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Patriots downgrade Dennard to out vs. Texans

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff November 30, 2013 09:16 PM

HOUSTON – The Patriots announced Saturday night that cornerback Alfonzo Dennard is out for their game against the Texans Sunday.

Dennard underwent a knee procedure around the time of New England’s bye, and it was not expected that he would be in uniform against the Broncos a week ago. He was, though he was unable to finish the game.

The second-year player was limited in practice on Wednesday and Friday, but according to the Patriots he did not practice on Thursday.

Dennard joins WR Aaron Dobson (foot), RT Marcus Cannon (ankle) and TE Michael Hoomanawanui as players the team has already declared out for its matchup with the Texans.

Several other members of the Patriots’ secondary are listed as questionable: CBs Aqib Talib (hip), Kyle Arrington (groin) and Marquice Cole (shin) as well as S Steve Gregory (finger). Gregory broke his thumb against the Steelers and has not played since, though he has been practicing.

Week 13 participation report: Patriots rule out three

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff November 29, 2013 03:59 PM


FOXBOROUGH -- Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard returned to practice Friday, one day after sitting out with a knee injury, and was listed by the Patriots as questionable for Sunday's game against the Texans.

The Patriots ruled three players out: offensive lineman Marcus Cannon (ankle), receiver Aaron Dobson (foot), and tight end Michael Hoomanawanui (knee). None of those three participated in any practices this week.

In addition to Dennard, six other Patriots were listed as questionable, including safety Steve Gregory, who has missed the last two games with a broken thumb.

For the Patriots
Out
RT Marcus Cannon (ankle)
WR Aaron Dobson (foot)
TE Michael Hoomanawanui (knee)

Questionable
CB Kyle Arrington (groin)
CB Marquice Cole (shin)
CB Alfonzo Dennard (knee)
S Steve Gregory (finger)
TE Rob Gronkowski (back/forearm/hamstring)
CB Aqib Talib (hip)
LB Chris White (back)

Probable
WR Danny Amendola (groin)
QB Tom Brady (right shoulder)
WR Matthew Slater (wrist)
LB Brandon Spikes (knee)
RB Shane Vereen (wrist)

For the Texans
Out
S Jawanza Starling (hamstring)

Questionable
CB Kareem Jackson (ribs)
CB Brice McCain (hamstring)

Probable
S Shiloh Keo (neck)
CB Elbert Mack (hamstring)
ILB Joe Mays (knee)
ILB Mike Mohamed (hamstring)
T Derek Newton (knee)
QB Matt Schaub (not injury-related)
ILB Darryl Sharpton (back)
DE Antonio Smith (not injury-related)
G Wade Smith (knee)
ILB Jeff Tarpinian (groin)
RB Ben Tate (ribs)

Talib: Patriots won't overlook 2-9 Texans

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff November 29, 2013 02:36 PM


FOXBOROUGH -- Houston might enter Sunday's game with the Patriots on a nine-game losing streak, but the Texans will have their opponent's undivided attention at Reliant Stadium, according to New England cornerback Aqib Talib.

"Just because they’re 2-9 doesn’t mean they’re going to come and hand us the win," Talib said. "It’s football. Any given Sunday, you’ve still got to line up, you’ve still got to prepare. We treat it like it’s any other week. We’ve got a great coaching staff, they don’t let us [overlook an opponent]."

Talib, a Texas native, is impressed with Houston's offense, which features big-play receiver Andre Johnson and quarterback Case Keenum. Johnson and Keenum have connected on seven completions for at least 25 yards; Keenum has 15 such completions this season, or 17 percent of the passes that have been caught. Only the Eagles duo of Michael Vick (20.8 percent) and Nick Foles (18.4 percent) has a higher percentage of 25-yard pass plays.

On Keenum, Talib said: "He can get out of the pocket, he can move the pocket around, he’s got a strong arm, he can make a ton of throws – across his body, across the field – that a lot of quarterbacks won’t be able to make."

On Johnson: "You always look forward to going against great receivers."

The Patriots' secondary has combined for 12 interceptions through 11 games, and is coming off one of its better games, holding Denver's Peyton Manning to a season-low 150 passing yards in Sunday's 34-31 overtime victory. Still, Talib had no interest in talking about how well they've performed.

"Oh man, the job is far from done," Talib said. "We don’t look at it like, eight weeks, we’ll applaud ourselves. We’re just trying to be successful this week against Houston."

When is the 2014 Super Bowl?

Posted by Staff November 29, 2013 01:23 PM

super bowlThe 2014 Super Bowl, also known as Super Bowl XLVIII, will be held Sunday, February 2, 2014 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.

Kickoff between the champions of the AFC and NFC is 6:25 p.m. Super Bowl XLVIII will be televised on Fox and broadcast on radio on the Westwood One/Dial Global Sports network.

Future Super Bowl locations and tentative dates are as follows:
Super Bowl XLIX (2015): Arizona February 1, 2015 (tentative date)
Super Bowl L (2016): San Francisco February 7, 2016 (tentative date)
Super Bowl LI (2017): Houston February 5, 2017 (tentative date)

Week 13: Friday practice peek - Dennard present

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff November 29, 2013 11:29 AM

FOXBOROUGH – CB Alfonzo Dennard (knee) was present for the media-access portion of practice on Friday. On Thursday, the Patriots reported that Dennard did not practice.

Dennard being on the field meant there were three players absent: WR Aaron Dobson (foot), RT Marcus Cannon (ankle) and TE Michael Hoomanawanui (knee).

Players were in shells and sweats.

Bill Belichick knows danger lurks on sideline

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff November 29, 2013 10:55 AM

FOXBOROUGH – After asking if the assembled media had a good Thanksgiving and reporting that his was good as well, Patriots coach Bill Belichick launched into his final pregame press conference of the week on Friday morning.

Among the topics was the play in Thursday's Ravens-Steelers game when Steelers coach Mike Tomlin was nearly hit on the sideline by the Ravens' Jacoby Jones as he returned a kickoff. Belichick was asked if he's ever found himself a little too close to the action.

"Yeah, I’ve been blown up a couple times," he joked. "There’s one play in particular where I was kind of watching the pass rush of the front and the ball was thrown. I didn’t really follow the ball that quickly and all the sudden the guy caught it and was right on top of me and [I] ended up under the Gatorade bench.

"Obviously if you’re watching the ball, it shouldn’t be that big of a problem. But if you’re trying to watch something else… Obviously we have to give the officials and the players room to play. Sometimes that just happens where you get guys caught up a little bit on the sideline. But yeah, I saw the play last night. I was like, ‘Oh my God, yeah.’ That could easily happen to any of us. It’s a good lesson, I have to be careful."

Without saying which game it was, Belichick said he clearly remembered being on the ground, "looking up at the cups and the Gatorade dripping down."

Belichick reiterated his belief the Texans, whom the Patriots face Sunday in Houston, are better than their 2-9 record indicates.

Houston quarterback Case Keenum, a second-year player who has started the last five games, is completing just 55 percent of his passes, but has eight touchdown passes against two interceptions, a far better ratio than Matt Schaub had in his six starts (8 TDs, 9 INTs, five of them returned for touchdowns).

"He’s been a real good decision-maker," Belichick said of Keenum. "The defense hasn’t had their hands on very many balls. Even the interception at the end of the game last week was on a tipped ball; it was a good throw. He’s got pretty good judgment, pretty good accuracy. He’s athletic.

"They run a lot of bootlegs anyway, but he’s athletic in the pocket to get away from the rush, buy a little more time. Like I said, he’s done a good job of not turning the ball over. He’s been disciplined with his decision making. Still getting the ball to his key guys – obviously [Andre] Johnson, [DeAndre] Hopkins – but at the same time not really putting it up for grabs very often. Look, he’s made some tight throws, especially if you’re fourth down in the red area and that kind of thing, you have to have a play, you have to throw it in there. But I’d say overall his decision-making, his judgment, he’s an athletic guy, he can buy time, extra time, to throw which puts more stress on the coverage and the defense. All those things."

With Marcus Cannon (ankle) unlikely to play on Sunday, Will Svitek is in line to become the third player to start a game at right tackle this season for New England (Sebastian Vollmer started the first eight games of the season before going on injured reserve).

Signed as a free agent in the offseason, Svitek is a veteran with starting experience from his days with the Falcons and Chiefs.

"Will’s got a lot of experience. He’s a dependable player. He was with all us all spring, all training camp, had a good preseason," Belichick said. "Then he missed a little time there at the end of the preseason, the beginning of the regular season [with a knee injury] before he was able to come back. He has a real good understanding of what we do.

"As we know, in preseason he played not only tackle but guard, so he’s played both tackles, both guards. He has a lot of position flexibility. When Marcus [Cannon] went down, he stepped in the game against good players and stepped up there and competed well. Not perfect, but he hung in there. We’ll see that again this week. We’ll see how it’s going with him and Marcus. I know he knows he has to be ready. Everybody has to be ready, that’s what the NFL is. That’s a good example for everyone too, that on any play you could go from not expecting to play a lot to being in there on every snap. It’s all about having everybody ready to go and taking advantage of the opportunities and having guys step in and be able to do the job when they’re counted on."

Week 13: Thursday participation report - Dennard downgraded

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff November 28, 2013 04:29 PM

Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard (knee) did not practice Thursday, the Patriots reported, after he was limited on Wednesday. Dennard underwent a procedure on his knee around the team's bye week, and though he was active for the Broncos game last Sunday night, he played just 21 snaps.

Dennard joined wide receiver Aaron Dobson (foot), right tackle Marcus Cannon (ankle), and tight end Michael Hoomanawanui (knee) on the did not practice list.

That was the only change to the Patriots' report.

The Texans added quarterback Matt Schaub (not injury-related) to the DNP portion of their report. He joined defensive end Antonio Smith (not injury-related) and safety Jawanza Starling (hamstring). Linebacker Darryl Sharpton (back) and guard Wade Smith (knee), who did not practice on Wednesday, were limited on Thursday.

For the Patriots
Did not participate
RT Marcus Cannon (ankle)
CB Alfonzo Dennard (knee)
WR Aaron Dobson (foot)
TE Michael Hoomanawanui (knee)

Limited participation
CB Kyle Arrington (groin)
CB Marquice Cole (shin)
S Steve Gregory (finger)
TE Rob Gronkowski (back/forearm/hamstring)
CB Aqib Talib (hip)
LB Chris White (back)

Full participation
WR Danny Amendola (groin)
QB Tom Brady (right shoulder)
WR Matthew Slater (wrist)
LB Brandon Spikes (knee)
RB Shane Vereen (wrist)

For the Texans
Did not participate
QB Matt Schaub (not injury-related)
DE Antonio Smith (not injury-related)
S Jawanza Starling (hamstring)

Limited participation
CB Kareem Jackson (ribs)
ILB Mike Mohamed (hamstring)
ILB Darryl Sharpton (back)
G Wade Smith (knee)
ILB Jeff Tarpinian (groin)
RB Ben Tate (ribs)

Full participation
S Shiloh Keo (neck)
CB Elbert Mack (hamstring)
ILB Joe Mays (knee)
T Derek Newton (knee)

Patriots re-sign Forston, Green to practice squad

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff November 28, 2013 10:49 AM


The Patriots are conducting a short practice Thursday before breaking for Thanksgiving, but there is no media access to the players. The team has announced, though, that it has re-signed defensive lineman Marcus Forston and defensive back Justin Green to the practice squad.

Forston has flip-flopped between the active roster and practice squad this season, appearing in three games and being credited with three tackles. Green was promoted from the practice squad to the active roster and played in last Sunday night's game against the Broncos.

Week 13 NFL picks

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff November 28, 2013 01:51 AM

The scores from Week 12 paint a disastrous picture for picking games, with yours truly going 4-10 after several upsets in the NFL.

It never helps when a previous one-loss team loses to a six-loss team. Or when the allegedly talented Houston Texans (2-9) can't seem to steal a game against the Jacksonville Jaguars (2-9). Or, perhaps, when the Arizona Cardinals (7-4) blow away what is supposed to be one of the top teams in the AFC, the Indianapolis Colts (7-4).

And then there was the Patriots-Broncos game. I was on the wrong end of that.

So we go into Week 13 with a more concerned perspective of each team that has caused all of this confusion, including the Cardinals and Jaguars.

Here's my Week 13 NFL picks:

Packers (+6.5) at Lions (-6.5) -- If the Lions can't win this game, just write them off completely. Green Bay is still without Aaron Rodgers and there's really nothing else to say. It's a matter of execution on Detroit's part.
My pick: Lions

Raiders (+9) at Cowboys (-9) -- The Raiders are expected to get Darren McFadden (hamstring) back, but will continue to be without Tyvon Branch (ankle) and Jason Hunter (foot). The Cowboys are coming off a strong division win over the New York Giants. Here's the thing, these two teams are at odds. The Raiders can't pass (ranked 29th overall in the league) and the Cowboys can't defend the pass (31st overall in the league). But the Cowboys can certainly throw the ball and the Raiders have a helluva time stopping it (25th overall passing defense).
My pick: Cowboys

Steelers (+3) at Ravens (-3) -- After Baltimore's convincing 19-3 win over the New York Jets, one would be more inclined to favor this home team. The Ravens have a defense that can handle a moderately improved Steelers passing (262.2 yards per game) attack and most assuredly Pittsburgh's luke warm running game (77.3 yards per game). But then you look at Ben Roethlisberger's history against the Ravens (11-4 in the regular season), which isn't necessarily in complete agreement with what we've seen so far this season between these two teams, and you go and look back at the Steelers' previous 19-16 win over the Ravens, and all of a sudden your mind is made up. It's like fate between these two teams and the Steelers somehow always come out on the right side of it.
My pick: Steelers

FULL ENTRY

Watch: Patriots not taking Texans lightly

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff November 27, 2013 07:13 PM




In the latest Patriots midweek report, the team is doing its best not to overlook the 2-9 Houston Texans, some awards were dished out, and another update from practice. Watch the report above.

Week 13: Wednesday participation report -- Dobson (foot) added

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff November 27, 2013 04:02 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Patriots wide receiver Aaron Dobson missed his first practice of the season Wednesday with a foot injury, according to the team's participation report.

Right tackle Marcus Cannon, who peeked out from the training room during the open locker room period and quickly closed the door when he realized reporters were in the room -- though not before colleague Michael Whitmer spotted a walking boot on his lower right leg -- also missed practice, as did tight end Michael Hoomanawanui (knee).

In addition to Dobson, cornerback Marquice Cole (shin) and linebacker/special teamer Chris White (back) were also new to the Patriots report.

For the Patriots
Did not participate
WR Aaron Dobson (foot)
RT Marcus Cannon (ankle)
TE Michael Hoomanawanui (knee)

Limited participation
CB Kyle Arrington (groin)
CB Marquice Cole (shin)
CB Alfonzo Dennard (knee)
S Steve Gregory (finger)
TE Rob Gronkowski (back/forearm/hamstring)
CB Aqib Talib (hip)
LB Chris White (back)

Full participation
WR Danny Amendola (groin)
QB Tom Brady (right shoulder)
WR Matthew Slater (wrist)
LB Brandon Spikes (knee)
RB Shane Vereen (wrist)

For the Texans
Did not participate
ILB Darryl Sharpton (back)
DE Antonio Smith (not injury-related)
G Wade Smith (knee)
S Jawanza Starling (hamstring)

Limited participation
CB Kareem Jackson (ribs)
ILB Mike Mohamed (hamstring)
ILB Jeff Tarpinian (groin)
RB Ben Tate (ribs)

Full participation
S Shiloh Keo (neck)
CB Elbert Mack (hamstring)
ILB Joe Mays (knee)
T Derek Newton (knee)

Patriots promote one player, sign two others

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff November 27, 2013 03:19 PM


FOXBOROUGH -- The Patriots promoted defensive tackle Sealver Siliga from the practice squad to the 53-man roster, signed free agent tight end D.J. Williams, and signed offensive tackle Patrick Ford to the practice squad.

Williams appeared in seven games this season with Jacksonville before being released by the Jaguars Nov. 4. A fifth-round draft pick by Green Bay in 2011, Williams has nine receptions for 70 yards in his NFL career, which spans 33 games. He was at practice Wednesday, wearing No. 86.

Siliga was signed to the practice squad by the Patriots Oct. 23. He has spent time with Denver, San Francisco, and Seattle since joining the league in 2011 as an undrafted rookie. Ford signed with the Jets in August, and was released two weeks later. He is a rookie who was a three-year starter at Eastern Kentucky.

Gronkowski talks turkey but no Texans

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff November 27, 2013 02:49 PM


FOXBOROUGH -- After fielding questions about where he'll spend Thanksgiving (with teammates), what his favorite Thanksgiving foods are ("turkey, stuffing, gravy, corn, the whole platter at once, all at the same time"), and his favorite pie ("pumpkin, with vanilla ice cream"), Rob Gronkowski finally drew the line when asked about memories from his final high school game, since many Massachusetts football teams end their seasons on the holiday.

"We haven’t talked about the Texans at all yet," Gronkowski said, dodging the question. "That’s all I’m really focused on this week."

Gronkowski appears to be fully integrated after missing the first six games of the season following a series of offseason surgeries on his forearm and back. He was on the field for all 87 snaps against the Broncos in Sunday night's comeback win, the first time he has had 100 percent participation in the five games he's played. He caught seven passes for 90 yards, and scored a touchdown for the third straight game.

"The more you’re playing, the more weeks you’re going, the more you’re into it, and the more everything is flowing together," Gronkowski said. "Just trying to improve every week: on the field, off the field, in the weight room, in the meeting room."

Week 13 Wednesday practice peek: three not spotted

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff November 27, 2013 11:33 AM

FOXBOROUGH – The high winds and rain led to the Patriots moving Wednesday's practice inside the Dana-Farber Fieldhouse for just the second time this season. Normally, coach Bill Belichick likes having his team practice in the elements, but the danger wind poses to video staff on lifts and the fact that the roof at Reliant Stadium will more than likely be closed this Sunday likely played into his role to move the proceedings indoors.

Colleague Michael Whitmer reports three players were not spotted - OL Marcus Cannon (ankle), TE Michael Hoomanawanui (knee), and WR Aaron Dobson (unknown).

There was also a new player, No. 86, who could be TE D.J. Williams. The Patriots have not yet confirmed that they've signed Williams.

During the media-access window, the Patriots ran a ball-control drill, with assistants wearing padded sleeves trying to smack the ball out of players' hands. RB Stevan Ridley was front and center during the drill.

Players were in shells and sweats.

Texans coach Gary Kubiak says Patriots primed for a championship run

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff November 27, 2013 11:32 AM
FOXBOROUGH – In looking at the Patriots on film, Houston Texans coach Gary Kubiak sees a team that is improving week over week with a championship pedigree.

The Texans coach spoke with members of the media on a conference call Wednesday morning ahead of Sunday's game with the Patriots.

"Well, I just see 'em playing better and better each week," Kubiak said. "They've obviously got some guys back and getting back to full strength. What they did in the second half last week is just phenomenal. Their leadership with Bill and Tom has been consistent for so many years. I just, I see a team priming itself to make a run for a championship. They've got a lot of great players. The coaches on that staff are absolutely tremendous. I see themselves getting into position to go on that run that they usually make."

The Texans (2-9) are on a nine-game losing streak. But in six of their nine losses, the margin of their opponents' victory has been by an average of 3.6 points. Game planning for this Patriots team is no easy task, though.

"Obviously working against their offense there's just so many things that they're good at," Kubiak said. "I mean they throw the ball as well as anybody in the game, but they can line up and run it extremely well, too. As they worked through some guys being out, it was impressive to watch them work through that. Defensively, Bill [Belichick] and their scheme has always been very difficult to prepare for.

"In all my years in Denver with Mike [Shanahan], their 3-4, 4-3 all those things. One week to prepare for that group is very tough because the coaches do a very good job of teaching and getting so many things done. Like I said, you guys know how impressed I am with the organization and what they've been able to accomplish and continue to accomplish."

Kubiak also had high praise for Chandler Jones, the Patriots defensive end, who was just named the AFC defensive player of the month.

"He's extremely talented and long," he said. "He can rush a passer, we all know that, but the thing that impresses me is he's playing the run extremely well. They've had some new faces inside and those type of things, but have continued to play extremely well. We're very impressed with him and they're tough to deal with from a protection standpoint with the many schemes. So we have our work cut out for us."

Belichick: We need to play better away from home

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff November 27, 2013 10:25 AM
FOXBOROUGH – The Texans might be the NFL's most disappointing team in 2013, losers of nine straight games. But the Patriots have lost three straight – three straight road games, a streak they'll try to stop on Sunday at Reliant Stadium in Houston.

Of the five road games for the Patriots this season, none have been easy. They opened with a 23-21 win at Buffalo, and needed to survive a last-minute comeback attempt by the Falcons to win at Atlanta, 30-23, in Week 4. Three road losses have followed: at Cincinnati (13-6), at the Jets (30-27 in overtime), and at Carolina (24-20).

"We haven’t won on the road here the last three outings, so we need to find a way to play better away from home, whatever that consists of. Better coaching, start with that, and obviously better playing," coach Bill Belichick said before practice on Wednesday.

Because of the rain and wind, the Patriots moved Wednesday's practice inside, to the Dana-Farber Field House. Reliant Stadium has a retractable roof, so conditions for Sunday's game will be ideal. The game, originally scheduled for a 4:25 p.m. start, has been moved up to 1 p.m.

The Patriots would have entered Sunday's game on a two-game losing streak if not for the comeback win over the Broncos, who led 24-0 at halftime. Patriots players said after the game that they worked specifically in practice last week on coming out fast in the second half, which had been a problem area.

They outscored the Broncos in the third quarter, 21-0.

"We can't simulate it, but we get part of the way through practice, stop, then finish the practice, kind of simulate as much as we can that situation," Belichick said.

Chandler Jones, Tom Brady pick up AFC honors

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff November 27, 2013 10:19 AM

FOXBOROUGH – Two Patriots players have earned recognition for their play. The NFL announced on Wednesday that Chandler Jones was named AFC defensive player of the month for November, and Tom Brady was named AFC offensive player of the week for Week 12.

Jones had 16 total tackles, four sacks and six quarterback hits in the Patriots' three games in the month; he now has 10.5 sacks for the season.

Stephen Gostkowski was named the conference's special teams player of the month for October, but Jones is the first Patriots' defensive player to win player of the month since Eugene Wilson in September 2004.

Brady went 34-for-50 for 344 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions against the Broncos on Sunday night to make him a natural choice for player of the week. It is the first time this season Brady's been named player of the week, but the 24th time in his career.

Patriots waive Forston, Green, will add TE Williams

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff November 26, 2013 05:26 PM


The Patriots made a series of minor roster moves Tuesday, waiving defensive tackle Marcus Forston and defensive back Justin Green, and losing defensive lineman A.J. Francis from the practice squad after he was signed to Miami’s active roster.

The Patriots also will be adding tight end D.J. Williams, according to a league source. Williams was a free agent after brief stints with the Packers and Jaguars this season.

Forston had been on the Patriots’ practice squad for the first five games, then was promoted to the 53-man roster and played sparingly in three games (three tackles). He had been inactive the past three games. Green had been on the practice squad all season, but was called up from the practice squad for the Broncos game, and played eight snaps. Francis, an undrafted rookie out of Maryland, was with Miami in training camp before being released by the Dolphins and claimed off waivers by the Patriots Sept. 1. He did not appear in any games for the Patriots.

Belichick: Don't be fooled by Texans' record

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff November 26, 2013 01:32 PM

Patriots players were given Tuesday off, but coach Bill Belichick, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia participated in their weekly teleconference with reporters. Fans might still be basking in the glow of Sunday night's historic comeback victory over the Broncos, but the coaches have moved ahead to the Texans, this week's opponent in Houston.

After a 2-0 start, the Texans have lost nine straight. But Belichick said the team he sees on tape isn't all that different from the team that made the playoffs last season. Houston came to Gillette Stadium twice, in fact: Once in the regular season, and then in the divisional round of the playoffs. The Patriots won both, by a combined score of 83-42.

“This football team looks a lot like last year’s football team," said Belichick. "They’re very good on defense, they have a lot of good players, they’re very disruptive up front, they’re fast, their offensive line is intact. Going back and looking at last year’s games, this group looks a lot like last year’s group, it really does."

What has caught Belichick's eye is the way Houston has competed against quality opponents this season. The Texans led Seattle by 14 points in the fourth quarter before losing in overtime. They lost by 1 point at Kansas City and by 3 points at Arizona. All three of those teams are in line to make the playoffs. In the past two games, Houston has lost by 5 to Oakland and by 7 to Jacksonville. Both of those games came at home, where the Texans are just 1-5.

"I just see them as a real good football team," said Belichick. "They’ve obviously had disappointing results on the record, but they’re well-coached, they have good players, they play hard, and I know the type of football they’re capable of playing because they’ve played it on a weekly basis against the opponents that they’ve gone up against here recently.

"The Seattle game, the Oakland game, the Kansas City game, Arizona, Indianapolis, they took all those teams right down to the wire, and had their chances, so they’re a play or two away from, I would say, breaking out and winning a whole bunch of games.

"They’re going to win them, too. They’re right there, one play, one call away from winning, and they’re going to get those. They’re a good football team."

The Patriots last played at Houston in a fairly meaningless regular-season finale to the 2009 season, when Wes Welker tore a knee ligament early in the game and missed the ensuing playoffs.

With their 34-31 win over Denver, the Patriots are 4-1 this season in games decided by 3 points or fewer. Houston is 1-4 in such games.

"We’ve been in a lot of games this year that could have gone either way," Belichick said. "You say if we won all our close games our record would be one thing, and if we hadn’t won all our close games our record would be a whole another thing. You can probably say that about most teams in the league. There’s not too many teams that are winning by 21, 24 points every week."

Case Keenum and Matt Schaub have split quarterback duties for the Texans, with Keenum winning the job midway through the season. They're still led on defense by defensive linemen J.J. Watt (9 1/2 sacks) and Antonio Smith (5).

"It starts with the front," said McDaniels. "If you can handle the front, you've given yourself an opportunity to have some success, and if you can't, then it's going to be difficult. With Smith and Watt, those are two of the more talented defensive linemen that we'll play all season, and they're on the same team."

The Patriots lost a player from their practice squad Tuesday, with defensive lineman A.J. Francis being signed to Miami's active roster. Francis, an undrafted rookie out of Maryland, was with Miami in training camp before being released by the Dolphins and signed to the Patriots' practice squad.

Belichick: 'More and more evident how resilient players were'

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff November 25, 2013 11:50 AM

Just a few hours after his Patriots sealed an amazing 34-31 overtime win over the Denver Broncos, Bill Belichick was back in his office and reviewing the game, and in a Monday morning conference call he tipped his cap to the work his players did the previous night in overcoming a 24-0 halftime deficit.

"It was a short night but definitely a good one," Belichick said. "I think going through the game film, it’s just more and more evident how tough and resilient our players were last night and how they just competed down after down for almost five full quarters against a really good football team. There were many guys that made plays that made a difference. It was really a team effort.

"We got contributions in all three areas: offense, defense, special teams and our linemen, our skill players, our semi-skilled guys, the specialists. It was just a real good job by everybody of hanging in there and competing and fighting every down. Denver is a good football team so they certainly made their share of plays. They did plenty of things that gave us problems but we hung in there and battled with them all the way. I’m really proud of that and our coaching staff for the job the assistants did in the preparation this week and also making adjustments during the game and working through some situations that came up.

"We just had a lot of contributions from a lot of people. It couldn’t be more of a team win."

There has been a lot of talk about Belichick's decision to give Peyton Manning and the Broncos the ball to start overtime, a decision that did play out in New England's favor. But the coach even had to convince his captains who were headed to midfield for the coin toss that he was serious when he told them to defer if they won the toss.

He explained his logic behind the call many would consider risky:

"You never want to give Peyton Manning and that offense, you never want to just hand them the ball, but I just felt in that particular situation, with the wind being as significant as it was, that we just had to stop them from getting into the end zone," Belichick said. "If we could do that, then we would have a significant advantage in the overtime period. We just had to make one stop and keep them out of the end zone.

"Even if they drove down and kicked a field goal, I felt like in that game, the field goal to kick going into the lighthouse, you’d have to get the ball to the 25 to be confident in making it. Depending on how the wind was gusting, you might even have to get it to the 20. Whereas going the other way [toward the south end zone, the end of the field the Patriots chose], I think you could definitely get the ball to the uprights from probably anywhere inside the 45-yard line.

"I felt like that was a big enough advantage to try to keep the wind. As it turned out, the punting game also was a factor in that too. Had we had the ball and not been able to score and be punting into the wind and all that, like I said, with their kicker and his distance, it wouldn’t have taken much for them to be in field goal range. I felt like, ‘Well, if that’s the way we feel about it, we might as well put them in that situation.’ That’s kind of the thought process there.

"To tell you the truth, the whole situation was a little bit confusing because when I told the captains that, there was a little bit of a question of, are you talking about deferring. I was like, ‘No, we’re not deferring, we’re taking the wind period.’ ‘Well, is that if they take the ball?’ ‘No, it’s not if they take the ball.’ We actually, with the captains, had a little bit of a conversation that they had right what I wanted to do, because it was a little bit of an, obviously, unusual type of situation. They were doing a good job. They just wanted to make sure that they had the decision that we felt was best and we got it. It was not one of the normal ones."

As he did earlier this season, Belichick recalled the 1986 NFC title game when he was defensive coordinator on Bill Parcells' New York Giants staff. Parcells took the wind to start that game against the Redskins, the Giants built a 17-0 halftime lead, and that score remained through the second half, with the Giants moving on to the Super Bowl.

"I really think that that decision was a big decision in that game and a big decision ultimately in that team’s championship. I learned a lot from that," Belichick said. "I’m not saying that that’s always the right decision. Clearly each situation is different but there’s a place for it. I think there’s a time when it’s right. I just thought that last night was the right time for us."

On the topic of running back Stevan Ridley and whether his fourth lost fumble of the season - his third in three games - means the risk of him losing the ball outweighs the reward of what he can give the team, Belichick didn't talk specifically about Ridley, instead noting that ball security was an issue throughout the team Sunday night.

"Ball security is the paramount issue for your football team every week, our football team every week. We fumbled the ball, whatever it was, six times last night. We can’t go on like that," he said. "We just can’t.

"There were multiple situations and multiple things involved and it hurt us the week before in Carolina. We’re just not going to be able to overcome turning the ball over, however you turn it over. Whether it’s fumbles or interceptions or muffed punts or tipped interceptions, whatever it is, fumbled snaps – we just can’t overcome those, not for very long. You might get it for awhile but in the end, it’s just too big an advantage to give to the other team. We have to take better care of the ball.

"Obviously they had a hard time taking care of it last night too. There were multiple turnovers throughout the game. Certainly the conditions were part of it but in general we have to do a better job of coaching and playing and securing the ball. That includes everybody, everybody who touches it. It’s not limited to one guy, it’s anybody who touches the ball. That’s the center, the quarterback, the running backs, the receivers, the returners, the holders, the kickers, the snappers – everybody. Everybody that touches the ball, we have to take better care of it."

Wes Welker takes the blame after Broncos' loss to Patriots

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff November 25, 2013 08:26 AM
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Broncos receiver Wes Welker accepted his share of the blame for his team's loss to the Patriots, 34-31 in overtime Sunday.

Welker was positioned to receive a punt late in overtime near the end zone, but he signaled for teammates to get away from the ball too late and it hit teammate Tony Carter. The Patriots recovered, then kicked a game-winning field goal.

Afterward, Welker discussed what happened. Here's a transcript of his postgame comments:

On what happened on the last punt in overtime:
“I felt like there was a lot of traffic and it was a high ball. I didn’t want to get into a situation where someone was running into me or something else, and I ended up with the situation I didn’t want to happen in the first place. I have to do a better job of getting up there and getting those guys out of the way and making sure it doesn’t hit them.”

On what it was like being back in New England and seeing Robert Kraft before the game:
“It was a little different for sure. It was great seeing Mr. Kraft and I have a lot of respect for him as a man and as an owner of a team. He’s a good one.”

On the Broncos being a third-quarter team but tonight the Patriots had the better third quarter:
“I think that’s just going out there and executing the way we need to and playing the way we need to play. Obviously, they made good halftime adjustments and we kind of fell behind there. We have to do better next time and be ready.”

On the play of Broncos running back Knowshon Moreno:
“He brought his ‘A’ game and he’s a guy you love having on your team because he brings it every night and every day in practice and you have to respect that.”

Watch: Peyton Manning discusses Broncos loss to Patriots

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff November 25, 2013 08:10 AM
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Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning was disappointed with the outcome of Sunday night's game vs. the Patriots, and was not surprised the Patriots elected to kick off to start overtime so they'd have the wind at their backs in overtime.

Here's a partial transcript of his comments, as provided by the Patriots' media relations staff.

Q: How disappointed are you tonight?
PM: Disappointed.

Q: What changed in the second half after such a great first half?
PM: Obviously, the momentum changed. We turned [the ball] over, gave them some momentum. It's hard when you give them a short field and put your defense in a bind. It’s difficult to overcome.

Q: It was obvious your game plan was to try to run the ball?
PM: No. The game plan is to move the ball and score points and, so obviously the running game was hot. Knowshon [Moreno] was running it well, the [offensive] line was doing a great job, so it wasn't necessarily the game plan. The game plan is to move the ball and we were moving the ball and running the ball. Knowshon was hot so we were riding him.

Q: The weather was certainly affecting the kicking game. Did it affect the passing game at all?
PM: Like I said, our running game was working, so that’s what we were going with. When you’re running the ball well that’s a good thing for the offense. When you turn it over and give them two short fields, that's disappointing – that’s not good execution. That’s kind of the way that worked out.

Q: What’s your takeaway from a game like this that was so wild and had so many bizarre plays at the end? How do you process it and go from here?
PM: You’ll study the film. It’s disappointing – certainly you have a chance to beat a good team at their place. I still felt like we had a chance there getting the ball there at the very end. I thought we were going to have the ball last and that we were either going to score to win the game or I guess it could have ended in a tie. I hated the way that ended and not getting a chance there to get our hands on the ball. We had two good drives in overtime: [we] got down there twice and I can’t remember if that was a pass interference call on one of them, but it was very disappointing. All we needed was like five yards on that last play in order to give [Matt] Prater a field goal attempt and we couldn't get that. It was a very disappointing finish to the game for sure.

Q: Where you surprised when they elected the kickoff to start the overtime?
PM: No.

Q: Why not?
PM: Because that’s what they do sometimes.

Q: What’s the feeling in the offensive huddle when that happens? It’s sort of a rarity it seems like in overtime.
PM: We were just trying to go score.

5 takeaways from the Patriots-Broncos game

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff November 25, 2013 07:40 AM

FOXBOROUGH – The Patriots 34-31 overtime win over the Denver Broncos was the team's largest comeback victory in franchise history.

Let that sink in.

It was a bizarre game, marked by the cold (22 degrees at kickoff, a record at Gillette Stadium for a regular season game) and 11 fumbles – none bigger than Tony Carter's, who was hit by a bouncing football in overtime while working on the punt return unit. (Wes Welker frantically tried to get him to move away.) Nate Ebner recovered, setting up Stephen Gostkowski's game-winning 31-yard field goal.

Down 24 points to the league's top offense, and more specifically to quarterback Peyton Manning, the Patriots seemed doomed. But something clicked during halftime that allowed the Patriots to turn a page. And in doing so, they toppled the best team in AFC and likely the NFL.

Here's my takeaways from the game:

1. The Patriots take the wind, win the game -- To start overtime, Bill Belichick instructed his captains to defer, putting the Patriots in the awkward position of having to defend against Manning and NFL's top-ranked offense, a move that could very well have been a self-inflicted wound. But it was clear that Belichick had opted to have the wind at his back because of how the gusts, which reached up to 20 or more miles per hour, had affected the game.

"The wind, it was a strong wind," Belichick explained. "We just had to keep them out of the end zone, obviously. I just felt like the wind would be an advantage if we could keep them out of the end zone on that first drive. We were able to do that. The wind was significant in the game, it was definitely significant."

The Patriots were able to hold the Broncos in OT twice before their special teams error gave way to Gostkowski's game-winning kick.

“The wind was pretty good and anytime the temperature is lower and the wind is higher, the harder it is to kick," Gostkowski said. "Luckily we had the wind behind our back on that last kick. Obviously you could tell, kickoffs going one way were going five yards out of the end zone and they were going to the 10 [yard line] the other way. It’s tough, but it was a lot of fun. Ryan [Allen] and Danny [Aiken] did a great job on the last kick, the line obviously blocked really well. It was just sweet. Definitely going to enjoy this one for a couple days.”

2. Wes Welker's return minimized -- The former Patriots receiver caught four passes for 31 yards, but he'll more likely be remembered for dropping a pass on third and 8 in overtime that would've given the Broncos a first down and field goal position, and then failing to step up to catch the muffed punt.

"I felt like there was a lot of traffic and it was a high ball," Welker said of the game's fateful play. "I didn’t want to get into a situation where someone was running into me or something else, and I ended up with the situation I didn’t want to happen in the first place. I have to do a better job of getting up there and getting those guys out of the way and making sure it doesn’t hit them."

Patriots punter Ryan Allen said he tried his best to let the ball hang, making it more difficult on the Broncos' return game. The hanging punt certainly created this situation, where Welker's decision-making was more prominent in his first return to Foxborough than any heroics.

3. Julian Edelman's two big plays -- Edelman's playmaking ability was on display Sunday night. His 14-yard catch and run for a touchdown was simply magnificent. He finished with nine receptions for 110 yards and two touchdowns. It was his third career 100-yard game and second two-touchdown game of the season.

"He's been so dependable and consistent all year for our team," quarterback Tom Brady said. "He’s been the one veteran player on the offense who’s been in there and been around. He did a great job. He always does a great job. He’s tough, smart and disciplined. It’s fun to see him do well because he deserves it."

4. Run defense -- What will likely be forgotten in the glow of this Patriots comeback victory will be the team's horrendous run defense, which allowed 280 yards on the ground. Knowshon Moreno ran for 224 yards and a touchdown. It wasn't just that he was making Patriots defenders miss, but he was seeing gaping holes in that Patriots front seven. That has to be corrected.

5. The curious case of Stevan Ridley -- The man is down on himself. Unlike many of his peers, after a poor outing, he stood near his locker and talked almost endlessly about how sick and frustrated he was with himself after another costly fumble. This one, his fourth of the season, was scooped up and returned for a 60-yard touchdown. It was the first of three straight Patriots turnovers that led to the Broncos' 24-0 lead. And as with each Ridley fumble, he found himself permanently attached to the Patriots sideline, left to ponder his place on the team.

"When I put the ball on the ground, they have no option but to take me out," Ridley said. "It's sick man. I'm frustrated. But it's part of the game. I think that as a player you're going to have your ups and downs, but the main thing is you to have just stay focused and keep your eyes on the prize. I'm not going to get too far down, but put some pressure on myself and go out there in practice and try to change up some things because I can't keep doing this. It's sickening."

He did say that the night could have been worse for him had the Patriots lost, but he was able to cheer on his fellow teammates and running backs.

"Absolutely. I think the big thing was that we fought back from a 24-point lead," Ridley said. "For our team, it says a lot about the guys that we have here and the caliber of team that we are. For me, I wouldn't be a team player if I wasn't out there rooting. If we ended up with a loss on top of all this, I think my night would've been that much worse.

"But at the same time I know that there are some things that I have to go in there and change and fix if I'm going to be there for this team down the road like they're leaning on me to be. And It's frustrating and it's sickening but it's part of the game and I just have to keep pushing for it and keep working hard. That's really all I can do."

After a LeGarrette Blount fumble, Brandon Bolden stepped in at running back and had 58 yards on 13 carries.

Zuri Berry can be reached at zberry@boston.com. Follow him on Twitter @zuriberry and on Google+.

Watch: Tom Brady discusses Patriots' win

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff November 25, 2013 07:15 AM

Here's what quarterback Tom Brady had to say after leading the Patriots to a come-from-behind victory over the Broncos Sunday.

Watch: Patriots-Broncos game highlights

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff November 25, 2013 06:00 AM
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Watch a recap of the key plays in the Patriots' 34-31 overtime victory over the Broncos on Sunday.

Marcus Cannon suffers ankle injury

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff November 24, 2013 08:58 PM

Patriots right tackle Marcus Cannon left Sunday's game against the Broncos in the first quarter with an ankle injury.

Cannon's return is questionable. He was replaced by Will Svitek.

Cannon suffered the injury when Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was sacked by Von Miller and fumbled on the New England 23.

Terrance Knighton recovered the fumble and returned it to the 10. The Broncos went up 14-0 two plays later.

Alfonzo Dennard, Aqib Talib active for Patriots against Broncos

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff November 24, 2013 07:04 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- The Patriots will have both of their starting cornerbacks for the Denver Broncos' top-ranked passing offense Sunday night.

Both Alfonzo Dennard (knee) and Aqib Talib (hip) will be available for the team. They both did pregame workouts for the training staff.

Dennard is coming off a reported procedure to fix his meniscus.

However, the Patriots will be without safety Steve Gregory, who practiced all week and spoke with the media. He has been dealing with a thumb injury suffered against the Pittsburgh Steelers and went through a procedure as well.

Also inactive for the Patriots is DL Jake Bequette, LB Steve Beauharnais, DL Marcus Forston, WR Josh Boyce, and OL Chris Barker. Tight end Michael Hoomanawanui was listed as inactive on Friday with a knee injury.

The Broncos will be without tight end Julius Thomas, who has accounted for 10 touchdown receptions this season. He had been limited in practice Thursday and Friday with a knee injury.

Also inactive for the Broncos: QB Zac Dysert, RB Ronnie Hillman, CB Champ Bailey, S Michael Huff, OL J.D. Walton, and OL Chris Kuper.

What to watch for as the Patriots host the Denver Broncos

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff November 24, 2013 02:00 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- This game just might be a shootout, the first one of the year for the Patriots.

In 10 games, the Patriots have crossed the 30-point threshold only three times. No opponent has scored more than 31 against New England, including the vaunted New Orleans Saints (27). Which begs the question …

1. Can the Patriots keep up? -- The Broncos are the No. 1 offense in the league, as you might've heard. They're dropping 39.8 points per game on opponents. Peyton Manning has an astonishing 3,572 yards and 34 touchdowns through 10 games. He's throwing 350 yards a game and his team is averaging 455.5 yards of total offense. While Tom Brady is fantastic in most regards, his team has been nowhere near that prolific. So we'll see if the Patriots utilize all of their opportunities and minimize their use of punter Ryan Allen, the likely harbinger of a loss.

2. How will the injuries catch up to the Patriots? -- Last week, Aqib Talib (hip) couldn't finish against the Carolina Panthers after missing the past three games. Kyle Arrington (groin) appeared to be shaken up and never appeared to be at his best. Alfonzo Dennard (knee) missed after reportedly going through a procedure. And Steve Gregory (thumb) was also out after being injured against the Pittsburgh Steelers two weeks prior. All are listed as questionable for today's game, with Dennard the only one not expected to play. That's a lot of players at less than 100 percent that are going up against the top offense. How will they handle the job?

3. How much will the weather be a factor? -- Much ado has been made of Manning's record in the cold. He's reportedly 2-5 when the game-time temperature starts at 32 degrees or below since 2001. It's expected to be 21 degrees at game time, with winds at 22 miles per hour, making it feel like 5 degrees out in Foxborough, according to Weather.com. That will affect everyone on the field, especially the kicking units. Long field goal attempts will not be advised. Conversely, Talib will be of concern. His hip tightened on him last week against the Panthers. This weather will not likely help.

Game 11 preview: Broncos at Patriots

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff November 24, 2013 12:00 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Tom Brady is 9-4 all-time when facing a Peyton Manning quarterbacked team, including 7-3 in the regular season.

However, Brady is 4-6 all-time against the Denver Broncos and 3-5 against the Broncos in the regular season. He'll get an opportunity to improve upon those numbers Sunday night as the two veteran quarterbacks and division-leading teams square off in a nationally televised game.

Former Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker, despite suffering a concussion last week, is expected to play in his first trip back to Foxborough. He played six seasons with the Patriots before unceremoniously signing with Denver as a free agent last summer.

The Patriots will have their night cut out for them against the Broncos' passing offense, which leads the NFL. The Broncos are throwing 350 yards a game. Manning has an NFL leading 34 touchdown passes. Meanwhile, four of their five core Patriots defensive backs are dealing with injuries. Aqib Talib (hip), Kyle Arrington (groin), Alfonzo Dennard (knee), and Steve Gregory (thumb) are all listed as questionable. Only Dennard is not expected to play.

The Patriots cut running back Leon Washington and signed defensive back Justin Green from the practice squad to provide depth in the secondary.

Here are the details for the game:

Kickoff: 8:30 p.m.

Records: Patriots 7-3; Broncos 9-1.

TV, radio: NBC (Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya); 98.5 FM The Sports Hub (Bob Socci, Scott Zolak) and Westwood One Radio (Kevin Kugler, James Lofton, Hub Arkush).

Projected starting lineups:
Based on information distributed to the media, practice observations, and injury reports.

Patriots offense: WR Danny Amendola, LT Nate Solder, LG Logan Mankins, C Ryan Wendell, RG Dan Connolly, RT Marcus Cannon, TE Rob Gronkowski, WR Aaron Dobson, QB Tom Brady, RB Stevan Ridley, TE James Develin.

Patriots defense: DT Joe Vellano, NT Isaac Sopoaga, DT Chris Jones, DE Chandler Jones, DE Rob Ninkovich, LB Dont'a Hightower, LB Brandon Spikes, CB Aqib Talib, CB Kyle Arrington, S Devin McCourty, S Steve Gregory.

Broncos offense: WR Demaryius Thomas, LT Chris Clark, LG Zane Beadles, C Manny Ramirez, RG Louis Vasquez, RT Orlando Franklin, TE Julius Thomas, WR Eric Decker, WR Wes Welker, QB Peyton Manning, RB Knowshon Moreno.

Broncos defense: LDE Derek Wolfe, DT Kevin Vickerson, NT Terrance Knighton, RDE Shaun Phillips, SLB Von Miller, MLB Wesley Woodyard, WLB Danny Trevathan, LCB Champ Bailey, RCB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, SS Duke Ihenacho, FS Mike Adams.

Read this, link that

- Erik Frenz writes that physicality is important to stopping Peyton Manning for the Patriots.

- Here's a rundown of the history of Peyton Manning versus the Patriots.

- Follow the game and comment on the action in our live blog.

Zuri Berry can be reached at zberry@boston.com. Follow him on Twitter @zuriberry and on Google+.

Week 12 NFL picks

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff November 24, 2013 11:16 AM

Here are this week's picks. Again, all picks are against the spread.

Jets (+4) at Ravens (-4) -- The Jets have this annoying streak of losing to mediocre teams by 13 or more points. The Titans (38-13), Steelers (19-6), Bengals (49-9), and Bills (37-14). This is a perfect opportunity for the Ravens (4-6) to steal a win after a number of close losses this season. But each of the Ravens' last seven games have been separated by an average of 3.28 points, in which Baltimore has gone 2-5.
My pick: Jets

Steelers (+1) at Browns (-1) -- Two 4-6 teams at the logjam bottom of the AFC North. Despite the feistiness of the Browns, expect the Steelers to be victorious here. They started the season an abysmal 0-4 but have gone 4-2 since.
My pick: Steelers

FULL ENTRY

Patriots release RB Leon Washington

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff November 23, 2013 05:16 PM

The Leon Washington experiment is over, with the Patriots releasing the veteran running back on Saturday. Defensive back Justin Green was promoted from the practice squad to take Washington's spot on the 53-man active roster.

Washington, originally signed in March and then re-signed in September after being released, was hampered by an ankle injury and appeared in just two games for the 7-3 Patriots. He had one carry for 1 yard on the season, and returned one kickoff for 19 yards.

Green is an undrafted rookie who joined the Patriots in July, then was signed to the practice squad after being released Aug. 31. With the Patriots fighting a depth issue in the secondary -- cornerback Alfonzo Dennard (knee) isn't expected to play on Sunday against the Broncos, and safety Steve Gregory (thumb), and cornerbacks Aqib Talib (hip) and Kyle Arrington (groin) listed as questionable to play -- Green might see the field.

Week 12: Friday injury report - Welker probable, three Patriots CBs questionable

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff November 22, 2013 05:18 PM

Four of the five defensive backs the Patriots typically use when they're in nickel defense are listed as questionable for Sunday night's game with the Broncos, while the news is mostly good for Denver on the injury front, as WR Wes Welker is listed as probable.

CB Aqib Talib (hip), CB Kyle Arrington (groin), CB Alfonzo Dennard (knee), and S Steve Gregory (finger) were all limited in Patriots practice Friday and are questionable, which under league guidelines means there's a 50-50 chance they will play.

For the Broncos, Welker (neck/concussion) was cleared by doctors for his first game against his former team. Welker and QB Peyton Manning (ankle) are among nine Broncos deemed probable.

As expected, TE Michael Hoomanawanui (knee), who did not practice all week, is out for New England.

TE Julius Thomas (knee) and CB Champ Bailey (foot) are questionable for Denver.

For the Patriots
Out
TE Michael Hoomanawanui (knee)

Questionable
CB Alfonzo Dennard (knee)
S Steve Gregory (finger)
CB Kyle Arrington (groin)
CB Aqib Talib (hip)
RB Leon Washington (ankle)

Probable
WR Danny Amendola (groin)
QB Tom Brady (right shoulder)
TE Rob Gronkowski (back/forearm/hamstring)
WR Matthew Slater (wrist)
LB Brandon Spikes (knee)
RB Shane Vereen (wrist)

For the Broncos
Questionable
CB Champ Bailey (foot)
TE Julius Thomas (knee)

Probable
TE Joel Dreessen (knee)
T Orlando Franklin (ankle)
S Duke Ihenacho (ankle)
LB Nate Irving (shoulder)
T Winston Justice (finger)
G Chris Kuper (ankle)
QB Peyton Manning (ankle)
C J.D. Walton (ankle)
WR Wes Welker (neck/concussion)

Cannon fined for leg whip on Panthers' Johnson

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff November 22, 2013 03:30 PM

The NFL fined Patriots tackle Marcus Cannon $15,750 for unnecessary roughness in the team's game against the Panthers on Monday night.

Cannon used a leg whip on Carolina DE Charles Johnson. Johnson was not able to finish the game, and though he looked to be in a great deal of pain at the time, he has been diagnosed with a sprained right MCL. He will not play this week, but is expected to return this season.

Cannon was not flagged on the play.

That was the only fine from the game; Aqib Talib, who mixed it up with receiver Steve Smith, grabbing Smith's foot at the end of a first-quarter play and not letting go until Smith started kicking his way out of Talib's hold, was flagged on that play, but not given a financial penalty.

Quarterback Tom Brady, who pursued a referee into the tunnel following the game and was seen on television yelling at him over the controversy on the final play, also was not fined.

Belichick: Defense must disguise things or 'it's going to be a long day'

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff November 22, 2013 11:56 AM

FOXBOROUGH - On Thursday, Patriots safety Devin McCourty commented that sometimes it seems like Denver's Peyton Manning knows an opposing defense as well as the players on that defense.

Facing a player of Manning's caliber, disguising intentions is important, and Bill Belichick talked at length Friday morning about how a defense had "better do a good job of it or it's going to be a long day."

A defense can simply get ready for the coming play, not trying to hide how it plans to cover a certain snap or situation, but it doesn't work for very long.

"I mean, you can do that, it’s just a question whether you can hold up in it or not," Belichick said. "I’d say the odds of that aren’t great, to be honest with you. I mean, usually when he sees what it is, he gets to the play he wants to get to. I would say they’ve hit a lot of big plays on plays like that. [Manning] sees the blitz, calls a tear screen to Demaryius Thomas and he goes 75 yards for a touchdown.

"You can be in whatever you want to be in, but if they have a play to beat it, and it’s well executed, which it frequently is with Denver, you’re just playing right into their hands. They’ve been waiting all day to run the play against that situation. You tell them, ‘OK, here we are, we’re going to be in Cover-2 zone, go ahead and run your best play,’ well they will. Or ‘We’re going to be in man-free or we’re going to be in blitz or we’re going to be in man-under two-deep, what are you going to do about it?’ They can usually do something about it. I don’t really think anybody has had a lot of success playing them that way.

"If you just out-personnel them at every position across the board and say, ‘We’re all just going to lock up on one guy and we’re going to take everybody and we don’t care that we they know where we are because we’re that good.’ I just don’t think anybody has been able to do that. They’ve scored more points than anybody in football. I’m just saying, it’s hard to do. Somewhere along the line, they have a good matchup, if they know exactly what you’re in. I don’t think anybody has played them that way very effectively in whatever it is they’ve tried to play: man, zone, blitz, man-free, two-deep man, two-deep zone, three-deep zone, three-man rush. If you tell them what you’re in, I think you’re probably not going to like the way it’s going to end up. Now, you know, sometimes it’s situational. Then you have to, sometimes you have to live with that. I don’t think down after down, anybody has really had that much success doing that."

Successfully disguising things as a defense takes the effort of all 11 men on the field; it can't be one player doing one thing and a separate player doing something different.

"You have to be very well coordinated on that because what they do with the cadence, they make it hard for you to do that. Sometimes they run up and snap the ball real quickly, so it forces you to get lined up," Belichick said. "Other times they go up there and they delay and check the play and get into a formation that kind of makes you declare so they can see what you’re in and then get to the play they want to get to and go at a very slow pace. It’s hard to over-disguise because if they go quick then you could be way out of position. [Peyton] does a real good job of that, of changing the tempo to kind of force the defense to show what they’re in so he can get to it and then obviously the plays they go quick on, they don’t really care what the defense is in because they’re kind of all-purpose plays."

Week 12: Friday practice peek

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff November 22, 2013 11:28 AM

FOXBOROUGH – The Patriots are practicing in a light rain on the upper grass fields behind Gillette Stadium as they put the finishing touches on preparation for the Broncos.

Once again, only TE Michael Hoomanawanui (knee) was not spotted during the media-access portion of practice. QB Ryan Mallett initially was not present but ran on the field a little late.

The specialists, K Stephen Gostkowski, LS Danny Aiken and P Ryan Allen, spent some time working on the game field inside Gillette before heading onto the field with the rest of the Patriots.

Thursday practice report: Welker returns for Broncos

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff November 21, 2013 04:10 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Wes Welker returned to practice for the Broncos Thursday, just a few days after suffering a concussion and neck injury against the Chiefs.

Welker sat out practice Wednesday, as did Denver quarterback Peyton Manning (ankle) and tight ends Julius Thomas (knee) and Joel Dreessen (knee), but all practiced Thursday. Welker, Thomas, and Dreessen were listed as limited by the Broncos, while Manning was reported as a full participant.

There were no changes to the Patriots' practice report.

NEW ENGLAND

Did not participate:
TE Michael Hoomanawanui (knee)

Limited participation:
WR Danny Amendola (groin)
CB Kyle Arrington (groin)
CB Alfonzo Dennard (knee)
S Steve Gregory (finger)
TE Rob Gronkowski (back/forearm/hamstring)
LB Brandon Spikes (knee)
CB Aqib Talib (hip)
RB Leon Washington (ankle)

Full participation:
QB Tom Brady (right shoulder)
WR Matthew Slater (wrist)
RB Shane Vereen (wrist)

DENVER

Limited participation:
CB Champ Bailey (foot)
TE Joel Dreesen (knee)
TE Julius Thomas (knee)
WR Wes Welker (concussion)

Full participation:
T Orlando Franklin (ankle)
S Duke Ihenacho (ankle)
LB Nate Irving (shoulder)
T Winston Justice (finger)
G Chris Kuper (ankle)
QB Peyton Manning (ankle)
C J.D. Walton (ankle)

Thursday roll call: Still no Hoomanawanui

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff November 21, 2013 12:29 PM

FOXBOROUGH – Tight end Michael Hoomanawanui was once again the only player not spotted at Patriots practice on Thursday, a sweats-and-shells workout being held on the upper grass field behind Gillette Stadium.

Safety Steve Gregory and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard were both out there, as they were on Wednesday. Both missed Monday's game.

Former Patriots defensive lineman Mike Wright is attending practice, watching in street clothes. Wright played for the Patriots from 2005-11, and was forced to stop playing after suffering a series of concussions. His playing weight was listed by the Patriots at 295 pounds, but Wright looks like he's lost 100 pounds: He's barely recognizable.

Watch: Both sides of Patriots-Broncos

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff November 21, 2013 08:38 AM




The Globe's Ben Volin and Joan Niesen of the Denver Post join CineSport's Noah Coslov to preview Sunday night's New England Patriots-Denver Broncos matchup at Gillette Stadium.

Wes Welker (neck/concussion) misses practice

Posted by Julian Benbow, Globe Staff November 20, 2013 04:56 PM

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Wes Welker was held out of the Denver Broncos practice on Wednesday as he continues to go through a series of tests following the concussion he sustained in the Broncos’27-17 win over the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday.

“He's working through the protocol,” Broncos interim head coach Jack Del Rio said. “They're increasing activity as he clears hurdles and all that, and when they give me the green light, we'll get him back out there.

His status for Sunday’s game against the Patriots is still up in the air, but no one on either side doubts how much Welker wants to take the field against the team that let him walk in free agency.

Not Del Rio, who knows how much competitiveness fuels Welker.

“He's a competitive guy, so I'm sure he's looking forward to playing with us and his former teammates," Del Rio said.

Not Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, knowing that in six seasons with the Patriots, Welker only missed three games.

“He’s a tough guy so he’s played through everything,” Brady said. “This is a big game for both teams so you have to expect their best players and I’m sure all those guys will be ready to go.”

And not Petyon Manning, who’s hooked up with Welker 61 times this season for 648 yards and nine touchdowns through 10 games this season.

“I think Wes wants to be out there every single week,” Manning said. “I can't speak for him in this particular week and returning to play his old team, but I think Wes wants to be out there for the fourth preseason game if the team would let him play.

“That's just kind of how he's played his career out, kind of a guy that's going to be in there, that doesn't take anything for granted. I think that's a consistent theme with Welker.”

Welker signed a two-year, $12 million deal with the Broncos in the offseason after receiving what Welker’s agents described as a “take it or leave it offer” from the Patriots.

Looking to bounce back after a frustrating loss to the Carolina Panthers on Monday night, Patriots coach Bill Belichick did not want to rehash the events.

“I think we’ve covered the subject pretty throughly,” Belichick said.

• Manning also sat out Wednesday's practice to rest the right ankle he sprained in October and re-aggravated in Week 10 against the Chargers.

Del Rio has said he intends to give Manning a few days off, but didn't want to goes so far as to say Wednesday off days would become a regular routine.

"I'm not trying to characterize it in a way where he always will or won't," Del Rio said. "That's how we approached it today and it's kind of day by day. We do what we think is best with the guys and getting them prepared for the game."

Manning did participate in the walkthrough.

Del Rio joked, "100 percent in the walkthrough."

• The Broncos secondary took a blow with the loss of free safety Rahim Moore, who was played on the injured reserve with a designation to return after undergoing surgery on Monday to repair lateral compartment syndrome in his left leg.

In 10 games, Moore picked off two passes and recorded 38 tackles, but perhaps more important was his constant presence on the field. He took 661 total snaps this season, according to Footballoutsiders.com, the Broncos' second-highest total.

"It's unfortunate for Rahim," Del Rio said. "Really a great young man. Was having a nice year for us, cared so much. It's really football that he loves."

Veteran safety Mike Adams will fill Moore's role, while journeyman defensive back Michael Huff was signed to fill the hole on the roster.

"It is good that we have a capable veteran like Mike [Adams] to step in," Del Rio said. "A guy that played a lot last year for us."

• Coming off back to back 100-yard performances, Broncos receiver Demaryius Thomas expects to be as much of a target for Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib as he will be for Manning.

What he isn't counting on is getting into the kind of dust-up that Talib and Panthers wideout Steve Smith got into on Monday night.

His answer for any altercation, he said, will be the silent treatment. The method has worked against some other brash corners, he said, including Redskins corner D'Angelo Hall.

"I feel like some guys go into that, but I just got out there and I don't say nothing to nobody," Thomas said. "I just play ball. I feel like if you don't say nothing to them, it might mess his game up. You never know. But I just go out there there and try not to say nothing to him."

Wednesday practice report: Spikes added with knee injury

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff November 20, 2013 04:28 PM


FOXBOROUGH -- Linebacker Brandon Spikes was added to the Patriots' practice participation and injury report with a knee injury. He was limited in Wednesday's workout, along with seven others.

Safety Steve Gregory was also limited, an improvement from last week, when he missed practice with a broken thumb, then didn't make the trip to Charlotte, N.C., to face the Panthers. Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, who missed Monday's game and reportedly had minor knee surgery over the weekend, was at practice. He, too, was limited.

The only player to miss practice was tight end Michael Hoomanawanui. He suffered a knee injury in Monday's game and did not return.

The two biggest names from Wednesday's injury reports came from the Broncos. Neither quarterback Peyton Manning (ankle) nor receiver Wes Welker (concussion) was able to practice.

For the Patriots:

Did not participate:
TE Michael Hoomanawanui (knee)

Limited participation:
WR Danny Amendola (groin)
CB Kyle Arrington (groin)
CB Alfonzo Dennard (knee)
S Steve Gregory (finger)
TE Rob Gronkowski (back/forearm/hamstring)
LB Brandon Spikes (knee)
CB Aqib Talib (hip)
RB Leon Washington (ankle)

Full participation:
QB Tom Brady (right shoulder)
WR Matthew Slater (wrist)
RB Shane Vereen (wrist)

For the Broncos:

Did not participate:
TE Joel Dreesen (knee)
QB Peyton Manning (ankle)
TE Julius Thomas (knee)
WR Wes Welker (concussion)

Limited participation:
CB Champ Bailey (foot)

Full participation:
T Orlando Franklin (ankle)
S Duke Ihenacho (ankle)
LB Nate Irving (shoulder)
T Winston Justice (finger)
G Chris Kuper (ankle)
C J.D. Walton (ankle)

Aqib Talib says trash talking with Steve Smith 'not personal'

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff November 20, 2013 03:13 PM


FOXBOROUGH -- In addition to the score, one of the most entertaining aspects to Monday night's game was the ongoing battle between Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib and Carolina receiver Steve Smith.

Both made plays: Smith had four catches for 62 yards, including a 42-yard deep ball. Talib broke up two passes.

No matter what one did, he let the other know about it, loudly and with plenty of animation. Talib was flagged 15 yards for unnecessary roughness when he made like Jeff Van Gundy and hung on Smith's leg like a tire swing.

Two days after the 24-20 Patriots loss, Talib had nothing but nice things to say about Smith, who left the field with one final piece of trash talk directed at the corner who covered him most of the game until a sore hip forced him out.

"He didn't finish the game," said Smith as he walked off the field. "Ice up, son. Ice up."

Asked for his reaction Wednesday to Smith's comments, Talib smiled.

"I’m done with Steve for the year," Talib said. "Great game, great competitor. I always enjoy going up against Steve."

Talib was playing for the first time after missing three games with a hip injury. Combined with the Patriots' bye week, he had more than a month to get healthy enough to play again. He was in for 45 of 57 defensive snaps, and was out there at the beginning of the Panthers' game-winning drive, but not the end.

"It’s all right, it’s all right," said Talib. "It tightened up on me a little bit toward the end of the game, but it’s fine. I tried to go through it as much as I can. If I could have been out there, I would have been out there."

He informed the large group of reporters surrounding his locker that he was day-to-day, hopeful that he'll be able to face Peyton Manning and the Broncos Sunday night. Many of the questions for Talib were on the challenges that come with facing Denver. But his game-long tussle with Smith -- verbal and physical -- was still fresh in everyone's mind.

Talib said anything that was said between the two would be left on the field.

"It’s never personal," said Talib. "I’m sure if I see Steve, it’ll be, ‘What’s up, how you doing?’ It’s never personal.

"Him and the other guy from St. Louis, that was personal. [Smith] didn’t say he was going to punch me in the mouth. He just told me to get in the tub. It’s kind of thoughtful."

Smith got into it with Rams cornerback Janoris Jenkins in a game last month, telling reporters afterward that some of the comments Jenkins made crossed the line.

'Sport Science' claims Gronkowski could have caught final pass on Monday

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff November 20, 2013 02:57 PM

ESPN's Sport Science crew took a closer look at the physics of the final play of Monday Night Football and determined Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski likely could have caught the final pass if he had not been interfered with by Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly.

A major factor in the officiating crew's decision to pick up a flag thrown by the back judge was whether the ball was catchable. The officials claimed it was not.

Watch their analysis above.

Tom Brady reminds you that this week is not about him vs. Peyton Manning

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff November 20, 2013 02:55 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- The hype for this week's Patriots game against the visiting Denver Broncos is real. With two superstar quarterbacks leading a couple of the top teams in the NFL, playing in a nationally televised game, all eyes are drawn to the offensive signal callers.

Just don't ask Tom Brady what it's like going up against Peyton Manning. The two have competed against each other 13 times before, with Brady's Patriots getting the edge seven of 10 times in the regular season and two of three in the playoffs. But it's not as though they actually face each other.

"I don’t have [to] play against him," Brady said. "I think that’s the thing. It’s more of the defense that plays against him. You realize that when you play a good team, another good quarterback, that you’re going to have to score a lot of points.

"We try to score points anyway, but this is a very good football team, led by a great quarterback, one of the best of all time. I’m excited to see how we do. It’s early in the week."

Manning's Broncos are 9-1 this season and have the top offense in the NFL, scoring 39.8 points per game and averaging 455.5 yards. The Broncos quarterback also has a league-leading 3,572 passing yards and 34 touchdowns. It brings some level of comparison to the Patriots' 2007 record-setting season.

"I think a lot of that, when you’re going through it, you don’t realize how good it is until you really step back and reflect on it," Brady said of 2007. "That was, I know, a great year for us.

"You watch what these guys are doing and they have better numbers than we had. It’s incredible to score points like that. They have a lot of guys that can make plays with the ball. Everybody contributes, that’s what good offenses do. The backs contribute, the tight end contributes, the receivers contribute. They’re all scoring touchdowns. It’s not like you can just go in and stop one guy. Our defense has its work cut out.

"Offensively, we know we have to go out and score a lot of points. We can’t have a lot of three-and-outs and certainly turnovers give them extra possessions to score because the teams that have done that have really gotten blown out. You turn it over and give them extra possessions; you’re going to have a very hard time winning."

Vereen 'ecstatic' to return to game play

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff November 20, 2013 02:33 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- His left wrist still a little swollen and sporting a fresh surgical scar, running back Shane Vereen chatted with reporters Wednesday, the first time he's done so since suffering the injury that landed him on short-term injured reserve after Week 1 against Buffalo.

"I was ecstatic. Waited a long time," Vereen said of returning to game play Monday night against the Panthers. "Just to be out there with the guys, with the team, and feel a part of the team again and feel I could contribute is awesome."

Vereen was able to return to practice six weeks after he was placed on IR, but couldn't play for eight weeks. Since the Patriots' bye fell on what could have been his first week back, his return was delayed a bit longer.

The time off wasn't easy.

"It was tough," said Vereen. "Real tough. Nobody likes being injured, especially not someone that’s been injured as much as I have. So it was tough, especially seeing my team out there and I couldn’t participate but I’m back now and moving forward hopefully we’ll be able to get better each week," Vereen said.

Against Carolina, he was thrown right back into the fire, on the field for the second play of the game, and wound up playing 34 snaps, about half the offensive snaps the Patriots had. Vereen finished with eight receptions for 65 yards, both team highs.

He said he did not feel limited.

"I felt that I could do whatever they asked me to do within the game plan," he said.
"I just concentrated on what I needed to do personally as my assignment each play.

"I had to kind of calm myself down and take it slow, and I really took the game at a slower rate mentally so I didn't overwhelm myself with the excitement and everything going on."

As Tom Brady noted, Monday night was the first time this season that the offense has had its full complement of skill players, so the unit remains a work in progress, though it should certainly be headed in the direction given the addition of Vereen, which came a couple of weeks after Rob Gronkowski returned.

Week 12: Wednesday practice peek - Steve Gregory returns

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff November 20, 2013 12:01 PM

FOXBOROUGH – In what could be a positive sign for the secondary, safety Steve Gregory (thumb) is on the practice field for the Patriots, colleague Michael Whitmer reports.

Gregory, injured against the Steelers, had a black cast on his right hand.

CB Alfonzo Dennard (knee), who recently underwent a procedure on the meniscus in his knee, was at practice but was not moving well. CB Aqib Talib (hip), who did not finish Monday's game, was also on the field.

The only player who was not present was TE Michael Hoomanawanui (knee), who was injured on Monday night.

Players were in sweats and shells.

Belichick still won't talk controversy, lauds Broncos offense

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff November 20, 2013 11:27 AM

FOXBOROUGH – Two days removed from the Patriots' 24-20 loss, which was marred by a picked-up flag in the end zone as time expired, Patriots coach Bill Belichick still did not want to address the controversy.

The coach was asked whether he had contacted the league after officials decided a Tom Brady pass intended for Rob Gronkowski was uncatchable, despite contact and apparent holding by Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly.

"We're on to Denver," Belichick said.

The Patriots play the Broncos (9-1) Sunday night in another nationally televised game. The Broncos are the league's top offense, scoring 39.8 points per game and averaging 455.5 yards per game. Peyton Manning has thrown for a league-high 3,572 yards and 34 touchdowns. The Broncos' trio of receivers – Demaryius Thomas (60 receptions, 914 yards, 9 TDs), Eric Decker (54 receptions, 792 yards, 3 TDs) and former Patriot Wes Welker (61 receptions, 648 yards, 9 TDs) – have given Manning a tremendous array of options along with the emergence of tight end Julius Thomas (45 receptions, 590 yards, 10 TDs).

"They got a lot of players [on offense]," Belichick said. "They got receivers, they got backs, they got tight ends. They all contribute. They run the ball, they throw it, they throw it to everybody. Depends on what coverage they're in, depends on what play they have called. They get the ball to the guy that has the best matchup. They do a good job of that."

The last time the Patriots faced the Broncos, Oct. 21 2012, New England came away with a 31-21 victory. But there was no Welker or Julius Thomas to consider. And running back Knowshon Moreno was injured. But how the Broncos have changed schematically as an offense is a matter of who they're playing, said Belichick.

"Depends on what you do," Belichick said. "Depends on how you're playing them. They attack [depending] on how you're playing them."

Belichick would not say whether he has had contact with Welker, the Patriots former receiver who spent six seasons with the team.

Alfonzo Dennard had minor knee procedure

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff November 20, 2013 11:05 AM

FOXBOROUGH – Patriots' CB Alfonzo Dennard recently had a minor procedure to fix a problem with his meniscus, the Globe's Ben Volin has confirmed.

Dennard played nearly every snap in New England's Week 9 win over Pittsburgh, but showed up on the injury report with a knee injury last week, after the bye. He was limited on Thursday and Friday, then did not practice at all on Saturday, when the team announced that he would be out for the game with Carolina.

It is unclear at this point how long the Patriots will be without Dennard, but he is not expected to play this week against the Broncos.

Tom Brady on Broncos: 'These are the games we look forward to'

Posted by Gary Dzen, Boston.com Staff November 20, 2013 09:04 AM

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady made his weekly appearance on WEEI's Dennis & Callahan show Tuesday morning and discussed the controversial call at the end of Monday night's loss to the Carolina Panthers, and looked ahead to this week's matchup with the Denver Broncos.

Brady was highly complimentary of Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning.

"He’s playing great," said Brady. "He’s got some great statistics. He obviously has great command. ... Our defense has our work cut out for us.

"These are the games we look forward to. You play the best, you want to see where you match up. We have our chance this weekend.”

Brady said he and Manning aren't close personal friends, but he described his relationship with his counterpart as a courteous one.

"As a professional relationship, he’s probably one of my better friends in the NFL, because we’ve been basically in the same era," said Brady. "We’ve been in a lot of situations where we spend time with one another. Yeah, I do [think they'll remain friends after football]. We have a lot in common. we talk football pretty much nonstop when we’re together. He loves playing football, I love playing football, and we love talking football.”

Brady, of course, could not avoid discussing the controversial call to end Monday night's 24-20 loss in Carolina. Despite Rob Gronkowski being held in the end zone, officials picked up their flag, deeming Brady's throw uncatchable.

“We get our fair share of calls, and we don’t," Brady said. "Referees never want to be in that position, either, where they have to make a judgment call like that. They wish it would not come down to that, either, I’m sure, because they don’t want to play that kind of role in the game.

“You don’t have long to grieve in the NFL. You feel crappy for the flight home, and then you start evaluating what we need to do better. And certainly we’re on to Denver at this point.”

Watch: NFL VP backs officials' handling of final play in Patriots-Panthers game

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff November 19, 2013 05:40 PM
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NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino on Tuesday provided the league's viewpoint on the controversy at the end of the Patriots-Panthers game Monday night.

On NFL Total Access, Blandino broke down the final play as follows:

"Here's [Rob] Gronkowski in the formation. The back judge in the middle of the field, he's on the end line, that's his key. We've got [Aaron] Dobson down here, the side judge who is on the goal line, that's his key. Let's watch the play develop.

"The back judge is going to see restriction right there [when Luke Kuechly contacts Gronkowski], and he's going to throw his flag for that restriction. The side judge, who had Dobson, his mechanics are once the ball's in the air, he's going to go to the ball and he's going to focus on the interception. After the play, you'll see the flag come out, the back judge is going to signal to the side judge, they're going to get together and they're going to have a discussion.

"What they are going to talk about is when did the restriction occur in relation to the ball being touched, because once the ball is touched, you cannot have pass interference. This is a judgment call, the officials don't have the use of replay, they don't have slow-motion replay, and ultimately they ruled that the restriction occurred simultaneously with the ball being touched, and when you watch it at full speed, you can see why they would make that call on the field."

Then Blandino was asked if the flag should have been picked up, which is what the officials did.

"Again, it's a judgment call. There was contact, but there's contact on a lot of passing plays downfield. The issue isn't the contact, the issue is the restriction, does it occur prior to the ball being touched, and at full speed, the officials made a tight judgment call and they determined that the restriction occurred just as the ball was being touched."

Blandino said the officials would not be "downgraded" for their work Monday. Officials' performance is reviewed after every game.

"When we look at tight judgment calls like this and we feel like the officials followed proper mechanics, we do not downgrade the officials for this type of situation," he said.

Patriots-Broncos tickets rising on secondary market

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff November 19, 2013 03:29 PM

Tickets for Sunday's Patriots-Broncos game at Gillette Stadium are averaging more than $385 on the secondary market, according to one of the resellers.

The Patriots host the Broncos in another nationally televised game, featuring two of the NFL's stars in quarterbacks Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.

According to TicketCity.com, the game, which will be aired Sunday night on NBC, costs more than $100 than the next game on the list. The New York Giants vs. Dallas Cowboys game comes in a distant second, averaging $274.01.

Bill Belichick: No comment to add about officiating

Posted by Staff November 19, 2013 11:11 AM
As usual after a tough loss, Patriots coach Bill Belichick is ready to move on and focus squarely on the road ahead.

The coach let it be known the day after a controversial call ended the Patriots’ game in a 24-20 loss to the Carolina Panthers that he was not going to dwell on what could have been, had Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly been assessed a penalty for not allowing Rob Gronkowski to make a play on a pass that could have won the game for New England.

“I don’t really have any comment to add to the officiating or any of those calls,” Belichick said. “It’s not really our job to call the game, it’s to play and coach it. Whatever calls [the officials] make are the ones we live with, we can’t let that effect what we’re doing.”

As Gronkowski was held by Kuehly, back judge Terrence Miles threw a penalty flag and it looked the Patriots were going to get another chance to win the game. But the officials met together and head referee Clete Blakeman announced that there was no foul on the play and the game was over.

In a media pool report filed after the game, Blakeman explained why the original call of a penalty was not made, stating that the pass was uncatchable. Belichick would not comment on whether he had seen the pool report or if he had any other comments regarding the decision.

“Whatever the officials think is the only thing that matters,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what any of us think: they’re the ones that make the calls, so it’s their explanation and their judgment that we all have to abide by.

“It was a highly competitive game, a good football game. I’m proud of the way our team fought from beginning until the end. It came down to a handful of plays that ultimately decided the game and they just had a few more than we did. We [have] got to do a better job of taking advantage of our opportunities. Obviously the red area was a big difference in the game from a scoring standpoint, so we just need to do a better job with the opportunities that we have.”

A positive note from the loss was the return of running back Shane Vereen, who had one carry and eight catches for 72 total yards, a team high. This was the first game Vereen played since breaking his wrist Week 1 against the Buffalo Bills.

“It was good to have [Vereen] back,” Belichick said. “He missed two months of football; I think he’ll be better as we go along. He’s worked hard; he definitely made some plays that helped us in the game. I think he’ll improve and get better like any player will with more reps, more opportunities to practice and play, so it’s definitely good to have him back out there… [there are] plenty of things for him to work on, but he’s a diligent, hard working kid that always gives you a solid effort.”

Belichick and the Patriots turn their attention to the Denver Broncos, who come into Week 12 with a 9-1 record and are currently sitting in first place in the AFC. This will also be the first time receiver Wes Welker returns to Foxborough, where he was Tom Brady’s go-to receiver for six seasons before filling a similar role this season with Peyton Manning.

“I think Wes has been Wes,” said Belichick when asked about his former receiver’s play this season. “[He plays] like the player that we have seen most of the time: he lines up in the slot, he plays like we all saw him play around here for the time [that] he was here.”

5 takeaways from the Patriots-Panthers game

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff November 19, 2013 08:40 AM





CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The Carolina Panthers held on to beat the Patriots, 24-20, thanks in part to a controversial non-call as the game concluded.

Was it pass interference? The officials say no. Was it holding? I say yes. Is there more for the Patriots to hang their hats on after such a disappointing loss? Of course. Let's take a look at the takeaways:

1. The controversy – There are two trains of thought following the picked-up flag. One of which is, obviously, that the flag should not have been so easily dismissed, given the implications for the game at that time.

(Just FYI, I'm not a member of the "rules only apply during certain times" cabal. That's just cheap.)

The other is that the officials failed to recognize that there was another significant penalty that occurred: defensive holding. How is it possible, given the video evidence and the immediate nature of the flag, that the officials could pick up a flag after the kind of bear hug Luke Kuechly put on Rob Gronkowski? Answer: It's pretty absurd. There was no other penalty even considered, according to the pool report.

Wherever you stand on the call, it doesn't look good.

2. Broken containment and coverage – When the Patriots look back on Monday night's loss, they'll most likely be concerned with the way Cam Newton was able to get into the second and third levels of the defense without a Patriots jersey around and also with the breakdown in coverage at the end of the game. As the pocket collapsed on Newton, there was no one to spy on the athletic quarterback as he scrambled and ran for 62 yards to lead all rushers.

"It's just a tough situation where you got to contain a quarterback that can run the ball, that can throw the ball," said defensive end Rob Ninkovich. "So it's our job as a defensive line to keep him in the pocket. So if we don't do that, bad things happen. And I hold myself accountable for a quarterback that scrambles. That's on everybody on the d-line. We're not supposed to let that happen."

The Patriots played mostly in a 3-4 with Ninkovich and Chandler Jones operating as the outside linebackers. So containment was huge with a big emphasis on those two players. But the Patriots also relied on inside linebackers Brandon Spikes and Dont'a Hightower to be able to provide coverage in passing situations, something they are not necessarily well versed to do.

And then there's the matter of the go-ahead touchdown. Kyle Arrington found himself beat on a hitch route with no immediate help on the inside, allowing for Ted Ginn Jr.'s 25-yard score.

"I just got to make that tackle, I just got to make that tackle," Arrington explained. "We were in Cover 1 so he ran a simple hitch route. Cam [Newton] just threw it inside, so as [Ginn Jr.] came back he came back into it. I just have to make that tackle."

There were no excuses for the veteran cornerback and for the team. But that still doesn't explain the lack of help.

3. Shane Vereen's career day – Vereen returned after missing the past nine games with a broken wrist. He looked like there was nothing wrong with him despite wearing a black guard over his hand while catching a career-high eight passes for 65 yards. He was an integral part of the team's offense.

"I didn't really have any expectations," Vereen said. "When my number was called, I just wanted to go out there and do what I could. That's about how I took the game."

Vereen worked the Patriots' third-down running back role to perfection, playing as seamlessly as had been envisioned for the speedy young back when he was drafted in 2011. That was a huge positive for the Patriots.

4. Aqib Talib's fiery matchup with Steve Smith – Talib returned for his first game in three weeks, but he might as well have sat out Monday's game. While competing with the loquacious Steve Smith, a receiver known for dishing out verbal jabs and provoking his opponents, he found himself all hot and bothered after giving up two big receptions, including a 42-yard pass.

Talib went so far as to continue to hold Smith's leg after bringing him down on a first-down conversion, causing a tussle between the two sides and a 15-yard penalty for unnecessary roughness. They would continue to tussle and jaw at each other for the rest of the game until the Patriots cornerback left with a hip injury in the fourth quarter, probably the same one that had kept him out the previous three weeks.

Smith finished with four receptions for 62 yards on six targets. It was apparent he won the matchup between the two.

5. Tom Brady was at his best – Had Brady brought the Patriots back with 59 seconds left and 80 yards of field in front of him, he would've recorded his 39th career fourth-quarter comeback. It would've been the icing on what otherwise was a highly efficient performance. Prior to the final drive, Brady had been 25 of 29 passing. He finished with 296 yards passing and a touchdown on 29 of 40 passing, getting the Patriots down to the Panthers' 18-yard line before the game's final play, an interception to Robert Lester with a questionable no-call. That's nothing to hang your head about.

Zuri Berry can be reached at zberry@boston.com. Follow him on Twitter @zuriberry and on Google+.

Watch: Bill Belichick comments on final play of Monday Night Football

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff November 19, 2013 07:51 AM
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Patriots coach Bill Belichick said he received no explanation from officials about the controversial play at the end of Monday Night Football. Watch excerpts from his postgame news conference.

Watch: After final play, Tom Brady seeks explanation from referee

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff November 19, 2013 07:41 AM
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Here's video of the final play of the Patriots-Panthers Monday Night Football game and the immediate aftermath, including Patriots quarterback Tom Brady following referee Clete Blakeman into the tunnel to discuss what took place.

Referee Clete Blakeman explains controversial call at end of Patriots game

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff November 19, 2013 07:27 AM

300clete.jpgHere's the complete transcript of a pool report with referee Clete Blakeman regarding the officiating crew's decision to pick up a flag thrown on the final play of Monday's Patriots-Panthers game.

The interview was conducted by Mike Reiss of ESPN Boston and Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer.

Mike Reiss: I guess the first question is what was seen on the last play to initially have the official throw the flag?
Clete Blakeman: The back judge saw that there was contact and the defender was not playing the ball and that led him to throw for defensive pass inference, was the initial call.

MR: The follow-up naturally, what was discussed to then pick up the flag?
CB: There were two officials that came in. One was the umpire and the other one was our side judge and there was a discussion at that point as to the, in essence, the catchability of the ball due to its location. So it was determined at that point in time that when the primary contact occurred on the tight end that the ball, in essence, was coming in underthrown and in essence it was immediate at that point intercepted at the front end of the end zone. So there was a determination that, in essence, uncatchability, that the ball was intercepted at or about the same time the primary contact against the receiver occurred.

Joe Person: Have you guys had a chance to review it yet and what were your thoughts on the review?
CB: Two things, yeah, we have video in the room, the TV on in the locker room, so yeah, we all saw it, looked at it and that was, in essence, it pretty much mirrored the discussion that occurred. Terrence Miles, our back judge, saw the contact, he saw what he saw, and threw on it. And then the discussion came in with respect to the ball and its location and the defender who ultimately basically undercut the play and intercepted it at the, in essence, the middle to the front part of the end zone.

JP: Are you confident it was the right call?
CB: Yeah, in review, yeah. I think so. I’m pleased that…well, two situations. You never like to end the game with some controversy like that on a call, but I’m pleased that our officiating crew got together and communicated and discussed it and, ultimately, I believe we got it right. So that to me is the part that is coming away from it. I’m pleased that our crew was able to discuss it and make the call right.

MR: Is there anything else you want to mention?
CB: Nothing else.

Watch: Patriots-Panthers highlights

Posted by Staff November 19, 2013 02:59 AM

Panthers win after flag picked up; official explains

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff November 19, 2013 12:55 AM


CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Patriots' latest loss came with a touch of controversy.

Despite an interception thrown by Tom Brady as time expired Monday night, all eyes remained on his target, Rob Gronkowski, who appeared to be held by Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly on the game's final play.

The Panthers held on to beat the Patriots, 24-20, but questions about the call, or no-call, dominated the postgame interviews.

Terrence Miles, the back judge for the officiating crew, saw contact between Kuechly and Gronkowski on the play, and immediately threw his flag. But it was picked up after a discussion with umpire Garth DeFelice and side judge Greg Meyer.

"There were two officials that came in," said referee Clete Blakeman, explaining the decision in a pool report to the media. "One was the umpire and the other one was our side judge and there was a discussion at that point as to the, in essence, the catchability of the ball due to its location.

"So it was determined at that point in time that when the primary contact occurred on the tight end that the ball, in essence, was coming in underthrown and in essence it was immediate at that point intercepted at the front end of the end zone.

"So there was a determination that, in essence, uncatchability, that the ball was intercepted at or about the same time the primary contact against the receiver occurred."

But there was no discussion on whether or not a defensive holding occurred. Blakeman said his crew, which reviewed the play immediately after the game, was confident in the call.

"Yeah, in review, yeah. I think so," he said. "I'm pleased that ... well, two situations. You never like to end the game with some controversy like that on a call, but I'm pleased that our officiating crew got together and communicated and discussed it and, ultimately, I believe we got it right. So that to me is the part that is coming away from it. I'm pleased that our crew was able to discuss it and make the call right."

Bill Belichick said he received no explanation on the call, nor did Tom Brady or Rob Gronkowski, who walked away from the play clapping expecting to get another shot at the end zone.

"He didn't say anything," Brady said. "I didn't really see the play either so I don't know whether it wads a good call or a bad call."

Brady was seen on cameras arguing with the referee as he entered the tunnel to exit the field.

"I wish it wouldn't have come down to that," Brady said. "I think there are plenty of plays we could have made. But it did, and they are going to make a call or they are not going to make a call.

"We can play better than that."

Brady was intercepted by Carolina's Robert Lester to end the game.

Shane Vereen, Aqib Talib active for Patriots against Panthers

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff November 18, 2013 07:13 PM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Running back Shane Vereen and cornerback Aqib Talib are both active for the Patriots for tonight's game against the Carolina Panthers.

Vereen (wrist) was activated Monday morning after spending nine weeks on injured reserve with a designation to return. Talib had missed the past three games with a hip injury.

With the return of Vereen, the Patriots opted to make Brandon Bolden inactive for the game. Bolden was on the injury report with a knee injury before being taken off. He is officially a healthy scratch.

Also inactive for the Patriots: LB Steve Beauharnais, CB Alfonzo Dennard (knee), S Steve Gregory (finger), OL Chris Barker, DL Jake Bequette, and RB Leon Washington (ankle).

What to watch for as the Patriots visit the Carolina Panthers

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff November 18, 2013 05:57 PM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Aqib Talib is expected to play, Alfonzo Dennard and Steve Gregory have been ruled out, and Shane Vereen's anticipated return is imminent. While the Patriots are coming off a bye week, they have plenty of moving parts heading into Monday night's game against the Panthers.

Here's what to watch for, with that in mind:

1. Offensive substitutions -- So Vereen is now back in the mix. Last time we saw him, he put up 101 yards on 14 carries against the Buffalo Bills. That was 10 weeks ago. He has the ability to be a prolific third-down back, coming out of the backfield as a receiver or lining up in the slot. That's always been the vision for him with the Patriots. Let's see how he is integrated in his first game back and who loses snaps in his return.

2. Defensive substitutions -- Dennard apparently tweaked his knee in practice, because he's been ruled out for tonight. It would seem like a simple swap with Dennard out and Talib in, but the Patriots' star corner still has a concerning hip problem that could limit his snaps. That means the Patriots will have to do some shuffling within the secondary. And they will likely not have Devin McCourty to rely on as a pinch cornerback with Gregory out. So the extra duties will fall on Kyle Arrington, Marquice Cole, and Logan Ryan. We'll be paying close attention to who is in which packages.

3. How will the Patriots contain Cam Newton in the running game? -- Outside containment, both from the defensive ends and linebackers, will be critical for the Patriots when facing a quarterback like Newton who can split defenders with his speed. The best route, in my opinion, is to funnel him inside toward the tackles and inside linebackers who can bring him down. Those defensive players -- Brandon Spikes, Joe Vellano, Chris Jones, and Isaac Sopoaga -- will play a crucial role in stopping Newton and the Panthers' three-pronged running game. DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Steward, and Mike Tolbert are all exceptionally good running backs that can't be given space and, in the case of Tolbert, need extra tacklers. There will be a close eye on their performance tonight.

Game 10 preview: Patriots at Panthers

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff November 18, 2013 05:13 PM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- That newfound Patriots offensive rhythm, discovered in Week 9 as the team piled on 55 points against the Pittsburgh Steelers, will be put to the test against the Carolina Panthers.

With 15 days of rest and an opportunity to dissect their own issues as the year has progressed, the Patriots come into Monday night's game with the added pressure of facing a top-tier defense.

The Panthers have the second-best scoring defense in the NFL (12.8) and hold their opponents to the second-fewest yards per game (283.3). The cornerstones of their defense are linebacker Luke Kuechly, who played at Boston College, and defensive ends Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy.

The Patriots will be boosted on offense by the return of running back Shane Vereen, who was activated to the 53-man roster after spending the past nine weeks on injured reserve with a designation for return. He suffered a broken wrist in Week 1 of the season against Buffalo. The shifty back can help bolster the team's passing game as well, working out of the backfield and in the slot.

Bill Belichick is 2-1 against the Panthers as coach of the Patriots. The team is 3-2 overall against Carolina.

Tom Brady is 13-4 on Monday nights.

With a win, the Patriots will have swept the NFC South.

Here are the details for the game:

Kickoff: 8:40 p.m.

Records: Patriots 7-2; Panthers 6-3.

TV, radio: ESPN, Ch. 5 (Mike Tirico, Jon Gruden, Lisa Salters); 98.5 FM The Sports Hub (Bob Socci, Scott Zolak) and Westwood One Radio (Kevin Harlan, Boomer Esiason, Mark Malone).

Projected starting lineups:
Based on information distributed to the media, practice observations, and injury reports.

Patriots offense: WR Danny Amendola, LT Nate Solder, LG Logan Mankins, C Ryan Wendell, RG Dan Connolly, RT Marcus Cannon, TE Rob Gronkowski, WR Aaron Dobson, QB Tom Brady, RB Stevan Ridley, TE Michael Hoomanawanui.

Patriots defense: DT Joe Vellano, DT Chris Jones, DE Chandler Jones, DE Rob Ninkovich, LB Dont'a Hightower, LB Jamie Collins, LB Brandon Spikes, CB Aqib Talib, CB Kyle Arrington, S Devin McCourty, S Duron Harmon.

Panthers offense: WR Steve Smith, LT Jordan Gross, LG Travelle Wharton, C Ryan Kalil, RG Geoff Hangartner, RT Bryon Bell, TE Greg Olsen, WR Brandon LaFell, QB Cam Newton, FB Mike Tolber, RB DeAngelo Williams.

Panthers defense: LDE Charles Johnson, LDT Dwan Edwards, RDT Star Lotulelei, RDE Greg Hardy, SLB Thomas Davis, MLB Luke Kuechly, WLB Jordan Senn, LCB Captain Munnerlyn, RCB Melvin White, SS Quintin Mikell, FS Mike Mitchell.

Read this, link that

- Erik Frenz breaks down the matchup between Patriots corner Aqib Talib and Panthers WR Steve Smith.

- Adam Kaufman writes that the hype over the Panthers is unrealistic.

- Follow the game and comment on the action in our live blog.

Zuri Berry can be reached at zberry@boston.com. Follow him on Twitter @zuriberry and on Google+.

Report: Patriots RB Shane Vereen will be active tonight

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff November 18, 2013 01:36 PM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Patriots running back Shane Vereen, who has missed the last 10 weeks of the football season with a broken wrist, is expected to be activated for tonight's game, according to a report by ESPN's Adam Schefter.

Vereen has been on the injured reserve/designated to return list with the wrist injury, which he suffered in the first week of the season against the Buffalo Bills. He has been practicing with the team and was listed as questionable for Monday night's game against the Carolina Panthers.

Week 11 injury report: Patriots rule Dennard, Gregory out for Monday night

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff November 16, 2013 03:33 PM

The Patriots have ruled CB Alfonzo Dennard (knee) and S Steve Gregory (finger) out for Monday's game against the Carolina Panthers.

Gregory suffered a broken thumb against the Steelers and has not practiced since, so it was not expected that he would play. However, Dennard was listed as limited on Thursday and Friday before not practicing at all on Saturday, and now will not play.

It is unclear at this time how serious Dennard's injury is.

The Patriots list CBs Aqib Talib (hip) and Kyle Arrington (groin) as questionable, and while signs point to Talib's return, they are potentially very thin at the position.

Carolina lists LB Chase Blackburn (foot), TE Ben Hartsock (knee) and G Chris Scott (knee) as out. CB Drayton Florence (groin) was added to the report on Saturday and is questionable after not practicing.

For the Patriots
Out
CB Alfonzo Dennard - DNP, knee
S Steve Gregory - DNP, finger

Questionable
CB Kyle Arrington - LP, groin
CB Aqib Talib - LP, hip
RB Leon Washington - LP, ankle

Probable
WR Danny Amendola - FP, groin
QB Tom Brady - FP, right shoulder
TE Rob Gronkowski - LP, back/forearm/hamstring
WR Matthew Slater - FP, wrist

Removed from list
RB Brandon Bolden - knee

For the Panthers
Out
LB Chase Blackburn - DNP, foot
TE Ben Hartsock - DNP, knee
G Chris Scott - DNP, knee

Questionable
CB Drayton Florence - DNP, groin

Probable
DT Dwan Edwards - FP, hamstring
T Jordan Gross - FP, not injury related
FB Mike Tolbert - FP, not injury related

Saturday roll call: No Dennard, Gregory

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff November 16, 2013 10:45 AM

FOXBOROUGH -- Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, who has been listed on this week's injury report with a knee injury, was one of two Patriots not spotted at Saturday's practice. Safety Steve Gregory, who hasn't practiced all week with a broken thumb, was the other.

Dennard hadn't missed a practice since Sept. 9, the last time prior to this week that he was on the injury report. He was listed with an ankle injury, but played in that Thursday night game against the Jets in Week 2.

Players were in sweats and shells again, working out on the lower grass practice field behind Gillette Stadium, which will be used this afternoon for the UMass-Akron game.

The Patriots are still at 52 players on the active roster, one under the maximum allowed. Running back Shane Vereen, who is eligible to play on Monday at Carolina for the first time since Week 1, has practiced all week. Vereen was placed on the injured reserve list with a designation to return, which is where he remains.

Friday injury report: Gregory again misses practice

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff November 15, 2013 04:23 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- There were no changes for the Patriots from Thursday's injury report, with safety Steve Gregory the only player to miss the sweats and shells workout. Gregory broke his thumb against the Steelers on Nov. 3, and hasn't practiced since.

The same six players were limited: cornerbacks Kyle Arrington, Alfonzo Dennard, and Aqib Talib, running back Brandon Bolden, tight end Rob Gronkowski, and running back Leon Washington.

For the Patriots:

Did not participate:
S Steve Gregory (finger)

Limited participation:
CB Kyle Arrington (groin)
RB Brandon Bolden (knee)
CB Alfonzo Dennard (knee)
TE Rob Gronkowski (back/forearm/hamstring)
CB Aqib Talib (hip)
RB Leon Washington (ankle)

Full participation:
WR Danny Amendola (groin)
QB Tom Brady (right shoulder)
WR Matthew Slater (wrist)

For the Panthers:

Did not participate:
LB Chase Blackburn (foot)
TE Ben Hartsock (knee)
G Chris Scott (knee)

Full participation:
DT Dwan Edwards (hamstring)
T Jordan Gross (not injury related)
FB Mike Tolbert (not injury related)

Gronkowski apologizes for video comments

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff November 15, 2013 01:58 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski apologized on Friday for comments that were picked up on a cellphone video of him and interpreted by many as racially insensitive.

On the clip, Gronkowski, speaking into a microphone, is heard calling for an Asian male named Joe to come out to the dance floor at Bar Louie, an establishment at Patriot Place. The assembled crowd soon joins in, with the group chanting, "Joe! Joe! Joe!" Gronkowski knows the man and told him that he was going to call him out to the dance floor. The man responded to Gronkowski that he doesn't dance, but he can cook fried rice, which is what Gronkowski is heard saying on the clip: "He told me he could only cook fried rice!" Gronkowski later jokingly referred to the man as "Leslie Chow," a character from "The Hangover" movie.

Speaking with the media for the first time this week after Friday's practice, Gronkowski addressed the topic only after he was asked about the video clip, and whether he felt a need to explain.

"Yes. I feel bad, personally I feel bad," Gronkowski said. "I talked to Joe, and he assured me he took no offense in any way. I know others did, and I apologize to those who took offense."

Asked if Joe was the Asian male who appeared in the video, Gronkowski said that he was.

"He’s a good guy, he’s a friend of mine, he’s a good dude," Gronkowski said.

That's the extent to which Gronkowski commented on the video clip. When he was pressed on it, or whether he gets tired of seeing these videos pop up, Gronkowski answered, "I’m just here to talk about the Carolina Panthers now." He had the same answer when a question came up linking him to the upcoming "Entourage" movie.

Friday roll call: Patriots release WR LaQuan Williams

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff November 15, 2013 11:05 AM
FOXBOROUGH -- Before even getting an opportunity to play in a game, receiver LaQuan Williams has been released by the Patriots. He signed with team Nov. 5, two days after the Patriots' most recent game, a win over Pittsburgh.

A Baltimore Sun report earlier this week said that Williams is facing a civil suit stemming from an alleged altercation in June. Williams had played for the Ravens the past two seasons, and was released by Baltimore on Sept. 6.

Williams wasn't spotted at Friday's practice, but he's no longer on the team. Safety Steve Gregory is on the team, but also wasn't spotted. Gregory broke his thumb against the Steelers, and missed Thursday's practice, as well. Players were in sweats (or shorts, since it's nice out) and shells on the lower grass practice field.

Bill Belichick impressed by Panthers' body of work

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff November 15, 2013 10:22 AM
FOXBOROUGH -- Five straight wins have pushed the Carolina Panthers into the NFL playoff mix and added an extra layer of hype to Monday's visit by the Patriots. But to hear Bill Belichick tell it, the Panthers are even better than their 6-3 record.

"They lost the Buffalo game on the last play and could have easily won that one, and they’re ahead of Seattle 7-6 until midway in the fourth quarter -- that’s a pretty good football team -- they get beat on a long pass play, then they drive the ball all the way down the field and they fumble the ball at the 5-yard-line going in to win. Those two games they could have very easily won," Belichick said on Friday, before the Patriots took the practice field. "They could easily have eight wins, nine wins here."

Carolina opened 0-2, losing the opener to Seattle at home, 12-7, then falling at Buffalo, 24-23. Against the Seahawks, Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams fumbled at the Seattle 8-yard-line with five minutes left in the fourth quarter. Buffalo scored the game-winning touchdown with 2 seconds left.

Since then, the Panthers have won six of seven games, a 22-6 loss at Arizona the exception. During their five-game win streak, they've done much of it with defense. Carolina has held their last five opponents to 10, 15, 13, 10, and 9 points.

The offense has been pretty strong during the streak, too, with Sunday's 10-9 win at San Francisco snapping four straight games in which the Panthers scored at least 30 points. Quarterback Cam Newton is the face of the Carolina offense, and simulating him in practice this week is proving to be difficult.

"I don’t know if there’s any other team in the league that can simulate Cam Newton," Belichick said. "He’s big, he’s fast, very athletic guy. I think our quarterbacks can throw, but they can’t run like Cam can."

Week 11 NFL picks

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff November 14, 2013 07:34 PM

For the first time in three weeks, we have the picks done before the Thursday night game. Coincidentally, we hope, it will be the first time we predict more than six games correctly.

Of course, we were stymied in Week 10 by the winless Jacksonville Jaguars and Tampa Bay Buccaneers claiming their first victories of the season. That was a mood killer. And then the high-powered Dallas Cowboys offense couldn't cover a 7-point spread against the New Orleans Saints; the Indianapolis Colts were embarrassed by the St. Louis Rams (38-8); and the Oakland Raiders couldn't beat the hapless New York Giants. (My how the times have changed.)

This week, we're putting an emphasis on the not-so-surprising factor. Meaning, shouldn't an 0-8 team steal a win by now? Well, yeah, and they did. And the gutless Tennessee Titans and Miami Dolphins were easy pickings to that end. And like the Bucs and Jags, the Giants, who astonishingly started the season 0-6, are now on a three-game winning streak. Are we really surprised about that? The Eagles, for a moment derided, have bounced back enthusiastically. But they may fall into the same trap. And I may continue to fall into some traps of my own.

Here are Week 11's picks:

Colts (-3) at Titans (+3) -- Because the Colts couldn't possibly embarrass themselves again, at least not as much as the Titans did losing to Jacksonville.
My pick: Colts

FULL ENTRY

Thursday injury report: Gregory misses practice

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff November 14, 2013 04:05 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Last week's bye did the Patriots plenty of good from a health standpoint, with only six players limited in Thursday's practice. Safety Steve Gregory, who broke his thumb in the Nov. 3 win over the Steelers, was the only player who did not participate.

In the injury report from the Friday before the Steelers game, eight Patriots were limited. Those removed from the injury report were offensive lineman Marcus Cannon (shoulder) and receiver Julian Edelman (thigh).

For the Patriots:

Did not participate:
S Steve Gregory (finger)

Limited participation:
CB Kyle Arrington (groin)
RB Brandon Bolden (knee)
CB Alfonzo Dennard (knee)
TE Rob Gronkowski (back/forearm/hamstring)
CB Aqib Talib (hip)
RB Leon Washington (ankle)

Full participation:
WR Danny Amendola (groin)
QB Tom Brady (right shoulder)
WR Matthew Slater (wrist)

For the Panthers:

Did not participate:
LB Chase Blackburn (foot)
T Jordan Gross (not injury related)
TE Ben Hartsock (knee)
G Chris Scott (knee)
FB Mike Tolbert (not injury related)

Limited participation:
DT Dwan Edwards (hamstring)

Talib: Teammates 'played their butts off' with him on sideline

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff November 14, 2013 03:10 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Though he didn't expressly say that he'll be back in uniform Monday night against the Panthers, the fact that Aqib Talib met with reporters in the locker room Thursday for the first time since suffering a hip injury against the Saints in Week 6 was a positive sign.

Asked if he feels like he's ready to play in Carolina, Talib said, "Practice been good, man. Day to day, trying to get back."

The sixth-year cornerback was playing at an exceptionally high level at the time of his injury. The website ProFootballFocus had him as its top-graded corner through the first six weeks of the season, and despite missing a month, he's still tied for second in the NFL with four interceptions. When he got hurt, he was in the process of shutting out Saints All-Pro TE Jimmy Graham.

Talib said the timing of the Patriots' bye week was vital, not just for himself but everyone on the team. And he sounded eager to get back onto the field.

"Anytime you have to watch your guys go to war without you, man, that’s the worst thing in the world," said Talib, adding that he liked the way his teammates played while he was rehabbing.

"Definitely, man. I was their No. 1 fan. Just texting and trying to help as much as I can but, man, those guys came and played their butts off for as long as I was out. I don’t even know how long."

Getting his fundamentals and technique back is a focus in practice.

Playing with the Buccaneers for four-plus seasons, Talib faced the Panthers and receiver Steve Smith twice a year. As Bill Belichick did earlier in the day, Talib praised Smith's approach to the game.

"Just that competitive nature," said Talib. "He brings it. Every Sunday or Monday or whenever the game is, Steve going to bring it, man. I think when you’re competitive like that, you’re going to be pretty successful."


Week 11: Thursday practice peek -- only Gregory missing

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff November 14, 2013 11:37 AM

FOXBOROUGH - Patriots players are in full pads as they go through practice today, on a sunny but cold day at Gillette Stadium.

Only S Steve Gregory (thumb) was not spotted during the media-access window.

Since they play on Monday this week, New England will practice Thursday, Friday and Saturday, departing for Charlotte on Sunday.

Belichick says things will be ramped up for Vereen, Talib in practice this week

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff November 14, 2013 10:42 AM

FOXBOROUGH - The Patriots could get back two key players this week, as RB Shane Vereen (wrist) is eligible to be activated to the 53-man roster off the injured reserve (he was the one player the team designated to return from IR) and CB Aqib Talib (hip) may be healthy enough after four weeks to return as well.

During a Thursday morning press conference, Bill Belichick said the team will push each player this week to see what he can handle.

"It’s good to have him back on the field," Belichick said of Vereen. "This will really be an opportunity for us to evaluate this week kind of where he is, give him some harder assignments and see how he’s doing. He’s been able to be active and participate, but I’d say it will be a higher level of competition for him this week on the practice field, as it should be, gradually escalate the intensity of it and see how it goes."

He gave a similar response in regard to Talib's progress.

"He’s continued to progress and we’ll keep doing, as they can tolerate it, do more, and evaluate how they do at a little bit higher level, and if that goes well ramp it up, and see where we are as we go through the week. Same thing we do every week," Belichick said.

In talking about the Panthers, Belichick commented on Carolina's depth at running back and the number of players, including quarterback Cam Newton, who are effective carrying the ball. The Panthers average 128 rushing yards per game, 10th in the league.

"I think all those guys are good – (Jonathan) Stewart and (DeAngelo) Williams both have real good vision, quickness, they’re shifty, they’re hard guys to tackle, they can run outside, they can run inside," Belichick said. "(Mike) Tolbert’s a downhill guy; he’s in there in a lot of short-yardage and goal-line situations, he gets some tough yards for them, he also plays some as a fullback if you will, with some blocking responsibilities, more than the other two do, but he’s a very good ballcarrier, strong runner.

"They’re all effective in the passing game, screens and check-downs, getting the ball in space, so they have great depth at that position. Of course Newton carries the ball, he’s their second-leading rusher, he’s got a lot of yards too. Between the three backs and the quarterback, a wealth of ballcarriers. I can’t think of another team that has that much depth at that running back position plus a quarterback who runs. And they run the ball a lot, they run it well, they all handle it, they’re all effective. There’s always a fresh guy in there and they always run hard – those guys, they get some tough yards in terms of lowering their shoulder and just pushing the pile and getting a couple of extra yards – they all do that."

And Belichick also got the chance to talk about veteran receiver Steve Smith. Since New England doesn't play Carolina very often, Smith's name isn't brought up much, but he is another one of the players Belichick clearly has a great deal of respect for.

"He’s very competitive, he’s still a tough guy to handle, he’s very strong for his size – he’s a shorter player but he’s stocky, he’s thick, he’s got good balance, he’s tough, he’s hard to bring down," he said of Smith. "He’s got strong hands; you can see him really reach out there and take the ball aggressively, he’s got good quickness and his run after the catch ability is still good. He’s taken some shorter passes and broken some tackles or beat guys in the open field.

"He’s a tough guy to handle – his playing strength, his quickness, his speed, his experience, but it’s just his competitiveness – he’s a tough, competitive player. The bigger the situation, the more he wants to be out there and step up and take the shot, so to speak. I have a lot of respect for Steve Smith and I think he’s still very effective in that role for the Panthers. He’s a good player and he brings a lot of heart and toughness to their team."

Now 34 years old, Smith still has a team-high 42 catches, for 450 yards and three touchdowns.

Bill Belichick declines to discuss possibility of bringing safety Ed Reed to Patriots

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff November 13, 2013 12:44 PM

Former Texan Ed Reed has been linked to the Patriots since
he was released on Tuesday, but Bill Belichick declined to
discuss the possibility of bringing the veteran safety to New
England. (Gail Burton / AP photo)

One day after the Texans released safety Ed Reed, Patriots coach Bill Belichick chose not to comment on whether the team might be interested in making a play for a player that Belichick has long praised and admired.

"I don't think it would be appropriate for me to comment on players that aren't on our roster," Belichick said on Wednesday, during a teleconference with reporters.

Belichick did, however, go into some detail about how the Patriots deal with situations such as Reed's, when a player -- in this case, a Pro Bowler who helped the Ravens win the Super Bowl last season -- is waived and becomes available.

"There's usually an indication that things like that could happen. Not that they're going to happen, but that they could happen. That's one of the things that our pro personnel department does a real good job of, they stay on top of that," Belichick said. "When you have players that, whatever their situation is, we think could potentially become available, then we start working on them ahead of time, so when it happens or if it happens, we're not sitting there trying to scramble around.

"Most of the time, you have a little bit of a lead-in on that."

Belichick was also asked about tight end Rob Gronkowski, who was captured on a cellphone video over the weekend making statements that could be construed as racially insensitive.

"Right now, my main focus is on Carolina. Anything that we need to address as a team internally or individually with a player will be handled on that basis," Belichick said.

Tom Brady says there are no shortcuts with this Carolina Panthers defense

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff November 12, 2013 05:29 PM

FOXBORUGH — Tom Brady sees the numbers on the Carolina Panthers.

It’s almost dizzying what the Panthers have been able to do on defense. They’re the second-best unit in the NFL in scoring defense, allowing only 12.8 points per game. They’re also second-best in yards allowed per game (283.3) and rushing defense (82.0). Carolina (6-3) is on a five-game winning streak, taking a 10-9 win over the San Francisco 49ers last week in what can be considered its marquee victory of the season.

Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly, who played at Boston College, is widely recognized as one of the preeminent players at his position in the NFL. He has 75 tackles to lead the team. And defensive ends Charles Johnson (8.5 sacks) and Greg Hardy (6.0) are one of the best tandems in the league at rushing the quarterback.

Considering all of this, Brady hailed his upcoming opponent as one of the best in the league. The Patriots visit the Panthers on “Monday Night Football” after coming off their bye.

“We have to play really well,” Brady said. “I think our execution has to be at its best. It’ll be fun. It’s Monday night. It’s getting later in the year. These games are more and more important. We’ll see what we can do.”

While Brady is known to offer his praise of opponents, he points out that the Panthers are different because of their entire front seven, and not just a few select players.

“They have different strengths than the other teams that we’ve faced,” he said. “They have a very good team. They rush the quarterback. That tandem that they had last year is the same group they have this year that led the league in sacks from those two positions: Hardy and Johnson, and then [Mario] Addison is a great rusher.

“They have a great front. They rotate all these guys in. They can all rush the quarterback and they’ve got linebackers that can tackle. Kuechly is a great young player and makes tackles everywhere. If you miss a throw, it’s usually an interception.

“You just have to know the challenge, know what it takes, 60 minutes of great football. You’re not just going to go in there and put together 30 good minutes and think you’re going to win. We have to play well all night.”

The game will be the Patriots’ only Monday night contest of the season, giving Brady another reason to be excited. But it will also likely mean the return of running back Shane Vereen, who broke his wrist in Week 1 of the season against the Buffalo Bills. He could bring another element to the Patriots offense.

“He’s a very dependable, consistent player,” Brady said. “The more of those guys you have on your team, the better you are. He’s really been that and played a really important role for us the last few years.

“Whenever he’s back out there, whether it’s this week, next week, the following week, we’ll be excited to have him, but those things are kind of out of my control. But he’s a really good player for us.”

Watch: Patriots start preparation for Carolina Panthers, hope to get back Shane Vereen and Aqib Talib

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff November 12, 2013 05:11 PM




In the latest Patriots midweek report, New England is coming off the bye week with the red-hot Carolina Panthers to prepare for. The team will also hopefully see the return of cornerback Aqib Talib and running back Shane Vereen. See interviews with Tom Brady and Kyle Arrington as the Patriots start their preparations for this week's game.

Patriots-Texans game flexed to 1 p.m.

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff November 12, 2013 01:05 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- The Patriots Week 13 matchup with the Houston Texans has been flexed from its originally scheduled time to 1 p.m. Eastern.

The road matchup had been originally scheduled for 4:25 p.m. Dec. 1 on CBS.

The second game of the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs series will take over the 4:25 p.m. slot.

Week 11: Tuesday practice peek

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff November 12, 2013 11:38 AM

FOXBOROUGH - The Patriots are on the practice field for the first time in a week after enjoying some time to rest during their bye.

Colleague Michael Whitmer reports only one player was not present for the media-access window: S Steve Gregory, who broke his thumb in the Patriots' win against the Steelers.

RB Shane Vereen, who is eligible to return to the active roster after spending the last nine weeks on injured reserve (he was the Patriots' 'designated to return' player for this season), was out at practice, though he had begun practicing before the bye.

DL Armond Armstead and WR Mark Harrison, both on reserve/NFI, were not at practice. New England has until the end of this week to begin practicing them in hopes of having them play this season. Bill Belichick said on Monday it was "less likely with each day that goes by" that Armstead would begin practicing.

Patriots players practicing were in sweats and shells.

Patriots coaches talk up Panthers

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff November 11, 2013 12:47 PM

Although players still have not returned to Gillette Stadium -- this is the final day of their six-day bye-week break (in eight years of covering this team, can't remember one nearly as long) -- coach Bill Belichick and coordinators Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia have returned, and have started studying the Carolina Panthers, whom the Patriots will play on "Monday Night Football" next week.

It isn't new for New England to talk up an opponent, but with the 6-3 Panthers coming off a road win against the defending NFC champion 49ers, Belichick & Co. sounded impressed.

"It certainly has been interesting watching Carolina play," said Belichick. "They really played well on the road yesterday.

"They're a good football team doing a lot of things well. They have a good offense, disruptive players on defense, a ball-hawking secondary, they capitalize on miscues by the offense; they're an opportunistic team.

"They're a real solid team all the way around, playing well now. It will be a big challenge for us going down there Monday night. There will be a lot of energy in the stadium. We'll have to match that."

Carolina quarterback Cam Newton is in a similar mold as Buffalo's E.J. Manuel, the Jets' Geno Smith, and the Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger: quarterbacks who are almost more dangerous on the move than when they're in the pocket, and who are capable of making plays with their legs.

Belichick said having already faced those quarterbacks can help the Patriots defense.

"I think a lot of the plays Carolina runs we’ve seen from Buffalo and the Jets," he said. "They run a lot of under-center plays, they’re not in the gun nearly as much as Philadelphia and Buffalo. They have a good mix with the running game and passing game. They’re a well-balanced team.

"The fact we have seen some of those plays, we've worked on basic blocking schemes, how to fit them, but always a little bit different from week to week. But there definitely are similarities to players you mentioned."

McDaniels is impressed with the Panthers' defense, which is giving up fewer than 13 points per game and has 21 takeaways on the season.

"This is obviously a very highly ranked defense in basically every statistical category and they should be," said McDaniels. "This is a good, well-rounded group of players with, I would say, a lot of guys capable of making big plays.

"They certainly have been able to turn the ball over. They have one of the better linebackers in football in [former Boston College standout Luke] Kuechly. They get an incredible amount of pressure on the quarterback without having to blitz, which is a luxury that some teams have and some teams don’t.

"All the things you’d want in a defense, they have them. They're playing as well as any group we’ve seen all year."

A couple of other notes from the call:

Belichick was asked about defensive lineman Armond Armstead, who is on the reserve/non-football illness list. Under NFL rules, teams have until the end of Week 11 (this is Week 11) to start practicing players on the NFI list and physically unable to perform list.

Armstead's clock hasn't been started yet, "so that's why he hasn't been out there," Belichick said, adding that it looks "less likely with each day that goes by" that the former Southern California player, whom the team said underwent a procedure to treat an infection during training camp, will begin practicing.

With so many backup quarterbacks forced onto the field in recent weeks because of injury -- the Bears' Jay Cutler, the Packers' Aaron Rodgers, and Manuel are among the starters who have missed time -- McDaniels was asked to evaluate Tom Brady's backup, Ryan Mallett, who has yet to take a snap this season:

"I think Ryan comes to work every week with a great attitude and a great approach," McDaniels said. "He prepares as if he’s playing. He's continuing to work at what it means to be a quarterback in this league.

"He's really done a nice job of trying to give the defense a good look each week, which I think is an underrated part of a quarterback's preparation. But you get the opportunity to go back there and make reads and work on fundamentals and lead that [scout] team ... He's taken a lot of leadership and responsibility there.

"Ryan’s done a good job of pushing himself to get better and improve and we have a lot of confidence in him."

Mobile users unable to see the video, click here.

Week 10 NFL picks

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff November 10, 2013 09:16 AM

While the Patriots are off, there's still plenty to watch on Sunday, including a fantastic matchup between the Carolina Panthers (the Patriots' next opponent) and the San Francisco 49ers.

Here's the week's picks, minus Thursday night, against the spread.

Seahawks (-4.5) at Falcons (+4.5) -- There's still an air of dominance that emanates from the Seahawks' locker room. The same can't be said for the Falcons (2-6), who have won one of their last five games.
My pick: Seahawks

Bengals (-3) at Ravens (+3) -- While Cincinnati has struggled with consistency and focus, there's no need for extra motivation against their division rival.
My pick: Bengals

Lions (+1) at Bears (-1) -- In a game in which you can just pick the winner, it's hard to go against Matthew Stafford, Reggie Bush and Calvin Johnson, all of whom are having a fantastic season for the Lions.
My pick: Lions

Eagles (-1) at Packers (+1) -- Aaron Rodgers is out with a broken collarbone, so that has changed the dynamic for the Packers for the time being. Seneca Wallace will likely start in his place. After such an explosive week against the Raiders, the Eagles are probably licking their chops on the way to Lambeau.
My pick: Eagles

Rams (+10) at Colts (-10) -- The Rams are much more competitive than their record belies at 3-6. They're scoring 20.6 points per game, have a decent rushing attack and are making do with what they have on the roster. That said, this Colts team, led by Andrew Luck, will likely take the win here, just not so easily.
My pick: Rams

Raiders (+7.5) at Giants (-7.5) -- Both the Raiders and Giants are 0-2 against non-conference opponents. The Giants have managed to pull out a couple of wins after a disastrous start to the season. And the Raiders are constantly dealing with health issues to their young quarterback Terrelle Pryor (knee). He's listed as probable for today's game after fully participating this week in practice. There's a lot a quarterback of Pryor's skill set can do against a shaky defense like the Giants. This will be close.
My pick: Raiders

Bills (+3) at Steelers (-3) -- Pittsburgh will have extra motivation after last week's embarrassing loss to the Patriots. Don't expect the Bills to appreciate the extra physicality.
My pick: Steelers

Jaguars (+13) at Titans (-13) -- Week in and week out, there just doesn't seem to be an opportunity for the Jacksonville Jaguars to get their first win. At 0-8, and sporting the worst offense and defense in the league, guys like Chris Johnson can't wait to pad their stats.
My pick: Titans

Panthers (+6) at 49ers (-6) -- Best game of the day, hands down. Two strong defenses, two running quarterbacks, and plenty to pay attention to for Patriots fans. This will be close.
My pick: Panthers

Texans (+3) at Cardinals (-3) -- If you believe in Case Keenum, like the Texans apparently do, then you can be sure he's going to continue to throw bombs to Andre Johnson. I mean, that's all that really matters. Ben Tate will fill in fine for Houston at running back with Arian Foster out.
My pick: Texans

Broncos (-7) at Chargers (+7) -- Statistically speaking, we're going to be watching the two best quarterbacks in the NFL right now with Peyton Manning and Phillip Rivers going head to head. Bonus points go to Manning, who has a trio of top-tier receivers, a top-flight tight end, and good running backs. Oh, and one of the better defenses in the league.
My pick: Broncos

Cowboys (+7) at Saints (-7) -- The Dallas Cowboys (5-4) need this win as much as the New Orleans Saints (6-2) do because both teams are fighting off division opponents on their tails. The Cowboys are 2-4 against non-division opponents though, but that doesn't mean they're not good for an old-fashioned shootout.
My pick: Cowboys

Dolphins (-3) at Buccaneers (+3) -- The Dolphins have all the pieces to be a really good team, but there is a really good chance that they are distracted with all of the issues surrounding the team's offensive line and the departure of tackle Jonathan Martin as well as left guard Richie Incognito. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-8) will surely want to capitalize. But talent-wise, I just don't see it happening.
My pick: Dolphins

Last week: 6-7
Season: 62-71

Zuri Berry can be reached at zberry@boston.com. Follow him on Twitter @zuriberry and on Google+.

Watch: Peter King's Patriots midseason report

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff November 8, 2013 03:54 PM




Sports Illustrated's Peter King provides his outlook for the Patriots during their bye week.

Watch: Bill Belichick was mic'd up for Steelers game

Posted by Gary Dzen, Boston.com Staff November 7, 2013 09:17 AM
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If you need a little football fix on the bye week, NFL.com has posted video of Patriots head coach Bill Belichick mic'd up for last Sunday's 55-31 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The clip features several football insights, but opens with a funny conversation between Belichick and Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels discussing the presence of several Red Sox players in attendance before the game.

"They're tiny," McDaniels says.

"Oh I know, they're little," replies Belichick. "Pedroia is like 150 pounds."

"[Shane] Victorino is like 20 pounds less than [Danny] Amendola," says McDaniels.

During the game, Belichick encourages his team during its offensive onslaught.

"Keep rolling, fellas," he says. "We're gonna keep scoring now. Keep scoring."

One of the most interesting parts of the clip is when Belichick talks to his defensive line about containing Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger within the pocket and not giving him room to throw on the run.

It ends with Belichick addressing his team in the locker room after the game.

"We've got a lot of football left. Seven wins is great, but it ain't going to get anything, OK? Seven wins will not get anything in this league. We need a lot more than that."

Patriots release Austin Collie, sign two others

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff November 5, 2013 03:44 PM

The Patriots released wide receiver Austin Collie and signed two other players Tuesday.

Collie played in four games for the Patriots and had three receptions for 34 yards. Two of his receptions came on fourth downs during the dramatic comeback win over the New Orleans Saints on Oct. 13.

The Patriots signed receiver LaQuan Williams to the 53-man roster and added running back Cierre Wood to the practice squad. Williams was released by the Ravens in September. Wood was released by the Texans in October.

Tuesday roll call: Gregory, Collie, Bolden not spotted

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff November 5, 2013 11:59 AM
FOXBOROUGH – Three players – safety Steve Gregory, receiver Austin Collie, and running back Brandon Bolden – weren't spotted on Tuesday at the only Patriots' practice of the week, a full-pads workout.

Gregory suffered a thumb injury during Sunday's game against the Steelers. Collie also left that game with a knee injury and did not return. Bolden has been on the team's recent injury/practice reports with a knee injury, but it hasn't forced him to miss any games.

Defensive end Rob Ninkovich, who left Sunday's game with a foot injury and did not return, was on the practice field, as was cornerback Aqib Talib, who has missed the last three games with a hip injury.

There were also two unidentified Patriots, perhaps a signal that some roster announcements are forthcoming. A wide receiver (wearing jersey No. 16) and a running back (No. 35) were taking part in the workout.

Coaches' health scares won't change Belichick's routine

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff November 5, 2013 11:25 AM

FOXBOROUGH -- With the Patriots practicing just once this week before players are given an extended break for their bye week, Bill Belichick said the weekend health scares suffered by Denver's John Fox and Houston's Gary Kubiak won't force him to change anything he does as a head coach in the NFL.

"No, I don’t feel that way," Belichick said on Tuesday morning, when asked if the Fox/Kubiak medical episodes had him stepping back and making sure he's taking care of himself.

"I’m comfortable with the schedule that I’m on and what I’m doing. I feel about like I feel normally at this time of the season, which is good, but it’s not like you feel on July 28, when you start [training camp]. I feel good, and I plan on making it through the rest of the year. I don’t really plan on doing anything differently."

Fox had a heart procedure done in Charlotte, N.C., after becoming lightheaded over the weekend while playing golf, since the Broncos had a bye last week. Kubiak was taken off the field on a stretcher after collapsing while walking off the field at halftime of Sunday night's game.

The Patriots will practice on Tuesday, then the players will be given the next six days off. When the team returns next week, they'll start preparing for their Nov. 18 game at Carolina.

Belichick's bye-week message will be the same, to rookies as well as veterans.

"I’d say it’s pretty much the same message for everybody. We’ve played nine games, but [with] seven wins, that’s not enough in this league, you’re not going to win anything with seven wins, you’re going to need more than that," Belichick said. "We’ve got a lot of football left, there’s a lot of things we can improve in. That goes for every position and each player, and we’ll try to focus on that, what things can we do better the last seven games that we didn’t do quite as well in the first nine games.

"If we do that collectively, if each player can make a little bit of incremental improvement, across the board with all 53 players, as well as the coaching staff, that will raise our game up. That’s the objective."

That said, Belichick welcomes the one-week break, since his 7-2 team has operated pretty much full-go since reporting for camp in late July.

"We’ve played 13 games, plus weeks of training camp, plus we’ve practiced against Philadelphia and Tampa. We’ve played a lot of consecutive football, and there’s nobody in that locker room that’s been playing that’s 100 percent, I’m sure of that," Belichick said. "It gives us a chance to clear our mind a little bit. We don’t have a game plan, a scouting report, a whole bunch of adjustments to deal with this week.

"It’s like studying for a test every week; it’s hard mentally, It’s hard physically. It’s nice to have a few days where you’re not preparing for a final exam, that’s really the situation we’re in. There’s another one coming, but at least it’s good to have a couple days where you don’t have to bear down with that same intensity, get a chance to relax a little bit, get a little bit more rest, get away from football a little bit, then come back to it with more energy and a real purpose for the next seven regular-season games. That’s what we need to do."

Steve Gregory has a broken thumb

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff November 5, 2013 10:09 AM

FOXBOROUGH – Patriots safety Steve Gregory broke his thumb Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers, a league source confirmed to the Globe's Ben Volin.

Gregory left the game in the third quarter with a towel over his hand and will be out for a few weeks, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter, who was first to report the injury.

But a source tells Volin that Gregory may play in the team's next game, Monday Nov. 18, against the Carolina Panthers. With the bye week in between, there's optimism that he might be able to play with a week's rest and a cast on.

This season, Gregory has tallied 52 combined tackles and two broken-up passes. Rookie Duron Harmon, who replaced Gregory in the lineup Sunday, will likely start in his place. Harmon has eight tackles and two interceptions this season.

5 takeaways from the Patriots-Steelers game

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff November 3, 2013 11:30 PM




FOXBOROUGH -- After dropping more than 600 yards on the Pittsburgh Steelers before heading into the bye week, the Patriots can rest easy knowing that the improvements they've sought and the crisp execution they've hoped to attain are very much within the team's grasp.

Next up, consistency.

Here's my five takeaways from the Patriots' 55-31 win over the Steelers:

1. Tom Brady -- Brady once again showed himself to be resilient. Somehow, some way he makes all those silly worries about hand injuries and shoulder soreness go away with a dominant performance. Throwing for 432 yards and four touchdowns, he erased a couple of key worries by displaying good velocity on his throws and connecting with his receivers on deep passes, including an 81-yard bomb to Aaron Dobson and a 57-yard throw to Danny Amendola. Somehow, some way everything came together as three Patriots had more than 100-yard receiving days.

"When Gronk [Rob Gronkowski] plays like that and can produce like that and Danny [Amendola] does that and Aaron [Dobson] does that and the backs do that and the line blocks, it's a good way to play football," Brady said. "There were a lot of guys that played really well and that's what it's going to take, I think, as the season goes. We have to keep getting better. It's been a process for us, but at the bye week, 7-2 is not bad. Hopefully our best football is ahead of us."

The one person he didn't mention was himself. When he does what he did, showing off the accuracy that has been the hallmark of his career, it doesn't matter who his receivers are. The Patriots are dominant with that Tom Brady at the helm.

2. It matters who runs the ball and why -- Stevan Ridley was the featured running back for the Patriots Sunday and that's a good thing. As much as Bill Belichick says he appreciates the hard running from both Ridley and LeGarrette Blount, it's Ridley who moves the chains and makes things happen. With a season-high 115 yards rushing and two touchdowns, it makes you wonder what the fascination is with Blount, particularly when the big back is featured more than the explosive one.

On Sunday, it made more sense than ever to feed Ridley the ball given Pittsburgh has the 29th-ranked rushing defense. Belichick was asked about Ridley, who had a season-high 26 carries, but also asked about the decision to run the ball more.

"No, we made a conscious effort to win," he said. "That's what we try to do every week is win. That's what we're here for, is to win. We're not here to produce stats or do any of that stuff. We're here to win. That's what our job is, to win."

Again, it should be noted that it is no secret that the Steelers' run defense stinks. The Patriots compiled 197 yards, another season-high, on what was an obvious weakness for Pittsburgh. So when Belichick says the team "made a conscious effort to win," it only makes sense when you look at the rushing numbers.

3. More injuries to worry about -- It must have been quite a scare to see defensive end Rob Ninkovich leave the game with a knee injury. While he returned to the sideline, in the second half, he didn't finish the game. Afterward, he said he'll be alright, but you can't help but worry about his health regardless.

Given the season-ending injuries to Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly, losing Ninkovich would be brutal for a defensive line that's already had to trade for one player and utilize two rookies.

And lest we forget, Kelly's final words in the locker room were that he was going to be OK as well.

Steve Gregory also suffered a thumb injury and had to leave the field with his hand covered by a towel. Along with Devin McCourty, he's been a stable force for the Patriots back deep. But his departure has allowed for rookie Duron Harmon to step in and do well.

4. First impression -- Isaac Sopoaga made his debut for the Patriots starting at defensive tackle. It was just less than a week after he had been traded to the team from the Philadelphia Eagles. But he was able to record a pass defensed in his first game as a Patriot, almost turning it into an interception.

For him, what one would normally characterize as a whirlwind week has been something he almost relishes. He was asked about being thrown into the fire so quickly.

"It is all in your mind and in your heart," Sopoaga said. "It's your choice. If you really want it, you have to do it. There is no other chance. And then I'm so honored and so blessed for coach Bill [Belichick] to trust me. And then for myself, I got to repay that respect back. It's a good thing, good feeling.

Asked about what it's like after his first game in New England while wearing a throwback Philadelphia 76ers jersey (Moses Malone), he said he feels good.

"I feel … I feel … I feel like a winner."

5. Aaron Dobson -- Over the past few weeks, Dobson has played markedly better. The work he has done to improve really stood on Sunday, as he exploded for 130 yards on five receptions, catching an 81-yard bomb that embarrassed the Steelers' defense. Brady had sought to connect with Dobson on deep passes before, but there was always something that threw a wrench in the play, whether it was a good defensive play, a drop, or an errant throw. Not this time.

"It feels good, all the hard work and to have an outcome in a game like that, you know is big and it feels good to have the confidence going into the bye week," said Dobson.

Dobson's play was phenomenal and it represents what the Patriots have done up until this point of the season -- inconsistent and erratic before becoming settled and now explosive. And like Dobson, there's an increased optimism what's in store.

Zuri Berry can be reached at zberry@boston.com. Follow him on Twitter @zuriberry and on Google+.

A rundown of the Patriots' phenomenal offensive performance

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff November 3, 2013 09:09 PM
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FOXBOROUGH -- The Patriots didn't just beat the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday, they obliterated their AFC opponent.

In a 55-31 win, the Patriots saw season-highs in several offensive categories, including points scored, total yards (610), and first downs (33).

Individually, several players saw record performances and season-highs. Rob Gronkowski caught a career-high nine passes for 143 yards and a touchdown. Danny Amendola caught four passes for 122 yards, a season-high, and his first touchdown from Tom Brady. And rookie Aaron Dobson caught five passes for 130 yards and two touchdowns, making it his first 100-yard receiving game and first multiple-touchdown game.

It was the first time the Patriots finished with three receivers with more than 100 yards in a game in team history.

Stevan Ridley had his first 100-yard rushing game of the season, carrying the ball 26 times for 115 yards and two scores. It was also the first time he had recorded more than 20 carries in a game this season.

And Brady, who was at his most spectacular, finished 23 of 33 passing for 432 yards and four touchdowns. He had a 151.8 quarterback rating.

"It feels good," Brady said. "They don't always go like that. That was a fun day. It was good execution. I think for the most part, that was our best day of execution. You don't wake up in the morning and think they're going to be like that. That was pretty sweet."

Vote: Which Patriot gets game ball vs. Steelers?

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff November 3, 2013 08:51 PM

Time to cast your vote for which Patriots player deserves special recognition for Sunday's win over the Steelers at Gillette Stadium.


Which Patriot gets the game ball for win over Steelers?

Patriots honor Red Sox at Gillette

Posted by Julian Benbow, Globe Staff November 3, 2013 05:43 PM

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FOXBOROUGH – The introduction was a little more intense than Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester might have been used to.

Fresh off their rolling rally through Boston on Saturday, Gillette Stadium was the latest stop on the Red Sox’ World Series victory tour, and before the Patriots and Steelers kicked things off, the Sox got the full NFL experience.

The walked out through the tunnel. Their names blared through the speakers.

Sox owner John Henry, pitchers Clay Buchholz and Felix Doubront and shortstop Stephen Drew all graciously soaked up the praise from the packed crowd.

Then Jonny Gomes, in fire-engine red boots, rushed through the tunnel as if it was game day for him, too.

All he needed was pads.

“That's about par of the course for him, right?” Lester said. “I don't think really you expect anything less from him. You know he's going to enjoy every minute of it and probably do something that nobody else is going to do. I don't think it caught any of us by surprise.”

Between John McDonald, Will Middlebrooks, David Ross, Matt Thornton, Shane Victorino, and Lester, there were enough Sox to run a play or two if they wanted.

Some of them did.

"Trying to relive my heydays running out of a tunnel,” Victorino said. “I thought of those days when I was a good athlete. It's special to come out of that same tunnel Patriots players come out of, the likes of [Rob] Gronkowski, [Tom] Brady.

“I got to see coach for a little bit. That's what makes this opportunity, for me, special. Getting the opportunity to see winners when you take the field, to go out and walk that same tunnel.”

Lester was the last man out. He held the World Series trophy high over his head.

“You don't realize how far 50 yards is until you have to walk it with a trophy,” Lester said. “But it was pretty cool.”

Cheering from the sideline, the Patriots showed their mutual respect. Brady shook hands with Lester and Buchholz. Gomes and Gronkowski chatted each other up.

Lester then went to midfield to serve as an honorary captain during the coin toss.

“I know it's cool for us when these guys show up to Fenway when they win and the Celtics and the Bruins,” Lester said. “I think we spend so much time up here and a lot of the football guys live here, so I think it's like home for them. So you end up rooting for your hometown teams. So it's awesome to be a part of this and we thank these guys for inviting us over here and giving us a chance to experience this.”

With the Sox exercising their $13 million option on Lester’s contract for the 2014 season, Lester also has the luxury of being able to celebrate stress-free.

“The deadline was four days after the World Series, so you knew it wasn't going to get dragged on whether or not they were going to pick it up,” Lester said. “But I'm glad that it's over with and it's something that I don't have to worry about right now and then just enjoy the celebration. So a lot of positives on a lot of different ends. So it was good.”

For Lester, even though he was a part of the 2007 World Series team, these moments are especially memorable the second time around.

“I think a lot more this time than I learned that time,” he said. “Like I've kind of said from day 1 of this whole deal: In '07, I didn't really get a chance to enjoy it as much as this year. Just different circumstances, a different age, maturity level, all that.

“So for me to be able to do stuff like this today, it's a different part of my career where as in '07 I probably wouldn't have been asked to do something like this. It's a big, big difference, taking a couple extra days to stay in Boston and enjoy it and be around these guys and be around the fans.”

Kenbrell Thompkins, Aqib Talib inactive for Patriots against Steelers

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff November 3, 2013 03:11 PM

FOXBOROUGH – Patriots wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins is a healthy scratch for Sunday's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

This follows a week in which he played only 13 snaps on offense and the team increased the role of veteran free agent signee Austin Collie (32 snaps).

Starting cornerback Aqib Talib, who has been hampered with a hip injury, will miss his third straight game.

Also inactive for the Patriots were rookie WR Josh Boyce, RB Leon Washington (ankle), OL Chris Barker, DL Jake Bequette, and LB Steve Beauharnais.

Inactive for the Steelers: QB Landry Jones, WR Markus Wheaton, CB Curtis Brown, TE Richard Gordon, LB Kion Wilson, OG David DeCastro, and DT Hebron Fangupo.

Week 9 NFL picks

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff November 3, 2013 09:11 AM

FOXBOROUGH -- Missing Thursday's game by a mile, here are my Week 9 NFL picks.

(Thanks, Red Sox.)

Chiefs (-4) at Bills (+4) -- Alex Smith hadn't thrown a touchdown in three weeks before coming up with two against the Cleveland Browns. Slowing him was the last hope for opposing teams facing the top-ranked defense in the NFL (12.3 points allowed per game).
My pick: Chiefs

Falcons (+7.5) at Panthers (-7.5) -- The Panthers, sporting the second-ranked defense (13.7 points allowed per game), have exploded on offense in the past three weeks, scoring 30 or more points in wins against the Minnesota Vikings, St. Louis Rams, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
My pick: Panthers

Vikings (+10) at Cowboys (-10) -- The Vikings are expected to start Christian Ponder at quarterback.
My pick: Cowboys

FULL ENTRY

What to watch for as the Patriots host the Steelers

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff November 3, 2013 08:21 AM

FOXBOROUGH – Here's what we're watching today when the Patriots host the Steelers.

1. Tom Brady – The past few weeks have been anything but pretty for Brady. He's failed to throw a touchdown in two of the last four games and his completion percentage has dipped to a career-low 55.7 percent as a starter. Last week against the Miami Dolphins, he completed a season-low 13 passes. There are worries about Brady's hand and in turn his accuracy. If he can get through this week with at least a solid performance and a win, he can rest easy through the bye week at 7-2, a huge accomplishment for any team and any struggling quarterback.

2. Availability of Aqib Talib, others -- Talib (hip) is listed as questionable. He has practiced for the last two weeks, but has been limited in doing so. He would be a great help Sunday against a player of Emmanuel Sanders' speed and skill. There's also concern about Kyle Arrington and his groin injury. He's been limited the past few weeks. That's two of the team's top three corners. RB Leon Washington (ankle) is listed as questionable and seven others are listed as probable for Sunday's game.

3. Isaac Sopoaga – The Patriots' new defensive tackle, who was traded to the team earlier in the week, is expected to make his debut against the Steelers. As a defensive line player, he can easily be inserted and help inject some toughness up front for a team that has given up 156.5 yards rushing per game since Vince Wilfork was placed on injured reserve. We'll be watching his snap count and what situations he's asked to help in.

4. Marcus Cannon – The third-year offensive tackle will likely start in place of Sebastian Vollmer, who was placed on injured reserve earlier in the week. Cannon had stepped in for Vollmer after he went down in the Miami Dolphins game last week. He has also pitched in at right guard and left tackle this season, but has struggled in run blocking. In 56 passing plays, he has allowed only one total pressure on the quarterback. He'll get a more extensive showing Sunday against a good blitzing team.

5. Who's on first? – We've seen some changes to the wide receivers group with the return of Rob Gronkowski and the addition of Austin Collie, particularly after Collie contributed with two major catches in the game-winning drive against the New Orleans Saints. He started last week's game against the Dolphins in a three wide receiver set. Collie joined Amendola and Aaron Dobson as the starting receivers. Julian Edelman, who came off the bench, ended up having just as many snaps as Collie (32). But it was Kenbrell Thompkins, after beginning the year as the starting outside receiver, who saw his snap count dip to 13 plays. Dobson led all receivers with 49 plays. Meanwhile, Collie recorded no catches and was never targeted. Thompkins was targeted once.

So who gets the start this week? We'll wait and see.

Zuri Berry can be reached at zberry@boston.com. Follow him on Twitter @zuriberry and on Google+.

Getting to know...LeGarrette Blount

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff November 3, 2013 07:30 AM

FOXBOROUGH - When the Patriots traded RB/KR Jeff Demps (and a seventh-round pick) to the Buccaneers during draft weekend earlier this year, getting RB LeGarrette Blount in return, on the surface it looked to be an exchange of players neither team really wanted anymore.

Demps, a coveted free agent after returning from the 2012 Olympics, spent his rookie season on injured reserve then decided he wanted to postpone the NFL a bit longer and continue running track; Blount had been supplanted in Tampa Bay by Doug Martin, and the team deemed him expendable.

But Blount has stuck around in New England, playing in all eight games thus far, with 65 carries for 265 yards; he's also the team's primary kickoff returner.

In the locker room, he's one of the most talkative Patriots, always joking and laughing with teammates. He also, apparently, has a fondness for one-pot dinners...

Favorite meal: Hamburger Helper, cheeseburger macaroni. Easy, quick, and it tastes good.

First car: '93 Caprice Classic. My sophomore year in high school my mom found one for like $1000. It was an elderly couple that had it and they hadn't driven it for years and they wanted to get rid of it, and my mom bought it and brought it to school and surprised me with it. My mom actually wrecked it (after) I had her for the whole school year. And then I got another one my junior year, same car, just a different color. Got that for like $1500. [So you just like Caprices?] Yeah; I have one now. This is my third one, because I wrecked the second one.

First job: Playing in the NFL. I've never worked before until now. I made sure I played every sport so I didn't have to get a job.

What's in heavy rotation on your iPod: Drake. [You're the third straight guy to say that.] It just came out, that's probably why. Everyone is bumping that Drake album. That's in heavy rotation in the whole locker room.

Prized possession: A bracelet my mom got me for Christmas a couple of years ago. That's the only piece of jewelry that I wear. [It's special because it's from her?] Just because she gave it to me. I've had jewelry before, but I didn't really wear any of it. Then she gave me that.

Place I want to visit but haven't yet: I want to visit Dubai, and I want to go to Brazil.

If they made a movie about my life... I don't know what kind of movie it would be. It would have to be like 'The Program' or something. [Shane Vereen, from two lockers over: "'Finding Nemo'?" Then insists Blount has to pick a better movie than 'The Program.'] Ok, 'The Blind Side.' [The teammates laugh.]

Game 9 preview: Steelers at Patriots

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff November 3, 2013 07:26 AM

FOXBOROUGH – The Patriots are set to take on the Pittsburgh Steelers at Gillette Stadium on Sunday, but they do so after yet another player has suffered a season-ending injury.

Defensive tackle Tommy Kelly, placed on injured reserve Saturday with a knee injury, is the ninth Patriots player to be sidelined for the season. He joins starting right tackle Sebastian Vollmer, who met his season-ending fate last week after injuring his knee against the Miami Dolphins, linebacker Jerod Mayo, defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, and safety Adrian Wilson.

The Patriots also limp into Sunday's game with three players listed as questionable – cornerbacks Aqib Talib (hip) and Kyle Arrington (groin), and running back Leon Washington (ankle). Seven others are listed as probable.

The Steelers come into Sunday's game off a 21-18 loss to the Oakland Raiders despite holding quarterback Terrelle Pryor to 88 yards passing and forcing a season-high three turnovers. They are 2-5, winning against the New York Jets (19-6) and Baltimore Ravens (19-16).

Pittsburgh leads the all-time series with the Patriots 15-11 and the regular-season series 14-8, taking the last matchup Oct. 30, 2011 at Heinz Field 25-17.

But at Gillette Stadium, the Patriots are 2-1 against the black and gold. And Tom Brady is 6-2 overall vs. Pittsburgh.

Here are the details for today's game:

Kickoff: 4:25 p.m.

Records: Patriots 6-2; Steelers 2-5.

TV/Radio: CBS (Jim Nantz, Phil Simms); 98.5-FM The Sports Hub (Bob Socci, Scott Zolak) and ESPN Radio (Sean McDonough, Bill Polian, Ian Fitszimmons).

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

Patriots offense: WR Danny Amendola, LT Nate Solder, LG Logan Mankins, C Ryan Wendell, RG Dan Connolly, RT Marcus Cannon, TE Rob Gronkowski, WR Aaron Dobson, QB Tom Brady, RB Stevan Ridley, TE Michael Hoomanawanui.

Patriots defense: DT Joe Vellano, DT Chris Jones, DE Chandler Jones, DE Rob Ninkovich, LB Dont'a Hightower, LB Jamie Collins, LB Brandon Spikes, CB Alfonzo Dennard, CB Kyle Arrington, S Devin McCourty, S Steve Gregory.

Steelers offense: WR Emmanuel Sanders, LT Kelvin Beachum, LG Ramon Foster, C Fernando Velasco, RG Cody Wallace, RT Marcus Gilbert, TE Heath Miller, RB Le'Veon Bell, FB Will Johnson, QB Ben Roethlisberger, WR Antonio Brown.

Steelers defense: DE Cameron Heyward, NT Steve McLendon, DE Brett Keisel, LOLB LaMarr Woodley, LILB Vince Williams, RILB Lawrence Timmons, ROLB Jason Worilds, LCB William Gay, FS Ryan Clark, SS Troy Polamalu, RCB Ike Taylor.

Read this, link that

- The Patriots placed defensive tackle Tommy Kelly on injured reserve Saturday.

- Erik Frenz scouts the Steelers. He also takes a look at the matchup between Patriots right tackle Marcus Cannon and Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley.

- Follow today's game and comment on the action in our live blog. Updates start around 2:30 p.m.

Zuri Berry can be reached at zberry@boston.com. Follow him on Twitter @zuriberry and on Google+.

Patriots place DT Tommy Kelly on injured reserve

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff November 2, 2013 04:40 PM

The Patriots have placed DT Tommy Kelly (knee) on injured reserve, ending his season.

The 10th year veteran was injured against the Bengals in Week 5, returning to practice this week. He was on the field Wednesday and Thursday, though on a limited basis, but did not practice Friday, and the team declared him out for this week's game against Pittsburgh.

It was easy to surmise then that he had suffered a setback in his return; now, he'll be on the sidelines for the remainder of the Patriots' season.

In the moments after New England's defeat in Cincinnati, Kelly told a reporter in the locker room that he'd be fine, which unfortunately turned out not to be the case.

The loss of Kelly, which follows the loss of Vince Wilfork (Achilles) after the Atlanta game, makes the Patriots' acquisition of Isaac Sopoaga at the trade deadline this week all the more important. Sopoaga is an interior run-stopper, and while the team's rookie D-linemen, Joe Vellano and Chris Jones, have done an admirable job since being thrust into larger roles, Jones in particular has struggled against the run.

As a team, New England has allowed 156.5 rushing yards per game over its previous four games, dropping the team to the 31st-ranked run defense in the NFL.

Kelly signed a two-year contract with New England in the spring. Though he fit in quickly and played well when healthy, his base salary next year is $1.95 million; that might be more than the Patriots are willing to pay for a 33-year old D-tackle coming off knee injury.

Kelly becomes the 8th player on injured reserve for the Patriots, though RB Shane Vereen, who has returned to practice, was designated for return and is eligible to be activated to the roster in Week 10.

New England promoted OL Josh Kline off the practice squad to fill the open roster spot created by the move with Kelly.

Friday injury report: Kelly won't play Sunday

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff November 1, 2013 04:08 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Defensive tackle Tommy Kelly didn't practice Friday and won't play against the Steelers Sunday. He has been ruled out by the Patriots with a knee injury.

Tom Brady, who was mistakenly listed by the team under full participation during Thursday's practice -- the Patriots sent a correction Friday morning saying Brady was limited -- is probable. He was listed as a full participant Friday.

Three Patriots are questionable: cornerbacks Kyle Arrington (groin) and Aqib Talib (hip), and running back Leon Washington (ankle). Everyone else on the injury report is probable.

For the Patriots:
Out:
DL Tommy Kelly (knee)

Questionable:
CB Kyle Arrington (groin)
CB Aqib Talib (hip)
RB Leon Washington (ankle)

Probable:
WR Danny Amendola (groin)
RB Brandon Bolden (knee)
OL Marcus Cannon (shoulder)
WR Julian Edelman (thigh)
TE Rob Gronkowski (back/forearm/hamstring)
QB Tom Brady (right shoulder)
WR Matthew Slater (wrist)

For the Steelers:
Out:
CB Curtis Brown (not injury-related)
G David DeCastro (ankle)
WR Markus Wheaton (finger)

Probable:
G Ramon Foster (concussion)
DT Steve McLendon (illness)
TE Heath Miller (not injury-related)
QB Ben Roethlisberger (not injury-related)
LB Lawrence Timmons (hand)
G Guy Whimper (knee)

Belichick congratulates Sox, talks '04 draft, Dobson

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff November 1, 2013 12:17 PM

FOXBOROUGH - "Another championship banner in Boston. Congratulations to the Red Sox. That’s great, that’s awesome."

That's how Bill Belichick opened his Friday morning press conference, before heading out to the Dana-Farber Fieldhouse for his team's final full practice of the week in advance of their Week 9 game against the Steelers.

The Patriots' coach offered encouraging words on the progress of second-round pick Aaron Dobson, who has 13 receptions over his last three games, doubling his total from the first four games of the season (he was inactive for the opener against Buffalo).

"I think you’re really seeing a good day-by-day consistency, on and off the field," Belichick said. "On the field, in the weight room, his conditioning, in the classroom, walkthroughs, all that. He’s focused and he just keeps improving. I think it’s a very steady incline. I don’t think it’s been one – obviously you can point to a couple plays – but I think his overall improvement has been very steady and consistent.

"And he’s tough. He’s taken some hits. He’s fought through some bumps and bruises and he stays out there and keeps going and gets through it. That helps because you learn but you can’t really improve [by] watching. You have to go out there and do it and get the timing and execution with your teammates and he fights through and does it."

Veteran DT Isaac Sopoaga became the third defensive lineman from the 2004 rookie class to join the Patriots when the team acquired him via trade earlier in the week, joining injured Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly.

Belichick said the Patriots had a great deal of interest in Sopoaga, but he was scooped up by the 49ers before New England could draft him.

"We talked about taking him and we were going to take him, and we were just a round late. But we’d already taken Vince [Wilfork] obviously," Belichick said. "But you can never have too many defensive linemen. That was kind of the conversation. He was right there; we were ready to take him. We said, ‘Well, you know, we can get him one round earlier.’ We’d already taken a couple guys and we probably waited a little bit too long on that one."

He went on to say that given how Sopoaga's career has played out, he was quite the fourth-round pick and could have gone in the first or second round in retrospect.

Conversely, Kelly is a player Belichick admitted he knew little about.

"I think Tommy Kelly was off a lot of people’s radar. I’ve talked to Mike Lombardi about him because of course he had him out in Oakland [Kelly signed with the Raiders as an undrafted rookie]," he said. "He was kind of a guy that really slipped through the cracks. I know when Mike took him out there, he was thinking it was a, ‘We’ll take a shot at him’ kind of thing. I’d say it was a great find by Mike. What a career Tommy has had from being an undrafted guy. He’s had an excellent career.

"I think Mike really found him and then once he started playing, then everyone in the league could see he was a pretty good player. I wish we had seen him or been able to see what Mike saw because really there wasn’t any action on him. Then once everybody saw him play, it was like, ‘Oh my God, how did we miss this guy?’"

Belichick was asked about Rob Gronkowski's health - in addition to his back and forearm, the team is also listing the tight end with a hamstring injury this week - but only said the Patriots will list things on their injury report "the way we see it."

Week 9: Friday practice peek - Kelly not spotted

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff November 1, 2013 11:02 AM

FOXBOROUGH – After returning to practice on a limited basis Wednesday and Thursday, DT Tommy Kelly (knee) was not spotted during the media-access window of Patriots practice Friday morning.

If Kelly was unable to practice because of a setback to his knee, it would put his availability for Sunday against the Steelers in doubt.

All other players were present; practice uniform for the day was shells and shorts/sweats.

For the first time this season, the Patriots are practicing inside the Dana-Farber Fieldhouse. During his news conference, coach Bill Belichick said the windy conditions posed a safety hazard for team personnel who film practice from high on lifts, which is why things were moved indoors.

News, analysis and commentary from Boston.com's staff writers and contributors, including Zuri Berry and Erik Frenz.

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