AFC East: Matthew Mulligan
1. CB Aqib Talib -- Difference-maker when healthy and added a different dynamic to the cornerbacks room since November of 2012. A top priority for the team.
2. WR Julian Edelman -- Deserves everything coming to him after a terrific 2013 season. Patriots would obviously like him back, but if another team ups the bidding, he's probably gone.
3. RB LeGarrette Blount -- Mutual interest in his return. A player who seemingly has more value to the Patriots than most others, which makes us think it's a greater likelihood he's back.
4. LB Brandon Spikes -- The way 2013 ended makes it unlikely he returns.
5. C Ryan Wendell -- A scrappy heady performer, Wendell maximizes his talents. I don't evision the Patriots extending their budget to ensure his return, but if a market doesn't develop for him, he'd surely be welcome back in a situation where there might be top competition for the No. 1 job.
6. TE Michael Hoomanawanui-- Played his role well in 2013. Would think he's back unless another team unexpectedly ups the ante.
7. LB Dane Fletcher -- One of the Patriots' best special teams players. Would think there is a competitive bid to retain him.
8. DE Andre Carter -- They don't get much better from a locker-room perspective, but we'd be surprised if the team makes his return a priority at this point.
9. TE Matthew Mulligan -- More of a blocking presence, he filled his role well in 2013. Although the Patriots will probably look to add to the position, it wouldn't be a surprise if Mulligan competes for a roster spot again.
10. WR Austin Collie -- Veteran was dependable and should warrant serious consideration to re-sign.
11-. OT Will Svitek -- Smart, versatile veteran probably will see his spot go to a youngster, unless Sebastian Vollmer's recovery doesn't look promising.
For the second time in two weeks, former pro wrestler Hulk Hogan has taken to YouTube to show his support (and pythons) for the New England Patriots.
This started last week when, after hearing that the wife of Patriots tight end Matthew Mulligan purchased a replica title belt from his merchandise store, Hogan pledged his allegiance to New England. The belt has been spotted in Mulligan’s locker in the Patriots’ locker room.
His latest motivational speech concludes with this inspirational message:
“As the energy of Hulkamania is passed through all the players, brother, as the power of the largest arms in the world is passed to the commander in chief, [Tom] Brady, the Patriots will be successful in every endeavor. The Patriots will dominate every time on the field.
“And if by some weird chance somebody's back cracks, liver quivers, or knees freeze, you can tear off one of the largest arms in the world, brother. You can tear off one of the Patriot missiles and you can strap it to Brady's waist if one of his wheels goes bad. Mully, you can use the other one to run touchdown after touchdown after touchdown.
“So whatcha gonna do, New England Patriots, when a piece of Hulk Hogan brings victory after victory for you, brothers!?”
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- A few thoughts on the New England Patriots' 24-20 loss to the Carolina Panthers:
What it means: Great game as Cam Newton outdueled Tom Brady. Brady brought his "A" game but this was Newton's night. He had some dazzling runs against a defense that couldn't make the stop at the critical time. The Patriots fall to 7-3, and they will look back at some lost opportunities as this game was there for the taking. This was a limited-possession game -- the Patriots had just seven offensive drives -- which magnified mistakes on both sides. The Patriots had more of them early and trailed 10-3 at the half before the teams combined to play an exciting second half. A third-and-1 incomplete pass through the back of the end zone forced the Patriots to settle for a field goal to go up 20-17, which set up the Panthers' game-winning touchdown drive. The Patriots fought to the finish, but their final drive fell short with the clock also working against them. Should a penalty have been called on the final play? Fair question.
Aqib Talib vs. Steve Smith: This was the matchup within the matchup and the win goes to Smith, the Panthers' veteran receiver. The two were jawing from the get-go and had to be separated several times after plays. Talib appeared to lose his cool early. Smith beat Talib for a 42-yard gain down the left side in the first quarter, which was a tone-setter of sorts for a one-on-one battle that was especially fun to watch. Talib ultimately left the game in the fourth quarter with a hip injury and didn't return.
Stock watch: Patriots running back Stevan Ridley's ball-security issues resurfaced. He fumbled on the team's second drive and was kept on the sideline for 18 snaps before the coaches went back to him. Ridley runs hard, but if he continues to struggle holding on to the ball, it will likely lead to a drop in his playing time.
Injuries to monitor: Patriots No. 2 tight end Michael Hoomanawanui left the game in the second quarter with a knee injury and did not return. In his absence, five-year veteran Matthew Mulligan bumped up the depth chart and fullback James Develin was utilized a bit more. Also, as noted above, Talib left with a hip injury in the fourth quarter.
Leg whip by Cannon draws scrutiny: Patriots tight tackle Marcus Cannon's leg whip on Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson, which knocked Johnson out of the game with a knee injury, wasn't penalized. But Cannon will likely hear from the NFL in terms of a fine.
Turnover streak snapped: The Patriots had forced a turnover in 36 straight games entering the night, which was the longest active streak in the NFL, but that came to an end.
What's next: The Patriots return home to host the Denver Broncos on Sunday night. Another Brady versus Peyton Manning matchup will be a top storyline, along with receiver Wes Welker's return to town. Welker sustained a concussion in the Broncos' win over the Chiefs on Sunday and his status will be monitored closely.
Head coach Bill Belichick. Belichick served as the Jets assistant head coach from 1997 to 1999, just after his first tenure in New England (where he was also the assistant head coach to Bill Parcells). When Parcells abruptly retired from the Jets, Belichick was named the head coach, though he resigned shortly thereafter as he was named the Patriots head coach. It was in New York that Belichick first started working with Berj Najarian, currently the Patriots director of football/head coach administration.
Linebackers coach Pepper Johnson. Johnson played for Belichick in New York, finishing up his NFL career with the Jets from the 1997-1998 seasons. A respected player who has turned into a respected coach, Johnson was named a team captain for the Jets during his two-year stay.
Offensive assistant Brian Daboll. Daboll returned to the Patriots early in 2013 after stints elsewhere around the NFL, including a two-year window with the Jets from 2007 through 2008 as the team's quarterbacks coach. He now serves in a variety of roles in New England, including assisting along the offensive line.
Defensive back Marquice Cole. Cole is in his second season with the Patriots, providing special-teams value and situational defensive back play. Before he was a Patriot, he spent three years with the Jets, playing on both defense and special teams.
Tight end Matthew Mulligan. Mulligan has bounced around the NFL since entering the league back in 2008, but his most prolonged stay was with the Jets, as he was with the team from the 2009 to 2011 seasons, catching six passes in 34 games played.
Running back Leon Washington. A fourth-round pick of the Jets during the 2006 draft, Washington enjoyed success both as a runner, receiver and returner during four seasons with the Jets. His most productive year came as a rookie, during which he totaled 151 carries for 650 yards and four scores. He was named an All Pro for the Jets in both 2007 and 2008.
If he clears waivers, he will likely return on the team's practice squad.
At 6-foot-7 and 260 pounds, Sudfeld is more of a receiver than a pure tight end. The first indication that he might be on shaky ground came when the Patriots started using four-year veteran Michael Hoomanawanui in the role eyed for Sudfeld -- the "move" tight end in the three-receiver package. Sudfeld played 17 snaps in the season-opener, missed the team's Sept. 12 win against the Jets with a hamstring, and then played 19 snaps against the Buccaneers on Sept. 22 before he was hardly on the field Sept. 29 versus the Falcons. He didn't record a catch this season.
The Patriots currently have Gronkowski, Hoomanawanui and Matthew Mulligan as tight ends on the roster.
Here is the big takeaway through three games: The usage of multiple-tight-end packages is down considerably compared to the past two seasons. Here is a simplified breakdown of the team's 232 offensive snaps (including penalties, not kneel-downs):
3 or more WRs: 142 of 232
2 backs: 61 of 232
2 or more TEs: 51 of 232
There is a 22-play overlap, which accounts for snaps in which there was a combination of 3 WRs/2 backs and 2-3 TEs/2 backs.
Four-year veteran Michael Hoomanawanui is playing most of the tight-end snaps.
When the Patriots added a second tight end last Sunday, it was either rookie Zach Sudfeld or veteran Matthew Mulligan. Sudfeld is more of a receiver-type, while Mulligan is more of a pure blocker. Because each of them trends clearly in one direction, it makes the Patriots a bit more predictable when they are in the game in multiple-tight-end packages.
So with a heavy focus on the passing game the first three weeks, it has essentially come down to a third receiver (most recently Aaron Dobson) being deemed more valuable than Sudfeld.
When Rob Gronkowski returns, it makes sense to think we could see an increase in multiple-tight-end groupings.
This week, tight end Matthew Mulligan is in the spotlight. He was signed as a free agent Sept. 3, released by the team two days later, then re-signed Sept. 10.
He played 10 snaps in Thursday's 13-10 victory over the New York Jets, used mostly as a blocker.
Mulligan has a different-from-the-norm journey in the sense that he didn’t play football at Penobscot Valley (Maine) High School because there was no team. The 28-year-old comes across as down-to-earth and appreciative of his unexpected success in playing in the NFL.
When he first started playing football: “I guess it really depends on how you define it. My first opportunity was in my sophomore year at Husson College. But they didn’t require much of me, really. They basically said, ‘Run out and we’ll throw you the ball.’ As far as blocking went, it was just ‘kind of get in front of someone.’ I was thankful for the opportunity, but I always attribute, really, that I first started playing football my junior year of college [at Maine]. I played two years there.”
Recollections of attending Husson College: “When I first got there, I went to play basketball, for coach Warren Caruso, and then after that I played for Gabby Price. It was a great opportunity to get my feet wet playing football and just kind of grow up a little bit. You’re still young at 18 and 19 years old.”
How he got into football at Husson: “My cousin’s friend had been pushing me for a while, ever since he had met me when I was 13 years old. He was saying, ‘Look, you’re playing the wrong sport. You need to play football.’ But we didn’t have it at my high school, so I just played soccer and basketball. When I was at Husson my sophomore year, he called Gabby Price and said ‘You should go talk to this kid. He should be playing football.’ I don’t know if I ever would have played, because I was comfortable playing basketball and everything. He kind of went around me and did it anyways, and Gabby came and talked to me. I always wanted to play football, but basketball was my first love and I wasn’t going to jeopardize that. When Gabby Price came to talk to me, I’ve been real thankful since then. That’s how it got started.”
Top memories at University of Maine, where he played in 21 games (18 starts): “Catching my first touchdown. Being on local television, people talking about that, it was a great experience. Just initially getting there, and the type of atmosphere that coach [Jack] Cosgrove has up there, it’s a good place. I’m from the area anyways, and that’s the big program in our state. So it was just an all-around amazing experience.”
Signing as an undrafted free agent with the Dolphins in 2008: “Very difficult. The learning curve was so steep, having really no football experience besides Maine, going to a different offense. Maine did a really good job of catering to my strengths and trying to bring me along. Once you get into the NFL, they’re like, ‘Either you can do it or you can’t.’ The tight end group I had down there was a really good group -- Anthony Fasano, Justin Peelle, David Martin, Sean Ryan. They really did a good job with me, but it was tough -- the heat, I’m a Maine boy and was in Miami. The temperature difference was crazy for me. Just the whole experience, it was difficult, but at the same time I was thankful to go through it because it’s made everything a whole lot easier, too.”
Landing with the Tennessee Titans' practice squad and staying there through 2009 training camp: “Jeff Fisher is a tremendous coach. The tight ends that were there -- Alge Crumpler was a great leader, and I learned a lot from him blockingwise. That’s when I really felt like I started to work on my craft, being able to watch him. Also with the other tight ends that were there, one of my close buddies Craig Stevens, who is still there. That was a good learning experience, seeing another side of football, because the way Jeff runs his camp is different than most.”
Signing with the Jets in Rex Ryan’s first year as coach in 2009 and spending three seasons with New York: “I really owe a lot to them because they really gave me my first shot -- keeping me for three years and grooming me. I was behind Ben Hartsock, and he taught me a lot about being a professional. It was awesome. My best friend, Mike DeVito, played there. He and I lived together when I first got there, and it helped me transition.”
After becoming a free agent in 2012, signing with the Rams: “[Former Jets offensive coordinator Brian] Schottenheimer was there, and I felt like it was too good of an opportunity to pass up to go with him. I knew the offense, and he’s been great to me. That was one of my most fun years in athletics in general, just being there with those guys and the camaraderie we had.”
Signing with the Packers as a free agent: “My agent [Kristen Kuliga] had a lot of teams calling, and it came down to Green Bay and the 49ers. We felt like Green Bay was the best decision, and I wouldn’t change anything. Things didn’t necessarily play out the way we wanted, but it’s a very stand-up organization, a lot of history, with a great head coach in Mike McCarthy and a great tight ends coach in Jerry Fontenot. The players over there, it’s almost like a college atmosphere there. They really accepted me.”
Getting released after training camp and hooking on with the Patriots: “I didn’t expect it, but you never know who is looking at you. The news was out before I had actually signed, and everybody in Maine was blowing up my phone. It was just awesome. When they called, I was really happy because it’s basically like coming home. I know a lot of people. Obviously, it’s a fantastic organization and a chance to further my career.”
Role models in his life: “My parents. Still to this day, I run everything by them, what my wife and I do -- big decisions. Also, my church family. I’ve had a great pastor my entire life, as well. That type of stuff, when you have people you can trust and lean upon, I feel like I’ve been very fortunate and blessed -- to not just have a great set of parents and a brother but also a great church [community].”
What he loves about football: “Sometimes it can be the most difficult thing, but sometimes it can be the most rewarding thing. You can always get better. There is not a day where you’re coming in to play football and you say, ‘I have it all down today.’ Technique, your plays, your sharpness, there’s always a way to get better, and I feel that stimulates your mind. The ceiling is as far as you can push yourself.”
Summing up his football journey with numerous stops along the way: “I joke with my wife that it’s her fault because she said she always wanted to travel the country; that’s what God is doing to us, putting us all over the place. I just feel really blessed to have an opportunity to play for so many different teams and meet so many great teammates. There is something to be said about a guy who is good enough and respected enough that the team loves him to stay in one place. But I wouldn’t change what’s happened to me.”
Debut for Dobson. Rookie receiver Aaron Dobson, the second-round pick who missed the season opener with a hamstring injury, is set to make his debut. The Patriots have Kenbrell Thompkins, Julian Edelman, Josh Boyce and Dobson atop their receiver depth chart tonight. Also, safeties Duron Harmon (hamstring) and Nate Ebner (ankle) are dressed after not playing in the opener.
A feel for running back corps. With Shane Vereen on injured reserve/designated to return and Brandon Bolden (knee) inactive, it leaves Stevan Ridley, LeGarrette Blount and Leon Washington as the active running backs tonight. While Washington would project mostly to a "passing back" role, we wouldn't be surprised to see Ridley stay on the field on some third downs because of his standing as a capable pass protector. How Ridley responds after being benched last week is a big storyline to monitor.
No surprise on Amendola and Gronkowski. As noted Thursday morning, the expectation wasn't that receiver Danny Amendola or tight end Rob Gronkowski would play. On Amendola, we wrote, "Wouldn't be surprised if we don't see him before the Sept. 29 game at Atlanta." On Gronkowski, we wrote, "The first two games never seemed to be a realistic expectation for his return, but if things keep progressing, he might have a chance for the Sept. 22 game against the Buccaneers."
Hoomanawanui and Mulligan at tight end. With both Gronkowski and rookie Zach Sudfeld (hamstring) inactive, it leaves Michael Hoomanawanui and recently re-signed Matthew Mulligan at tight end. Mulligan is almost like an extra offensive lineman in terms of being more of a pure blocker. Hoomanwanui played a career-high 80 snaps in the season opener (including penalties) and delivered a key seal block on Vereen's big run to set up the game-winning field goal.
The moves bring the team's roster to 51 players.
Mulligan had been signed to the 53-man roster on Tuesday, so this was a quick stay for him. He was considered a strong blocker who could help until Rob Gronkowski returns. The Patriots now have Gronkowski, Michael Hoomanawanui and Zach Sudfeld at tight end.
Cave, the former Notre Dame product, had been claimed on waivers from the Browns on Sunday. He could be a candidate to return to the team's practice squad if another team doesn't claim him and he has interest in staying in New England.
Also, the Patriots officially signed offensive tackle Jordan Devey to the practice squad after his original contract with the team was not approved.
From a “what we learned” perspective heading into Sunday’s season opener against the Bills, here are some highlights:
1. Bills’ defense has Jet-like feel: As one would expect with coordinator Mike Pettine moving from the Jets to the Bills this year, Buffalo’s defense looks “a lot like the Jets,” according to Belichick. That means a lot of different looks (especially on third down, when a defensive lineman could play a linebacker-type role), multiple fronts, and a heavy percentage of blitzing. So as Patriots offensive players prepare this week, they are marrying two areas: Bills personnel that they’ve come to know in recent years playing a Jet-like scheme.
2. Scouting report on Mulligan: Asked about signing 28-year-old tight end Matthew Mulligan to the 53-man active roster, Belichick cited his experience and blocking ability before saying, “he’s a tough, physical player.”
3. A lot of no-huddle on offense from Bills: There is an element of unknown with any season opener, which Belichick repeated multiple times, but one thing the Patriots are most certainly expecting from the Bills is the no-huddle attack. “It’s really all no-huddle,” Belichick said of what he’s seen from the Bills’ offense, later adding the Bills’ fast pace on offense draws some similarities to the Eagles under Chip Kelly which the Patriots practiced against in August. Another point Belichick made was that there isn’t a lot of NFL-based film for the team to watch of Bills rookie quarterbacks EJ Manuel and Jeff Tuel.
4. Pleased with Talib’s presence. Patricia, the defensive coordinator, said he is “very, very happy” with cornerback Aqib Talib’s work ethic and approach. The Patriots acquired Talib last November, so as time has passed, coaches have had a longer look at Talib's integration into the team’s system and way of doing business. “He really practices hard and competes every day,” Patricia said. “He’s a good example out on the field for those guys that are coming into our program to get behind and follow along.”
5. Young receivers have grasped multiple roles. It is often said that the Patriots' complex offensive system can be tough for rookies to pick up, so it was notable that Josh McDaniels, the offensive coordinator, said that receivers Kenbrell Thompkins (undrafted), Josh Boyce (fourth round) and Aaron Dobson (second round) have all grasped multiple positions. "We've already moved them and played multiple roles with them, multiple positions with them," he said. "In our system, that's a really big 'plus' for us to have some flexibility with those guys. They've shown that they'll work and study on the mental side of the game to be able to be flexible and play in multiple spots when we need them to."
Here's the list:
Dustin Keller is a heck of a weapon in the Jets’ passing game and needs to be a major factor. His skill set should make him Mark Sanchez’s best friend as the young quarterback learns his craft. Keller runs very well, is a good route runner and can make plays after the catch. He can line up in several different positions on the field.
Running behind Keller is a big problem, though. He doesn’t have the power, size or tenacity to get a consistent push. And in a way, Keller could be looked at as an underachiever. He hasn’t been the red zone factor that his skill set would indicate, and he could be more physical. This past season, he flashed his potential at times and really stood out in the AFC Championship Game. But he also disappeared too often, even though he got a lot of targets throughout the year. Keller started the season strong when Santonio Holmes was serving his suspension, but he had way too many drops. Keller didn’t score after Week 4. With Braylon Edwards and Holmes possibly leaving via free agency, 2011 could be an especially crucial season for Keller. He has a chance to be great.
Ben Hartsock complemented Keller well in that he is a pure blocker who doesn’t frighten anyone as a pass-catcher, but he is no longer on the roster. New York needs either Jeff Cumberland or Matthew Mulligan to step up in this role. Both players have excellent size, but each tight end has only one career reception on his résumé. Mulligan’s game more resembles Keller’s rather than Hartsock’s.
Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.
New York Jets
- Quarterback Kellen Clemens
- Fullback John Conner
- Receiver Patrick Turner
- Tight end Matthew Mulligan
- Tight end Jeff Cumberland
- Defensive tackle Jarron Gilbert
- Defensive tackle Marcus Dixon
- Defensive end Vernon Gholston
Smith was the Jets' top kickoff returner, bringing back two for touchdowns in the regular season. He also is a potent weapon in the run game as an option quarterback in their Wildcat-style offense.
Newsworthy for the Patriots is that tight end Aaron Hernandez is active after missing the last two regular-season games with a hip injury.
Here are the rest of Sunday's scratches:
New York Jets
- Quarterback Kellen Clemens
- Fullback John Conner
- Tight end Matthew Mulligan
- Tight end Jeff Cumberland
- Defensive tackle Marcus Dixon
- Defensive tackle Jarron Gilbert
- Outside linebacker Vernon Gholston
New England Patriots