizontal passing concepts built in, notably a plethora of shallow crossing routes.

Wide receiver Andre Johnson headlines the passing game and is joined by the always efficient and accurate Matt Schaub, who does an exceptional job of selling play action along with his athletic and coherent offensive line. Johnson has seen his snaps decrease in a bid to keep him healthy and potentially more productive, which has paid off as he has exploded in recent weeks. He is still one of the league’s best at getting vertically and attacking defenses as well as picking up yards after the catch. While Johnson works the outside, tight end Owen Daniels runs through the middle of the defense and does it well, especially on play action passes. He forces linebackers to run with him in man coverage, putting them at a disadvantage, and is able to get behind them when they roam in zone coverage.

INSIDE THE TEXANS DEFENSE

It wasn’t long ago when the Texans’ defense was very poor but under Wade Phillips, they’ve been exceptional the past two seasons.

The defense features many talented playmakers, led by defensive end/tackle J.J. Watt. Watt has quickly ascended to one of the league’s most dominant players, creating havoc in the trenches with his hands. He has very quick hands and is very strong, creating a deadly combination that is illustrated when he sets up arm-over (“swim technique”) moves with his bulrush. It often leaves the offensive lineman unsure what to defend first, consequently resulting in no defense at all as they are too slow to get their hands on Watt. Watt and defensive end Antonio Smith are contributors to a base 3-4 defense that Phillips runs.

Phillips’ 3-4 is not that of a traditional kind, as it utilizes 1-gap principles opposed to the older 2-gap style. Phillips uses Over and Under fronts (along with double 3-technqiues) that are popular in 4-3 defenses, which is basically what Phillips’ defense is. The 3-4 pre-snap alignment is a mask for the 4-3 rush concepts, which is done to present multiple looks for quarterbacks.

Houston’s linebackers and secondary are also very aggressive, especially the latter as it does a good job of sitting on routes underneath while creating brackets vertically. The secondary features ball hawk and one of the league’s best cornerbacks Jonathan Joseph as well as safety Danieal Manning, who is a good player in his own right. The linebackers and secondary play a variety of coverages under Wade Phillips, which include Cover-1 (Man-Free), Cover 2 (5 under, 2 deep), Cover 2 Man (Man Under) Cover 3 (4 under, 3 deep and its variations) and Cover 4 (Quarters).

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

  • Tight ends in play action: One of the biggest problems for the Patriots’ secondary this game could be Houston’s use of the tight ends in the play action passing game. Houston’s tight ends do a very good job of getting behind coverage and working the shallow crossing routes, and they come in different fashions. Usually the tight end will run his crossing route to the side where Schaub rolls out to, but what Houston’s been known to do is have the tight end run a shallow crossing route opposite of the quarterback rollout, thus creating a throw back across the field. This is effective because while the defense heads toward Schaub’s direction, the tight end goes the opposite way.
  • NT Vince Wilfork and ILB Brandon Spikes vs. Texans running game: I think Wilfork and Spikes will have to be big in this game. The best chance of defending the stretch running game of the Texans’ is by penetrating into the backfield, which is what Spikes is very good at. Fortunately for New England, Wilfork is also light on his feet for his size and moves well. Nose tackles in the 3-4 typically give more troubles to zone blockers than those in the 4-3 because they are aligned head up, thus creating a tougher angle to get cut blocked, and they’re immovable. Brandon Spikes will have to be violent downhill once again, penetrating and most importantly, staying on his feet. He cannot get cut down by the second-level blocks of the Texans.
  • Watt: The play of Watt speaks for itself. What will be interesting to see is where he aligns; will it be more at the 3-technique or at the 5-technique? He could be problematic either way, but there is a chance that he plays more inside than out today so he can go up against the interior line, which he should have a quickness advantage for. It will also be interesting to see how the Patriots block Watt. I imagine they will commit half-slides in his direction and running backs to slow him down, but this creates openings for his teammates, especially on stunts – which is another thing to watch for.
  • TE Aaron Hernandez & slot WR Wes Welker vs. Texans linebackers – If there’s one area that I think the Texans defense can be exploited it's the linebackers. They simply lack speed and that is a significant problem. New England would be wise to go after them, using Hi-Lo concepts and if possible, one on one matchups with Hernandez (perhaps with backfield and inline alignment) and Welker.
  • CB Kareem Jackson – Cornerback Kareem Jackson is a talented player and has improved tremendously for the Texans since coming into the league, but he still has some issues that haven’t been entirely ironed out. When dealing with vertical passes, he doesn’t always look back and locate the football. He could be a target on a few deep ball tries for the Patriots.

Q&A with Greg Bedard and John McClain

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff December 9, 2012 05:37 PM

Join the Globe's Greg A. Bedard and the Houston Chronicle's John McClain on Monday at 1 p.m. to discuss the Patriots-Texans showdown on Monday Night Football.

Patriots-Texans chat

Patriots-Texans Saturday injury report: Gronkowski out, 13 questionable

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff December 8, 2012 05:28 PM

As expected, the Patriots have declared TE Rob Gronkowski (forearm/hip) out for Monday's game. He is the only player out, and 13 players are questionable, many of them familiar names to the list.

Chandler Jones (ankle) and Logan Mankins (ankle/calf), who returned to practice this week, are among the questionable.

For the Patriots
Out
TE Rob Gronkowski - forearm/hip

Questionable
DT Ron Brace - elbow
S Patrick Chung - shoulder
G Dan Connolly - back
TE Aaron Hernandez - ankle
LB Dont'a Hightower - hamstring
DE Chandler Jones - ankle
WR Brandon Lloyd - knee
DT Kyle Love - knee
G Logan Mankins - ankle/calf
* OL Nick McDonald - shoulder
LB Brandon Spikes - knee/ankle
OT Sebastian Vollmer - back/knee
WR Wes Welker - ankle

Probable
LB Jerod Mayo - elbow

For the Texans
Out
T Derek Newton - knee
OLB Reed Brooks - groin

Limited participation
CB Alan Ball - foot
TE Garrett Graham - concussion


Full participation
* OLB Bryan Braman - neck
G Antoine Caldwell - hamstring
NT Shaun Cody - ribs/back
TE Owen Daniels - back
ILB Tim Dobbins - shoulder
ILB Bradie James - hamstring
WR Lestar Jean - knee
CB Jonathan Joseph - hamstring/groin
OLB Whitney Mercilus - hip
OLB Jesse Nading - foot
WR DeVier Posey - knee/hamstring
* ILB Darryl Sharpton - toe
DE Antonio Smith - ankle
G Wade Smith - knee/ribs
RB Ben Tate - hamstring
QB T.J. Yates - right elbow

Saturday roll call

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff December 8, 2012 12:08 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- For the second straight day, tight end Rob Gronkowski was the only player not spotted at Patriots practice, which was held inside Gillette Stadium under a steady, but light, drizzle.

It's the last on-field work the Patriots will conduct before Monday night's game against the Houston Texans.

An injury report will be delivered later today, with the team announcing which players, if any, will be ruled out for the Texans. It's assumed that Gronkowski will be on that list, but with defensive end Chandler Jones and left guard Logan Mankins returning to practice this week, Gronkowski might be the only one.

Patriots-Texans: Friday injury report

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff December 7, 2012 04:43 PM

Since this week's game is on Monday night, the teams do not have to give an official game status (out, doubtful, etc) until Saturday. So today's practice report looks a lot like yesterday's:

For the Patriots
Did not participate
TE Rob Gronkowski - forearm/hip

Limited participation
DT Ron Brace - elbow
S Patrick Chung - shoulder
G Dan Connolly - back
TE Aaron Hernandez - ankle
LB Dont'a Hightower - hamstring
DE Chandler Jones - ankle
WR Brandon Lloyd - knee
DT Kyle Love - knee
G Logan Mankins - ankle/calf
* OL Nick McDonald - shoulder
LB Brandon Spikes - knee/ankle
OT Sebastian Vollmer - back/knee
WR Wes Welker - ankle

Full participation
LB Jerod Mayo - elbow

For the Texans
Did not participate
CB Alan Ball - foot
T Derek Newton - knee
OLB Reed Brooks - groin

Limited participation
NT Shaun Cody - ribs/back
ILB Tim Dobbins - shoulder
TE Garrett Graham - concussion
ILB Bradie James - hamstring
CB Jonathan Joseph - hamstring/groin
DE Antonio Smith - ankle
G Wade Smith - knee/ribs

Full participation
* OLB Bryan Braman - neck
G Antoine Caldwell - hamstring
TE Owen Daniels - back
WR Lestar Jean - knee
OLB Whitney Mercilus - hip
OLB Jesse Nading - foot
WR DeVier Posey - knee/hamstring
* ILB Darryl Sharpton - toe
RB Ben Tate - hamstring
QB T.J. Yates - right elbow

* - change in status from Thursday's report


Friday roll call: Only Gronkowski missing

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff December 7, 2012 12:58 PM

The Patriots are practicing on the upper grass fields today (the fields used during training camp) and wearing shells and sweats.

Nick McDonald returned to practice, which means that Rob Gronkowski was the only player not present during the media-access portion of practice.

New England will practice again on Saturday due to the Monday night game.

Inside the Playbook: Stopping J.J. Watt

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff December 7, 2012 11:37 AM

Greg A. Bedard and Jermaine Wiggins explain the ways the Patriots might try to stop Houston Texans defensive lineman J.J. Watt in Monday night's game at Gillete Stadum.

Thursday practice report

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff December 6, 2012 04:59 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- As expected, tight end Rob Gronkowski and offensive lineman Nick McDonald were the only eligible Patriots who did not take part in Thursday's practice.

That means left guard Logan Mankins and defensive end Chandler Jones were back on the field, albeit in a limited capacity, according to the team's report. Mankins has missed three straight games with ankle and calf injuries, while Jones has missed two straight with an ankle injury.

Right guard Dan Connolly, who has dealt with a back injury most of the season and been able to play through it, participated in a limited role.

Gronkowski is recovering from a forearm fracture, while McDonald has a shoulder injury.

The other Patriots who were limited: defensive tackles Ron Brace (elbow) and Kyle Love (knee), safety Patrick Chung (shoulder/hamstring), tight end Aaron Hernandez (ankle), linebackers Dont'a Hightower (hamstring) and Brandon Spikes (knee/ankle), receivers Brandon Lloyd (knee) and Wes Welker (ankle), and right tackle Sebastian Vollmer (back/knee).

Linebacker Jerod Mayo was also listed on the report with an elbow injury, but participated fully.

Video: Bedard on NFL Week 14

Posted by Gary Dzen, Boston.com Staff December 6, 2012 03:45 PM




What do the Patriots need to do to hold off J.J. Watt and the Texans? Are the Steelers a legit playoff team? CineSport's Brian Clark and the Globe's Greg Bedard discuss this and Ravens-Redskins.

Game 13 video preview: Houston poses problems for Patriots

Posted by Steve Silva, Boston.com Staff December 6, 2012 01:05 PM
The Patriots' path to the Super Bowl may eventually go through Houston, but on Monday night, Tom Brady & Co. have home-field advantage when the two top teams in the AFC square off at Gillette Stadium.

The teams are meeting for the first time since the 2009 regular-season finale when Wes Welker tore the ACL and MCL in his left knee in the Patriots' 34-27 loss in Houston.

In this week's preview video above, the Globe's Shalise Manza Young gives us her keys to the Week 14 showdown and looks into how the Patriots match up with the Texans on both sides of the ball.

New England is an NFL-best 42-5 in December since the 2001 season and is 20-0 in the second half of the season since 2010. The Patriots have won 19 consecutive games at Gillette in December.

The 11-1 Texans are the only undefeated road team this season (6-0), and an NFL-best 5-0 in one-score games, including a pair of overtime wins in November, most notably the dramatic comeback in Detroit on Thanksgiving.

New England is 21-22 all time on "Monday Night Football", but 14-5 under coach Bill Belichick.

Brady and Belichick talk about using everything in their arsenal at practice to get ready for big-and-tall defensive end J.J. Watt and his linemates. Watt has an AFC-best 15.5 sacks and is adept at batting balls down and forcing interceptions.

Texans running back Arian Foster has a league-leading 15 touchdowns to go with 1,102 rushing yards. Foster has always been dangerous in primetime outings, running for more than 100 yards in eight of his nine nationally televised games. His consistency on the ground has propelled Houston to a league-leading time of possession average at 34 minutes 9 seconds.

Patriots defenders Jerod Mayo and Aqib Talib also weigh in on stopping the high-flying Texans offense. And we hear from wide receiver Donte Stallworth on his return to the Patriots.

Thursday roll call

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff December 6, 2012 01:03 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Left guard Logan Mankins and defensive end Chandler Jones were back at practice on Thursday, indications that they might be ready to contribute for the Patriots after missing the past few weeks with injuries.

Mankins has missed three straight games and five of the last six with ankle and calf injuries. Jones has been out the last two games with an ankle injury. They also participated in Wednesday's walkthrough held inside the practice bubble. Thursday's practice was outdoors, behind Gillette Stadium.

Tight end Rob Gronkowsi and offensive lineman Nick McDonald were the only eligible Patriots not spotted at practice. Gronkowski is recovering from a broken forearm; McDonald has been dealing with a shoulder injury.

Running back Brandon Bolden, who finished serving a four-game suspension Sunday, is back at practice. If he's healthy -- Bolden missed two games with a knee injury prior to the suspension -- expect him to be added to the active roster before Monday's game with the Houston Texans.

Watch: Stallworth returns, plus Patriots talk preparation for Texans

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff December 5, 2012 08:25 PM




The Patriots welcomed Donte' Stallworth back to the team Wednesday. It was also the first day in which the team started preparing for the Houston Texans. Boston.com's Zuri Berry has the report from Gillette Stadium.

Stallworth happy to be back with Patriots

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff December 5, 2012 03:42 PM
FOXBOROUGH -- Donte' Stallworth keeps his offseason home in Miami, and attended Sunday's Patriots-Dolphins game. Three days later, he was in the Patriots locker room, signed to the team to provide depth at receiver after a season-ending injury to Julian Edelman.

Stallworth was with the Patriots in training camp, only to be cut before the season. He was with the team in 2007, and was happy to have a job in the NFL again, especially with an organization he's familiar with.

"I have a lot of love for this organization, and have a lot of friends on this team, so to say I was excited is probably an accurate assessment," Stallworth said. "Playing in the offense before, it made it a lot easier, but being out as long as I have, it’s not like a video game, where you just throw someone in and they automatically know what’s going on. It’s like I’m back at school, I’ll be studying hard every day."

Stallworth, 32, is a nine-year veteran, and has been with six different teams, so he knows that getting released and changing teams is part of life in the league. Not that it makes it any easier.

"I was obviously disappointed when I was released, but it’s part of the business," Stallworth said. "My main thing over these past few months is try to stay in good shape, train hard, and hope for an opportunity, and thankfully I got it now.

"I’ve been in this league long enough to understand how it works. It’s just like after a game: You lose a game, you’re upset about it that night, but you come back in the next day and you prepare. That’s what I did, although it took me a little more than a night. It took a few days, but after that I tried to get back down where I live in Miami, get back with my trainer, and just continue to work and hopefully get an opportunity."

Stallworth last played for the Redskins in 2011, catching 22 passes for 309 yards and scoring two touchdowns.

Patriots place Julian Edelman on IR, sign Donte Stallworth

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff December 4, 2012 05:16 PM
The Patriots might be headed to the playoffs for the eighth time in nine seasons, but they’ll participate in the postseason without Julian Edelman.

Edelman, who recently scored four touchdowns in a two-game stretch and is second in the NFL with a 15.5-yard average on punt returns, was placed on injured reserve Tuesday, two days after suffering a foot injury against the Dolphins. The move ends the season for Edelman, who has been with the Patriots for four years and is in the final year of the contract he signed as a rookie.

“He’s worked hard. Julian is a solid, solid guy,” coach Bill Belichick said Tuesday on a conference call, before the team announced Edelman’s move to IR. “He works hard, very good conditioned athlete. He’s versatile and he’s done a number of different things for us.”

Especially recently. The injury comes at a tough time for Edelman, who had been playing his best football as a Patriot. He had a career-high 222 yards of total offense in a 59-24 win over the Colts, scoring touchdowns on a 2-yard reception and a 68-yard punt return. The next game, on Thanksgiving against the Jets, he added two more touchdowns, one receiving and another on a special-teams fumble return.

But he left the Jets game with a concussion after getting hit on an end-around rushing attempt, and did not return. He practiced in a limited capacity after the team returned from the Thanksgiving break and was listed as questionable for the Miami game. He was back on the field Sunday, though, catching one pass for 13 yards and returning two punts for 25 yards before he got hurt.

With Edelman done for the season, the Patriots announced the signing of receiver Donte' Stallworth, who was cut by the team in training camp. Stallworth, a nine-year veteran, spent the 2007 season with the Patriots and caught 46 passes for 697 yards and three touchdowns. He’ll provide depth for a receiving corps that is now without Edelman for the rest of the season and Rob Gronkowski (forearm) for a few more weeks.

Inside the Playbook: Jerod Mayo's sack

Posted by Gary Dzen, Boston.com Staff December 4, 2012 03:38 PM

Globe NFL reporter Greg A. Bedard and former Patriots tight end Jermaine Wiggins break down Jerod Mayo's sack in Sunday's win over the Dolphins.

Bill Belichick talks Texans and other topics

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff December 4, 2012 02:28 PM


By Michael Whitmer
Globe Staff


Patriots players enjoyed a rare second straight off day, the reward for a fourth straight AFC East title coupled with an extra day to prepare for the Houston Texans, who come to Gillette Stadium for a game Monday night.

Coach Bill Belichick participated in a teleconference Tuesday, and was asked about, among other topics, the Texans, paying attention to the rest of the AFC race as teams jockey for seeds and playoff spots, and receiver Donte Stallworth, who reportedly has been signed by the Patriots, although the team has not announced it.

Belichick on ...

The Texans: "They’ve been very impressive all the way around. Obviously they have a great record, playing well offensively, defensively, and in the kicking game. They’re a very consistent team but also a very explosive team. They can make a big play on any play – strip sacks, batted balls, long runs, long passes, returns. This is a game where everybody is really going to have to do a good job on every play. Nothing’s safe with these guys. They really make you earn everything. You have to tackle them, you have to block them, you have to get open; they don’t give much away. You have to really work hard for everything you get. That will be a big challenge for us this week."

Following the AFC race: "We can’t do anything about anybody else. All we can do anything about is the New England Patriots. So, we try to just concentrate on what we have to do and it will all get sorted out in the end. We still have a quarter of the season left to play. We have a lot of football left, we have to keep working on the things we need to work on and not worry anybody else."

Stallworth, who could provide depth if Julian Edelman (foot injury) can't play: "There’s no announcement that’s been made, so I don’t really have any comment on that."

Matt Light to be honored by Patriots Monday night

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff December 4, 2012 02:05 PM


By Michael Whitmer
Globe Staff


The Patriots will honor longtime left tackle Matt Light during halftime of Monday night’s game with the Houston Texans.

Light was picked by the Patriots in the second round of the 2001 NFL draft, and spent his entire 10-year professional career with New England, winning three Super Bowls.

Light announced his retirement last May.

Veggie-friendly Gillette Stadium gets PETA approval

Posted by Staff December 4, 2012 10:42 AM
With new menu options like veggie burgers, veggie hot dogs, veggie burritos, fruit plates, and salads in its 38 concession stands, Gillette Stadium was ranked second on the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals's annual list of vegetable-friendly NFL stadiums.

PETA Prime, a website in association with the animal treatment organization, praised Gillette's menu changes, calling choices like black bean burgers and veggie flatbreads "mouthwatering."

"Our research suggested that our fans were seeking more vegetarian options. They have been some of our best sellers," said James Nolan, the stadium's Senior Vice President of Operations, Administration and Finance, in a statement released by the team.

Gillette moved up from a fourth-place ranking in 2011.

Patriots bring back Stallworth

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff December 3, 2012 06:23 PM

The Patriots have re-signed receiver Donte' Stallworth, according to a league source.

The 32-year old was released by New England on Aug. 27 after signing him in to a free-agent contract in March.

The Patriots worked Stallworth out last week, and with Julian Edelman suffering another injury on Sunday in Miami, this time to his foot (he missed three games earlier this season to a hand injury), they must have felt they needed another receiver, one familiar with the offense.

He had not signed with another team since he release, though Stallworth did work out with the Bills and Dolphins.

Brady: 'That was a great win'

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff December 2, 2012 06:07 PM
Get Adobe Flash player So if beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder, we’ll let Tom Brady slide when he begs to differ that Sunday’s grind-it-out 23-16 AFC East-clinching victory over the Dolphins wasn’t the prettiest of wins.

"That wasn't ugly, that was a great win," said the quarterback, who completed 24 of 40 passes for 238 yards and a touchdown but was under pressure all afternoon and sacked an uncharacteristic four times. "They made it tough on us, there's no question about it. We fought hard, we made some terrific plays when we had to. They played really well; every single play was a challenge. We made some plays when we needed to, so it was a great win."

Leading, 20-13, with 8:50 remaining, the Patriots effectively closed out the game (something they had trouble doing earlier this season) by turning it over to Stevan Ridley, who had 46 of his 71 yards on the final possession to chew up 7:18. Stephen Gostkowski’s 20-yard field goal with 1:15 left made it a two-score game.

"It was good execution, we did a good job of making some critical plays when we needed to," said Brady. "The running backs were running really hard, protected the ball, got some good blocking up front, it's what we needed at that time."

"It was a very good run defense, good group of linebackers, physical, they rush the passer. They made it tough on us today."

Added coach Bill Belichick, "That was our best drive of the day. We needed it."

While the offense struggled to find its rhythm, Brady was right in tune with his old standby Wes Welker, whom he targeted 18 times (12 receptions, 103 yards).

"He’s a unbelievable player, a team leader, a friend, and nothing he does ever surprises me," said Brady of No. 83, who topped the 1,000-yard mark. "He expects the best out of himself every single day, and that’s what he brings to practice, that’s what he brings to the games, and we couldn’t be in this situation without him. I’m glad he’s on our team."

Patriots not satisfied with winning AFC East

Posted by Gary Dzen, Boston.com Staff December 2, 2012 06:05 PM

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Patriots special teams captain Matthew Slater was the lone member of the team sporting a "2012 AFC East Champions" hat in the team's locker room after the Patriots (9-3) clinched the division with a 23-16 win over the Miami Dolphins Sunday. Slater's been here before -- the Patriots have won the division in each of his four seasons in New England -- but he was cautiously excited.

"We'll savor it for the next 24 hours maybe, and then we'll enjoy it after the season," said Slater. "We have a lot of football left to be played. We have a lot of goals hopefully to be accomplished. It's a big step but it's not the last step."

Cautious excitement was the general mood around the visitors' locker room. It's important to clinch a playoff spot, but the Patriots have Super Bowl aspirations. Wes Welker and Jerod Mayo both stressed that the Patriots have played only 12 games. Tom Brady stressed the importance of the December schedule. Bill Belichick said the team has accomplished one of its goals for the year.

"Move on in stride," said Patriots defensive lineman Vince Wilfork. "Coming here, we knew what was at stake. We clinched the division today. We came here and took care of that. But, now we have Houston coming to town, a very, very, very good team."

The Patriots will host the Texans in a Monday night game on Dec. 10.

Report: Julian Edelman leaves game on crutches

Posted by Gary Dzen, Boston.com Staff December 2, 2012 05:54 PM

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman left the game in the fourth quarter with a foot injury and did not return. Afterward, Herald reporter Jeff Howe said he saw Edelman leave the arena on crutches and with a boot on his foot. Patriots special teams captain Matthew Slater saw some reps at wide receiver for Edelman.

Patriots lineman Dan Connolly left the game at the end of the first quarter with a back injury and did not return to the game.

Watch: Patriots-Dolphins highlights

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff December 2, 2012 05:47 PM
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Check out the top plays from Sunday's game in Miami, a 23-16 Patriots victory that gave New England the AFC East title.

Wes Welker puts up big numbers against former team

Posted by Gary Dzen, Boston.com Staff December 2, 2012 05:40 PM

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- One season before he came to the Patriots, Wes Welker had a nice but unspectacular 67-catch, 687 yard season for the Miami Dolphins. He's been terrorizing his former team ever since.

Welker piled on with another great performance Sunday, catching 12 passes for 103 yards and a touchdown. Since leaving the Dolphins he has amassed four seasons with 100 catches or more and has caught 34 touchdown passes.

On whether he envisioned his future dominance while still in South Florida, Welker said Sunday, "Obviously not like this. But I knew I'd have a bigger role and I'd just try to take advantage of it."

Welker said his goal is never to put up big numbers in a game, but he was one of the lone statistical bright spots for the Patriots in an ugly game. The teams combined for six punts on six possessions in the third quarter.

"They were mixing it up pretty well throughout the game and were doing some different things," said Welker. "They did a really good job. We were kind of on our heels a little bit in the third quarter until we got on that last drive."

Stevan Ridley goes over 1,000 yards for the season

Posted by Gary Dzen, Boston.com Staff December 2, 2012 05:35 PM

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Stevan Ridley ran 19 times for 71 yards against the Dolphins Sunday, topping the 1,000-yard mark for the season in just his second year in the league.

"Breaking 1,000 yards is a great accomplishment," said Ridley. I'm very thankful. I've worked hard, the offensive's line's working hard. And I'd say in a million years I never thought I'd be here. But I'm here now, and dreams can be accomplished."

Flashing a big smile, Ridley said, "A thousand yards is pretty impressive, I have to say."

Ridley said he was also impressed with his team's clock-killing, 16-play, 77-yard drive that essentially put the game away. Ridley took a handoff from Tom Brady on the first play of that drive and ran for a tough three yards as Dolphins defenders tried to rip the ball from his hands, dragging him seven or eight yards to the sideline.

"Fourth quarter, that clock's winding down, you've got a lead, you've got to close out the game," said Ridley, who had 46 of his yard on the drive, which chewed up 7:18 on the clock. "That's the time you have to go out there and make sure you hold onto the football. You have to run the ball well, you have to make sure you get positive yardage. I didn't do it by myself."

On his offensive line, Ridley said, "They just keep fighting. That's all you can ask of an offensive line is to keep fighting until the end. That last drive it finally opened up for us. That offensive line's working hard."

Which Patriot gets the game ball vs. Dolphins?

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff December 2, 2012 05:24 PM

Another win, another chance to vote on the best individual performance of the day for the Patriots.


Which Patriot deserves the game ball vs. Dolphins?

Patriots hang on to beat Dolphins, 23-16

Posted by Gary Dzen, Boston.com Staff December 2, 2012 04:10 PM

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MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- The skies opened up shortly after Stephen Gostkowski kicked off to the Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium Sunday afternoon, sending a mixed crowd of Patriots and Dolphins fans scattering toward the nearest overhang. The rain shower was brief -- and you wouldn't have been wrong to think it was also metaphoric -- as the Patriots scored their first touchdown just over three minutes later.

But instead of a deluge, the New England offense operated at a slow trickle for the remainder of the game, doing just enough to beat the Dolphins, 23-16, and clinch the AFC East title.

Tom Brady struggled for much of the game and finished with 238 yards, one touchdown, and one pick. He came alive on New England's final drive, leading a surgical 16-play, 77-yard drive that ran 7:18 off the clock and put the game away. There wasn't a lot of pretty here. The teams combined for six punts on six possessions in the third quarter.

Wes Welker was the game's offensive standout, catching 12 passes for 103 yards and a touchdowns. He tied Jerry Rice's NFL record for 10-plus reception games in his career with 17. Stevan Ridley topped the 1,000-yard mark on the season with 71 yards on 19 carries. Brady extended his streak of consecutive games with a passing touchdown to 44, the longest active streak in the NFL.

The Patriots host the Houston Texans in a Monday night game at Gillette Stadium in Week 14.

Final: Patriots 23-16: Brandon Lloyd in on the hands team, safely secures the onsides kick to end the game.

0:31 4th quarter, Patriots 23-16: Dolphins kick the field goal and will now try to get the ball back.

1:10 4th quarter, Patriots 23-13: Gostkowski kicks a 20-yard field goal to make this a two-score game. Masterful drive by the Patriots there: 16 plays, 77 yards, 7:18 off the clock.

4:00 4th quarter, Patriots 20-13: The Patriots are running the clock down here on what they hope is a scoring drive to put this game away.

8:50 4th quarter, Patriots 20-13: Jerod Mayo comes in untouched and sacks Tannehill to force the field goal. It's a one-score game. Miami goes 65 yards on 12 plays in 4:48 to inch closer.

8:53 4th quarter, Patriots 20-10: Two injury updates:

Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman left the game in the fourth quarter with a foot injury and is questionable to return, according to the team.

Patriots lineman Dan Connolly left the game at the end of the first quarter with a back injury and will not return, according to the team.

13:38 4th quarter, Patriots 20-10: The Patriots waste a 31-yard-completion to Aaron Hernandez and settle for a field goal. Miami sacks Brady twice after New England had the ball down near the goal line. Stephen Gostkowski caps the scoring drive with a 32-yard field goal.

End 3d quarter, Patriots 17-10: No scoring in the third. The Patriots have a third-and-one coming up on Miami's 35.

3:00 3d quarter, Patriots 17-10: The air has gone out of the building here as six possessions have gone by, each ending in a punt.

4:21 3d quarter, Patriots 17-10: Nothing doing for the Patriots offense. They've run for just 34 yards. Brandon Lloyd does not have a single target.

10:30 3d quarter, Patriots 17-10: Cameron Wake abuses Sebastian Vollmer and gets to Tom Brady for a vicious sack on third down. Vollmer's been struggling. Brady has thrown for just 156 yards, one touchdown, and one interception.

11:57 3d quarter, Patriots 17-10: Shane Vereen streaks down the sideline and draws a pass interference call on Karlos Dansby on a ball that was questionably catch-able. Patriots catch a break there.

12:46 3d quarter, Patriots 17-10: The Dolphins don't do much better on their first try. Brandon Spikes made a play in pass coverage to knock down a pass intended for Anthony Fasano. He's been all over the field today.

13:44 3d quarter, Patriots 17-10: No score for the Patriots right after halftime. They go three-and-out and give the ball back to Miami.

Halftime, Patriots 17-10: No funny business before the half. Patriots play it safe and will start the second half with the ball.

25 seconds 2d quarter, Patriots 17-10: The Dolphins come close to running out the second quarter on a 12-play, 80-yard scoring drive. The home team isn't out of this game despite their poor play.

6:53 2d quarter, Patriots 17-3: Gostkowski makes this one, from 43 yards out, to pad New England's lead.

7:54 2d quarter, Patriots 14-3: Vince Wilfork recovers a Tannehill fumble forced by Trevor Scott. Patriots take over. Wilfork is having a monster game.

9:21 2d quarter, Patriots 14-3: You just knew the opportunistic Patriots were going to capitalize here. Brady finds Welker for a seven-yard touchdown to make the penalty hurt (given the hit he took and the area in which he took it, Mesko may be hurting right now as well). The Patriots go 75 yards on 14 plays. Welker has nine catches/.

13:04 2d quarter, Patriots 7-3: The Dolphins force the Patriots to punt, then commit a boneheaded penalty when Jimmy Wilson runs into punter Zoltan Mesko. Patriots get the ball back with another chance.

End 1st quarter, Patriots 7-3: The Dolphins go eight yards on six plays after the penalty and settle for a 44-yard field goal from Dan Carpenter. Patriots will start the second quarter with the ball on their own 25.

Also: Dan Connolly has a back injury. His return is questionable.

3:03 1st quarter, Patriots 7-0: Brady is intercepted by Reshad Jones, who returns the ball for a touchdown that gets called back by a penalty. No score for the Dolphins, but the turnover is big considering the Patriots don't give it away often. It's only Brady's fourth interception of the season.

One note: Miami's Jake Long was taken to the locker room with a triceps injury. His status is questionable.

ridleydolphinstd.jpg4:30 1st quarter, Patriots 7-0: Tannehill has not looked sharp. He just air-mailed a pass on third down. New England will get the ball again, though this time the punt team does their job. Patriots will start on their own three.

5:31 1st quarter, Patriots 7-0: Brian Hartline had two Patriots defenders beaten on his way to the end zone but Ryan Tannehill's pass leads him a little too much.

6:50 1st quarter, Patriots 7-0: The penalty hurts, stopping what was a successful drive. Stephen Gostkowski misses a 49-yard-field goal. He's missed three of his last four attempts.

8:26 1st quarter, Patriots 7-0: Sebastian Vollmer called for holding, puts gives the Patriots their second first-and-20 of the day.

10:40 1st quarter, Patriots 7-0: That was quick. The Dolphins go three-and-out again. Miami completes the punt this time. The Pats will start with the ball on their own 26.

11:53 1st quarter, Patriots 7-0: Stevan Ridley runs in for a two-yard touchdown as the Patriots capitalize on the early turnover. New England overcomes an offensive holding penalty on their first offensive play and punches it in.

14:04 1st quarter, Patriots 0, Dolphins 0: The Dolphins go three-and-out on their first drive after starting at the 17-yard-line. Dolphins fumble the snap on the punt attempt, Matthew Slater makes the tackle. Pats get the ball on Miami's 12-yard-line.

Pregame: There's a mix of sun and clouds here as the official pregame festivities wind down here at Sun Life Stadium. Beautiful day for a football game. The Patriots can clinch the AFC East title with a win.

Patriots call tails and win the toss. They elect to defer. There are a lot of Patriots fans in the building. Should make for a fun atmosphere.

Patriots 17, Dolphins 10: Halftime thoughts

Posted by Greg A. Bedard December 2, 2012 02:42 PM

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – Some halftime thoughts as the Patriots lead the Dolphins 17-10 at halftime:

  • Amazing that the Dolphins, who had 19 passing yards from Ryan Tannehill before the final drive, are even in this game. But the Patriots haven’t exactly been crisp. A little sluggish after the long layoff.
  • Dolphins couldn’t turn the ball over and they essentially had three: botched punt snap (touchdown), a roughing the punter penalty that the Patriots turned into a touchdown and a strip/sack by Trevor Scott (three points). That doesn’t even include the Dolphins losing four points when they had an interception for a touchdown called back on a penalty (field goal).
  • Former Dolphin Wes Welker is absolutely killing his former team with 10 catches for 89 yards. Surprising the Dolphins didn’t have a better plan against Welker.
  • The Patriots’ offensive line is having a rough time in pass protection. Tom Brady has been sacked only once, but he’s been under a lot of pressure. RT Sebastian Vollmer is having a bit of a rough time, and it’s been enhanced by RG Dan Connolly (back) going out again and being replaced by Nick McDonald.
  • The Dolphins drove 95 yards to end the half and there were a lot of big holes up front to run through. Expect the Patriots to double down against the run.
  • Looks like Steve Gregory had the blown assignment on the near touchdown by Brian Hartline. Everyone else, including cornerback Aqib Talib, was playing Cover 2.
  • Kyle Arrington is doing a really nice job, again, against Davone Bess (four targets, zero receptions). That could be a big key in the second half.
  • The Patriots should be able to take advantage of a thin Dolphins line that lost LT Jake Long (elbow). RT Jonathan Martin has moved to the left side, and Nate Garner, normally a guard, is struggling at RT.

Sebastian Vollmer, Julian Edelman active for Patriots

Posted by Gary Dzen, Boston.com Staff December 2, 2012 11:37 AM

MIAMI Gardens, Fla. -- Right tackle Sebastian Vollmer (back, knee) is active for the Patriots vs. Miami this afternoon. Wide receiver Julian Edelman (concussion) is also active.

New England's inactives are Chandler Jones, Rob Gronkowski, Logan Mankins, Mitch Petrus, Visanthe Shiancoe, James Develon, and Derrick Martin. It's possible Shiancoe is a healthy scratch.

Pat Devlin, Jonathon Amaya, Josh Kaddu, Will Yeatman, Michael Egnew, Kyle Miller, and Kheeston Randall are inactive for the Dolphins.

Game 12 preview: Patriots at Dolphins

Posted by Gary Dzen, Boston.com Staff December 2, 2012 10:28 AM

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MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Welcome to slightly-overcast Florida, where the New England Patriots will take on the Miami Dolphins at 1 p.m.

It's a hat-and-T-shirt game for the Patriots, meaning they can clinch the AFC East title with a win and then find commemorative attire at their locker after the game. Winning the division is often the first goal Patriots head coach Bill Belichick mentions early in the season, though the Patriots aren't likely to over-celebrate if they win this one. Saddled with their usual expectations of being one of the NFL's best teams, the Patriots have larger goals ahead.

This is the first of two games between these teams, who meet again in Foxborough on Dec. 30 in the final week of the regular season. Stopping the dynamic Reggie Bush has been a hot topic in New England this week, but limiting rookie quarterback Ryan Tannenhill is also a concern. Tannehill has thrown for 2,373 yards, completing 59 percent of his passes. He's thrown seven touchdown passes and 12 interceptions, and he's been sacked 20 times. Those last two numbers could play right into the hands of New England's opportunistic defense. The Patriots are plus-24 (32 takeaways, 8 giveaways).

New England's team bus arrived at Sun Life Stadium shortly after 10 a.m. Julian Edelman (concussion) and Sebastian Vollmer (back/knee) are both here, and both players have been activated for today's game. One thing to watch out for this afternoon are some strong winds that could be a factor in the kicking and passing games.

The Patriots have won the last four meetings between these teams, though Miami's last three wins over the Patriots have come in December.

What are you looking for in today's game? Leave a comment and come back to Extra Points after kickoff to follow along. Today's game details are below:

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

Records: Patriots 8-3; Dolphins 5-6

Last meeting: 2011 at New England: Patriots 27, Dolphins 24

Overall series:
Dolphins lead, 50-43

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

Projected starting lineups:

Patriots offense: WR Wes Welker, LT Nate Solder, LG Donald Thomas, C Ryan Wendell, RG Dan Connolly, RT Marcus Cannon, TE Aaron Hernandez, WR Brandon Lloyd, QB Tom Brady, RB Danny Woodhead, RB Stevan Ridley.

Dolphins offense: WR Brian Hartline, LT Jake Long, LG Richie Incognito, C Mike Pouncey, RG John Jerry, RT Jonathan Martin, TE Anthony Fasano, WR Davone Bess, QB Ryan Tannehill, FB Javorskie Lane, RB Reggie Bush

Patriots defense: LE Rob Ninkovich, DT Vince Wilfork, DT Kyle Love, RE Justin Francis, LB Don’t’a Hightower, LB Jerod Mayo, LB Brandon Spikes, CB Aquib Talib, CB Kyle Arrington, S Steve Gregory, S Devin McCourty

Dolphins defense: DE Jared Odrick, DT Randy Starks, DT Paul Soliai, DE Cameron Wake, OLB Kevin Burnett, , MLB Karlos Dansby, OLB Koa Misi, CB Sean Smith, CB Nolan Carroll, S Chris Clemons, S Reshad Jones

Patriots inactives:Chandler Jones, Rob Gronkowski, Logan Mankins, Mitch Petrus, Visanthe Shiancoe, James Develon and Derrick Martin.

Dolphins inactives:
Pat Devlin, Jonathon Amaya, Josh Kaddu, Will Yeatman, Michael Egnew, Kyle Miller, Kheeston Randall.

The National Anthem will be performed by Sherl Burke.

Here's a list of Globe reporters to follow on Twitter during today's game:
Michael Whitmer (@GlobeWhitmer); Dan Shaughnessy (@Dan_Shaughnessy); Greg A. Bedard (@GregABedard); Shalise Manza Young (@ShaliseMYoung).

Enjoy the game.

Inside the matchup: Patriots at Dolphins

Posted by Greg A. Bedard December 1, 2012 03:00 PM

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

INSIDE THE DOLPHINS' OFFENSE

It's the first meeting of the season against the Dolphins and once again, they have a new coaching staff in place. This time the organization is led by head coach Joe Philbin, who most recently was an offensive coordinator with the Packers, and he works on the offense with playcaller Mike Sherman.

Sherman was also once in Green Bay but most recently with Texas A&M, where rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill started. With Tannehill, Sherman has brought over the offense that was used at the college. The offense features three major personnel groupings: 11 (one back, one tight end), 12 (one back, two tight ends), and 21 (two backs, one tight end).

What's fascinating about the latter two groupings is that they are essentially the same due to the role of H-back Charles Clay; Clay has lined up in the backfield and on the line of scrimmage. When in the backfield, he has done work as a lead blocker for the Dolphins' ball carriers, led by the explosive Reggie Bush, on their inside zone, outside zone, power and lead run concepts. The Dolphins spend a lot of time zone blocking, occasionally mixing in man schemes as they transition to it full-time.

In the passing game, Tannehill has made the most of what is a limited group of pass catchers and admittedly, sometimes a limited scheme. The Dolphins utilize a lot of short passing concepts that feature progression reads (rhythmic drop-backs) opposed to coverage reads. Their passing game design features the Snag (spot and a flat route), double Smash (two square-ins and a corner route), slant-flat and Flanker drive.

INSIDE THE DOLPHINS' DEFENSE

Whereas the offense is sometimes limited by schematic design, the defense is not. It's a solid defense that is very similar to the one in Cincinnati, where defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle coached defensive backs.

The Dolphins' defense is particularly stout up front, where big tackles Paul Soliai and Randy Starks man the middle. Starks is a quality pass rusher that has also done good work against the run while Soliai is the nose tackle, eating up space but still showing the versatility to play more than the typical zero or one technique. Accompanying them is pass rush aficionado Cameron Wake, who is one of the league's best at getting after the quarterback and has an endless motor. Those three players have allowed the Dolphins to mix in some three-man fronts in their base four man scheme.

In the four-man scheme, Wake is a five technique end while Starks and Soliai play various techniques, which include zero, one, two and three. Three fronts used include the Over (strong-side guard covered), Under (weak-side guard covered) and Even (double three techniques). The Dolphins have also overloaded sides, creating a one on one matchup on one side of the formation, typically where Wake is stationed.

The Dolphins have gotten creative with their pass defenders, playing a multitude of coverages, which includes Man-Free, Man-Free Robber, Cover 2 (traditional and inverted), Cover 2 Man, Cover 2 Trap, Cover 2 Man Trap, Cover 3 (and all its variations of Sky, Buzz, and Cloud) and the always popular, Cover 4 (Quarters).

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

  • Defend middle of the field: Like every other (modified) West Coast Offense nowadays, the Dolphins like to attack the middle of the field. They will use shallow crosses, slants and spot routes to attack in between the hashes and the Patriots must defend this. If they defend it well, there will be opportunities for the Patriots to force turnovers because Tannehill has never been a great passer in between the hashes, sometimes struggling with anticipation. It would not surprise me if the Patriots gave Tannehill false looks in the middle of the field in order to force turnovers.
  • Battle with the bookends: He's still one of the league's best left tackles but it's hard to ignore the struggles that Jake Long has had this season. He's struggled with his technique and is over-thinking on the field. At the opposite end of the formation, rookie right tackle Jonathan Martin has also had struggles. Billed as a technician coming out of Stanford, he's been everything but. Struggles with power, particularly sustaining of blocks, and hand use has been a problem for him this season. The Patriots are short on rushers but there will still be some opportunities to get to Tannehill because of the Dolphins' pass protection struggles. One other note to make of: right guard John Jerry. He's top heavy and a waist-bender that sometimes struggles with using his hands. He could be another player to attack.
  • Charles Clay: Clay hasn't had a big season to date (13 receptions, 175 yards, two touchdowns) but he has the talent to cause some problems for the linebackers. He works out of the backfield as an H-back, and it wouldn't surprise me if the Dolphins try to sneak him out on more routes against the Patriots' linebackers. Last week, he had a big 29-yard touchdown reception on a wheel route out of the backfield and this week, the Dolphins could look to do it again.
  • Patriots Run Offense vs. Dolphins Run Defense -The Patriots' running game is important to the offense because it keeps it balanced and the Dolphins will look to take it away. They have a good chance of doing so, as they are one of the premier run defenses in the league. They allow 96.7 yards rushing per game, which ranks 7th in the NFL.
  • Dolphins' cornerbacks: Miami's cornerback situation has been somewhat of a mess this season. Veteran free agent acquisition Richard Marshall was designated to IR and now the Dolphins are rotating cornerbacks opposite of Sean Smith. The players rotating include R.J. Stanford and Nolan Carroll, both of which can be taken advantage of.
  • Dolphins' A-Gap Blitz - The Double A-gap blitz or the "sugaring" of gaps is an important part of the Dolphins' defense, and it is one of the main concepts that defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle has brought over from Cincinnati. What this concept does is place two linebackers to each side of the center, forcing both guards to account for inside pressure. As a result, the offensive tackles are left on an island with the defensive ends, which could be problematic for New England because one of the defensive ends is Cameron Wake. It should be noted that the Dolphins don't always blitz, however. They "sugar" the A gaps and force the guards to help the center but then the linebackers peel back into coverage, still creating one on one matchups on the outsides despite only a four man rush coming.

Patriots at Dolphins: 5 keys, prediction

Posted by Greg A. Bedard December 1, 2012 02:55 PM

FORT LAUDERDALE - The Patriots travel South to take on the Dolphins for the first time this season. A victory would deliver their 10th division title since 2001, and 12th-straight winning season. They'll accomplish both if they execute these five keys Sunday against Miami:

  1. Stop the run: The Dolphins would like nothing better than to be a balanced offense against the Patriots, if not tilted toward the run, with rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill taking on Bill Belichick and an opportunistic Patriots defense. The Dolphins know that if this turns into a shootout between Tannehill and Tom Brady, they'll lose, and they'll probably lose huge. The Dolphins will use both Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas to run the ball against a Patriots' run defense that has had its share of lapses the past few weeks with gap and edge control. With both Chandler Jones (ankle) and Jermaine Cunningham (suspension) out, don't be surprised if the Patriots play a lot of their 3-4 scheme, which is their best run defense. The line would be Vince Wilfork, Kyle Love, and Brandon Deaderick/Ron Brace. The linebackers would be Rob Ninkovich, Brandon Spikes, Jerod Mayo and Dont'a Hightower. Ninkovich and Hightower will need to set a strong edge. The linemen will two-gap and allow Mayo and Spikes to wall up against the run. Love and Deaderick have struggled in recent weeks with gap control.
  2. Spread to run: The Dolphins have played toe to toe with teams, like Seattle last week, that want to stick with the run. The Dolphins have problems against teams that spread them out because their team speed is lacking up front, and outside of cornerback Sean Smith and safety Reshad Jones, the secondary has had its share of struggles. The Patriots shouldn't have much trouble throwing early against the Dolphins, and then they can come back to the run when the Dolphins are on their heels.
  3. Quick Brady: Sure, Cameron Wake is a very good pass rusher, but with how fast Tom Brady gets rid of the ball, he really shouldn't be a problem. As long as the Dolphins don't play a lot of press man, Brady should be able to go with his normal rhythm, which is about 2 to 2.75 seconds to get rid of the ball. That's not enough time for the defense to get pressure. Using the no huddle will also keep the pace up, but with the warm weather, the Patriots might want to pick their spots with that.
  4. Have a plan for Clay: The Patriots will likely try to take receiver Brian Hartline away with Aqib Talib in passing situations -- Alfonso Dennard would have a big height disadvantage -- and they'll have a plan for Davone Bess that will include being physical with him along with some bracket coverage. Tight end Anthony Fasano is a solid player but not a dynamic athlete, so the Patriots' linebackers, who are limited in coverage, won't be exploited. They will need safety help with him in the red zone, however. The one Dolphins player who could be a problem is H-back Charles Clay. He's increasingly becoming more a part of the offense, and Tannehill's confidence in him has grown. Clay's a very good athlete and his ability to lineup anywhere makes him a matchup problem. The Dolphins will likely try to scheme Clay to end up with a linebacker in coverage, and that could be trouble. They'll need some help.
  5. Make Tannehill move: As the season has gone along, Tannehill has increasingly become more careless with the ball. He's fine in the pocket, but once he starts to move in the pocket, he really has trouble getting his footwork right and not floating the ball, if not throwing into a bad situation. The problem is Tannehill's such a good athlete that you don't want him to escape the pocket (though he's been reluctant to leave when pressured). So the Patriots will want to bring pressure in his face to get Tannehill to backpedal off his spot, and keep contain on the edges, especially to his right. It will be important for the Patriots' linemen to push the pocket from the inside, and expect the Patriots to augment that with a fair share of inside blitzes from Spikes and Mayo.

Prediction

If the Dolphins take care of the ball, they can make this a fourth-quarter game and then anything can happen. But we don't see that happening. The Patriots are causing too many turnovers, and the Dolphins have eight in their past three games. If the Dolphins really want to force the issue, they'll mix press man and various pre- and post-snap reads to make Brady hold onto the ball for the extra send the Dolphins will need for Cameron Wake and situational rusher Olivier Vernon to generate a rush. Outside of that, and provided the Patriots don't start turning the ball over, the Patriots will go on a run at some point that will break the Dolphins.

Patriots 34, Dolphins 17

On the Beat: 5 questions about the Dolphins

Posted by Greg A. Bedard December 1, 2012 01:14 PM

The Patriots haven't seen the Dolphins since last season, and Miami has undergone an overhaul with the coaching staff since that time. So the Patriots will be seeing new schemes Sunday. We brought in beat writer Ben Volin of the Palm Beach Post to shed some light on the new Dolphins:1. How confident are you that the Dolphins, especially Ryan Tannehill, can limit the turnovers to keep this one close?

"Not very. The Dolphins have eight turnovers in their last three games, and it's not like they've been facing the Steel Curtain D -- they came against Tennessee, Buffalo and Seattle. Six of the turnovers have been Tannehill interceptions, and he should've had a seventh but it was wiped out by a roughing the passer penalty on Seahawks safety Earl Thomas. And unlike early in the season, when most of his interceptions came on tipped passes, he's been making some really bad decisions of late and forcing throws when he doesn't have to. The Dolphins have been sloppy with the ball all year, and I don't expect that to change against the Pats."

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

"Safety Reshad Jones has quietly put together a solid season as the Dolphins' do-it-all safety. Jones, in his third NFL season but first as a starter after replacing the departed Yeremiah Bell, never lines up in the same spot twice. On one play he'll play deep center field, the next he'll be blitzing the "A" gap and the next he'll line up over the tight end in the slot. He is third on the Dolphins with 63 tackles (including 14 two weeks ago), and tied for the team lead with two forced fumbles and two interceptions."

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

"The Dolphins' lack of a physical and/or field-stretching receiver has really hurt them over the last five weeks. They did little to replace Brandon Marshall after trading him to Chicago in May, and Brian Hartline, Davone Bess, and Anthony Fasano are all nice No. 2-3 options, but don't scare opposing defenses. Teams have been defending the Dolphins with eight in the box and press man-to-man coverage on the outside. The Dolphins' receivers have struggled to get separation in that 1-on-1 coverage to keep the defense honest, and the running game hasn't been able to overcome the extra defender in the box (the second half of last week's win over Seattle aside)."

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

"The Dolphins' cornerbacks are young, inexperienced and have allowed six 300-yard passers this year -- and it's not exactly a list of Pro Bowlers (Mark Sanchez, Carson Palmer, Sam Bradford, Kevin Kolb). Last week, Russell Wilson completed over 77 percent of his passes. Sean Smith (fourth year) is the veteran of the group, and though he has played well at times this year, he is prone to mental mistakes. Seven-year veteran CB Richard Marshall was signed this offseason to cover the slot, but he's been lost for the year to a back injury, leaving Nolan Carroll (third year), R.J. Stanford (third year) and Jimmy Wilson (second year) to play opposite Smith. I expect Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd to both have big games."

5. Finally, Dolphins win on Sunday if …

The Mayans were right. But seriously, the Dolphins will have to play a flawless game on both sides of the ball -- no turnovers, no missed assignments, perfect execution all the way around. And there's no reason to think that the Dolphins will be able to A) grind the clock and keep the ball for 35-40 minutes, or B) keep up in a track meet with New England. I'm expecting another blowout win for the Pats.

News, analysis and commentary from Boston.com's staff writers and contributors, including Zuri Berry and Erik Frenz.

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