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Bill Belichick declines to discuss Josh McDaniels/Browns interview

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff December 31, 2013 12:34 PM

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick chose not to say on Tuesday whether the team has given the Cleveland Browns permission to interview offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels for their vacant head coaching position.

Reports on Monday indicated that the Browns, who fired Rob Chudzinski on Sunday after one 4-12 season, had requested permission from the Patriots to speak with McDaniels.

Asked specifically if the team had granted the Browns permission, Belichick deferred.

"I’m not going to get into any of that, the procedures are in place with the league and so forth, so any comments on that I don’t think are appropriate, so I won’t make any," Belichick said.

Since the Patriots have a first-round playoff bye, McDaniels would be allowed to interview this week with another team, so long as his current employer gives the OK.

McDaniels is a native of northeast Ohio, and was the head coach of the Denver Broncos for parts of two seasons (2009-10) before getting fired. Back with the Patriots for a second stint, McDaniels directed an offense that scored 444 points, fifth-most in franchise history.

LeGarrette Blount named AFC Offensive Player of the Week

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff December 31, 2013 10:42 AM

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Not surprisingly, running back LeGarrette Blount was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week on Tuesday after he shattered the Patriots record for all-purpose yards in Sunday's win over Buffalo.

It’s the first time in his four-year career he's won the award. Blount rushed for 189 yards on 24 carries and scored two touchdowns in the 34-20 victory.

Blount had a strong case for also winning AFC Special Teams Player of the Week, since he returned second-half kickoffs 83 and 62 yards against the Bills. But that honor went to former Patriot Adam Vinatieri, who kicked three field goals for the Colts in their 30-10 win over Jacksonville.

Blount became just the third player in NFL history to rush for at least 180 yards and have at least 100 kickoff return yards in the same game, joining Gale Sayers and Adrian Peterson. He's the second Patriots player this season to win the weekly AFC offensive award. Tom Brady was recognized after the Patriots erased a 24-0 halftime deficit and beat the Broncos in Week 12.

Blount's 334 all-purpose yards broke the franchise record of 273, previously set by Larry Gannon in 1962.

Patriots shuffle practice squad

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff December 30, 2013 05:00 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- The Patriots announced Monday that they had signed offensive lineman R.J. Mattes and linebacker Taylor Reed to the practice squad.

This is the third time this year that Mattes, a 6-foot-6-inch, 315-pound undrafted rookie out of North Carolina State, has been with the team, following a short stint in May and another that lasted from June 3 to Aug. 24.

Reed, listed at 5-11, 236 pounds, spent training camp with the Cowboys and then some time on their practice squad in November; he is a rookie from Southern Methodist.

The Patriots also released offensive lineman R.J. Dill from the practice squad.

The moves mean the team has one open spot on the eight-man squad.

Cleveland Browns want to interview Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels

Posted by Robert Burgess December 30, 2013 03:58 PM

83ff7b6f144a4260a4a17cdbc91ef378-83ff7b6f144a4260a4a17cdbc91ef378-0.jpgThe Browns have requested to interview Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels for the Cleveland head coaching job, according to a Boston Globe source.

McDaniels worked for the Patriots from 2001-08 and returned to New England in 2011 after stints in Denver and St. Louis.

Ben Volin, the Patriots writer for the Boston Globe, said an interview would have to be completed before the end of Sunday's NFL wild-card game action. He said it is unclear if the Patriots have granted permission for McDaniels to interview with other teams.

Cleveland’s front office fired Browns coach Rob Chudzinski Sunday night just hours after a loss in Pittsburgh ended his first season with a seven-game losing streak and a 4-12 record.

McDaniels is from Ohio, but he rejected similar interest from the Browns this time last year.

NFL.com's Albert Breer was skeptical that McDaniels would leave, saying on Twitter: "A big reason McDaniels went back to Patriots was to create stability for his family. He has 4 young kids, is paid well, likes New England."

Tom Brady told WEEI on Monday he doesn't want McDaniels to leave.

"I hope he doesn't go anywhere," Brady said. "I'd love for him to coach me the rest of my life."

Tickets for Patriots playoff game go on sale Monday, Jan. 6

Posted by Robert Burgess December 30, 2013 02:15 PM

Tickets for the Patriots' divisional playoff game at Gillette Stadium will go on sale Monday, Jan. 6.

By then, the Patriots will know whether they are hosting the Benglas, Colts, or Chiefs at 8:15 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 11.

The Patriots earned a bye after defeating the Bills last weekend. Their competition will face off in wild-card games this weekend.

A limited number of tickets for the game will go on sale through Ticketmaster, and the public can order them (from ticketmaster.com or at 800-745-3000) starting at 10 a.m.

Only Visa debit or credit card purchases will be accepted.

There will be a four-ticket limit per person.

Individual ticket prices range from $100 to $230.

Bill Belichick was surprised Logan Mankins returned to Sunday's game

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff December 30, 2013 10:37 AM
The day after the Patriots' 34-20 victory over Buffalo in the regular-season finale, coach Bill Belichick reflected briefly on Sunday's game before turning his focus to the future.

"Again, as I said yesterday, it was a good team win for us," Belichick said in his day-after conference call with the media. "We had contributions in all three phases, contributions from a lot of people. The conditions were challenging, but that's part of the game and I thought we dealt with them, not perfectly, but we took advantage of some opportunities. At this point we've got to turn the page, move ahead. There are certainly things we need to work on as a football team."

There are three teams the Patriots could face in the Divisional round - No. 3 Cincinnati, No. 4 Indianapolis or No. 5 Kansas City - but they won't know who exactly will be making the trip to Gillette Stadium for a Jan. 11 game until Sunday afternoon, after the Bengals-Chargers game.

Because of that, it sounds like the coaching staff will spend little, if any, time with players discussing the strengths and weaknesses of those teams, since time spent on two of those three teams would essentially be time wasted.

"First things first will be getting through this [Buffalo] game, and the Baltimore game - we never really cleaned up some things from that game (because of last week's schedule with the Christmas holiday)," Belichick said. "We have some familiarity with Cincinnati obviously [the teams met in Week 5], but not with Kansas City and not with Indianapolis, at least not this year. So we have to make some determinations as to how to organize our preparation and so forth.

"For right now, our focus is trying to get through the Buffalo, and to a certain extent, the Baltimore game, and take care of our house. Regardless of who we play, we have to get some things straightened out and adjusted ... I think it starts with the Patriots."

Belichick praised offensive lineman Logan Mankins, who had to be helped off the field Sunday – he was limping gingerly with what the team called an ankle injury – and went into the locker room. But he returned to the field, to the surprise of even Belichick.

But considering Mankins played through a torn knee ligament a couple of years ago, maybe it's not so surprising after all.

"First of all, I agree with Tom (Brady) in terms of Logan's toughness – I've coached a lot of tough guys, none that I would put ahead of him. Maybe on the same level, but none ahead," Belichick said, referencing comments Brady made after the game Sunday. "If Logan needed help off the field ... it was definitely a concerning moment. When (head trainer Jim) Whelan came and told me 'Logan's back,' I was a little bit surprised to hear that.

"But he's a tough individual, physically and mentally tough."

Much has been made about the adversity the Patriots have weathered this season, with players who weren't expected to be key parts of the roster when the season began – DTs Joe Vellano and Chris Jones, RB LeGarrette Blount, CB Logan Ryan, and to a lesser extent (at least on the expectations scale), WR Julian Edelman – becoming key contributors.

Belichick talked about roster building, and noted that all of those players ended up in New England in a different way.

"Some of the guys mentioned – draft choices [Ryan], college free agents [Vellano], waiver-wire pickups like Chris Jones, trades like for LeGarrette, veteran signings, or re-signings in the case of Edelman – those are all the ways to build your team," Belichick said. "I think in the offseason what we try to do with the coaching staff, with Nick Caserio and his staff, is try to build the team.

"It's so hard to know how it's all going to turn out. You have some kind of idea what a player can bring to your team, but how the team's going to come together, you don't know ... It's a long process."

5 takeaways from the Patriots' second game against the Bills

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff December 30, 2013 12:29 AM

FOXBOROUGH -- The Patriots finish the season on a strong note, downing the Buffalo Bills, 34-20, while securing a first-round bye in the playoffs.

Now, the Patriots can rest up and get healthy for their next opponent, either the Indianapolis Colts, Cincinnati Bengals, or Kansas City Chiefs.

Here are our five takeaways from the game:

1. Bullish on Blount -- It's not too often that one player can affect a game so dramatically in at least two phases, offense and special teams. LeGarrette Blount, with his punishing running style and ability to gain yardage after contact, ran for a career-high 189 yards on 24 carries and added 145 return yards for a team-record 334 all-purpose yards.

FULL ENTRY

NFL wild card, divisional playoff schedule released

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff December 29, 2013 10:10 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- The Patriots will play their first postseason game at 8:15 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 11 against the Indianapolis Colts, Kansas City Chiefs, or Cincinnati Bengals.

The NFL released the wild card and divisional round playoff schedule Sunday evening.

Here's the schedule:

Wild card playoffs

Saturday Jan. 4

AFC: 4:35 p.m. (ET) -- Chiefs at Colts (NBC)
NFC: 8:10 p.m. (ET) -- Saints at Eagles/Cowboys (NBC)

Sunday Jan. 5

AFC: 1:05 p.m. (ET) -- Chargers at Bengals (CBS)
NFC: 4:40 p.m. (ET) -- 49ers at Packers (FOX)

Divisional playoffs

Saturday Jan. 11

NFC: 4:35 p.m. (ET) Packers/49ers/Saints at Seahawks (FOX)
AFC: 8:15 p.m. (ET) Bengals/Colts/Chiefs at Patriots (CBS)

Sunday Jan. 12

NFC: 1:05 p.m. (ET) Eagles/Cowboys/Packers/49ers at Panthers (FOX)
AFC: 4:40 p.m. (ET) Colts/Chiefs/Chargers at Broncos (CBS)

2014 NFL playoffs schedule

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff December 29, 2013 10:09 PM

The Patriots will face the Chiefs, Colts, or Bengals in the divisional round of the playoffs on Jan. 11 at Gillette Stadium at 8:15 p.m..

Here's the full NFL playoff schedule for 2014:

Wild-Card Round
Saturday, Jan. 4
Colts 45, Chiefs 44
Saints 26, Eagles 24

Sunday, Jan. 5
Chargers 27, Bengals 10
49ers 23, Packers 20

Divisional Round
Saturday, Jan. 11
Saints at Seahawks, 4:35 p.m., FOX
Colts at Patriots, 8:15 p.m., CBS

Sunday, Jan. 12
49ers at Panthers, 1:05 p.m., FOX
Chargers at Broncos, 4:40 p.m., CBS

Conference championships
Sunday, Jan. 19, times TBA

Super Bowl
Sunday, Feb. 2, MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J., 6:30 p.m.

Julian Edelman crosses 100-reception, 1,000-yard plateau

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff December 29, 2013 09:37 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman caught nine passes for 65 yards Sunday against the Buffalo Bills, giving him 105 receptions and 1,056 receiving yards this season.

In crossing the 100-reception threshold, he became the third Patriot wide receiver in franchise history to do so, joining Wes Welker and Troy Brown.

"I mean, it's cool and everything, but you really go out and you play for other things, like playing in the last game of the year and winning that game," Edelman said. "We put ourselves in an opportunity to go one step closer to that. It is definitely kind of cool, just with the road; it's been a crazy road. It's definitely been kind of cool."

Edelman's 1,000-yard season makes him the 10th player in Patriots history to hit the mark. It's the first time in his five-year career he's played all 16 games after coming out of Kent State as a quarterback.

"I don't think there's ever any question about Julian's skills or his toughness or his competitiveness," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "This is the year he's been able to stay on the field and certainly his production has paralleled his time on the field. He's done a good job with his opportunities. He always practices hard, plays hard, prepares well.

"He's always a tough guy you can count on from that standpoint and this year he's been healthy."

Watch: Tom Brady punts for Patriots

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff December 29, 2013 09:26 PM

Yes, that was indeed Patriots quarterback Tom Brady kicking a punt in Sunday's 34-20 victory over the Bills.

On third and 32 in the third quarter, with the Patriots at their own 46, Brady took the snap and booted it 32 yards. The Bills' Jim Leonhard fair-caught it at the Buffalo 22.

Click full entry to see the video of the play.

FULL ENTRY

Watch: LeGarrette Blount highlights

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff December 29, 2013 08:52 PM

What a game for LeGarrette Blount. The Patriots running back had 24 carries for 189 yards and two touchdowns, and also returned two kickoffs for 145 more yards.

Watch video highlights of his big day.

FULL ENTRY

Blount carries Patriots on his back in win over Buffalo Bills

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff December 29, 2013 08:30 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Running back LeGarrette Blount accounted for a franchise record 334 all-purpose yards Sunday as the Patriots beat the Buffalo Bills in their regular season finale, 34-20.

Blount ran for 189 yards -- the most by a Patriots player since 1998 -- and returned two kickoffs for 145 yards to lead the Patriots over the Bills. He had touchdown runs of 36 and 35 yards.

FULL ENTRY

Survey: Which opponent do you want for Patriots in first playoff game?

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff December 29, 2013 08:25 PM

It would be ridiculous to do our usual game ball survey this week after the effort by running back LeGarrette Blount (189 yards, 2 TDs, 145 kick-return yards) in the Patriots' 34-20 victory over the Bills on Sunday.

Instead we'll go right ahead and look at which opponent you'd like to see the Patriots face in the divisional round Jan. 11 or 12. The Patriots can't face the Chargers that weekend because if the sixth-seeded Chargers survive a first-round matchup vs. the Bengals, they'd be locked in to face the top-seeded Broncos


Which team do you want to see the Patriots face in the divisional round of the playoffs?

Logan Mankins, Aaron Dobson injured in Patriots-Bills game

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff December 29, 2013 05:15 PM
Offensive lineman Logan Mankins and receiver Aaron Dobson were both injured in the first half of the Patriots' game Sunday vs. the Buffalo Bills.

Both were taken to the locker room for treatment and listed by the team as questionable to return to the game, although Mankins returned to action after missing just one Patriots possession.

Dobson pulled up on a deep route and appeared to be limping as he headed to the sideline. The Patriots announced he had a foot injury. Dobson had missed the first three three games of December with a foot injury before returning to action last week vs. the Ravens.

Mankins was helped from the field after being injured on a play on which LeGarrette Blount scored on a 36-yard touchdown run. The Patriots said he had an ankle injury. Josh Kline played left guard while Mankins was out.

Patriots clinch playoffs bye as second seed in AFC

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff December 29, 2013 04:08 PM

FOXBOROUGH – The Patriots clinched the second seed in the AFC playoffs and a first-round bye by virtue of their 34-20 victory over the Buffalo Bills Sunday.

The Patriots will face the Chiefs, Colts, or Bengals in the divisional round of the playoffs on Jan. 11 at Gillette Stadium at 8:15 p.m..

The Denver Broncos are the No. 1 seed and earned the other first-round bye after crushing the Raiders in Sunday.

The Wild-Card Round games are as follows:
Saturday, Jan. 4
Chargers at Colts, 4:35 p.m., NBC
Saints at Cowboys/Eagles winner, 8:10 p.m., NBC

Sunday, Jan. 5
Chargers at Bengals, 1:05 p.m., CBS
49ers at Packers, 4:40 p.m., Fox

The Divisional Round games are as follows
Saturday, Jan. 11
TBA at Seahawks, 4:35 p.m., FOX
TBA at Patriots, 8:15 p.m., CBS

Sunday, Jan. 12
TBA at Panthers, 1:05 p.m., FOX
TBA at Broncos, 4:40 p.m., CBS

The Chargers secured the final playoff spot with an overtime win over the Chiefs, who rested many of their starters, including quarterback Alex Smith.

The Colts beat the Jacksonville Jaguars 30-10 Sunday and the Bengals beat the Ravens 34-17 to keep New England's Sunday afternoon game against the Buffalo Bills interesting, but the Patriots controlled their own destiny. They could have fallen to the No. 4 seed with a loss.

The AFC Seeds are as follows:
1. Broncos (13-3)
2. Patriots (12-4)
3. Bengals (11-5)
4. Colts (11-5)
5. Chiefs (11-5)
6. Chargers (9-7)

Alfonzo Dennard, Devin McCourty out for Patriots against Bills

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff December 29, 2013 03:16 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Patriots defensive backs Alfonzo Dennard and Devin McCourty are both inactive for the Patriots Sunday against the Buffalo Bills.

Dennard has been battling knee and shoulder injuries. He was listed as questionable for the game after having limited participation in practice all week. McCourty had suffered a concussion against the Baltimore Ravens last week. He had not participated in practice.

Also inactive for the is WR Josh Boyce, who has missed the past two games with an ankle injury. Patriots DT Isaac Sopoaga, LB Steve Beauharnais, DE Jake Bequtte, and OL Chris Barker are all healthy scratches Sunday's game as well.

The Bills will not have quarterback E.J. Manuel active on Sunday's roster. He had been listed as doubtful with a knee injury. Also inactive for Buffalo is WR Stevie Johnson (not injury related), S Aaron Williams (ribs), WR Cordell Roberson, RB Ronnie Wingo, DB Brandon Smith, OG Mark Asper, and OG Antoine McClain.

What to watch for as the Patriots host the Bills

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff December 29, 2013 08:55 AM

FOXBOROUGH -- The Patriots' history of dominance over the Buffalo Bills should play no part in planning for this week's matchup, which holds the added caveat of having playoff implications in the AFC.

The team has said as much this week, and players have set themselves up mentally to go out and earn the win, including a first-round bye, and possibly home field advantage throughout the playoffs. That's their motivation.

But how do they get there? Here's a few things we're watching that will help the Patriots achieve that goal.

1. Dealing with the two-headed monster -- The Patriots will have to contain running backs Fred Jackson (836 rushing yards, 8 TDs) and C.J. Spiller (822 rushing yards, 2 TDs). The duo have helped the Bills become the second best rushing offense in the league (142.5 yards per game), a source of strength for a team that has had to deal with a fluctuating cast of quarterbacks under center. The Patriots are allowing 131.7 yards per game on the ground. Run stuffers Brandon Spikes (85 tackles) and Dont'a Hightower (91 tackles) will have to be on top of their game.

2. Containing Thad Lewis -- Bills quarterback Thad Lewis, while not as well regarded as a runner as E.J. Manuel, is still well respected by the Patriots for his ability to scramble. He has only 22 carries for 48 yards (2.2 ypc) and a touchdown. The Patriots have done a good job of limiting the movement of quarterbacks of late, especially after the fiasco in Carolina.

3. Maintaining vigilance -- The Bills will be without starting wide receiver Stevie Johnson, who is in California following the death of his mother. He has been the focal point of the Patriots' pass defense for the past four seasons when facing Buffalo. But without him, the Bills still have a bevy of receivers that require quite a bit of attention, including rookie Robert Woods (39 receptions, 560 yards, 3 TDs). Woods caught a 18-yard touchdown against the Patriots in their first matchup. And then there's tight end Scott Chandler, who leads the Bills in receiving with 50 catches for 600 yards. T.J. Graham and Marquise Goodwin have combined for 36 receptions and 560 yards. Running back Fred Jackson also plays prominently in the passing game. He has caught 44 passes on 61 targets. The Patriots, who will likely have rookie Duron Harmon at safety in place of Devin McCourty, are the 18th-ranked pass defense in the NFL. They'll have to get good performances out of Harmon and their linebackers against this talented group.

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

Game 16 preview: Bills at Patriots

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff December 29, 2013 08:45 AM

FOXBOROUGH -- When the Patriots close out the regular season on Sunday against the Buffalo Bills, their sights will be set on a first-round playoff bye.

With a win against the Bills (6-9), the Patriots will guarantee themselves a first-round bye and put the team in contention for the No. 1 seed in the playoffs. They need the win and the Denver Broncos to fall to the Oakland Raiders to make that happen, though.

The Patriots beat the Bills 23-21 in the season opener with Stephen Gostkowski making a 35-yard game-winning field goal in the fourth quarter.

Tom Brady is 11-0 against the Bills at Gillette Stadium and the Patriots have won 19 of their past 20 games against Buffalo. Bill Belichick is 24-3 vs. the Bills while with the Patriots.

The Bills will be without starting quarterback E.J. Manuel, who has a knee injury. Backup Thad Lewis will get the start. He is 2-2 as a starter this season for the Bills.

Buffalo will also be without wide receiver Stevie Johnson (not injury related) and safety Aaron Williams (ribs).

The Patriots will make do without wide receiver Josh Boyce (ankle) while safety Devin McCourty (concussion) is listed as doubtful. McCourty has not practiced all week.

Here are the details for the game:

Kickoff: 4:25 p.m.

Records: Patriots 11-4; Bills 6-9.

TV, radio: CBS (Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts); 98.5 FM The Sports Hub (Bob Socci, Scott Zolak).

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

Patriots offense: WR Aaron Dobson, LT Logan Mankins, LG Josh Kline, C Ryan Wendell, RG Dan Connolly, RT Marcus Cannon, TE Michael Hoomanawanui, WR Julian Edelman, QB Tom Brady, RB LeGarrette Blount, WR Danny Amendola.

Patriots defense: LE Rob Ninkovich, DT Sealver Siliga, DT Chris Jones, DE Chandler Jones, LB Dont'a Hightower, LB Brandon Spikes, LB Jamie Collins, CB Aqib Talib, CB Alfonzo Dennard, S Duron Harmon, S Steve Gregory.

Bills offense: WR Robert Woods, LT Cordy Glenn, LG Doug Legursky, C Eric Wood, RG Kraig Urbik, RT Erik Pears, TE Scott Chandler, QB Thad Lewis, RB Fred Jackson, FB Frank Summers, WR TJ Graham.

Bills defense: DE Alan Branch, DT Kyle Williams, DT Marcell Dareus, DE Mario Williams, SLB Manny Lawson, MLB Kiko Alonso, WLB Nigel Bradham, LCB Leodis McKelvin, SS Aaron Williams, FS Jairus Byrd, RCB Stephon Gilmore.

Get linked

- Here are the Week 17 playoff scenarios for the Patriots and the rest of the NFL.

- Erik Frenz scouted the Bills in Going Deep. He also writes that the Patriots should feed Stevan Ridley vs. the Bills.

- 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 17 NFL picks

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff December 29, 2013 04:17 AM

With an eye on playoff implications, here are the Week 17 NFL picks. As always, picks are against the spread.

Panthers (-7) at Falcons (+7) -- The Panthers (11-4) can clinch the NFC South and a first-round bye with a win over the Falcons (4-11). The last time these two teams played, the Panthers forced four turnovers, Cam Newton threw one touchdown and ran for another in a 34-10 win for Carolina. Despite playing at the Georgia Dome, where the Panthers are 0-5 against Matt Ryan's Falcons, this one looks like it's going to be solidly in Carolina's favor.
My pick: Panthers

Ravens (+7) at Bengals (-7) -- The Bengals (10-5) are 7-0 at home and have the opportunity to clinch a first-round bye with a win and a Patriots loss to the Buffalo Bills. The Ravens (8-7) have won four of their last five games, losing last week to the Patriots 41-7. They lost to the Bengals 20-17 in overtime Nov. 10 and are quite banged up heading into the last week of the season. Arthur Jones (concussion), Elvis Dumervil (ankle), Ray Rice (thigh), and Torrey Smith (thigh) are all questionable for the game. But John Harbaugh's Ravens are 7-4 against this division opponent. Expect it to be close, but the game goes to the Bengals.
My pick: Ravens

Jaguars (+11) at Colts (-11) -- The Colts (10-5) hope to get a first-round bye in the playoffs, but they need quite a bit of help. First, they need to beat the Jaguars (4-11) and then the Colts need the Patriots to lose and the Bengals to lose or tie. Still, that's more than enough motivation against a hapless Jacksonville team that's lost its past two games after winning three straight.
My pick: Colts

FULL ENTRY

Four Patriots named to Pro Bowl

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff December 27, 2013 09:03 PM

The NFL announced the 2013 Pro Bowl selections on Friday night, and New England had four players among the 85 recognized: QB Tom Brady, OG Logan Mankins, CB Aqib Talib and ST Matthew Slater.

This is the fifth consecutive time Brady has been selected, and his ninth overall, tying Hall of Fame guard John Hannah for most in franchise history. Despite numerous changes among the Patriots’ offensive skill players from 2012, Brady has led New England to its 11th division title in the last 13 years, and has 4,221 yards with 24 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

This is also the fifth consecutive Pro Bowl nod for Mankins, and his sixth overall. The veteran has flashed his versatility in recent weeks, sliding from his customary left guard spot to left tackle in place of injured Nate Solder.

Slater earned his third straight selection. Despite missing four games with a broken thumb and constantly drawing double-teams, he is second on the Patriots in special-teams tackles, with 13.

This is the first selection for Talib, who has been hampered for several weeks with a hip injury. He was outstanding over the first third of the season and has been playing returning to form in recent weeks as he continues to recover. He has four interceptions, and under the terms of his contract, the Pro Bowl honor earned him a $500,000 bonus.

S Devin McCourty, K Stephen Gostkowski and PR Julian Edelman have been among the best at their respective positions, but they were not selected, though they could be named as reserves.

Pro Bowlers are chosen by fans, players and league coaches, with the vote of each group counting for one-third of the total.

Rather than have players split by conference, this year, the NFL will hold a Pro Bowl “draft” on Jan. 22, with Hall of Famers Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders serving as team captains. They will select the players for their respective squads.

The Pro Bowl will be played Jan. 26 at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu. That is the Sunday prior to the Super Bowl, so any Pro Bowlers whose teams advance to the Super Bowl will not take part in the game.

The full list of Pro Bowlers:

Offense
Quarterback: Tom Brady, Patriots; Drew Brees, Saints; Peyton Manning, Broncos; Cam Newton, Panthers; Philip Rivers, Chargers; Russell Wilson, Seahawks.

Wide receiver: Antonio Brown, Steelers; Dez Bryant, Cowboys; Josh Gordon, Browns; A.J. Green, Bengals; Andre Johnson, Texans; Calvin Johnson, Lions; Brandon Marshall, Bears; Demaryius Thomas, Broncos.

Tackle: Branden Albert, Chiefs; Jason Peters, Eagles; Tyron Smith, Cowboys; Joe Staley, 49ers; Joe Thomas, Bronws; Trent Williams, Redskins.

Guard: Jahri Evans, Saints; Ben Grubbs, Saints; Mike Iupati, 49ers; Logan Mankins, Patriots; Louis Vasquez, Broncos; Marshal Yanda, Ravens.

Center: Ryan Kalil, Panthers; Alex Mack, Browns; Mike Pouncey, Dolphins; Max Unger, Seahawks.

Tight end: Jordan Cameron, Browns; Vernon Davis, 49ers; Jimmy Graham, Saints; Julius Thomas, Broncos.

Running back: Jamaal Charles, Chiefs; Matt Forte, Bears; Frank Gore, 49ers; Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks; LeSean McCoy, Eagles; Adrian Peterson, Vikings.

Fullback: Marcel Reece, Raiders; Mike Tolbert, Panthers.

Defense
Defensive end: Greg Hardy, Panthers; Cameron Jordan, Saints; Robert Quinn, Rams; Cameron Wake, Dolphins; J.J. Watt, Texans; Mario Williams, Bills.

Interior lineman: Gerald McCoy, Bucs; Haloti Ngata, Ravens; Dontari Poe, Chiefs; Justin Smith, 49ers; Ndamukong Suh, Lions; Kyle Williams, Bills.

Outside linebacker: John Abraham, Cardinals; Ahmad Brooks, 49ers; Tamba Hali, Chiefs; Justin Houston, Chiefs; Robert Mathis, Colts; Terrell Suggs, Ravens.

Inside/middle linebacker: NaVorro Bowman, 49ers; Vontaze Burfict, Bengals; Luke Kuechly, Panthers; Patrick Willis, 49ers.

Cornerback: Brandon Flowers, Chiefs; Brent Grimes, Dolphins; Joe Haden, Browns; Patrick Peterson, Cardinals; Darrelle Revis, Bucs; Richard Sherman, Seahawks; Aqib Talib, Patriots; Alterraun Verner, Titans.

Free safety: Jairus Byrd, Bills; Earl Thomas, Seahawks; Eric Weddle, Chargers.

Strong safety: Eric Berry, Chiefs; Kam Chancellor, Seahawks; Troy Polamalu, Steelers.

Special Teams
Punter: Brandon Fields, Dolphins; Johnny Hekker, Rams.

Placekicker: Matt Prater, Broncos; Justin Tucker, Ravens.

Punt returner: Antonio Brown, Steelers; Dexter McCluster, Chiefs.

Special teamer: Justin Bethel, Cardinals; Matthew Slater, Patriots.

FULL ENTRY

WR Austin Collie released by Patriots

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff December 27, 2013 05:43 PM


FOXBOROUGH -- Receiver Austin Collie, who saw his snap count reduced to one against the Ravens, was released Friday by the Patriots. It's the second time he's been let go after being initially signed Oct. 3.

Collie suffered a knee injury against the Steelers Nov. 3 and was released two days later. He was re-signed exactly one month later, and had played in the past three games. For the season, Collie had six catches for 63 yards.

The release could signal the return of receiver Kenbrell Thompkins, who has missed the last three games with a hip injury. Thompkins has practiced this week on a limited basis, and was listed by the Patriots as questionable to play on Sunday.

Patriots rule Josh Boyce out; Devin McCourty doubtful

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff December 27, 2013 05:36 PM


FOXBOROUGH -- Even though he missed all three practices this week after suffering a concussion in last Sunday's win over Baltimore, safety Devin McCourty has not been ruled out of the regular-season finale against Buffalo.

McCourty was designated by the Patriots as "doubtful" for Sunday's game at Gillette Stadium. The only player ruled out was receiver Josh Boyce, who also hasn't practiced all week because of an ankle injury.

Defensive end Rob Ninkovich (ankle) was one of 11 players listed as questionable.

For the Patriots:
Out: WR Josh Boyce (ankle)

Doubtful:
S Devin McCourty (concussion)

Questionable:
CB Kyle Arrington (groin)
CB Alfonzo Dennard (knee/shoulder)
WR Aaron Dobson (foot)
LB Dane Fletcher (groin)
S Steve Gregory (finger/knee)
DE Rob Ninkovich (ankle)
OL Nate Solder (concussion)
LB Brandon Spikes (knee)
OT Will Svitek (ankle)
WR Kenbrell Thompkins (hip)
RB Shane Vereen (groin)

Probable:
WR Danny Amendola (groin)
QB Tom Brady (right shoulder)
OL Marcus Cannon (ankle)
TE Michael Hoomanawanui (knee)
CB Aqib Talib (hip)

For the Bills:
Out:
WR Stevie Johnson (not injury-related)
S Aaron Williams (ribs)

Doubtful:
QB E.J. Manuel (knee)

Probable:
WR Marcus Easley (knee)
WR Marquise Goodwin (knee)
RB Fred Jackson (ribs)
QB Thad Lewis (left shoulder)
DT Kyle Williams (Achilles' tendon)

Aqib Talib says Thad Lewis gives Bills solid deep passing threat

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff December 27, 2013 01:04 PM
FOXBOROUGH – With the Bills announcing on Friday that Thad Lewis will get the start at quarterback on Sunday, the Patriots will have a new player to prepare for, since E.J. Manuel got the nod in the first meeting.

Cornerback Aqib Talib said Lewis gives the Bills a slightly different look because of what he likes to do and is capable of doing.

"I know he’s been playing good and I know he throws that ball down the field. They get a lot of explosive plays while he’s in the game because he’s not scared to throw the ball down the field," Talib said after Friday's practice. "He can run it a little bit, he’s a good quarterback."

Lewis has started four games this season, and Manuel 10 (Jeff Tuel started one game, when both of the other quarterbacks were hurt). Even though Manuel has more rushing attempts than Lewis (53 to 22), more rushing yards (186 to 48), and a higher per-carry average (3.5 to 2.2), Talib said it's Lewis who is the better runner.

"I think he’s a little more explosive," Talib said. "He’s more of a runner than E.J. Manuel, he’ll run when he has to, but Lewis looks to run it a little bit more."

Bill Belichick says Week 1 win over Buffalo Bills gave Patriots confidence

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff December 27, 2013 10:35 AM
FOXBOROUGH – When the Patriots played their regular season opener in Buffalo, it took a 35-yard Stephen Gostkowski field goal with five seconds left to post a 23-21 win.

As it turned out, that game was the first of many close games New England would have this season, and began laying the foundation with players that they could excel in tight situations.

"It certainly was a forerunner for many other games that were similar to that," coach Bill Belichick said in his Friday morning press conference. "I think it gave our team a lot of confidence, that game and then even the next week against the Jets [a 13-10 win], which was similar but different in that we were more on the defensive side of it, we had a couple of defensive stops.

"But they gave the team a lot of confidence that in the time that we spent on situational football, end-of-game type plays and situations and it produced some good results, I think that certainly stimulated a confidence and a belief in the things we were doing to prepare for those situations. I thought that was probably good. Obviously when you look back at the end of the season, you see a game like that, you see how much that game means in the big picture. Had that one gone differently, things would be a lot different now… When you’re playing 16 games, each one of those has an impact, and that was a big game for us. They’re a good football team; they were then and they are now."

Buffalo is in Foxborough this weekend for the final game of the regular season, and unlike the days before their initial meeting in early September, both teams know now what works and what doesn't, and what to expect.

"Well certainly we know a lot more now than we did then. Fifteen regular-season games, a lot of practices; we know a lot more," Belichick said. "We have a much better idea of what the strengths and weaknesses of our teams are, we’ve seen those attacked by our opponents on a weekly basis. You’re at that time of year now where there’s not a whole lot new. They know what you have, you know what they have, and try to go out there and match it up, try to cover up things you think they’re going to try to attack, try to attack the ones that you think they’re weak at, vice-versa. Yeah, we know a lot more."

With the regular-season finale days away and playoffs around the corner, Belichick said the season has gone by quickly, but "it goes by a lot faster when you’re winning than it does when you’re losing, I can tell you that from experience. When you’re 3-12 or whatever, you don’t get the feeling it’s going by real fast, but fortunately we haven’t had too many of those."

Though New England again clinched the AFC East last weekend and already has a playoff berth in hand, a win over the Bills will secure a first-round bye (they could still get one with a loss and some help). Cincinnati and Indianapolis, the other teams in contention for that bye week spot, play at 1 p.m. against the Ravens and Jaguars, respectively, but Belichick said he won't pay attention to their results before his own game.

"No, I’m not planning on it and I know when we walked out on the field for the Baltimore game last week I saw the score up on the board and that’s really the first time I saw that Buffalo beat Miami [which clinched the division for the Patriots]. There’s nothing we can do about any of those games; whatever they are, they are. We just have to concentrate on what we’re doing and we need to do it for us. We’re not really worried about what anybody else is doing," Belichick said.

However, his players are fully aware of what Sunday could mean.

"They know that if we win, we’re into the second round of the playoffs. And if we don’t win, we’re most likely playing in the first round of the playoffs. And that’s really all there is to know. Who, what, when – none of that yet. Who knows? You have to be a mathematician," Belichick said.

"We know what we can control: we win, we get into the second round of the playoffs. We know that, and right now that’s really all we care about."

Week 17: Friday practice peek - McCourty, Boyce missing

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff December 27, 2013 10:23 AM

FOXBOROUGH – The Patriots are holding their final regular-season practice on the lower grass field behind Gillette Stadium, with two players not spotted, according to colleague Michael Whitmer – S Devin McCourty and WR Josh Boyce.

It was originally believed DE Rob Ninkovich, who popped up on the team's injury report on Thursday, was not at practice, but Patriots Football Weekly reported on Twitter that he was and the website has video to prove it.

The Patriots reported on Thursday that Ninkovich was limited with an ankle injury, which he almost certainly suffered during the practice.

Because they did not practice Friday, it is unlikely McCourty (concussion vs. Ravens) and Boyce (ankle vs. Dolphins) will play Sunday vs. the Bills. Both have not practiced at all this week.

Practice squad RB Cierre Wood also was not spotted, and the Patriots later announced he had been cut and RB Sam McGuffie was added to the practice squad. McGuffie was cut from the Cardinals' practice squad in September.

New England released CB Marquice Cole on Thursday.

Patriots release CB Marquice Cole

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff December 26, 2013 05:04 PM

FOXBOROUGH – The Patriots released CB Marquice Cole on Thursday, according to the NFL transaction wire.

There was no corresponding roster move from the team.

The 30-year old, who signed with New England in 2012 as a free agent, has played in 13 games this season, with 10 tackles and an interception on defense and eight special-teams tackles. This is the fourth time this season the Patriots have released Cole; earlier this season, as he was dealing with injury, he was cut and re-signed to give the team an open roster spot for games. This is his first roster move since Oct. 7 when he was re-signed.

Stevan Ridley: 'I put myself' on bench after fumbles

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff December 26, 2013 05:02 PM

FOXBOROUGH – Stevan Ridley hasn't talked much to reporters this season, especially after fumbling in three straight games led to his being benched for the Patriots' game against Houston earlier this month.

But on Thursday, the raspy-voiced Mississippi native, whose 1,263 yards in 2012 was the fourth-best rushing performance in franchise history, spoke to reporters about how he's handled the ups and downs of the season and tried to get back into the coaching staff's good graces.

"You know, I just really believe this – God will never put you through anything more than you can handle. And for me, it wasn’t what I wanted but I know why I got there. It’s not like coach just woke up and decided, ‘hey, let’s bench Stevan Ridley today.’ I put myself there," Ridley said, speaking in front of his locker. "But for me, it’s about not letting past mistakes hold you down. I think life brings you that – you’re going to have adversity, you’re going to have stuff that you’re going to go through, it’s how you bounce back from it as a person.

FULL ENTRY

Thursday's injury report: Ninkovich (ankle) limited in practice

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff December 26, 2013 04:11 PM
FOXBOROUGH – Defensive end Rob Ninkovich was added to the Patriots' practice participation report on Thursday with an ankle injury. Ninkovich was limited in the outdoor workout, the only change from Wednesday to the team's injury report.

The same two players missed Thursday's practice. Receiver Josh Boyce has been out with an ankle injury, and safety Devin McCourty sustained a concussion in Sunday's win at Baltimore.

For the Patriots:
Did not participate:
WR Josh Boyce (ankle)
S Devin McCourty (concussion)

Limited participation:
CB Kyle Arrington (groin)
OL Marcus Cannon (ankle)
CB Alfonzo Dennard (knee/shoulder)
WR Aaron Dobson (foot)
LB Dane Fletcher (groin)
S Steve Gregory (finger/knee)
DE Rob Ninkovich (ankle)
OL Nate Solder (concussion)
LB Brandon Spikes (knee)
OT Will Svitek (ankle)
WR Kenbrell Thompkins (hip)
RB Shane Vereen (groin)

Full participation:
WR Danny Amendola (groin)
QB Tom Brady (right shoulder)
TE Michael Hoomanawanui (knee)
CB Aqib Talib (hip)

For the Bills:
Did not participate:
WR Stevie Johnson (not injury-related)
S Aaron Williams (ribs)

Limited participation:
RB Fred Jackson (ribs)
QB E.J. Manuel (knee)

Full participation:
WR Marquise Goodwin (knee)
QB Thad Lewis (left shoulder)
DT Kyle Williams (Achilles' tendon)

Week 17: Thursday practice peek - no McCourty, Boyce

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff December 26, 2013 11:42 AM

FOXBOROUGH – The Patriots are holding their second-to-last practice of the regular season on the lower grass field behind Gillette Stadium, with players in shells (soft pads) and sweats.

There were two players not spotted: S Devin McCourty (concussion) and WR Josh Boyce (ankle).

New England did not hold practice on Wednesday since players were given the day off for Christmas, but the team reported that they would not have practiced had one been held. On Tuesday the Patriots had a walk-through, and neither was spotted during the media-access period.

McCourty was injured against the Ravens on Sunday, while Boyce was injured against the Dolphins on Dec. 15 and has not practiced since.

Hypothetically, McCourty and Boyce miss practice

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff December 25, 2013 04:28 PM


Neither the Patriots nor the Bills practiced Wednesday because of the Christmas holiday, but both teams issued a practice participation report based on the assumption of what it would look like.

Safety Devin McCourty was listed as did not participate, out with a concussion. Josh Boyce (ankle) also was DNP.

New to the players listed under limited participation was running back Shane Vereen, who suffered a groin injury in Sunday's win over Baltimore. And Steve Gregory, who had been on the injury report last week with a finger injury, was listed with a knee injury.

For the Patriots:
Did not participate:
WR Josh Boyce (ankle)
S Devin McCourty (concussion)

Limited participation:
CB Kyle Arrington (groin)
OL Marcus Cannon (ankle)
CB Alfonzo Dennard (knee/shoulder)
WR Aaron Dobson (foot)
LB Dane Fletcher (groin)
S Steve Gregory (finger/knee)
OL Nate Solder (concussion)
LB Brandon Spikes (knee)
OT Will Svitek (ankle)
WR Kenbrell Thompkins (hip)
RB Shane Vereen (groin)

Full participation:
WR Danny Amendola (groin)
QB Tom Brady (right shoulder)
TE Michael Hoomanawanui (knee)
CB Aqib Talib (hip)

For the Bills:
Did not participate:
RB Fred Jackson (ribs)
WR Stevie Johnson (not injury-related)
DT Kyle Williams (Achilles' tendon)
S Aaron Williams (ribs)

Limited participation:
WR Marquise Goodwin (knee)
QB E.J. Manuel (knee)

Full participation:
QB Thad Lewis (left shoulder)

Brady says Patriots need another big effort against Bills

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff December 24, 2013 01:28 PM
FOXBOROUGH – Before he scooted off the podium barely five minutes into his weekly interview session with the media, Tom Brady said the effort put together by the Patriots in Sunday's 41-7 win at Baltimore will also be required against the Bills at Gillette Stadium.

"I think we’ve been pretty competitive all season, and even our losses have been competitive right up to the end. We feel like if we go in there and play the way we’re capable of, then we’ve got a chance to win," Brady said, following Tuesday's walk-through workout in the field house. "We haven’t really done that for 60 minutes in all three phases.

"You can’t expect to play 20 minutes of football and win games, not at important times of the year and not against the best teams, the best defenses. This is a team that really challenges us in a lot of ways, and it’s going to have to be the same type of effort, it can’t be anything less than that."

Like coach Bill Belichick before him, Brady pointed out the Bills' strengths on defense: They have 22 interceptions (second-most in the NFL) and 56 sacks (most). They might only be 6-9, but the Bills can cause some disruption with their defense. They held Miami scoreless Sunday in a 19-0 win, their second straight.

"They give us a lot of coverage looks, a lot of front looks, a lot of blitzes, so they put pressure on a lot of areas," Brady said. "We’ve got to study what they do, kind of like we do every week. It’s the holiday season, but at the same time it’s the most important game of the year, so I think when we’re here we’ve really got to focus on what we need to do to play our best game and be on top of things right from the [opening] kickoff."

Brady might be talking the Bills up, but he's had his way with Buffalo over the years. In the 23 games he's started against the Bills, the Patriots are 21-2. They've won four straight games against Buffalo, and had a six-game streak of at least 30 points scored snapped in the Sept. 8 season opener, won by the Patriots, 23-21.

Another victory over the Bills would guarantee the Patriots a first-round bye. Depending on what Denver does against Oakland, it could also mean the No. 1 playoff seed in the AFC and home-field advantage in the playoffs.

FULL ENTRY

Belichick notices Bills' AFC East success this year

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff December 24, 2013 11:36 AM
FOXBOROUGH – Despite Buffalo's 6-9 record, the Bills are a dangerous team that has played exceptionally well in its previous five division games this year, Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Tuesday.

Buffalo, which visits Gillette Stadium on Sunday for the regular-season finale, is 3-2 against AFC East opponents this season. The Bills swept the Dolphins, split with the Jets, and lost their first game to the Patriots. But they could easily be 5-0.

"[They] lost to us on the last play (23-21), lost to the Jets on the last possession (27-20), and won three games in the division," Belichick said on Tuesday, before the team's practice. "I’m really impressed with the way they’ve been playing, obviously the way they played last week against Miami."

The Bills shut out the Dolphins, 19-0, on Sunday. They have the second-ranked rushing offense in the NFL (the Patriots are 30th against the run), and on defense, Buffalo has the second-most interceptions (22) and the most sacks (56).

One area where the Patriots have improved on defense is against deep passes. It was a major problem last season, with the Patriots giving up 74 pass plays of 20 yards or more. This year? Not nearly as many.

"We’ve certainly put a lot of time and work into it," Belichick said. "It could definitely be better, but it hasn’t been anywhere close to the issue it was last year, thank God.

"Obviously the players are doing a good job, but we’ve spent a lot of time on the deep part of the field because it’s so critical. Hopefully we can continue to play fairly well back there, because it’s just so important. When it all happens in one play, there’s nothing else you can do, there’s no chance of stopping them in the red area. It also takes a lot of other people out of the game, too, there’s nothing a nose guard can do about a go pattern, [or] an inside linebacker, those plays are so far behind them, it kind of takes them out of the game."

FULL ENTRY

Tuesday walk-through roll call: No McCourty or Boyce

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff December 24, 2013 10:52 AM

FOXBOROUGH – The Patriots are conducting a walk-through practice inside the field house on Tuesday morning, with only two players not spotted during the portion made accessible to the media.

Safety Devin McCourty, who left Sunday's win at Baltimore with a head injury, was not at practice. Neither was receiver Josh Boyce, who missed the game with the Ravens because of an ankle injury.

Running back Shane Vereen, forced out of Sunday's game with a groin injury, was on the field (and producing some impressively high leg-kicks during stretching exercises). Left tackle Nate Solder was also out there; he missed Sunday's game after suffering concussions in back-to-back games.

Patriots and other NFL Week 17 playoff scenarios

Posted by Staff December 23, 2013 09:35 AM
After wrapping up their fifth consecutive AFC East crown on Sunday, all that stands between the Patriots and a first-round bye in the playoffs is the Buffalo Bills.

A win against the 6-9 Bills in Week 17 will guarantee the Patriots will have the first weekend of the NFL playoffs off and a home matchup in the divisional round.

The Patriots are still alive in the race for the No. 1 overall seed in the AFC as well. If the Oakland Raiders can beat the Denver Broncos in Week 17, and if the Pats take care of business against the Bills, the Patriots would ensure the AFC’s road to the Super Bowl would run through Foxborough.

A loss to the Bills, however, could see the Patriots dropping all the way to the No. 4 seed in the AFC playoff standings, depending on the result of other games around the AFC. If the Patriots lose, and the Bengals and Colts both win, then the Bengals would get the No. 2 seed, the Colts the No. 3, and the Patriots would fall to No. 4.

A loss to Buffalo and a win by just one of either the Bengals or Colts would see the Patriots drop to the No. 3 spot.

Losses or ties by both the Bengals and Colts, however, would clinch a first-round bye for the Patriots outright, regardless of their result against the Bills.

Heading into Week 17, just one NFL playoff seed is fully locked into place: the Kansas City Chiefs as the No. 5 seed in the AFC. Other than that, every spot is up for grabs. Here is a look at the scenarios of all of the other teams around the NFL.

AFC

Denver Broncos (have clinched AFC West and first-round bye)
Clinches home field throughout the AFC playoffs with:
1. A win or tie OR
2. A New England loss or tie

Cincinnati Bengals (have clinched AFC North)
Clinches first-round bye with:
1. A win AND a New England loss

Indianapolis Colts (have clinched AFC South)
Clinches first-round bye with:
1. A win AND a New England loss AND a Cincinnati loss or tie

Baltimore Ravens
Clinches playoff spot with:
1. A win AND a San Diego loss or tie OR
2. A win AND a Miami loss or tie OR
3. A tie AND a Miami loss AND a San Diego loss or tie OR
4. A tie AND a Miami tie AND a San Diego loss OR
5. A Pittsburgh loss or tie AND a San Diego loss AND a Miami loss

Miami Dolphins
Clinches playoff spot with:
1. A win AND a Baltimore loss or tie OR
2. A win AND a San Diego win OR
3. A tie AND a Baltimore loss AND a San Diego loss or tie OR
4. A tie AND a Baltimore tie AND a San Diego tie

San Diego Chargers
Clinches a playoff spot with:
1. A win AND a Baltimore loss or tie AND a Miami loss or tie OR
2. A tie AND a Miami loss AND a Baltimore loss

Pittsburgh Steelers
Clinches a playoff spot with:
1. A win AND a Baltimore loss AND a Miami loss AND a San Diego loss

NFC

Seattle Seahawks (have clinched playoff spot)
Clinches NFC West and home-field throughout NFC playoffs with:
1. A win or tie OR
2. A San Francisco loss or tie

Carolina Panthers (have clinched playoff spot)
Clinches NFC South and a first-round bye with:
1. A win or tie OR
2. A New Orleans loss

Clinches NFC South and home-field throughout NFC playoffs with:
1. A win AND a Seattle loss AND a San Francisco win

New Orleans Saints
Clinches playoff spot with:
1. A win OR
2. A tie AND an Arizona loss or tie OR
3. An Arizona loss

Clinches NFC South and a first-round bye with:
1. A win AND a Carolina loss

San Francisco 49ers (have clinched playoff spot)
Clinches NFC West and first-round bye with:
1. A win AND a Seattle loss

Clinches NFC west and home-field throughout NFC playoffs with:
1. A win AND a Seattle loss AND a Carolina loss or tie

Arizona Cardinals
Clinches playoff spot with:
1. A win AND a New Orleans loss or tie OR
2. A tie AND a New Orleans loss

Philadelphia Eagles
Clinches NFC East with:
1. A win or tie

Dallas Cowboys
Clinches NFC East with:
1. A win

Chicago Bears
Clinches NFC North with:
1. A win or tie

Green Bay Packers
Clinches NFC North with:
1. A win

Patriots-Bills game time changed

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff December 23, 2013 09:05 AM
The start time of the final game of the Patriots' regular season has been changed.

The Patriots will face the Bills on Sunday at 4:25 p.m. at Gillette Stadium. The game was originally scheduled for an early afternoon start. The Patriots can clinch a first-round playoff bye with a win.

The Eagles-Cowboys game has been flexed into the Sunday Night Football slot (8:30 p.m.) because the winner claims the NFC East title while the loser is out of the playoffs.

5 takeaways from the Patriots-Ravens game

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff December 22, 2013 11:34 PM

BALTIMORE -- The New England Patriots didn't need a miraculous comeback or have to make last-minute defensive stand in order to bag their 11th win of the season, a 41-7 victory over the Baltimore Ravens Sunday afternoon.

With a stingy defense and some ball control, the Patriots were able to wipe the floor with last year's Super Bowl champions.

Here's what we can gather from Sunday's game:

1. Defense at the forefront -- Forget the defensive touchdowns for a second, which can be considered as garbage time points anyway. Instead, note the team's effort on third and fourth downs, holding the Ravens to 5 of 14 conversions on third down and 0 for 3 on fourth. There were some crucial stops that helped keep the Ravens from building up any rhythm, including two interceptions by Logan Ryan. And consider what the Patriots defense was able to accomplish in the red zone, holding the Ravens to 1 of 3 in these crucial scoring opportunities. It spoke volumes about Sunday's effort and how it deserved a special place for this team with all of the injuries New England has endured.

The takeaways were also the Patriots' first since Week 13 against the Houston Texans, ending a two-week drought.

It was the kind of performance that was commendable on a number of levels.

2. Adding up the bodies -- Devin McCourty left Sunday's game with a head injury, likely a concussion. Shane Vereen left as well with a groin injury. Steve Gregory had to leave the game temporarily. Dont'a Hightower was shaken up. Alfonzo Dennard was limited to a few snaps. And that's on top of players like Nate Solder (concussion), Kenbrell Thompkins (hip), and Josh Boyce (ankle) missing with their respective ailments.

If there's one thing Patriots fans are going to have to come to terms with, it's this talk of the "next man up." The Patriots have been preaching it for some time now after suffering season-ending injuries to Vince Wilfork, Sebastian Vollmer, Tommy Kelly, and Jerod Mayo.

"That's been the whole season, not just the whole game but the whole season," said Chandler Jones. "Everyone has to be ready and everyone has to know what they're doing. And as you can see a lot of guys stepped up and made plays."

The Patriots have clearly bought into the "next man up" philosophy.

3. Back from the dead -- Tavon Wilson may as well have been somewhere far off on the end of the bench with a book reading for most of the season. His contributions were limited to his efforts on special teams, where he was creating a niche for himself along with Matthew Slater and Nate Ebner. The 2012 second-round draft pick was having a hard time getting on the field. So with an opportunity to get some snaps on defense as the game winded down, he was able to make a highlight reel worthy play at the end of the game. Wilson picked off backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor and returned the interception 74 yards for a touchdown, putting the exclamation point on the Patriots' defensive effort Sunday.

"It was a nice play," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "I don't think it really affected the outcome much. But, once again, after the interception, he could have not done what he did, but he broke a tackle, and he finished the game and made the play that he could make. It was a good effort by him and the whole defense getting out in front and blocking and try to finish the game on a positive note."

Wilson struggled last year in pass coverage, giving up one too many big plays before he was finally yanked. The Patriots have preferred to use rookie safety Duron Harmon as the team's third safety this year. His interception and return might be one play that will finally help him regain some lost trust from Belichick and the rest of the coaches.

4. Bring back the replacement refs -- No, not really. But Sunday's effort by the officials might have been mistaken for the replacements given how referee Ron Winter's crew called the action. It was an abnormally difficult game to watch with the number of penalty flags that were flying around. The Patriots and Ravens combined for 16 penalties for 131 yards. There were the regular questionable calls -- defensive holding and pass interference at the top of the list -- and then there was a bizarre episodes in which Winter had to reverse course on one penalty. The officials hit Patriots defensive tackle Chris Jones for a neutral zone infraction in the fourth quarter after initially flagging Baltimore tackle Michael Oher for a false start. (It appeared that a quick replay on the video screen at M&T Bank Stadium spurred the reversal.) The two pass interference calls, one on Patriots safety Steve Gregory and the other on Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith, were just bad calls. Gregory's penalty, on a deep throw to Torrey Smith, was uncatchable and Smith's, on a Tom Brady throw to Julian Edelman, was inspired by pure theater on Edelman's part. But, even worse, was the Ravens' drive to end the second quarter, in which six penalties were called in total. Most baffling was Ryan Wendell's false start for jerking his head, something an NFL center is normally allowed to do. These guys were definitely not the NFL's A-list. And if they were, I'd be surprised if they are now.

5. Hat and T-shirt day is still special for the not-so-young guys -- Tom Brady didn't have his AFC East division champion hat and T-shirt on postgame, but he said he'd proudly wear those items all week.

The Patriots clinched their fifth straight AFC East division title when the Miami Dolphins lost to the Buffalo Bills earlier in the day Sunday. It's Brady's 11th career division title, one more than Peyton Manning and two more than his childhood hero Joe Montana. But the Patriots weren't going to feel good about breaking out the regalia without a win.

"Every year is special, but we've really earned it this year," Brady said. "The NFL has a lot of stiff competition. Winning 11 games is very hard. We have faced adversity all year. Of course, other teams have, too. But our mental toughness has really gotten us through this."

He added: "Those hats and shirts are important because of what they mean. I hope we can keep getting more and more hats and shirts."

Brady now has 147 wins as a starting quarterback, tying him with Dan Marino in fourth place on the all-time win list.

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

Patriots defense provides some bite against Ravens

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff December 22, 2013 08:55 PM

BALTIMORE -- With two defensive touchdowns, three interceptions, four sacks, and three forced turnovers on downs, the Patriots' defense stole the spotlight of Sunday's 41-7 win over the Ravens.

Chandler Jones recovered a fumbled snap for a touchdown with 2:05 remaining and Tavon Wilson intercepted a Tyrod Taylor pass and returned it 74 yards for a touchdown just 55 seconds later. It was their first career touchdowns.

Rookie Logan Ryan picked off Joe Flacco twice and the Patriots made three stops on defense on fourth down while holding the Ravens to 358 total yards. Baltimore was also 5 of 14 on third down and 1 for 3 in the red zone.

The defensive touchdowns were the back-breakers. The scores came on the heels of a grinding nine-play, 48-yard drive that ended with a LeGarrette Blount touchdown.

It was a feat for the Patriots to hold the Ravens to one touchdown and to make big plays down the stretch.

"They gave us some opportunities and we took advantage of them," said Wilson.

The excitement was not lost on the players. Jones didn't know what to do after his touchdown.

"It was all so fast," Jones said. "Actually I looked around looking for like a flag or something. Everyone was running up to me. So I was like, 'Oh shucks, this is a touchdown.' But I always thought if I got a touchdown that I was going to dunk the ball on the goal post but it was so much adrenaline I just looked at the sideline and the stands like whoa, this is really happening. This is how it feels."

The Patriots got their first defensive takeaway since Week 13 against the Houston Texans when Ryan picked off Flacco with 8:28 left in the first quarter.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick was particularly pleased with the team's effort across the board.

"Every single guy," he said. "You need everybody, and we had everybody. We had contributions from all three units."

Watch: Patriots-Ravens game highlights

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff December 22, 2013 08:39 PM

Here's a look at the key plays in the Patriots' 41-7 victory over the Ravens on Sunday in Baltimore.

FULL ENTRY

Which Patriot deserves the game ball for win over Ravens?

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff December 22, 2013 07:53 PM

Time to cast your vote for which Patriot deserves the game ball for going above and beyond to make Sunday's victory over the Ravens happen.


Which Patriot deserves the game ball for the win over the Ravens?

Patriots clinch AFC East division title with Miami Dolphins loss

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff December 22, 2013 04:10 PM

The Patriots clinched the AFC East division title for the fifth straight year thanks to a little help from last week's foe, the Miami Dolphins.

With Miami's 19-0 loss to the Buffalo Bills Sunday, the Patriots won the division by default. The Dolphins (8-7) are two games behind the Patriots (10-4) with only one left to play.

Miami could have made things more difficult for the Patriots had it won. New England would have had to secure at least one win against the Baltimore Ravens Sunday afternoon or in Week 17 against the Bills to take the division.

Now, the Patriots can secure a first-round bye with two straight wins to end the season.

Aaron Dobson active for Patriots against the Baltimore Ravens

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff December 22, 2013 03:14 PM

BALTIMORE – Patriots wide receiver Aaron Dobson will play his first game Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens since suffering a foot injury against the Denver Broncos in Week 12.

The Patriots have opted to sit a couple of healthy players, including defensive tackle Isaac Sopoaga and linebacker Dane Fletcher. Also inactive for the Patriots is tight end D.J. Williams, defensive end Jake Bequette, WR Kenbrell Thompkins (hip), left tackle Nate Solder (concussion), and WR Josh Boyce (ankle).

Inactive for the Ravens are CB Asa Jackson, S Omar Brown, ILB Albert McClellan, C Ryan Jensen, WR Deonte Thompson, TE Dallas Clark, DT Brandon Williams.

Game 15 preview: Patriots at Ravens

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff December 22, 2013 05:00 AM

The Patriots have an opportunity to exorcise some demons in Baltimore, facing a team that has bounced them from the playoffs two of the last four years and has taken two of the last three games in this rivalry.

Coming off a 24-20 loss to the Miami Dolphins, the Patriots can still clinch the AFC East with a win against the Ravens. But a loss is not a death blow. With a little help, particularly a Cincinnati loss to Minnesota, the Patriots can finally lock up a playoff spot.

There's also the possibility of getting a first-round bye with a win and some help. But the Patriots (10-4) have to go through a Ravens (8-6) team that has won four straight games, including a compelling 18-16 victory over the Detroit Lions last week on a game-winning 61-yard field goal by Justin Tucker.

The Ravens defense, the heart of the Ravens, has shown remarkable resolve despite notable departures from last season's Super Bowl team. Top rookie Matt Elam (61 tackles, 1 interception, 2 fumble recoveries) has taken over the free safety position and Daryl Smith has taken over the middle linebacker position (107 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 3 interceptions) in place of Ed Reed and Ray Lewis. They've helped this team become the seventh ranked run defense (102.4 yards allowed per game) and 13th ranked pass defense (231.6 yards allowed per game). They've improved so much over the course of the season, Patriots coach Bill Belichick said they appeared to be in championship form.

"They look like the championship team that they are," he said. "It will be a big challenge for us down there in Baltimore. [They're] playing well, they've made a lot of key plays at the end of the games when they needed to make them, on offense, defense, special teams -- whether it be kicks returned, stops, scores, moving the ball into field goal range -- whatever it happens to be. They've made a lot of consistent big plays and they're playing real well right now. It's a good football team. It will be a good test for us down there."

Elvis Dumervil, a key part of the Ravens' pass rushing attack, is questionable with an ankle injury. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco is also questionable for Sunday's game with a knee injury. But he's expected to play with a brace over his knee.

The Patriots will have to go without rookie wide receiver Josh Boyce, who suffered an ankle injury last week against the Dolphins. Wide receiver Aaron Dobson (foot) is questionable to play. Kenbrell Thompkins (hip) was ruled out Saturday.

Here are the details for the game:

Kickoff: 4:25 p.m.

Records: Patriots 10-4; Ravens 8-6.

TV, radio: CBS (Jim Nantz, Phil Simms); 98.5 FM The Sports Hub (Bob Socci, Scott Zolak) and Sports USA (Larry Kahn, Ross Tucker, Troy West).

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

Patriots offense: WR Aaron Dobson, LT Logan Mankins, LG Josh Kline, C Ryan Wendell, RG Dan Connolly, RT Marcus Cannon, TE Michael Hoomanawanui, WR Julian Edelman, QB Tom Brady, RB LeGarrette Blount, WR Danny Amendola.

Patriots defense: LE Rob Ninkovich, DT Sealver Siliga, DT Chris Jones, DE Chandler Jones, LB Dont'a Hightower, LB Brandon Spikes, LB Jamie Collins, CB Aqib Talib, CB Alfonzo Dennard, S Devin McCourty, S Steve Gregory.

Ravens offense: WR Torrey Smith, WR Jacoby Jones, LT Eugene Monroe, LG A.Q. Shipley, C Gino Gradkowski, RG Marshal Yanda, RT Michael Oher, TE Dennis Pitta, QB Joe Flacco, FB Vonta Leach, RB Ray Rice.

Ravens defense: DT Arthur Jones, NT Haloti Ngati, DE Chris Canty, OLB Terrell Suggs, WLB Jameel McClain, MLB Daryl Smith, SLB Courtney Upshaw, LCB Lardarius Webb, SS James Ihedigbo, FS Matt Elam, RCB Jimmy Smith.

Get linked

- Erik Frenz scouts the Ravens in Going Deep.

- My Week 16 NFL picks.

- 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+.

What to watch for as the Patriots visit the Ravens

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff December 21, 2013 10:59 PM

Going into Sunday's game against the Baltimore Ravens, the Patriots have playoff implications to consider.

A win and they're in. A loss and things get complicated. There are injuries that require attention and an opponent that requires some extra game planning from a defensive perspective. Week 16 will not be an easy one. But nobody ever said it would be.

Here's what we're watching as the Patriots visit the Ravens.

1. What will the offensive line look like? -- Left tackle Nate Solder has been ruled out of Sunday's game after suffering a concussion last week against the Miami Dolphins, just a week removed from suffering another concussion against the Cleveland Browns. When Solder was forced to leave the Dolphins game, he was replaced by Logan Mankins, who moved over from left guard. Josh Kline came in to fill in for Mankins at guard. That may very well be the case again this week for the Ravens. The Patriots could also opt to use tackle Will Svitek at left tackle, or swap Marcus Cannon to left and insert Svitek at right tackle. We'll see what they come up with.

2. How much will special teams factor into the outcome? -- Patriots place kicker Stephen Gostkowski is coming off his worst game of the season, having missed a 48-yard field goal attempt and getting flagged for a kickoff that went out of bounds. Conversely, Ravens kicker Justin Tucker is coming off his best outing of the season, going 6 for 6 on field goals, including a game-winner from 61 yards against the Detroit Lions. Add in two dynamic returners in Jacoby Jones for the Ravens and Julian Edelman for the Patriots, and this game has a good chance to be significantly altered by the kicking and return game, which would be fitting for two teams whose head coaches got their start as special teams coordinators.

3. How will the Patriots approach the Ravens defensively? -- In the second leg of the season, the Patriots have opted to go to a 3-4 defense that has significantly altered the productivity of a number of players, including Chandler Jones (11.5 sacks) and Rob Ninkovich (6 sacks). Ninkovich's quarterback hurries have dropped off quite a bit. In the first half of the season, he recorded 26 hurries. In the second half, he has 12. But that's not all. While the Patriots started the year as a top 10 defense in yards allowed per game, they've slipped to 24th overall (372.7) thanks to a scheme that has rewarded offenses that can run and pass effectively in the short to intermediate range. But after allowing a season-high 280 yards rushing against the Denver Broncos, the Patriots' 31st-ranked run defense has been improving, buttoning up the holes that were once so glaring. All of which is to say that the players have sacrificed, and the team has sacrificed its pass defense, to help shut down the run. This week, it helps that the Patriots are going up against a Ravens team that has had trouble sticking with the run and doing so effectively. They're ranked 29th overall in the run game, leaving the Patriots the opportunity to focus more on a Ravens passing game that attacks all levels of the field. So how will the Patriots approach this game? Will they try and shut down the Ravens' passing attack by dropping back into coverage, or will they make sure that their once-porous run defense remains a thing of the past?

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

Patriots downgrade Solder and Thompkins

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff December 21, 2013 08:02 PM

BALTIMORE - The Patriots have announced that left tackle Nate Solder (concussion) and wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins (hip) have been downgraded to out and will not play against Baltimore on Sunday.

Solder suffered his second concussion in as many games last week against Miami, when he took a shot to the head in the fourth quarter from the Dolphins' Cameron Wake. He did not practice Wednesday but did return Thursday and Friday, both on a limited basis.

With Solder out, the Patriots will be shuffling their offensive line.

In Miami, Logan Mankins was kicked to tackle from his customary guard spot, with rookie Josh Kline stepping in at guard. New England could also have veteran Will Svitek start at tackle and keep Mankins at guard, or perhaps even have Marcus Cannon, who has been starting at right tackle, flip to left and have Svitek play right.

Thompkins was injured in the win over the Texans on Dec. 1. Though he has been practicing, he has not played in a game since. The rookie said Friday that he was taking things day-by-day, and wasn't sure if he'd be making his return against Baltimore.

However, Aaron Dobson (foot) did make the trip, a good sign that the wide receiver could play for the first time since suffering his injury against Denver on Nov. 24.

New England declared its third rookie receiver, Josh Boyce, out on Friday with an ankle injury. He was hurt against Miami.

Week 16 NFL picks

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff December 21, 2013 06:10 PM

Here at this week's NFL picks. As always, they are against the spread.

Dolphins (-3) at Bills (+3) -- After what the Dolphins were able to accomplish against the Patriots last week, a 24-20 win, and given their current three-game winning streak, it would seem plausible that Miami could split its season series with Buffalo, which has lost two of its last three.
My pick: Dolphins

Saints (+3) at Panthers (-3) -- Didn't you get the message loud and clear two weeks ago? The Saints have the Panthers figured out. In Week 14, New Orleans became the first team to score 30 or more points on Carolina this season. Mistakes will surely be corrected, but a win for the Panthers won't come easy.
My pick: Saints

Vikings (+8) at Bengals (-8) -- Do you believe in Matt Asiata, Matt Cassell, and the Minnesota Vikings sans Adrian Peterson? They certainly put on a fantastic show last week against the Philadelphia Eagles, a 48-30 win. But this week they face a more stout defense (7th overall against the pass, 5th overall against the run) and what I'll term a more stable offense. There's no reason that the Vikings should win this game, especially because this week they won't surprise anybody, but they should at least be competitive.
My pick: Vikings

FULL ENTRY

Boyce ruled out for Sunday's game; 7 Patriots questionable

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff December 20, 2013 04:08 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- The Patriots declared rookie receiver Josh Boyce out for Sunday's game at Baltimore, and listed seven others as questionable, including Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins, a pair of fellow rookie receivers.

Boyce didn't practice all week, so his designation is not a surprise.

The other players listed as questionable include left tackle Nate Solder, who missed Wednesday's practice after sustaining a concussion in Sunday's game at Miami; cornerbacks Kyle Arrington (groin) and Alfonzo Dennard (knee/shoulder); and linebackers Dane Fletcher (groin) and Brandon Spikes (knee).

Quarterback Tom Brady led a group of seven players who were listed as probable.

The Ravens didn't rule anybody out, but quarterback Joe Flacco is one of four who are questionable. Flacco was limited in practice this week with a knee injury. Ray Rice (thigh) and Elvis Dumervil (ankle) were also listed as questionable.

For the Patriots:
Out:
WR Josh Boyce (ankle)

Questionable:
CB Kyle Arrington (groin)
CB Alfonzo Dennard (knee/shoulder)
WR Aaron Dobson (foot)
LB Dane Fletcher (groin)
OL Nate Solder (concussion)
LB Brandon Spikes (knee)
WR Kenbrell Thompkins (hip)

Probable:
WR Danny Amendola (groin)
QB Tom Brady (right shoulder)
OL Marcus Cannon (ankle)
S Steve Gregory (finger)
TE Michael Hoomanawanui (knee)
OT Will Svitek (ankle)
CB Aqib Talib (hip)

For the Ravens:
Doubtful:
CB Asa Jackson (thigh)

Questionable:
LB Elvis Dumervil (ankle)
QB Joe Flacco (knee)
LB Albert McClellan (neck)
RB Ray Rice (thigh)

Probable:
TE Dallas Clark (illness)
S Brynden Trawick (ankle)

Patriots and NFL playoff scenarios for Week 16

Posted by Staff December 20, 2013 11:20 AM
The Patriots know what they need to do to punch their ticket to the playoffs: Win.

Or tie, technically. The Patriots would clinch the 2013 AFC East title, their fifth straight division crown, with a win or tie in their Week 16 matchup against the Ravens in Baltimore. They would also clinch the AFC East with a loss or tie by the Miami Dolphins.

Here is a list of the Patriots’ other playoff scenarios for this upcoming week:


  • If the Patriots lose, they could also get to the playoffs with some help, as they would clinch a playoff spot with a Cincinnati loss.

  • The Patriots could also wrap up a first-round bye with a win AND a Cincinnati loss or tie AND a loss or tie by Indianapolis.

  • Another way for the Patriots to clinch a first-round bye would be if they tie the Ravens AND Cincinnati and Indianapolis BOTH lose.

The Ravens can also punch a playoff ticket in this matchup, although they would need some help. Baltimore would clinch a playoff spot with a win AND a Miami loss AND a San Diego loss or tie.

Week 16 also holds significance for many other NFL teams as well. Here is a look at the other games with playoff-clinching implications:

AFC

Denver at Houston, 1 p.m.
- Denver clinches AFC West and a first-round bye with
1. A win AND a Kansas City loss

- Denver can also clinch home-field throughout the AFC playoffs with
1. A win AND a Kansas City loss AND a New England loss or tie.

Minnesota at Cincinnati, 1 p.m.
- Cincinnati clinches the AFC North with
1. A win AND a Baltimore loss or tie OR
2. A tie AND a Baltimore loss

- Cincinnati can also clinch a playoff spot with
1. A win AND a Miami loss or tie OR
2. A tie AND a Miami loss

Miami at Buffalo, 1 p.m.
- Miami can clinch a playoff spot with
1. A win AND a Baltimore loss AND a Cincinnati loss.

NFC
Arizona at Seattle, 4:05 p.m.
- Seattle clinches NFC West and home-field throughout the playoffs with
1. A win or tie OR
2. A San Francisco loss or tie

New Orleans at Carolina, 1 p.m.
- New Orleans clinches NFC South and a first-round bye with
1. A win

- New Orleans can also clinch a playoff spot with
1. A tie AND a San Francisco loss or tie OR
2. A tie AND an Arizona loss or tie OR
3. An Arizona loss OR
4. A San Francisco loss AND an Arizona tie

- Carolina clinches a playoff spot with
1. A win OR
2. A tie AND an Arizona loss OR
3. A tie AND a San Francisco loss OR
4. An Arizona loss AND a San Francisco loss

Chicago at Philadelphia, 8:30 p.m.
- Chicago clinches NFC North with
1. A win AND a Detroit loss or tie AND a Green Bay loss

- Philadelphia clinches NFC East with
1. A win AND a Dallas loss or tie OR
2. A tie AND a Dallas loss

Atlanta at San Francisco, 8:30 p.m. Monday
- San Francisco clinches a playoff spot with
1. A win OR
2. An Arizona loss OR
3. A tie AND an Arizona tie

Kenbrell Thompkins not sure if he'll play vs. Ravens

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff December 20, 2013 10:37 AM
FOXBOROUGH – In a season full of firsts for rookie receiver Kenbrell Thompkins, another milestone has been added the past two weeks. It's one he'd prefer not to have.

Thompkins has missed the past two games while dealing with a hip injury, which he suffered during the Dec. 1 game at Houston. Thompkins said it's the first time in his football career – youth, high school, college, and now the NFL – that an injury has forced him to sit.

"Injuries are part of the game, but I’ve never been a guy that really got injured, maybe a hamstring before, but I never had a serious injury, never missed a game, so this is definitely a first for me," Thompkins said on Friday, before the team's final practice as it prepares to face the Ravens on Sunday in Baltimore.

With receiver Josh Boyce expected to miss Sunday's game with an ankle injury, the Patriots could use Thompkins and fellow rookie Aaron Dobson, who has missed three straight games with a foot injury. Dobson said on Thursday that he's optimistic about his chances of playing on Sunday. Thompkins wouldn't go that far, choosing the safe route with his words.

"We’ll have to see," he said. "I’m just taking it day-by-day, doing what they’re allowing me to do."

Despite not playing in the past two games, Thompkins has stayed active. He's participated in every practice since his injury, albeit in a limited role. Has it been tough on him to practice and then not play the past two Sundays?

"I wouldn’t say it’s been tough, I’ve still been preparing just as hard as if I would if I was going out there: Taking mental reps, watching film, going out there and controlling what I can control," said Thompkins, who has numbers (32 receptions, 466 yards, four touchdowns) quite similar to Dobson (35-492-4).

Friday roll call: Still no Josh Boyce

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff December 20, 2013 10:24 AM
FOXBOROUGH – Starting left tackle Nate Solder was practicing for the second straight day, while rookie receiver Josh Boyce missed Patriots practice for the third straight day.

Solder sustained a concussion against the Dolphins on Sunday, his second such injury in two weeks. He sat out Wednesday's practice (just like last week) before joining his teammates for workouts on Thursday and Friday (just like last week). The team will announce Friday afternoon which players, if any, will be ruled out for Sunday's key game at Baltimore.

That will likely include Boyce, since he hasn't practiced all week. Boyce injured an ankle last week during the game at Miami, and has been spotted in the locker room this week limping. With Boyce likely out, the Patriots would love to get fellow rookie receivers Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins back. Both players have missed recent games with injuries: Dobson (foot) the last three games, and Thompkins (hip) the past two.

Unlike Wednesday and Thursday, practice on Friday was not inside Gillette Stadium, the team opting instead for the lower grass field. Players were in sweats and shells. Except for defensive tackle Chris Jones: He went with shorts on a sunny, mild day.

Thursday practice report: Nate Solder returns

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff December 19, 2013 04:04 PM
FOXBOROUGH -- Left tackle Nate Solder was back at practice on Thursday, after missing Wednesday's workout because of a concussion he suffered in Sunday's game.

It follows the same pattern as the week before: Solder also suffered a concussion in the game against the Browns, missed practice on Wednesday, then returned Thursday.

Solder's return was the only change from Wednesday to the Patriots' participation/injury report. Josh Boyce was the only player to miss; he left Sunday's game with an ankle injury. In addition to Solder, 13 players were limited.

For the Patriots:
Did not participate:
WR Josh Boyce (ankle)

Limited participation:
WR Danny Amendola (groin)
CB Kyle Arrington (groin)
QB Tom Brady (right shoulder)
OL Marcus Cannon (ankle)
CB Alfonzo Dennard (knee/shoulder)
WR Aaron Dobson (foot)
LB Dane Fletcher (groin)
S Steve Gregory (finger)
TE Michael Hoomanawanui (knee)
LB Brandon Spikes (knee)
OL Nate Solder (concussion)
OT Will Svitek (ankle)
CB Aqib Talib (hip)
WR Kenbrell Thompkins (hip)

For the Ravens:
Did not participate:
CB Asa Jackson (thigh)
LB Albert McClellan (neck)

Limited participation:
QB Joe Flacco (knee)
RB Ray Rice (thigh)

Full participation:
S Brynden Trawick (ankle)
TE Dallas Clark (illness)

Patriots WR Aaron Dobson hopeful he'll be able to play vs. Ravens

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff December 19, 2013 03:14 PM

FOXBOROUGH - Rookie Aaron Dobson believes there's a good chance he'll return to game play on Sunday against the Ravens.

"I think so. I'm just going through the week. I'm just trying to progress and see how it feels during the week," Dobson said on Thursday.

The second round pick, who suffered a foot injury against Denver and has missed the last three games, returned to practice last Friday, and was on the field for the first two practices this week.

Dobson has 35 catches for 492 yards and four touchdowns in nine-plus games this season, and was starting to show progress at the time of his injury, with 13 receptions for 228 yards and three scores in the three games before his injury.

During the forced break, the 22-year old has tried to maximize his time.

"I feel like it can affect you if you let it. But I just stayed in my playbook, I tried to keep an edge," Dobson said. "I didn’t want to fall off my playbook and lose track of my plays; so I stayed in the playbook and tried to keep on task."

Dobson continued that taking mental reps was really all he could do while he rehabbed and waited for his foot to get better.

"It's a little frustrating, but I'm trying to keep my head in the right place, don't lose track of what I've been doing," he said. "I'm just trying to stay on the right track."

While he did keep up with the offense, Dobson did acknowledge that his conditioning has slipped a little.

New England would welcome Dobson's return, particularly in the red zone. Last week the Patriots were just 1-for-4 converting touchdowns in the red area, a sharp decline from the success they were having when Rob Gronkowski was healthy for six-plus games.

At 6-foot-3, Dobson is the tallest receiver the Patriots have, and is better at winning jump balls in the end zone against defensive backs; he also is the only thing close to a vertical threat the offense has with Gronkowski out for the rest of the season with a torn ACL.

He's getting ready for the Baltimore secondary and cornerback Jimmy Smith, whom he may get acquainted with if he's in uniform.

"He's a good player; going to have to go out there and compete with him," Dobson said. "I think he's a good all-around corner. He can be physical, he can run, so I just have to be on my game."

It won't be much different for the rest of his teammates against the Ravens.

"They have a good secondary, so us as receivers we have to go out there and play great – great routes, block well, so we just have to have an all-around good game," Dobson said.

Week 16: Thursday practice peek – Nate Solder returns

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff December 19, 2013 12:02 PM

FOXBOROUGH – LT Nate Solder (concussion) surprisingly returned to practice on Thursday, just four days after suffering his second concussion in as many games.

Solder left the Patriots' game in Miami in the second half. He also was concussed a week earlier against Cleveland. Solder missed practice on Wednesday, but he was on the field for the media-access window Thursday.

WR Josh Boyce (ankle) was the only player not present Thursday.

Practice was once again held on the field inside Gillette Stadium, with players in shells and sweats.

Wednesday injury report: Solder (concussion) out again

Posted by Staff December 18, 2013 06:46 PM
FOXBOROUGH – Patriots left tackle Nate Solder missed Wednesday's practice after suffering a concussion in Sunday's game, his second in two weeks. Solder left the game in the fourth quarter after taking a hit to the helmet, and did not return.

Receiver Josh Boyce was the only other player to miss Patriots practice, which was inside Gillette Stadium. Boyce left the game with an ankle injury.

Thirteen players were listed by the Patriots as limited in practice, including quarterback Tom Brady, cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Kyle Arrington, and rookie receivers Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins.

For the Patriots:
Did not participate:
WR Josh Boyce (ankle)
OL Nate Solder (concussion)

Limited participation:
WR Danny Amendola (groin)
CB Kyle Arrington (groin)
QB Tom Brady (right shoulder)
OL Marcus Cannon (ankle)
CB Alfonzo Dennard (knee/shoulder)
WR Aaron Dobson (foot)
LB Dane Fletcher (groin)
S Steve Gregory (finger)
TE Michael Hoomanawanui (knee)
LB Brandon Spikes (knee)
OT Will Svitek (ankle)
CB Aqib Talib (hip)
WR Kenbrell Thompkins (hip)

For the Ravens:
Did not participate:
TE Dallas Clark (illness)
CB Asa Jackson (thigh)
LB Albert McClellan (neck)
RB Ray Rice (thigh)

Limited participation:
QB Joe Flacco (knee)

Full participation:
S Brynden Trawick (ankle)

Watch: Patriots prepare for Ravens

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff December 18, 2013 06:33 PM

In the latest Patriots midweek report, the Patriots (10-4) get ready to visit the Baltimore Ravens (8-6) Ravens on Sunday. With a win, the Patriots can clinch the AFC East and secure a playoff spot. It's also a rematch of the last two AFC Championship games and, according to Patriots coach Bill Belichick and the team's players, comes at a time when the Ravens are on the rise. Interviews with Belichick, Tom Brady, Steve Gregory and Logan Mankins. Watch the report here.

FULL ENTRY

Tom Brady on the Ravens: 'There's no bigger game than this'

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff December 18, 2013 03:02 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- When looking at the AFC playoff picture and the Patriots' road woes this season, Tom Brady views Sunday's matchup against the Baltimore Ravens as critical to the team's success.

"We need it," Brady said. "There’s no bigger game than this one for us. We have to put everything we can into it. It’s a very important game. As the season goes on, each of these games gets more and more important. We know how important this one is to try to win the division."

FULL ENTRY

Belichick creates charitable foundation

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff December 18, 2013 01:40 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Patriots coach Bill Belichick has launched a charitable foundation aimed at providing financial assistance and mentorship opportunities to individuals and organizations with a focus on football and lacrosse.

The Bill Belichick Foundation said that it's mission is "to bring the values of the Belichick family -- a love of sports, coaching, and team building -- to the athletic leaders of tomorrow."

Belichick's father, Sreve, was an assistant coach and scout, spending many of his years at the Naval Academy. Belichick's son, also named Steve, is a coaching assistant with the Patriots, and his daughter, Amanda, is the lacrosse coach at Wesleyan. Another son, Brian, attends Trinity College, where he plays lacrosse.

"My goal is to recognize, support and endow those with great potential who have a need for additional help and resources," said Belichick. "Mentorship has been ingrained in our family and we take a team approach to just about everything we do. We have been helped by so many people and we look forward to helping others however we can by relating our experiences and life lessons through a variety of athletic programs and services."

As part of its launch, the foundation is raffling off a prize package that includes a meet-and-greet and luxury suite tickets to the Patriots-Bills game at Gillette Stadium on Dec. 29. Tickets to the online raffle can be purchased for $2, and there are no limitations to how many tickets can be purchased per person. Tickets are available at netraffle.org, until 2 p.m. on Dec. 27.

Week 16: Wednesday practice peek – no Solder, Boyce

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff December 18, 2013 11:00 AM

FOXBOROUGH – LT Nate Solder and WR Josh Boyce were not spotted during the media-access portion of Patriots practice on Wednesday.

Solder departed Sunday's game against Miami with what the team officially called a head injury, a week after suffering a concussion against the Browns.

Boyce was also unable to finish the game against the Dolphins. There was no official announcement of his injury, but he limped out of the locker room after the game with no shoe on his right foot.

Practice was held on the game field inside Gillette Stadium, with players in shells (soft pads) and sweats.

Belichick sees a championship contender in the Baltimore Ravens

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff December 18, 2013 10:52 AM

FOXBOROUGH -- After a come-from-behind win over the Detroit Lions on Monday night, Patriots coach Bill Belichick said the Baltimore Ravens appear to be in championship form Wednesday.

The Ravens, led by kicker Justin Tucker's six field goals, beat the Lions 18-16 and are sitting in second place in the AFC North division at 8-6.

"Obviously their kicker is having a big year," Belichick said. "Good returner, good specialist, good coverage people."

But what's been key, Belichick noted, was how the Ravens have pulled out wins as the season has progressed.

"[They] made a lot of good plays on defense," he said. "One of the best situational teams in the league in the red area, third down. Big physical team that's tough to throw the ball against."

The Ravens, Belichick said, are coming into form. They've won four straight games to get back into the playoff hunt.

"They look like the championship team that they are," he said. "It'll be a big challenge for us down there in Baltimore to play 'em well. They've made a lot of key plays at the end of games when they needed to make them on offense, defense, special teams, whether they be kicks, returns, stops, scores, moving the ball into field goal range, whatever it happens to be. They've made a lot of consistent big plays and they're playing real well right now. It's a good football team and it'll be a good test for us down there."

Patriots, Ravens accustomed to close games

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff December 17, 2013 02:04 PM

Perhaps just like last season, when a final-play field goal decided the game, the Patriots and Ravens might have another contest go right down to the wire on Sunday in Baltimore.

This season for the two teams, that's been the rule, not the exception. Baltimore is 5-4 in games decided by 3 points or fewer, after winning at Detroit on Monday, 18-16. The Patriots are 6-1 in similar games.

"Make the plays in the critical situations at the end of the game they need to make to win," said Bill Belichick, when asked during a Tuesday teleconference what separates teams from winning or losing their share of close games. "That’s what it comes down to. That’s what this league is. You play for 57, 58, 59 minutes and the game’s still not decided and it hinges on the plays from there on out.

"It could be one play, it could be a series. It could be a kick or a return, fumbled punt, a pass, an interception, a sack, a short-yardage or goal line play, a stop – it could be any one of a million situations. Being able to execute those plays in those critical situations is going to determine the result of the game. Being able to do those things as a team, along with some other things – substitution, clock management, and all those other things as well, getting out of bounds, staying in bounds and making good decisions – in the end, it comes down to execution in those critical situations [which] is absolutely the difference. That’s the NFL."

Each team is coming off a game that wasn't decided until the final drive. The Patriots failed to get the necessary touchdown, losing at Miami, 24-20. The Ravens, despite not scoring a touchdown, used six field goals from Justin Tucker to win at Detroit on Monday Night Football, 18-16.

Playing in so many games decided late gets the heart rate up, for players, coaches, and especially fans. But playing in them every week at least brings some form of familiarity.

"If you’re prepared, you have an opportunity that the moment doesn’t kind of take you over. You know what your job is, you know what you’re going to call if you’re a coach, you know the kind of things that are going to be called if you’re a player and you know what to expect from the defense," said offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. "As long as we continue to try to be prepared and be ready for those scenarios if and when they come up in the games, I think that’s the best thing you can do as a coach and a player.

"There’s no shortcut to your preparation, and once you get in those scenarios you hope that you feel very comfortable with the things you are going to try to do. To me, that’s the key to our execution when those scenarios come up is that our guys feel good about it and they go out there and execute under pressure and give us an opportunity to win."

Rob Gronkowski surgery scheduled

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff December 17, 2013 08:26 AM
FOXBOROUGH – Tight end Rob Gronkowski has not yet had surgery to repair his right knee, though it will likely happen around the beginning of the new year.

A league source confirmed to the Globe Tuesday morning that Gronkowski will have surgery in two weeks with noted orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews to repair the torn ACL and MCL in his right knee. Gronkowski needs the swelling to subside before he can have surgery, which will take place about four weeks from when the injury occurred on Dec. 8 when he was hit by Browns safety T.J. Ward after a third-quarter catch.

NFL.com reported on Monday that tests have shown no dislocation of the knee for Gronkowski and he should be ready for the start of the 2014 season.

On Monday, a photo of Gronkowski surfaced online, though it’s a far different photo than what we’ve become accustomed to seeing from the fun-loving player: wearing a Kansas State hoodie (his younger brother plays there) and riding a motorized scooter in a local Whole Foods market, Gronkowski posed for a photo with two boys.

Tom Brady, Bill Belichick say Patriots need improvement in red zone

Posted by Staff December 16, 2013 11:25 AM
A day after a 24-20 loss to the Miami Dolphins, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and coach Bill Belichick had a bit more to say on Monday.

Both were brief, to say the least, in their comments immediately following the game on Sunday.

“That was really one that we let kind of get away,” Brady said during his weekly interview on WEEI’s Dennis & Callahan Show. “We had a lot of great opportunities to win the game and win a division title and just came up short. It’s just frustrating all the way around.

FULL ENTRY

5 takeaways from the Patriots-Dolphins second game

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff December 15, 2013 11:11 PM

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- It worked so well until it didn't.

Fall behind, lull your opponent into a false sense of advantage, and then pull off the miraculous comeback. The Patriots were playing dangerously, taking each and every game down to the final series, or final defensive stand, and coming away victorious, week after week. Three weeks in a row, to be exact.

FULL ENTRY

Watch: Patriots-Dolphins highlights

Posted by Staff December 15, 2013 08:09 PM

After three straight weeks of stellar comebacks, the Patriots couldn’t muster one more amazing finish against the Miami Dolphins today.

FULL ENTRY

Patriots disappointed with lack of execution on final drive

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff December 15, 2013 05:05 PM

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – The setup was the same as the last three weeks.

Fall behind, then catch up with an amazing fourth quarter comeback that would replay on the highlight reels all week.

Done.

The only problem was the Patriots didn't hold up their end of the deal, losing to the Miami Dolphins, 24-20, after three failed shots at the end zone with less than a minute remaining.

"We didn't execute a play," said Julian Edelman, who caught a game-high 13 passes for 139 yards and a touchdown. "We have to tip our hats to Miami. They made more plays than us and we got to move on to the Ravens."

FULL ENTRY

Patriots tight end Michael Hoomanawanui, tackle Marcus Cannon return for Dolphins game

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff December 15, 2013 11:53 AM

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – Tight end Michael Hoomanawanui will be active for the Patriots on Sunday when they face the Miami Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium.

It will be Hoomanawanui's first game back since suffering a knee injury in Week 11 against the Carolina Panthers.

Also active for the Patriots is offensive tackle Marcus Cannon, who has missed the past two games with an ankle injury.

Offensive lineman Chris Barker, linebacker Steve Beauharnais, defensive ends Jake Bequette and Michael Buchanan, and tight end D.J. Williams were all announced as inactive. They are healthy scratches.

Wide receivers Aaron Dobson (foot) and Kenbrell Thompkins (hip) were downgraded to out on Saturday evening.

Inactive for the Dolphins: David Arkin, D.J. Campbell, Justin Rogers, Pat Devlin, A.J. Francis, Jamar Taylor, and Danny Watkins.

What to watch for as the Patriots visit the Dolphins

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff December 15, 2013 07:00 AM

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Miami Dolphins running back Lamar Miller figures to be a major factor in Sunday's game against the Patriots because of New England struggling run defense. (Bill Kostroun / AP photo)

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – The Miami Dolphins are the only thing in the Patriots' way of clinching the AFC East for the fifth straight year.

But the Dolphins are no lapdog opponent. Winners of four of their last six games, and coming off an exceptional 34-28 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in the snow, there is plenty to worry about. Considering the Patriots' last outing against Miami, a 27-17 victory that was at the height of the team's offensive struggles, there's incentive to show strength at the top of the division.

Of course, there are injuries to consider. But there are also some good matchups that the Patriots need to be prepared for. Here's what we'll be watching.

1. Without Gronk, who will the Patriots turn to? -- By sheer numbers, and considering the games each player has been available, the Patriots have been fairly balanced distributing the football to their playmakers. That may shift even more with tight end Rob Gronkowski out for good after suffering a torn ACL and damaged MCL. Gronkowski had39 receptions in only seven games – 5.6 catches a game. He's the fourth-leading receiver on the team, behind only Julian Edelman (76 receptions), Danny Amendola (41 receptions), and Shane Vereen (40 receptions). Edelman has played in all 13 games, which averages out to 5.8 catches per game. Vereen, despite missing Weeks 2 through 10, is averaging 7.6 catches per game. You can guess for yourself who is going to get the bulk of the targets with Gronk out. As far as tight ends, Michael Hoomanawanui (10 receptions) leads all other eligible receivers for the Patriots with James Develin (4 catches) and Matthew Mulligan (2 catches) trailing.

2. An improved Tom Brady -- In the Patriots' first meeting with the Dolphins this season, Tom Brady had one of the worst games of his career, throwing for 116 yards on 13 of 22 passing, including a touchdown and an interception. At the time, there was great concern over Brady's right hand, which appeared to be swollen when shown on television (after the game, he not-so-slyly kept it out of view during his press conference). Now, we know there's nothing wrong with Brady's hand after a couple of top-notch performances against the Cleveland Browns (418 yards, 2 touchdowns), Houston Texans (371 yards, 70.7 completion rate), and Denver Broncos (344 yards, 3 touchdowns). His performance has been emblematic of what we know of Brady from the last dozen years. We expect to see more of the good Tom Brady on Sunday.

3. Josh Boyce's opportunities -- Both wide receivers Kenbrell Thompkins (hip) and Aaron Dobson (foot) are injured for the Patriots, giving fellow rookie Josh Boyce increased opportunities. He played an integral role in last week's win over the Cleveland Browns, catching three passes for 49 yards, and showed he has the ability to make plays after the catch. He's going to continue to get these opportunities with only five wide receivers available on the roster – Edelman, Amendola, Austin Collie, and Matthew Slater are the others. It would be nice to see the speedster get more catch-and-run opportunities. Maybe the Patriots agree.

4. Dolphins defensive end Olivier Vernon vs. Patriots left tackle Nate Solder -- Vernon has seven sacks in his last four games and 11.5 this season. That's tied for the most sacks over the last four games in the NFL. The second-year pro has gotten better as the season has progressed, making it harder and harder for teams to pick which side to provide help on when Cameron Wake (50.5 career sacks) is lurking around the other corner. Solder has had a good season, despite allowing 10 sacks. In his last matchup with Vernon, he didn't allow a sack or hit on the quarterback and only one hurry. But Vernon did have three tackles for losses. And after Solder missed some practice time this week for a concussion, we will assume this matchup is going to be tough for Solder, facing one of the hottest defensive ends in the game.

5. Dealing with the running game -- The Patriots have dipped to 31st overall against the run, allowing 135.8 yards per game. Dolphins running backs Lamar Miller (567 yards) and Daniel Thomas (384) may play a big part of Sunday's game because teams are starting to zero in on this deficiency. Even the Browns, a putrid rushing team (84.3 yards per game), tried to ram it down the Patriots' throat with an abnormally high 25 carries for 108 yards. The Dolphins are only marginally better (95.8 yards per game) than the Browns, but the threat remains the same. Can the Patriots stop the run? That is their problem.

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

Game 14 preview: Patriots at Dolphins

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff December 15, 2013 06:00 AM

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – In addition to being without tight end Rob Gronkowski for the remainder of the season, the Patriots will have to play Sunday's game against the Miami Dolphins without wide receivers Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson.

Both were downgraded to out Saturday evening. Thompkins, a Miami native, also missed last week's game with a hip injury. Dobson has missed the past two games with a foot injury.

The team will have only five wide receivers available, including Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Josh Boyce, Austin Collie, and Matthew Slater.

The Patriots (10-3) face the Dolphins (7-6) with a chance to clinch the AFC East title with a win, New England's fifth straight division title. But Miami has won four of its last six games, including last week's win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, 34-28, in the snow.

The weather will be much different setting than what either team has seen in the last week, though, with temperatures at Sun Life stadium expected to hit a high of 85 degrees. Scattered thunderstorms are expected in the region, with a 30 percent chance of rain in the afternoon.

Here are the details for the game:

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

Records: Patriots 10-3; Dolphins 7-6.

TV, radio: CBS (Jim Nantz, Phil Simms); 98.5 FM The Sports Hub (Bob Socci, Scott Zolak) and Westwood One Sports (Tom McCarthy, Rod Woodson).

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

Patriots offense: WR Kenbrell Thompkins, LT Nate Solder, LG Logan Mankins, C Ryan Wendell, RG Dan Connolly, RT Will Svitek, TE Matthew Mulligan, WR Julian Edelman, QB Tom Brady, RB LeGarrette Blount, FB James Develin.

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

Dolphins offense: WR Brian Hartline, LT Bryant McKinnie, LG Nate Garner, C Mike Pouncey, RG John Jerry, RT Tyson Clabo, WR Mike Wallace, WR Rishard Matthews, QB Ryan Tannehill, RB Lamar Miller.

Dolphins defense: LE Cameron Wake, DT Jared Odrick, DT Paul Soliai, RE Olivier Vernon, LB Philip Wheeler, LB Dannell Ellerbe, LB Koa Misi, CB Brent Grimes, CB nolan Carroll, S Chris Clemons, S Reshad Jones.

Get linked

- Erik Frenz details how Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill is becoming the jewel of the 2012 NFL draft class. He also has this week's scouting report on the Dolphins.

- My Week 15 NFL picks.

- 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+.

Friday injury report: Dobson returns; 9 listed as questionable

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff December 13, 2013 05:20 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Aaron Dobson and eight other Patriots were listed as questionable to play in Sunday's game at Miami. Dobson returned to practice on Friday for the first time since injuring his foot against Denver on Nov. 24.

No players were ruled out by the Patriots, who will have the ability to downgrade players on Saturday, since they are the visiting team and will be traveling to south Florida.

For the Patriots:
Questionable:
CB Kyle Arrington (groin)
OL Marcus Cannon (ankle)
CB Alfonzo Dennard (knee/shoulder)
WR Aaron Dobson (foot)
TE Michael Hoomanawanui (knee)
OT Nate Solder (concussion)
LB Brandon Spikes (knee)
OT Will Svitek (ankle)
WR Kenbrell Thompkins (hip)

Probable:
WR Danny Amendola (groin)
QB Tom Brady (right shoulder)
S Steve Gregory (finger)
WR Matthew Slater (wrist)
CB Aqib Talib (hip)
RB Shane Vereen (wrist)

For the Dolphins:

Questionable:
S Reshad Jones (groin)
CB Jamar Taylor (hamstring)

Probable:
CB Nolan Carroll (hamstring)
S Chris Clemons (knee/hamstring)
P Brandon Fields (not injury related)
OT Nate Garner (ribs)
RB Lamar Miller (concussion)
DT Paul Soliai (ankle)

Amendola says Patriots' focus is only on Miami

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff December 13, 2013 01:48 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Thanks to the Chargers' win over Denver Thursday night, the road has been cleared for the Patriots to grab the AFC's top playoff seed. Wins in their final three games, starting on Sunday in Miami, would guarantee New England the No. 1 seed and homefield advantage until the Super Bowl.

The Patriots aren't thinking about any of that. Well, they might be thinking about it. But they're not saying they're thinking about it.

"We’re just worried about the Miami Dolphins," is all Danny Amendola would say when asked if the playoff picture is on their minds.

Amendola did say that it's been nice practicing inside the climate-controlled field house this week. With temperatures expected to be in the 80s in Miami this weekend, the heat was cranked up during practice.

"It’s hot in there, everybody’s sweating. It feels like Miami. No palm trees, though," Amendola said.

Friday roll call: Dobson returns, giving Patriots full house

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff December 13, 2013 11:06 AM

FOXBOROUGH -- Rookie receiver Aaron Dobson was back at Patriots practice for the first time since suffering a foot injury on Nov. 24, and his return gave the Patriots perfect attendance on Friday.

Dobson has been in a walking boot for his injured left foot as recently as Sunday, when he missed his second straight game. But he looked good on Friday, moving well and showing no signs of the injury except for his left shoe being taped up.

The Patriots are once again practicing in the climate-controlled field house, and will announce whether anyone has been ruled out for Sunday's game in Miami later Friday afternoon.

Bill Belichick unfazed by Denver loss

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff December 13, 2013 10:06 AM
FOXBOROUGH – Denver's loss on Thursday night has opened the door for the Patriots to potentially grab the AFC's No. 1 playoff seed, but tread lightly when asking coach Bill Belichick about the opportunity his team has now been given.

If the Patriots beat the Dolphins on Sunday in Miami, they'll join Denver with the best record in the AFC at 11-3. By virtue of their 34-31 win over the Broncos on Nov. 24, the Patriots hold the head-to-head tiebreaker. Three wins in their final three games, then, would guarantee the Patriots the AFC's top playoff seed. So the Patriots control their playoff fate.

Asked about Thursday's development, Belichick cut the questioner off before he could even finish.

"Yeah, there's nothing we can do about anything except what we do, so I don't really care about anybody else," Belichick said.

Week 15 NFL picks

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff December 12, 2013 05:53 PM

Here are this week's NFL picks. As always, they are against the spread. And there is a special emphasis this week on teams with playoff motivations. There's a lot at stake, especially in the competitive NFC. But don't overlook the AFC West, which begins with a bang Thursday night.

Chargers (+10.5) at Broncos (-10.5) -- Don't be fooled by the amazing numbers of Philip Rivers (3,882 yards passing, 26 touchdowns, 9 interceptions) or the injury to the Broncos' Wes Welker (73 receptions for 778 yards, 10 touchdowns). Denver is in a different class of offense, averaging 39.6 points per game. A win is more than likely here for the home team. Oh, and the game time temperature of 39 degrees is a plus for Peyton Manning.
My pick: Broncos

Washington (+6) at Falcons (-6) -- With a new quarterback, despite Kirk Cousin's promising capabilities, Washington still has a number of issues that extend well beyond the playing field.
My pick: Falcons

Bears (+1) at Browns (-1) -- The Browns looked remarkably better with Jason Campbell at quarterback against the Patriots. For the Bears (7-6), who have decided to let Jay Cutler start despite Josh McCown's fantastic Monday night outing, the fight for the NFC North in its full throes. They're currently tied for the division lead with the Detroit Lions (7-6).
My pick: Bears

Texans (+6) at Colts (-6) -- Obviously Indianapolis needs this win a lot more than Houston does, what with the hope of anything better than the fourth seed in the AFC playoffs. And at 2-11, with Gary Kubiak out the door, the Texans have yet to show they can beat any marginally motivated team for 11 straight weeks.
My pick: Colts

Bills (-2) at Jaguars (+2) -- The Jaguars (4-9) have won four of their last five games. The Bills, who are also 4-9, have gone 1-4 in the same stretch. The Jaguars are trying to finish the season strong.
My pick: Jaguars

Patriots (-2.5) at Dolphins (+2.5) -- Despite a good pass rush and respectable offense, the Dolphins are no match for a Patriots team that has somehow mastered the art of the second-half comeback. And this time around, Tom Brady's hand won't be a concern either.
My pick: Patriots

Eagles (-5) at Vikings (+5) -- Philadelphia has won five straight. The Vikings may be without Adrian Peterson, who missed practice Wednesday. Oh, and Matt Cassel is supposed to start at quarterback for Minnesota. It doesn't look good for Minny.
My pick: Eagles

Seahawks (-7) at Giants (+7) -- Seattle needs to bounce back big after last week's loss to the San Francisco 49ers if they want to clinch the No. 1 seed in the NFC. That's motivation. The Giants (5-8) are just in the way. They're hurting though, with eight players sitting out of Wednesday's practice with injuries, including Marshawn Lynch and Richard Sherman.
My pick: Seahawks

49ers (-5.5) at Buccaneers (+5.5) -- Tampa Bay (4-9) has had an interesting stretch, winning four of its last five games, falling only to the Carolina Panthers (9-4). But the league's third worst offense (18.8 points per game) will have lots of difficulties playing against a 49ers team that is holding opponents to 16.5 a game and are fighting for a playoff spot in the tough NFC West. Again, motivation.
My pick: 49ers

Jets (+11) at Panthers (-11) -- Last week, for the first time in more than a month, Geno Smith completed more than eight passes in a game. He was 16 of 25 for 219 yards. This season, he has nine touchdown passes and 20 interceptions. So I have no faith in him to help the Jets cover this spread, despite last week's win over the Oakland Raiders. The Panthers defense has been fantastic against the run, the Jets' strength, holding opponents to a league low 79.4 yards per game. Opponents are only scoring 14.5 points per game against Carolina.
My pick: Panthers

Chiefs (-4.5) at Raiders (+4.5) -- At 10-3, Kansas City is currently holding onto the fifth seed in the AFC playoffs. They can't afford to lose to the Raiders (4-9) when the playoff hunt is on, particularly in a division with the Denver Broncos and San Diego Chargers.
My pick: Chiefs

Packers (+7) at Cowboys (-7) -- Aaron Rodgers (collarbone) is still not expected to play. That's a good thing for Tony Romo and a reeling Cowboys (7-6) team that needs a little help to get in the playoffs.
My pick: Cowboys

Saints (-6) at Rams (+6) -- The Saints (10-3) proved they weren't pretenders when they beat up on the Carolina Panthers, 31-17, last week. The Rams are hurting, with wide receiver Tavon Austin (ankle), cornerback Janoris Jenkins (back), and running back Daryl Richardson (thigh) all missing practice Wednesday and Thursday with injuries.
My pick: Saints

Cardinals (-3) at Titans (+3) -- Arizona (8-5) may be the surprise team of the NFC, winning four of their last five games. But they suffered a huge loss last week with defensive back Tyrann Mathieu suffering two torn ligaments in his knee. His year is done, which is significant for a defense that had relied upon him in the secondary in a number of positions. It's a do-or-die game for Arizona, which needs to win out in order to sneak in the playoffs with a wildcard spot.
My pick: Cardinals

Bengals (-3) at Steelers (+3) -- I know the Bengals (9-4) are in the hunt for the second seed in the AFC and that they pulled out a 20-10 win over their AFC North rival in Week 2, but they've never had a good overall history against the Steelers (5-8), who are still playing competitively despite being out of the playoff chase. Ben Roethlisberger is 14-5 in his career against the Bengals. And in Pittsburgh, they can't seem to lose twice in a row at home.
My pick: Steelers

Ravens (+6) at Detroit (-6) -- Matt Elam may have awoken a monster when he called Calvin "Megatron" Johnson old this week. But that doesn't mean the Lions will just roll over Baltimore. They still have to worry about whether Reggie Bush (calf) will play. He did not practice Wednesday or Thursday. That's a huge loss for an offense that has benefited greatly from his consistent production.
My pick: Ravens

Last week: 11-5
Season: 99-109

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

Thursday practice report: Nate Solder returns

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff December 12, 2013 03:50 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Quarterback Tom Brady was limited in practice for the second straight day, with Thursday's injury/participation report highlighted by the return of left tackle Nate Solder, who missed Wednesday's workout due to a concussion.

Brady is listed with a right shoulder injury. The only other change for the Patriots was cornerback Marquice Cole, who had been limited on Wednesday with a shin injury. Cole was removed from Thursday's injury report.

For the Patriots:
Did not participate:
WR Aaron Dobson (foot)

Limited participation:
CB Kyle Arrington (groin)
QB Tom Brady (right shoulder)
OL Marcus Cannon (ankle)
CB Alfonzo Dennard (knee/shoulder)
S Steve Gregory (finger)
TE Michael Hoomanawanui (knee)
OT Nate Solder (concussion)
LB Brandon Spikes (knee)
OT Will Svitek (ankle)
CB Aqib Talib (hip)
WR Kenbrell Thompkins (hip)

Full participation:
WR Danny Amendola (groin)
WR Matthew Slater (wrist)
RB Shane Vereen (wrist)

For the Dolphins:

Did not participate:
S Reshad Jones (groin)

Limited participation:
CB Nolan Carroll (hamstring)
S Chris Clemons (knee/hamstring)
DT Paul Soliai (ankle)
CB Jamar Taylor (hamstring)

Full participation:
OT Nate Garner (ribs))
RB Lamar Miller (concussion

Thursday roll call: Nate Solder returns

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff December 12, 2013 11:18 AM

FOXBOROUGH – Starting left tackle Nate Solder was back at Patriots practice on Thursday, one day after missing a workout due to a concussion apparently suffered in Sunday's win over Cleveland.

The only player not spotted at practice was receiver Aaron Dobson, who was still wearing a walking boot on his left foot Sunday. Dobson has missed the past two games.

With temperatures in Miami expected to be in the 80s this weekend, the Patriots once again decided to practice inside the climate-controlled field house.

Wednesday injury report: Solder misses practice with concussion

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff December 11, 2013 06:11 PM

FOXBOROUGH – Nate Solder missed Wednesday's practice with a concussion, the first time he's been absent since the season started. Solder has started all 13 games this season at left tackle.

Fellow offensive lineman Marcus Cannon returned to practice after missing the last two games with an ankle injury. He was one of 11 Patriots who were limited during practice on Wednesday, including quarterback Tom Brady.

Running back Brandon Bolden, who missed Friday's practice with a non-injury-related reason, then was made inactive for Sunday's win over the Browns, was also back on the practice field.

For the Patriots:
Did not participate:
WR Aaron Dobson (foot)
OL Nate Solder (concussion)

Limited participation:
CB Kyle Arrington (groin)
QB Tom Brady (right shoulder)
OL Marcus Cannon (ankle)
CB Marquice Cole (shin)
CB Alfonzo Dennard (knee/shoulder)
S Steve Gregory (finger)
TE Michael Hoomanawanui (knee)
LB Brandon Spikes (knee)
OT Will Svitek (ankle)
CB Aqib Talib (hip)
WR Kenbrell Thompkins (hip)

Full participation:
WR Danny Amendola (groin)
WR Matthew Slater (wrist)
RB Shane Vereen (wrist)

For the Dolphins:

Did not participate:
S Reshad Jones (groin)
C Mike Pouncey (not injury related)

Limited participation:
CB Nolan Carroll (hamstring)
S Chris Clemons (knee/hamstring)
DT Paul Soliai (ankle)
CB Jamar Taylor (hamstring)

Full participation:
OT Nate Garner (ribs))
RB Lamar Miller (concussion

Patriots rookie linebacker Jamie Collins is doing his best to adjust

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff December 11, 2013 04:02 PM

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Patriots rookie linebacker Jamie Collins has gotten an increased role in the past few weeks. (Jared Wickerham / Getty Images)

FOXBOROUGH -- By Week 6 of the NFL season, Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins had played so minimally on defense that gauging his performance and improvement over the first quarter of the season was difficult.

But the rookie, who was selected 52d overall by the Patriots in the second round of the NFL draft, was always a part of the team's plans. He was a major contributor on special teams and has been used in spot duty for sub packages, but nothing more. That all changed when Jerod Mayo tore his pectoral muscle against the New Orleans Saints.

Collins has been in and out of the team's starting lineup ever since, getting the nod in the last three games against the Denver Broncos, Houston Texans, and Cleveland Browns. But it wasn't until this past Sunday against the Browns that Collins played a majority of the team's defensive snaps.

"It's tough to fill in [Mayo's] shoes, especially for a guy like him," Collins said. "You know, being in this system for a long time. I just gotta come in and do what I can, you know, and just put this team in a position to win. There's not too many guys who can come in and fill his shoes. It's not an easy thing to do."

Collins has 34 total tackles and a pass defensed on the season. Despite having games with only two, four, or six snaps on defense (in five games this season he has played in six defensive snaps or fewer), he's managed to improve and find a role on this team.

"He’s another guy who has worked hard, who has been a consistent guy out there every day in terms of being able to practice, being able to work on his techniques, get better, whether it be on the scout team or defensively or in the kicking game," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "I think his confidence is growing, his overall understanding and anticipation is getting better and his communication with his teammates is improving too."

Communication is the key, says Collins.

"It's all about communication," he said. "If you communicate, things will go well. Like I said, you just got to know what you're doing and know the playbook and it should all fall in place."

He points to the Browns game, one of his better defensive efforts in which he recorded eight tackles overall, but gave up a big touchdown to Jordan Cameron in the fourth quarter.

"It's a pretty decent game. But you know like I said, it's always room for improvement. And I'm just going to work to improve every week."

Collins was targeted six times in the passing game, allowing four receptions, including the touchdown.

"That was just last week's game mistake," he said of Cameron's touchdown.
"Not too much worried about it. Just ready to get this Miami game rolling."

Part of the adjustment for Collins has been acclimating to the New England cold. In college at Southern Miss, he never played in an environment like the one he experienced during the Broncos game, with the weather dipping below 20 degrees and the wind chill in single digits.

"Definitely not used to it," he said. "But it's just one of those things you just gotta look past. You can't let the weather get to you. You just gotta go out there and do your job. Man, it's always going to be weather conditions. Or no matter what it is -- it's raining, sleet, snowing, hail -- you just gotta go out there and do what you get paid to do."

What he's being paid to do has shifted, from a special teams-only role to a sub-package linebacker to one in which he was a central figure against the Browns. What's been expected of him has shifted as well, with Mayo out and his duties increased. The former college safety and defensive lineman relishes all of the tasks he's asked to do and accepts the weight of being the Patriots' top draft pick.

"Whatever position they put me in, whether it's to cover or to play the run, no matter what it is, I'm going to do my best to do it," Collins said. "And I guess that's why I'm here. Whatever it is I'm here to do, I'm going to do it."

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

Without Rob Gronkowski, Tom Brady says others need to step up

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff December 11, 2013 03:39 PM
FOXBOROUGH – The Patriots offense will not change in the weeks ahead. And it won't just revert to what it had been prior to Week 7 of the season, the first game tight end Rob Gronkowski played before being suffering an ACL tear and MCL injury this past Sunday.

No, it'll be exactly what it has been all season, an amorphous concept designed to take advantage of opponents' weaknesses and rely upon the team's strength, whatever and whomever that may be. So according to Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, the guy who fills Gronkowski's place in the lineup can't just be good, he has to be great.

"I would say our offense is pretty much our offense, so the other guys that are going to be in there filling that role and playing tight end for us have to do a great job," Brady said. "We always try to find ways to use a guy’s skill set, and we run it decent at times, we throw it decent at times. I mean, it’s disappointing to lose anybody, but we’ve faced that before this year and at different times, so I’d say at least we’re adjusted to it a little bit. We still have confidence that we can go out and win games."

The Patriots won five of six games without their all-pro tight end this season. The candidates to immediately fill in for him are veteran tight end Michael Hoomanawanui (who practiced for the first time Wednesday since suffering a knee injury in Week 11), Matthew Mulligan, James Develin, and D.J. Williams.

Brady knows Hoomanawanui and Mulligan, the natural tight ends who will likely carry the bulk of the load for the team, do not have the same skills as Gronkowski.

"You have to try to figure out what we’re going to do to still get the level of production that’s good enough to win," he said.

He added that he was confident in those two.

"They’ve been able to contribute [in] the role that they’ve been in that we’ve asked them to do, so I think now the role’s going to be more," Brady said. "You’re going to play more, because Gronk’s not in there, so someone’s got to be in there. That will fall on the backs, that will fall on the tight ends, that will fall on the receivers, anyone who’s got an opportunity to produce while they’re out on the field. If you’re an eligible receiver, then you’ve got to do something with it, so we either run it better or throw it better or catch it better or run with it after the catch. It’s not going to be an excuse for us, I know that."

So the players change, but the expectations don't.

Charles Clay gets Patriots' defensive attention

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff December 11, 2013 02:46 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Dolphins tight end Charles Clay has just one 100-yard receiving game this season, but he's averaging six catches per contest over the past month, and scored three touchdowns in that span.

Picked in the sixth round of the 2011 NFL Draft, Clay is quickly developing a solid working relationship with second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill, and is explosive enough to get the full attention of the Patriots' defense.

"He can block in the running game, he definitely presents challenges in the passing game, as well. He can line up in multiple positions, he has speed, he has size, he’s very athletic, has good hands," safety Steve Gregory said. "He’s a guy we’ll definitely have to be aware of, he’s a guy who can make plays for them, he’s kind of been a go-to guy for them coming down the stretch."

Clay caught seven passes in each of Miami's last two games, for 80 yards against the Jets, and 97 yards (plus two touchdowns) in last week's win at Pittsburgh.

As impressive as his pass-catching numbers have been, Clay's work on the Dolphins' run game has stood out to Patriots coach Bill Belichick.

"Probably the one thing that’s impressed me the most about Clay – we know he has a lot of playmaking ability, he’s fast, he’s very good with the ball in his hands after the catch – I’d say the thing that’s impressed me the most about him is his blocking. He really competes hard as a blocker," Belichick said. "He’s been matched up against defensive ends numerous times in the running game, guys like Charles Johnson from Carolina and guys like that, and he blocks them. He competes well with them. He’s definitely not afraid to stick his nose in there and be tough and competitive.

"I think he’s really a lot more than a receiving tight end. He’s a guy that’s a playmaker that helps them in the running game too."

Belichick: Win or lose, page turns quickly

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff December 11, 2013 11:45 AM

FOXBOROUGH -- With Sunday's last-minute victory over the Browns, Patriots coach Bill Belichick extended his NFL record of consecutive 10-win seasons, to 11.

Before practice on Wednesday, Belichick was asked if he and his coaching staff take any time to savor such an accomplishment.

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Week 15: Wednesday practice peek - No Solder, Dobson

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff December 11, 2013 11:00 AM

FOXBOROUGH - There is good news and potentially bad news for the Patriots offensive line: according to colleague Michael Whitmer, starting LT Nate Solder was not present for the media-access portion of practice, though RT Marcus Cannon (ankle) returned for the first time since suffering his injury against the Broncos.

WR Aaron Dobson (foot) also was not spotted at practice; Dobson has also missed the last two games because of his injury.

There was no announcement during the Patriots' game with Cleveland of an injury for Solder, so we'll have to wait until the injury report comes out before getting an indication of what happened.

The Patriots are practicing inside the Dana-Farber Fieldhouse, where Bill Belichick can crank up the heat: it is currently 29 degrees in Foxborough, while the current forecast for the Miami area on Sunday is in the mid-80s.

McDaniels discusses life without Gronk

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff December 10, 2013 02:35 PM


Other than Tom Brady, the Patriots team member who might miss Rob Gronkowski the most is offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. Losing the star tight end is nothing new, though, so McDaniels has been in this position before.

"We’ve experienced playing without him before," McDaniels said during the coaches' teleconference Tuesday. "I don’t know if we’re better equipped, I’m not exactly sure how to rate that.

"I just know that any time you lose a player like that or you can’t use a player like that, you need to put your time into a few different things, and other people have to play different roles. You play offense a little differently, and we do have experience doing that.

"We did it at the beginning of this year for a significant number of weeks, we did it in the offseason, we did it last year during the course of the season as well, so we’ve experienced this before.

"I think for that reason, we kind of have an idea of exactly what we need to use and how to kind of formulate our game plan to max out our strengths and try to make up for the loss of a very unique player."

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Patriots-Ravens game moved out of 'Sunday Night Football' slot

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff December 10, 2013 01:04 PM

The NFL announced that the Patriots game in Week 16 against the Baltimore Ravens Dec. 22 will no longer be televised nationally on NBC's "Sunday Night Football" and will be moved to the 4:25 p.m. time slot.

Instead, NBC will air at 8:30 the Chicago Bears-Philadelphia Eagles game, which will likely decide the NFC East title.

The Patriots (10-3) are usually a huge draw for broadcasters, but the Ravens (7-6) have been somewhat of a disappointment coming off their Super Bowl season.

The Patriots-Ravens game will now be on CBS at 4:25.

Patriots officially place Gronkowski on injured reserve

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff December 9, 2013 05:07 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- The Patriots have officially placed tight end Rob Gronkowski on season-ending injured reserve, the team announced late Monday afternoon.

Gronkowski tore the ACL and MCL in his right knee in the third quarter of Sunday's win over Cleveland, at the tail end of a 21-yard reception. His right foot was planted when he was hit by Browns safety T.J. Ward on the outside of the knee.

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5 takeaways from the Patriots-Browns game

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff December 8, 2013 09:34 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Continuing a streak of faulty first halves and extraordinary comebacks, the Patriots beat the Cleveland Browns 27-26 Sunday night in what I'll personally term as an instant classic.

Any time you have a successful onside kick recovery -- which was the first in Patriots franchise history to lead to a game-winning touchdown -- you have to consider where the particular contest in question rests on the pantheon of great wins. In this case, for a team as lauded and trophied up as the Patriots, we'll just wonder aloud where Sunday's game ranks in terms of regular season victories.

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Watch: Patriots-Browns highlights

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff December 8, 2013 06:30 PM

Here's a recap of the key plays in the Patriots' 27-26 victory Sunday over the Cleveland Browns at Gillete Stadium.

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Browns safety T.J. Ward says he was worried about fine when he hit Rob Gronkowski

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff December 8, 2013 06:04 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Cleveland Browns safety T.J. Ward, whose crushing hit on the Patriots' Rob Gronkowski that took the tight end out of the game, said he made a conscious decision on where to target him because he was concerned about the possibility of being fined.

"I think they ran a seam route and I closed on the pass," Ward said. "It was a decision I made, and just to make a tackle on a big man. Unfortunately, he got hurt, but if I would have hit him up high, there’s a chance that I would get fined and all that other stuff, so I’m just being safe."

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Tom Brady excited about win but feels sorry for Rob Gronkowski

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff December 8, 2013 05:52 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Patriots quarterback Tom Brady threw two touchdowns within a span of two minutes, to lead his team to a 27-26 win over the Cleveland Browns Sunday.

And he couldn't have been more proud of the outcome, having his offense shut out in the first half of Sunday's game and overcoming a 12-point deficit in the third quarter to finish for the victory.

"That was awesome, " said Brady, who finished with 418 receiving yards on 32 of 52 passing. "What a game. I'm just proud of the guys. We fought through a lot of adversity. A lot of mental toughness. We grinded it out, so it was pretty sweet."

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Survey: Who deserves the game ball for Patriots' win over the Browns?

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff December 8, 2013 05:36 PM

For a long while Sunday it looked like the game ball survey would not be necessary this week, but once again the resilient Patriots found a way to win.

Cast your votes for which player's efforts to make the win happen merit a game ball.


Which Patriot deserves the game ball for win over Browns?

Rob Gronkowski injured in Patriots-Browns game

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff December 8, 2013 03:10 PM

Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski was taken off the field on a cart after suffering an apparent knee injury in the Patriots' game Sunday vs. the Cleveland Browns.

The team announced during the game Gronkowski has a leg injury and would not return. According to a report from Fox Sports' Mike Garafolo after the game, Gronkowski has a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee and will have an MRI test on Monday.

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Stevan Ridley active for Patriots against Browns; Thompkins, Bolden out

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff December 8, 2013 11:37 AM

FOXBOROUGH -- The Patriots will have to do without both of their top outside wide receivers, Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson, after listing Thompkins inactive with a hip injury.

Dobson (foot) has been out since Week 11 against the Carolina Panthers.

Patriots running back Stevan Ridley, who was inactive last week against the Houston Texans, is officially active for Sunday's game against the Cleveland Browns. Also active for the Patriots is cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, who had missed practice this week to go to court in Nebraska. He had missed two of the past three games with a knee injury.

Running back Brandon Bolden (knee) will be out of commission for the team as well.

The other Patriots inactives are OT Marcus Cannon (ankle), TE Michael Hoomanawanui (knee), and LB Steve Beauharnais.

The Browns' inactives are quarterbacks Brandon Weeden and Alex Tanney, offensive linemen Martin Wallace, Garrett Gilkey and Reid Fragel, tight end Keavon Milton, and receiver Josh Cooper.

What to watch for as the Patriots host the Browns

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff December 8, 2013 10:44 AM

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The Patriots' run defense has allowed 138.2 yards per game. (Patric Schneider / AP photo)

FOXBOROUGH – So is it or isn't it a trap game?

The Patriots (9-3) host the Browns (4-8) with playoff implications on the line -- for the Patriots, of course -- and a game atmosphere reminiscent of a Week 4 preseason matchup.

The health and status of the team's players afterward may be the only outcome that will actually matter.

So whether or not the Patriots play up -- or down -- to the Browns is quite possibly irrelevant in the grand scheme of the season. But given this team's attitude toward preparation and Bill Belichick's emphasis on mental resilience, we can expect a full throttle effort Sunday.

Here's what we'll be watching in today's game:

1. Stevan Ridley -- Stevan Ridley is active and will play today's game. So now that we know that, what we'll be watching for is how many touches the talented but fumble-prone running back gets Sunday.

2. Josh Gordon -- The Cleveland wide receiver has had a couple of epic performances this season, including his 10 receptions for 261 yards and two touchdowns last week against the Jacksonville Jaguars. More than likely, he'll get to face Patriots corner Aqib Talib, who has had his fair share of matchups with the league's elite wide receivers and has won more battles than he has lost. Hopefully, there will be fireworks.

3. Dolphins-Steelers and Ravens-Vikings -- Because of the playoff implications, we're going to keep a side screen up and follow updates in the Miami Dolphins game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. If the Dolphins lose or tie against the Steelers, the Patriots will clinch the AFC East with win today. The Patriots can also clinch a playoff spot if the Baltimore Ravens lose or tie against the Minnesota Vikings. In the latter scenario, a fifth straight AFC East title would have to wait.

4. How will Jason Campbell look? -- The Browns quarterback is 0-2 all-time against the Patriots, and despite some down years in Oakland, has always been a solid player. Against the Patriots in those two games, he was 46 of 75 passing for 541 yards, two touchdowns, and three interceptions. He has the ability to make quality throws around the field and with the Patriots secondary nicked up, he has an opportunity to shine once again.

5. The Patriots run defense -- The team's run defense has been atrocious, partly because recent opponents have dictated a more passing centric defensive scheme. But when you're 31st overall in yards allowed per game (138.2), it's time to start putting the breaks on an obvious weakness. Today, we'll see if the Patriots are interested in this particular area of improvement against a Browns team that manages only 82.3 yards on the ground per game.

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

Game 13 preview: Browns at Patriots

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff December 8, 2013 10:35 AM

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Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon, who has caught 64 passes for 1,249 yards this season, will be a player to watch. (David Richard / AP photo)

FOXBOROUGH – The Patriots can clinch the AFC East today with a win against the Cleveland Browns and a little help.

For the Patriots to take their fifth straight division title, they need a Miami Dolphins loss or tie against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Patriots can clinch a playoff spot with a Baltimore Ravens loss or tie against the Minnesota Vikings.

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Week 14 NFL picks

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff December 8, 2013 10:05 AM

We're tardy but not late.Here are this week's NFL picks. As always, picks are against the spread.

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Alfonzo Dennard strikes plea deal in DUI case

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff December 6, 2013 04:05 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Appearing in a Nebraska courtroom for the second time in two days, Patriots cornerback Alfonzo Dennard pleaded no contest Friday to refusing a chemical test, with prosecutors dropping charges of driving under the influence, according to the Lincoln (Neb.) Journal Star.

The newspaper reported that Dennard had his driver's license revoked for 60 days, was fined $500, and was given probation to run concurrent with an earlier conviction for felony assault, which was modified Thursday.

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Friday injury report: Dobson, Cannon ruled out

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff December 6, 2013 03:55 PM


FOXBOROUGH -- Ten Patriots have been designated as questionable for Sunday's game against the Browns -- including five players in the defensive secondary -- and wide receiver Aaron Dobson and offensive lineman Marcus Cannon have been declared out.

Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, who has missed practice each of the past two days while tending to legal matters in Nebraska, is listed as questionable with a knee injury.

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Austin Collie happy to be back with Patriots

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff December 6, 2013 01:32 PM


FOXBOROUGH -- Now with three practices under his belt after re-signing with the Patriots Wednesday, receiver Austin Collie said he's healthy and thrilled to be back with the team.

"I was crossing my fingers, because I love it here. It’s a great team, great organization, great coaching staff," Collie said Friday, after the team's final practice of the week before facing Cleveland Sunday at Gillette Stadium. "It's awesome."

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Belichick talks basketball, Bess, replay challenges

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff December 6, 2013 11:40 AM

FOXBOROUGH -- Fridays in Foxborough can bring a wide range of topics at a Bill Belichick press conference, because many of the specific game angles for that week's opponent -- in this case, the Cleveland Browns -- have already been discussed and dissected at length.

So Belichick responded to a number of questions. Here were a few exchanges.

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Friday roll call: Brandon Bolden not spotted

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff December 6, 2013 11:06 AM

FOXBOROUGH -- Running back Brandon Bolden joined three others who were not spotted at Patriots practice on Friday, which is being held on the lower grass field behind Gillette Stadium as a light drizzle falls.

Bolden hasn't been on the injury report this week, but has spent time on it earlier this season with a knee injury.

The other three absences were expected. Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard has a court date on Friday in Nebraska, while offensive lineman Marcus Cannon (ankle) and receiver Aaron Dobson (foot) are dealing with injuries and haven't practiced all week.

Thursday injury report: Spikes limited

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff December 5, 2013 04:41 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Linebacker Brandon Spikes returned to Patriots practice Thursday, and was listed as limited with a knee injury. He had missed Wednesday's workout because of a non-injury-related reason.

Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard missed practice because he was attending to a legal matter in a Nebraska courtroom. Only two Patriots were absent because of injury: offensive lineman Marcus Cannon (ankle) and wide receiver Aaron Dobson (foot).

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Dennard's sentence extended to 60 days

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff December 5, 2013 03:02 PM

According to the Lincoln (Neb.) Journal Star, which had a reporter in the courtroom, Patriots cornerback Alfonzo Dennard had his probation modified Thursday, but the 30 days added to his jail sentence won't change the date on which he's scheduled to begin serving the time, which is after the football season.

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Vereen offers plenty of support for Ridley

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff December 5, 2013 02:09 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Shane Vereen said after practice Thursday that he still supports and has confidence in fellow running back Stevan Ridley, who sat out last Sunday's win at Houston after losing fumbles in each of the Patriots' three previous games.

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Thursday roll call: No Dennard, Cannon, Dobson

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff December 5, 2013 11:14 AM
FOXBOROUGH – As expected, three Patriots – cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, receiver Aaron Dobson, and offensive lineman Marcus Cannon – were missing from Thursday's practice, held under threatening skies on the lower grass field behind Gillette Stadium. FULL ENTRY

Patriots re-sign WR Austin Collie

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff December 5, 2013 10:41 AM
Perhaps signaling that the receiver corps is slightly banged up, the Patriots have re-signed Austin Collie, who played in four games this season before suffering a knee injury and being released. FULL ENTRY

Patriots waive TE D.J. Williams

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff December 4, 2013 05:00 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Eight days after being signed and three days after he made his Patriots debut, tight end D.J. Williams was waived by the club, according to the NFL transactions wire.

Williams played a limited number of snaps against the Texans and did not have a pass thrown his way. He spoke to the media after Wednesday's practice, with no hint that his time with the team was about to end.

Another tight end, Michael Hoomanawanui, was back at practice, giving the Patriots four tight ends on the field, along with Rob Gronkowski and Matt Mulligan. According to the team's depth chart, Williams was fourth among that group.

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Week 14: Wednesday participation report

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff December 4, 2013 04:17 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- Linebacker Brandon Spikes did not participate in Wednesday's practice, but his absence was not related to an injury, according to the Patriots' participation/injury report. Offensive lineman Marcus Cannon (ankle) and receiver Aaron Dobson (foot) were the other two Patriots not at practice.

Nine players were limited, including receiver Kenbrell Thompkins, who left Sunday's game with a hip injury.

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Wednesday's locker-room highlights

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff December 4, 2013 02:42 PM

FOXBOROUGH -- The Patriots practiced for the first time Wednesday in preparation for Sunday's home game against the Cleveland Browns, and a handful of players made themselves available to the media following the workout.

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Watch: Tom Brady on slow starts and playing from behind

Posted by Steve Silva, Boston.com Staff December 4, 2013 01:50 PM
FOXBOROUGH -- It's not how you start, it's how you finish. At least that's been the Patriots story for the last two games.

For the second straight week, the Patriots (9-3) rallied from a halftime defect and needed a game-winning kick from Stephen Gostkowski to seal the victories. Quarterback Tom Brady hopes that scenario doesn't repeat it self against the Cleveland Browns (4-8) this Sunday at Gillette Stadium.

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Patriots preparing for Browns' offense, not specific QB

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff December 4, 2013 11:10 AM
FOXBOROUGH – The Browns have four quarterbacks on their depth chart, but there is no strength in numbers. The first stringer and second stringer are hurt, the third stringer joined the team on Tuesday, and the fourth stringer, signed eight days ago, has never thrown a regular-season pass in the NFL.

Who starts at quarterback for the Browns on Sunday at Gillette Stadium? That's anybody's guess. Browns coach Rob Chudzinski, speaking on a teleconference Wednesday morning, called it "a fluid situation."

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Week 14: Wednesday practice peek - three not spotted

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff December 4, 2013 11:01 AM

FOXBOROUGH – LB Brandon Spikes, WR Aaron Dobson and OL Marcus Cannon were not present for the media-access portion of Patriots practice on Wednesday, colleague Michael Whitmer reports.

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Bill Belichick takes out-of-nowhere, and funny, swipe at Jets

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff December 4, 2013 10:53 AM

FOXBOROUGH – Patriots coach Bill Belichick was in a good mood during his Wednesday morning press conference, so much so that he took an out-on-nowhere swipe at his personal and professional nemesis, the Jets.

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Belichick on clinching AFC East: 'We're not talking about that'

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff December 3, 2013 01:51 PM

The Patriots have an opportunity to clinch the AFC East outright for the fifth straight season, and 10th time in the past 11 years, by beating the Cleveland Browns at Gillette Stadium Sunday, combined with a Dolphins loss at Pittsburgh.

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Bill Belichick won't comment on spying accusation

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff December 2, 2013 11:09 AM
The Houston Texans had no answer for Tom Brady and the Patriots on Sunday afternoon as they rattled off five consecutive scoring drives in the second half for a 34-31 victory.

On Monday morning, it was Bill Belichick who had no answer, as the head coach kept tight-lipped when asked about Texans’ defensive end Antonio Smith’s claims that the Patriots’ timely second-half adjustments were suspicious.

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5 takeaways from the Patriots-Texans game

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff December 2, 2013 07:00 AM

HOUSTON – The Patriots snapped a three-game road losing streak, which is probably the most notable side accomplishment for a team that just clinched its 13th straight winning season.

Beating the Houston Texans (2-10) certified New England's status as a team with no quit. They outscored their opponents 27-14 in the second half to win 34-31 at Reliant Stadium in Houston. That's two weeks with come-from-behind wins. The networks must love the Patriots.

As usual, there were a number of interesting tidbits from the game. Here are some that I thought were most noteworthy.

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Watch: Patriots vs. Texans highlights

Posted by Staff December 2, 2013 01:17 AM

Watch a recap of the Patriots-Texans game.

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Tom Brady says the Patriots are starting to figure it out

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff December 1, 2013 05:49 PM

HOUSTON -- It started last week against the Denver Broncos when the Patriots were down 24-0.

They outscored Peyton Manning and his cohorts 34-7 in the second half, leading to a 34-31 overtime win.

On Sunday, it was more of the same for the Patriots with another second half flurry. The Patriots were down 17-7 when they scored two quick third quarter touchdowns, a 1-yard run by James Develin and a 9-yard pass from Tom Brady to Shane Vereen, before finishing off the Houston Texans 34-31. The Patriots outscored Houston 27-14 in the second half.

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Bill Belichick mum on Stevan Ridley's healthy scratch

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff December 1, 2013 05:37 PM

HOUSTON -- Patriots coach Bill Belichick did not want to talk about running back Stevan Ridley, who was inactive for the team's 34-31 win over the Houston Texans Sunday.

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Special teams another strong component for a Patriots win

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff December 1, 2013 05:11 PM

HOUSTON -- Stephen Gostowski may have suffered, in the grand scheme of things, a small disappointment.

The eight-year kicker missed a 55-yard field goal attempt in the second quarter wide right, snapping a streak of 21 straight made field goals for the veteran. Had he made it, the field goal would've been the longest of his career. He certainly had the distance, but the trajectory was off.

But the missed attempt was a matter that needed shrugging off because he would get other opportunities. Gostkowski kicked two 53-yard field goals, tied for the second longest in his career, to tie the Texans in the fourth quarter and take the lead with 3:15 remaining, 34-31.

It was the second straight week in which he kicked the eventual game-winner and the fifth game-winning field goal of his career.

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Patriots find a way to pull out another win with big second half

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff December 1, 2013 04:49 PM

HOUSTON -- At one point in the season, all the way back in Week 7, the Patriots had mustered only nine points in the third quarter.

Their second half woes had led to losses against the New York Jets and Cincinnati Bengals. The offense was in disarray, missing at least one of its core players for the first 10 weeks of the season.

Now, with Rob Gronkowski and Shane Vereen back, everything is clicking. Against the Houston Texans on Sunday, the Patriots outscored their opponents 27-14 in the second half and 14-7 in the third quarter to take the victory, 34-31.

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Survey: Which Patriot gets game ball vs. Texans?

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff December 1, 2013 04:32 PM

Cast your vote for the player you think deserves the game ball for going above and beyond to help make the Patriots' 34-31 victory over the Texans happen.


Which Patriot deserves the game ball for his role in win over Texans?

Live updates: Patriots at Texans

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff December 1, 2013 12:58 PM

Stevan Ridley inactive for Patriots vs. Texans

Posted by Mike Whitmer, Globe Staff December 1, 2013 11:36 AM

HOUSTON – Running back Stevan Ridley, who has lost three fumbles in the last three games, was placed on the inactive list by the Patriots for Sunday's game against the Texans.

Ridley has not been on the injury report, so there's no other way to view the benching than punishment for being careless with the football. Ridley lost a fumble in the season opener at Buffalo that was returned for a touchdown, then lost fumbles in consecutive games against the Steelers, Panthers, and Broncos.

They've been costly: The fumble against Denver a week ago was also returned for a touchdown, and the turnover at Carolina came at the Panthers' 13-yard-line in a game the Patriots lost by four points.

Ridley, a third-year back from LSU, was inactive just once before Sunday: As a rookie, in the 2012 AFC Championship Game against Baltimore. He had fumbled the week before, in a playoff win over Denver.

The Patriots had already designated four players out for Sunday's game, and needed to come up with three more to reach the mandatory seven who would sit. Linebacker Steve Beauharnais and defensive lineman Jake Bequette joined Ridley. Together, they joined offensive lineman Marcus Cannon (ankle), tight end Michael Hoomanawanui (knee), receiver Aaron Dobson (foot), and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard (knee).

For the Texans, tackle Andrew Gardner, DE Tim Jamison, G Alex Kupper, LB Ricky Sapp, S Jawanza Starling, G Cody White and QB T.J. Yates are inactive.

What to watch for as the Patriots visit the Texans

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff December 1, 2013 09:34 AM

HOUSTON – The Patriots will have to be concerned with playing down to their competition Sunday because the Texans (2-9) are not going to make this easy.

There are also moving parts to consider as the Patriots continue to deal with the injury bug. Here's what we'll be watching in Sunday's game.

1. Defending the run -- Last week's run defense against the Denver Broncos was not so much a debacle as it was an uninterested byproduct of defending against the top passing offense in the NFL. But after relinquishing 280 yards rushing and falling to 31st overall in rushing defense (139.7 yards allowed per game), there has to be some sort of course correction. The Texans, led by Ben Tate (544 yards), rush for an average of 116.4 yards per game. Tate gets 4.2 yards a carry.

2. Secondary shuffle -- Steve Gregory (thumb) is expected to play for the Patriots at safety but the team will be without cornerback Alfonzo Dennard (knee) while Aqib Talib (hip), Kyle Arrington (groin), and Marquice Cole (shin) are all questionable. This secondary is banged up and that's always a concern when facing one of the league's best wide receivers in Andre Johnson (74 catches, 1,002 yards, 5 touchdowns). Case Keenum, the Texans' quarterback, has been known to let it fly. We'll see if the Patriots can handle it.

3. How will the Patriots use Stevan Ridley? -- There's no doubt that Ridley (576 yards, 7 TDs) is a talented running back who has a lot to offer the team. But his fumbling (four on the season) has become a nuisance to turnover-conscious coach Bill Belichick. The team made an extra effort to promote ball security this week in practice. Ridley, for his part, accepted full responsibility for his woes and pledged to work harder than ever to correct the issue. How that plays out on Sunday will be of great interest.

But to give you an idea of how much better the Patriots are with Ridley in the lineup, consider this: In last week's 34-31 overtime win over the Broncos, Ridley carried the ball only four times for 14 yards. He forced two missed tackles. In 25 combined carries, LeGarrette Blount, Shane Vereen, and Brandon Bolden combined to force missed two tackles. It's been that way all season, with Ridley forcing 22 missed tackles, more than Blount, Vereen, and Bolden combined (20). Will the Patriots use him against the league's top-ranked pass defense?

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

Game 12 preview: Patriots at Texans

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff December 1, 2013 09:06 AM

HOUSTON – The Patriots will have to keep their wits about them on Sunday, facing an opponent that hasn't won in nine straight games and is desperate to pull off an upset.

"We’re too familiar with the feeling after a loss this year," said Texans defensive end J.J. Watt. "After the game and on Monday, you’re extremely frustrated. You’re upset, you’re angry. And then Tuesday is kind of a transition day, I mean for myself, I can only speak for myself. The frustration and anger continues, but then as the day goes on you have to move on to the next week, because the negativity is not going to get you anywhere. You have to come back to work, and you have to put your best foot forward and give it everything you have for that next week, and so by the time Wednesday rolls around, you start that next practice week. You have to be fully locked in and focused, and that’s the way that we approach it and that’s the way that I approach it, is put every single thing that I have into the game plan this week and into practice and into the film study and the weight room, and then go out there on Sunday and give it everything you got."

The Texans (2-9) have lost six of their last nine games by an average of 3.6 points, giving credence to the notion their record belies the team's talent.

"I think that the football team looks a lot like last year’s football team," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "They’re very, very good on defense. They have a lot of good players. They’re very disruptive up front."

The Patriots (8-3) have a 3-1 record against the Texans in the regular season, including last season's 42-14 win at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots followed that with a 41-28 win over the Texans in the postseason last year.

Here are the details for the game:

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

Records: Patriots 8-3; Texans 2-9.

TV, radio: CBS (Greg Gumbel, Dan Dierdorf); 98.5 FM The Sports Hub (Bob Socci, Scott Zolak) and Sports USA (Larry Kahn, Ross Tucker).

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 Will Svitek, TE Rob Gronkowski, WR Julian Edelman, QB Tom Brady, RB Stevan Ridley, WR Kenbrell Thompkins.

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

Texans offense: WR Andre Johnson, LT Duane Brown, LG Wade Smith, C Chris Myers, RG Brandon Brooks, RT Derek Newton, TE Garrett Graham, WR DeAndre Hopkins, QB Case Keenum, FB Greg Jones, RB Ben Tate.

Texans defense: DE J.J. Watt, NT Earl Mitchell, DE Antonio Smith, SLB Brooks Reed, MLB Darryl Sharpton, MLB Joe Mays, WLB Whitney Mercilus, LCB Kareem Jackson, RCB Johnathan Joseph, SS D.J. Swearinger, FS Shiloh Keo.

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

News, analysis and commentary from Boston.com's staff writers and contributors, including Zuri Berry and Erik Frenz.

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