AFC East: LeGarrette Blount

Report: RB Blount to visit Steelers

March, 21, 2014
3/21/14
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Williams
Blount
Free-agent running back LeGarrette Blount is scheduled to visit the Pittsburgh Steelers, according to a report from Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun/National Football Post.

This is the first reported visit for Blount since free agency began March 11.

The Steelers previously hosted veteran Maurice Jones-Drew and are in the market for another running back to pair with second-year player Le'Veon Bell. Meanwhile, the Patriots and Blount have expressed mutual interest in his return, but Blount hasn't been inclined to sign a contract at this point. Perhaps a visit to the Steelers sparks the process forward in some fashion.

The Patriots currently have Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, Brandon Bolden and Jonas Gray at running back. Ridley, Vereen and Bolden all enter the final year of their contracts, so the Patriots figure to add a running back at some point, either in free agency or the draft.

Draft & free agency: Running back

February, 21, 2014
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With free agency to begin March 11, and the draft from May 8-10, one thing NFL teams generally do at this time is marry the two to better assess the best approach to filling potential needs. For example, if a team knows it’s a deep draft for top-quality offensive tackles (2014 is such), it might be less inclined to be as aggressive at that position in free agency.

This was a general point made by several coaches and executives at the NFL combine, such as Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera and Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff.

With this in mind, our plan is to continue to look at each position in the coming days through a similar lens.

Today's position: Running back

Draft: The class is deep but not top-heavy, as it's possible there isn't a running back selected in the first round. Part of that is tied to a general de-valuing of the position by teams. NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said, "The good news in this draft and in the last few is that if you can get in the second, third, fourth round, and find different flavors of running backs; you'll see some teams that will draft two or three running backs in one or two drafts, just so you can have a big back and a third down change of pace guy and I think that's where the league has gone and I think that's where it's going to continue to go." Boston College's Andre Williams is Mayock's fourth-rated rusher.

Free agency: Five-year veteran LeGarrette Blount is part of a deep group that includes Knowshon Moreno (Broncos), Donald Brown (Colts), Darren McFadden (Raiders), Maurice Jones-Drew (Jaguars), Dexter McCluster (Chiefs), Rashard Mendenhall (Cardinals), Willis McGahee (Browns), James Starks (Packers) and Ben Tate (Texans), among others. This has been more of a buyer's market in recent years and 2014 is likely to be the same.

Patriots perspective: Blount came on strong at the end of the 2013 season and bringing back him would seemingly be a priority; a two-year deal in the $3-4 million range is one projection of the market to do so. With Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen entering the final years of their contracts, it wouldn't be a surprise if the Patriots draft a running back to build depth and with 2015 in mind.

Blount, Pats run game goes nowhere

January, 19, 2014
1/19/14
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DENVER -- Employing a game-plan offense, the New England Patriots’ strategy each week revolves around identifying an opposing team’s weaknesses and aiming to exploit them.

[+] EnlargeStevan Ridley
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports Stevan Ridley (5 carries, 17 yards) and the Patriots' run game was held in check by the Broncos.
On paper, the Denver Broncos’ defensive weakness was their secondary. Throwing the football seemed like a natural avenue for the Patriots to take on Sunday.

But with the sensational success of the running game of late -- catalyzed by between-the-tackles rushing by LeGarrette Blount -- sticking with the ground-and-pound approach seemed plausible too.

On Sunday, throwing the ball just wasn’t enough, and the ground game was unable to penetrate what has proven to be a stingy Denver run defense down the stretch.

“They were good against the run, good against the pass,” guard Logan Mankins said after the game. “They just took advantage of our offense today.”

Over the past three games entering Sunday, the Patriots had averaged 34.3 carries for 200.3 yards between the tackles, with Blount playing a leading role and scoring eight times during that stretch.

The production from the running game shriveled on Sunday, as Blount had four rushes for 6 yards between the tackles, a far cry from his 18.3 rushes for 130 yards on average over the past three games.

As a team, the Patriots weren’t much better, finishing with 64 yards on 16 carries for the day.

It was just one area of struggle on a day that the Patriots didn’t have the horses to keep up with the Broncos.

Quick-hit thoughts from first quarter

January, 19, 2014
1/19/14
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DENVER -- After 15 minutes of play, the New England Patriots trail the Denver Broncos 3-0 in the AFC Championship Game. Passing along quick-hit notes and observations from the first quarter.

1. Pats' O starts slow. The Patriots' offense needed just one play to find the end zone last Saturday, but the start wasn't quite the same today, as the offense went three and out on its first drive and punted on each of the first two drives. Some notable personnel factors: Aaron Dobson is playing some in two-receiver sets, LeGarrette Blount once again is handling lead back duties and both Matthew Slater and Austin Collie have been targeted on third-down plays.

2. Perfect conditions. The weather is idyllic in Denver today, with a temperature of 61 degrees at kickoff. There's hardly a cloud in the sky, and there's minimal wind. A strong glare has made things difficult on returners fielding punts deep.

3. Broncos open the scoring. The Broncos got on the board first with a field goal late in the first quarter. The drive was helped by a long completion from Peyton Manning to Demaryius Thomas on a third and 10 play. The Patriots were able to hold the Broncos from the 10-yard line, however, forcing the field goal from Matt Prater.

4. Patriots' offense driving. The Patriots' offense generated a little bit of buzz at the end of the quarter, crossing into Denver territory. The second quarter will open with the Patriots facing a fourth down from Denver's 39.

5. Penalty box. The following Patriots were flagged for penalties during the first quarter: tight end Michael Hoomanawanui (offensive pass interference).

W2W4: Five things for Colts-Patriots

January, 10, 2014
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After a weekend off, the New England Patriots are set to return to game action on Saturday night against the Indianapolis Colts (8:15 ET).

The two teams squaring off reminds us of the days of Tom Brady-Peyton Manning in the postseason, as this will mark the fourth time the two franchises have played in the postseason (by the way: the winner of their three previous postseason matchups has gone on to win the Super Bowl).

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The stakes are obvious for the game, with a spot in the AFC Championship Game on the line. During this same weekend last year, the Patriots found themselves playing a Divisional round game at home with a chance to ensure that the AFC Championship Game would be played inside of Gillette Stadium.

The top-seeded Broncos had been upset by the Ravens on Saturday night, leaving the Patriots and Colts as the highest seeds and thus turning their game into the right to play at home the following weekend.

A win this Saturday night for the Patriots or Colts would open up the door to hosting the AFC Championship Game, though it would take an unlikely upset by the Chargers on Sunday for that to be the case.

But that’s getting ahead of ourselves, as Saturday has the feel of a potentially memorable contest.

With kickoff drawing near, here’s a look at what we’ll be watching for.

[+] EnlargeRobert Mathis
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesRobert Mathis led the NFL with 19.5 sacks this season.
1. Solder-Mathis showdown. The Colts’ best defensive player, defensive end Robert Mathis, may just be the top pass-rusher in the NFL. That’s a big job for Patriots left tackle Nate Solder, who said earlier this week that Mathis reminded him -- in some ways -- of Saints defensive end Junior Galette. The Patriots are likely to give Solder some help from time-to-time on Mathis with the utilization of backs chipping and tight ends nudging Mathis before releasing into their patterns, but Solder will also need to be up to the task, as he has been for much of this season.

2. Shadow T.Y.? The Colts’ offense has been depleted by injuries this season, leaving T.Y. Hilton as the most fearsome target for quarterback Andrew Luck. Hilton is a terrific athlete with exceptional speed, which the Patriots have tried to simulate this week in practice by adding Reggie Dunn, who once ran a 4.24 forty. The question that lingers is whether the Patriots will turn to Aqib Talib to shadow Hilton, as he has done with many other wide receivers this season. Hilton doesn’t run exclusively out of the slot, but his role on the inside has picked up since Reggie Wayne went down. Might Talib follow him around the formation? Or will the Patriots turn to multiple defenders to slow him down?

3. The role of former Pats. The Colts brought aboard a familiar face this week in former Patriots wide receiver Deion Branch, adding to a group of former Patriots that now play in Indianapolis. That also includes kicker Adam Vinatieri, who will play in his 25th Patriots-Colts showdown. While Vinatieri’s role is defined, how Branch will be utilized will be interesting to monitor. Given that he was signed this week, it seems plausible Branch might not even be active for the game, but if he is, many eyes will be on number 86 (his jersey number with the Colts) to see how he performs on the field.

4. No safe leads. Every game is worth watching in its entirety, but this one in particular. If we learned anything about the Patriots this season and from the Colts last weekend, it’s that no lead is safe and no game is truly finished until the clock strikes zero. So if either team jumps out early, don’t presume the outcome is decided. The Patriots are fully aware of just how capable Luck is playing from behind, while the Colts know the Patriots have been as gritty as any other team in the NFL in close games this season.

5. Airing it out or ground and pound? Earlier this week, Mike Reiss and I debated over whether the Patriots should air things out against a vulnerable Colts secondary or continue what has worked of late -- the ground game approach led by LeGarrette Blount. The Colts' defense is probably better against the run than it is versus the pass, but that’s not to say the front seven is a dominant group (it allowed 5.1 yards per carry this season, second worst in the NFL). With potential rain in the forecast, slick conditions on the field could make throwing the football difficult, and could lead to a physical showdown at the line of scrimmage. If the Patriots do opt for a ground and pound approach, look for Blount and Stevan Ridley to both be relied upon heavily.

Rapid Reaction: New England Patriots

December, 29, 2013
12/29/13
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Thoughts from the New England Patriots' 34-20 victory against the Buffalo Bills.

What it means: The Patriots earn the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs and a first-round playoff bye. For a banged-up team that had more key players leave the game, it’s a much-needed break.

Injuries to monitor: Starting left guard Logan Mankins left for the locker room in the second quarter with an ankle injury but ultimately played through it. He clearly looked hobbled at times. Rookie receiver Aaron Dobson left the game in the first half with a foot injury and did not return. Linebacker Brandon Spikes, who has been slowed by a knee injury, left the game in the fourth quarter.

Stock watch: LeGarrette Blount, UP. When the 250-pound Blount gets going, it brings back memories of the Patriots’ final Super Bowl championship season with Corey Dillon at running back. It’s rare to see such a big back run with such elusiveness and power. Blount totaled 189 yards rushing and also had two long kickoff returns that came as the Bills were threatening to get back into the game. This was a career day for Blount, who is rounding into form at the time many often say the running game takes on added importance. As the Patriots kneeled on the ball, coach Bill Belichick took Blount off the field so he could hear the rousing cheer from the home crowd.

Elements play a big part: The game was played in heavy rain throughout, which made ballhandling a struggle. The Patriots caught some breaks, fumbling four times and recovering all of them. So there was some good fortune for New England on this day. The defense, which was shaky at times, rose up in the critical moments.

What’s next: The Patriots will be off until the divisional round of the playoffs.

Halftime thoughts: Patriots 16, Bills 3

December, 29, 2013
12/29/13
5:44
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Offering some halftime thoughts as the Buffalo Bills trail the New England Patriots 16-3:

1. This one has unfolded about as expected. The Bills came into the game with the NFL's 20th-ranked run defense and they've looked even worse in that phase Sunday. The Patriots have already gained 173 yards on the ground, including a 36-yard touchdown run by LeGarrette Blount. He is averaging 7.9 yards per carry, while Stevan Ridley is pacing the Patriots with an 8.0-yard average.

2. Also as expected, the Bills' red zone offense -- which entered the game 31st in the league -- hasn't come through. The Bills crossed midfield on their first three drives but stalled out. They are 0-for-1 in the red zone, settling for a field goal on their first possession.

3. Thad Lewis' stat line today: 3-for-8 for 62 yards. Even with the slick conditions today, it's tough to win on the road with a 65.6 passer rating. Whether it's Lewis or EJ Manuel, the Bills have issues at quarterback.

4. Something to monitor: Safety Jairus Byrd left late in the first quarter with an ankle injury. He will not return. Byrd will be the Bills' biggest-name free-agent this offseason. He dealt with foot soreness earlier this season that kept him out of the first five games.

McCourty, Boyce absent from practice

December, 24, 2013
12/24/13
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Starting safety Devin McCourty and rookie wide receiver Josh Boyce (ankle) were the two New England Patriots not spotted at the team's walkthrough on Tuesday morning.

Joyce
Boyce
McCourty
McCourty left Sunday's game after tackling Ravens tight end Ed Dickson in the third quarter and did not return. The team officially announced it as a head injury, although it is unclear if McCourty suffered a concussion. Rookie safety Duron Harmon filled in for McCourty.

Boyce, meanwhile, suffered a Week 15 ankle injury against the Dolphins that kept him off the practice field all of last week and out of Sunday's game. The timetable for his return is unclear.

Running back Shane Vereen, who left Sunday's game with a groin injury, was on the field and taking part in team stretching. Safety Steve Gregory, who left the game Sunday with an undisclosed injury but did return, was present for the walkthrough but spent the media-access portion of it on the sidelines.

Left tackle Nate Solder (concussion) and wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins (hip) were also present for the indoor walkthrough.

One additional note: Running back LeGarrette Blount was still wearing his AFC East Champions hat. He obviously likes the fit.

Sharing Patriots halftime thoughts

December, 22, 2013
12/22/13
6:02
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BALTIMORE -- Sharing some halftime thoughts of the New England Patriots' game against the Ravens (New England leads 17-0):

One of Patriots' best halves of the season: This has been, across the board, some of the best football the Patriots have played this season. All three phases are getting it done. On offense, a commitment to the ground game has stood out. On defense, the turnovers are back. And the special teams coverage has been outstanding, sparked by captain Matthew Slater. For the Ravens, quarterback Joe Flacco doesn't look completely comfortable.

Replay review critical for Patriots: Danny Amendola's late second-quarter fumble was overturned on replay, which was crucial for the Patriots because it could have been a momentum-swinging turn of events -- the Ravens getting the ball on a short field and then at the start of the third quarter. Turnovers are such a big part of the action, as we saw in the first quarter for the Patriots (Logan Ryan interception sets up the second touchdown).

Red-zone struggles corrected: One of the big storylines entering the game was the Patriots' red-zone performance (1 of 4 vs. Miami). They are 2 of 2 today, with a power running game (LeGarrette Blount) and then a well-designed pass play (Shane Vereen) the successful formula.

A lot of penalties: Ron Winter's crew has been busy tonight. It's always difficult to tell while watching live if all the calls are warranted, but our general preference are games with fewer flags. It seemed like a long half because of it, with little flow. This reminds us of the 2009 Patriots-Ravens regular-season game, in Foxborough, in which Winter was also the referee.

Injuries to monitor: Vereen left in the second quarter with a groin injury and has not returned. Brandon Bolden has assumed his role as the top "passing back." ... Safety Steve Gregory left in the second quarter with what looked like a right knee/leg injury. It looked signficant, and rookie Duron Harmon took his place. ... Linebacker Dont'a Hightower left the game briefly in the second quarter, but returned.

Ravens get the ball: The Patriots had called heads at the opening toss and it came up tails, with the Ravens deferring the choice to the second half. So the Ravens get the ball to open the second half.
After fumbling in three straight games, New England Patriots running back Stevan Ridley was a healthy scratch for his team's Week 13 matchup with the Houston Texans on Sunday afternoon.

Following the 34-31 win, during which New England accumulated 87 rushing yards on 27 carries, Patriots coach Bill Belichick offered a simple reason why Ridley was declared inactive for the first time since his rookie season in 2011.

[+] EnlargeLeGarrette Blount
Thomas Campbell/USA TODAY SportsLeGarrette Blount led the Patriots with 12 carries and 44 rushing yards.
"Because there were 46 other players active ahead of him," he said.

The Patriots turned to a four-back attack in Ridley's absence, as LeGarrette Blount led the way with 12 carries for 44 yards and a touchdown, and Shane Vereen added 75 total yards and a receiving touchdown. Brandon Bolden had four total touches, and fullback James Develin scored the first touchdown of his career.

The group drew praise from quarterback Tom Brady after the game.

"LeGarrette ran really hard. Shane's doing a great job for us coming back off being out for a while, and Brandon got a lot of touches, too," he said. "So all those guys contributed. We're going to need them all, that's one of the strengths of our team."

What remains to be seen is how long it will take for Ridley to work his way back into the lineup, as he was benched following his fumble in the first quarter last week.

He's proven to be one of the better between-the-tackles rushers in the NFL when on the field, but ball security has been a problem. He has nine fumbles in 42 career regular-season games, six of which have been lost.

The Patriots next take on the Cleveland Browns, one of seven teams to enter Sunday allowing fewer than 100 yards rushing per game.

That matchup might lead the team to work Ridley back into the mix as they aim to further hit their stride down the stretch.

Bolden, Blount in line for more carries

December, 1, 2013
12/01/13
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New England Patriots running back Stevan Ridley was announced as inactive for Sunday's game, coming on the heels of three games in which he has fumbled. Earlier Sunday morning, ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter reported that the Patriots likely would have used Ridley in a reduced role if he were active, though roster considerations made it necessary to keep Ridley off the field altogether.

Ridley
Ridley
In addition to Ridley, the Patriots announced that defensive end Jake Bequette and linebacker Steve Beauharnais will not play Sunday. The team had previously ruled out wide receiver Aaron Dobson, cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, tight end Michael Hoomanawanui and starting right tackle Marcus Cannon.

The full list of the Patriots' and Texans' inactives is below:

Patriots
LB Steve Beauharnais
DE Jake Bequette
OT Marcus Cannon
CB Alfonzo Dennard
WR Aaron Dobson
TE Michael Hoomanawanui
RB Stevan Ridley

Texans
OT Andrew Gardner
DE Tim Jamison
OG Alex Kupper
DE Ricky Sapp
DB Jawanza Starling
OG Cody White
QB T.J. Yates

Analysis: The big news here is the decision to sit Ridley, the team's best between-the-tackles runner who leads the Patriots in carries, rushing yards and touchdowns. Ultimately, the string of fumbles apparently was too disconcerting for the Patriots' coaching staff, who may hope that a week away can help Ridley recalibrate as the season's home stretch approaches. There are some who believe fumbling is just as much a mental issue as a physical one, and perhaps time off will be what Ridley needs. With Ridley out, the Patriots look likely to lean on Shane Vereen as their up-tempo back, but then it becomes less clear between Brandon Bolden and LeGarrette Blount. Blount has been further up the depth chart for much of the season, but he too fumbled last week, leading to Bolden serving as a primary ball carrier. Given that each is active, it would come as no surprise to see both earn touches as the between-the-tackles runner when the Patriots turn to more of their two-back or two-tight-end sets. A final note is that safety Steve Gregory, who missed a pair of games due to a broken thumb, returns to the lineup.

Rapid Reaction: New England Patriots

November, 25, 2013
11/25/13
12:22
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Some thoughts on the New England Patriots' 34-31 overtime victory over the Denver Broncos:

What it means: What a game. The Patriots played a pathetic first half and then turned in a stellar second half to roar back from a 24-0 deficit and win in overtime, when Bill Belichick's decision to take the wind had the potential to blow up with "fourth-and-2" type intensity. Belichick always preaches the importance of playing 60 minutes. On this night, about 43 minutes got the job done in what marks the biggest deficit Brady has overcome. A special-teams play was the difference -- the Broncos' Tony Carter touched a punt, which the Patriots recovered to set up the game-winning, 31-yard field goal. The Patriots improve to 8-3, while the Broncos fall to 9-2 in a game that could later have an impact on the race for a top playoff seed.

Brady does it again: In the 14th installment of the Tom Brady versus Peyton Manning rivalry, Brady played the more consistent game. Manning showed he was up to the task by leading a game-tying touchdown drive in the fourth quarter. Brady is now 10-4 in his career in games against Manning-led teams. Two great competitors doing their thing.

Stock watch: Running backs Stevan Ridley and LeGarrette Blount both lost fumbles in the first quarter and didn't play again, as their miscues put the Patriots in an early hole. Ball security has been an issue for both players, and their roles going forward could be affected.

Defense does its part: While the Broncos ran the ball more than many anticipated -- and had impressive results -- the Patriots defense held its ground enough against the NFL's highest-scoring team. A forced fumble by linebacker Dane Fletcher in the third quarter, recovered by linebacker Brandon Spikes, contributed to the big momentum swing.

Edelman with the Welker-type effort: Julian Edelman, the receiver once viewed as the replacement for Wes Welker but was then trumped by Danny Amendola, turned in a Welker-type performance. Edelman was sensational in two roles -- receiver and punt returner -- providing a big spark on a night when Welker's return was a big storyline. If there was one downer, it was the missed connection in the end zone that could have given the Patriots a 10-point lead (they instead settled for a field goal) in the fourth quarter.

Welker's return not a big factor: The Patriots played highlights of Welker before the game, and the Kraft family had a thank-you message for him on the scoreboard after the highlights played. The fans cheered. Welker and Belichick shared an embrace after the game. But overall, Welker's return wasn't a huge factor in the game.

Injuries to monitor: Third-year right tackle Marcus Cannon, who has been elevated to the top unit after starter Sebastian Vollmer sustained a season-ending leg injury Oct. 27, left the game in the first quarter with an ankle injury and did not return. … No announcement was made during the game, but Blount might have sustained a concussion on the hit on which he fumbled. … Starting cornerback Alfonzo Dennard left the game in the second quarter and did not return. He entered the day questionable with a knee injury … Receiver Aaron Dobson didn't play on the final five drives, but it was unclear if that was injury-related. … Veteran defensive tackle Isaac Sopoaga didnt play in the second half, although it was unclear if that was because of injury.

What's next: The Patriots visit the Houston Texans on Sunday, Dec. 1. (1 p.m. ET).

Sharing Patriots halftime thoughts

October, 27, 2013
10/27/13
2:25
PM ET
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Sharing a few thoughts at halftime, as the New England Patriots trail the Miami Dolphins, 17-3:

Ugly half of football. This has been one of the Patriots' worst halves of the season. The tone was set by Tom Brady's interception on the team's second offensive play -- an inaccurate delivery to tight end Rob Gronkowski. It was a bad throw by Brady, who might be dealing with discomfort with the middle and ring fingers on his throwing hand.

Where's Ridley? Running back Stevan Ridley, the team's leading rusher in 2012, was limited to six snaps in the first half (not including final kneel-down) as the Patriots went mostly with Brandon Bolden (15 snaps), while mixing in LeGarrette Blount (starter who totaled 5 snaps). A bit of a head-scratcher there.

Cole over Ryan at cornerback. Without top cornerback Aqib Talib, the Patriots started Alfonzo Dennard and Kyle Arrington at the position, with Marquice Cole playing the nickelback role. It was Cole who overran receiver Brandon Gibson on the Dolphins' first touchdown. The Patriots used rookie cornerback Logan Ryan in that role last week, but he hasn't played a defensive snap today, with Cole getting the nod over him.

Dolphins sparked by run. Miami ran the ball 21 times in the first half, and you wonder if the same approach would be taken if the Patriots had Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly at defensive tackle, and Jerod Mayo at linebacker. The Patriots just aren't as sturdy in the front seven and the Dolphins are taking it to them. Credit goes to the Dolphins for executing and winning the critical situations.

Injury report. Starting right tackle Sebastian Vollmer left with a right leg injury and has already been ruled out. Looked like the season-ending type, but that hasn't been confirmed. That thrusts third-year player Marcus Cannon into the statring mix at right tackle, with veteran Will Svitek now the top backup.

Patriots get the ball. The Patriots had won the opening toss and elected to defer, so they will receive the opening kickoff of the second half. The home crowd booed the Patriots as they kneeled on the ball at the end of the second quarter.

Quick-hit thoughts after first quarter

October, 27, 2013
10/27/13
1:42
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- After 15 minutes of play, the New England Patriots trail the Miami Dolphins, 7-0. Passing along quick-hit notes and observations from the first quarter.

1. Brady picked on first throw. On his first throw of the afternoon, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was intercepted by Dolphins cornerback Dimitri Patterson. It wasn't the start Brady was looking for, as it gave the Dolphins the ball at the Patriots' 40-yard line. The turnover was particularly costly, as it led to a Miami touchdown just minutes later.

2. Blount the lead back early. Despite scores in each of the past two games, Stevan Ridley was not the starter in the Patriots' backfield, as LeGarrette Blount earned the start. Ridley didn't play a single snap in the first quarter.

3. Offensive struggles persist. Two-plus drives, and just about nothing for the Patriots' offense. The offense looked out of sync early, and although he didn't have many opportunities, it's possible that Brady is working through discomfort on his right hand. Though it was not listed on the injury report, Brady did have two fingers taped together during a photo on Saturday.

4. Gregory wearing green dot. Safety Steve Gregory is wearing the green dot on the back of his helmet, a sign that he is the on-field point of communication for the coaches. He's responsible for making the defensive calls in the huddle, a previous duty for Jerod Mayo. Last week, Dont'a Hightower wore the green dot.

5. Penalty box. No Patriots were flagged for penalties during the first quarter.

Upon Further Review: Patriots Week 5

October, 7, 2013
10/07/13
1:20
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CINCINNATI -- A review of four hot issues following the New England Patriots' 13-6 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals:

[+] EnlargeTom Brady
AP Photo/Tom UhlmanPatriots QB Tom Brady finished Sunday's Week 5 game in Cincinnati with 197 yards, no TDs and one interception.
Offensive struggles: In a script that has been flipped from recent years, it's the defense carrying the offense at this point. Quarterback Tom Brady was held to fewer than 200 yards passing for the second time this season, as the Bengals defense controlled the game at the line of scrimmage. "We scored six points; I don't even remember the last time we've done that," Brady said Monday morning on sports radio WEEI. The last time the Patriots scored fewer points was a 21-0 shutout loss at Miami on Dec. 10, 2006. Looking for a place to start when it comes to turning around the fortunes of the offense? Start up front with the offensive line, where all five starters return and a better performance than what was put forth Sunday in Cincinnati is expected.

Rob Gronkowski's potential return: The tight end has missed the first five games of the regular season, but he could return Sunday against the Saints. The Patriots couldn't convert in their one trip inside the red zone Sunday, and Brady threw incomplete to left tackle-turned-eligible tight end Nate Solder in the end zone. Gronkowski, who figures to be managed upon his return to the field, could at least help in the red zone.

Tommy Kelly and defensive tackle depth: The veteran defensive tackle left Sunday's game with a right knee injury in the fourth quarter and didn't return. Kelly said after the game that "everything was good" with the knee, and he wasn't walking with a limp or with the aid of crutches, although it's still a bit unclear what that means. The Patriots are thin at defensive tackle after losing Vince Wilfork to a season-ending Achilles injury, and if Kelly is sidelined for any period of time, it would further deplete the ranks. Rookies Joe Vellano and Chris Jones are the only other defensive tackles on the roster, while Marcus Forston and A.J. Francis are on the practice squad.

Banged-up running back group: With veteran Leon Washington leaving Sunday's game with an ankle injury and not returning, Shane Vereen on short-term injured reserve, and Stevan Ridley sidelined Sunday with a knee injury, the Patriots were down to just two running backs -- LeGarrette Blount and Brandon Bolden. Both had miscues that hurt the team -- Blount a second-quarter fumble and Bolden two drops. As the passing game struggles to produce consistent results, it would help to be able to turn to the running game. But it's a depleted group and we'll be interested to see if Washington's injury leads the team to consider injured reserve as an option.

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