AFC East: Troy Brown
To get playing time in New England, the coaching staff must build trust and confidence that their players will always know their assignments. At its best, New England's offense is machine-like and doesn't tolerate many mistakes.
That brings us to second-year running backs Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen. Physically, both 2011 draft picks are capable of being New England's starting tailback this season. But it's the nuances of the game that Ridley and Vereen must have down before the start of the regular season.
Ridley and Vereen could be dynamic together. They have young legs and bring an explosive element to New England's running game. Ridley is strong between the tackles and averaged 5.1 yards per carry last season. Vereen battled through injuries as a rookie but is one of New England's better athletes.
However, both combined for just two career starts, and New England isn't sure how they'll perform under pressure. For example, last year Ridley fumbled once in the regular-season finale and once in the playoffs against the Denver Broncos. The rookie never saw the football again in the AFC Championship Game or Super Bowl XLVI.
There is a reason the Patriots were not afraid to lean on less-gifted athletes like Troy Brown, Deion Branch, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Kevin Faulk on offense. Despite some physical limitations, these players always knew their roles and rarely made mental mistakes.
Ridley and Vereen need to work diligently this summer to begin earning that same level of trust from the Patriots' coaching staff. Pure athleticism works for some teams, but that's certainly not the case in New England.
Here are some select questions and answers with Brown from Tuesday's conference call:
(On making this journey with the Patriots)
Troy Brown: “You look back on it – and I always look back on it – where I started from and how shaky things were and how unsure things were for me for a long time wearing that Patriots uniform. I think it was like seven years in there where it was always pretty unstable for me. I look back on it now and I realize now how much the fans really did appreciate what I was doing when, at times, it seemed like some other people around the organization didn’t seem to realize that. When it comes down to it, I always played hard for my teammates and played hard for my coaches no matter who it was and ownership and you really wanted to go out there and make our fans happy. I think that now that I realize how much they appreciated the way I played the game, it does make me feel really good.”
(On how he viewed himself as a player)
Brown: “I was always athletic. I didn’t have some of the skills that you see a lot of the athletes have. I could jump, I was quick, I could catch and all those types of things, but when it came to just flat out speed, that was something I had to work really hard at. I got better and I got faster and I think it showed. When I hit 28, 29 years old – I was probably 30 years old – I was running my best times ever in the 40-yard dash. That worked out in my favor. Maybe I don’t have all the things that you would think a guy my size would have, but I think I read some quotes from Bill [Belichick] and it’s kind of hard to make up for some of those things, but when you have the heart and determination to go out there and get something done and you go out there and you play the game like you love it, you can make up for a lot of things that you don’t have.”
(On most memorable games)
Brown: “Three Super Bowls, you name them. I was a part quite a few unique games in Patriots history. I can talk about the Snow Bowl there against Oakland [1/19/02] – the Tuck Rule. All those games, the overtime game against the Dolphins [10/19/03] and obviously the three Super Bowl wins we had. Those were great games, big games for us. Even back into 1996, winning that last game against the Giants [12/21/96] to get home field advantage…There’re so many special moments and it’s kind of hard to put my finger on just one. Maybe the 2006 game against the San Diego Chargers [1/14/07], being able to get the ball back from Marlon McCree there and give us a chance to advance in the playoffs. How about that one?”
A day and a half after the New England Patriots destroyed the Jets 45-3 in Gillette Stadium, Ryan took a ball from the debacle and buried it while his players watched before Wednesday's practice. Ryan laid the game ball to rest behind a goal post at the team's facility.
"We were shocked," cornerback Darrelle Revis said. "Nobody was saying anything."
That's what Belichick did -- in 2001.
After a 30-10 loss to the Miami Dolphins dropped the Patriots to 1-3. Belichick put a game ball in a black box and placed it in a hole near the practice field. When the players reported, Belichick led them to the hole. He told them to bury the game and move on. Lawyer Milloy and Troy Brown kicked dirt over the ball and spat on the mound.
The Patriots lost only two more games to claim the AFC East and then win their first Super Bowl. Ryan's twin brother, Rob Ryan, was the Patriots' linebackers coach at the time.
So now you know where Rex Ryan got the idea.
The NFL is a copycat league even when it comes to football funerals.
That's how it goes sometimes. An organization will defend a player as a consummate professional as long as he's a teammate, but when he leaves the stories start to leak out.
Boston Herald reporter Karen Guregian and former Patriots receiver Troy Brown have shared inside information about a growing rift between Moss and the coaching staff that become untenable.
Perhaps the last straw wasn't Moss' locker room confrontation with quarterbacks coach Bill O'Brien at halftime of Monday night's victory over the Miami Dolphins.
On the flight back from Fort Lauderdale, head coach Bill Belichick reportedly went back to visit with Moss and was turned away.
"The coach likely knew the situation had reached a point of no return," Guregian wrote.
Guregian on Tuesday night was the first to report Moss had requested a trade after the season opener.
Brown, appearing as a guest on Comcast SportsNet New England, told a similar account about the flight home and also said he'd heard Moss had been "pouting" behind the scenes.
"Apparently, Belichick came to the back of the plane to speak with Randy," Brown said, "and Randy just pretty much ignored him and didn't respond to anything he had to say.
"I guess there were a few other members of the team -- some front-office people and maybe some players -- that tried to talk to him, just talk to him in general, and he didn't respond to those guys, either.
"Obviously, the plane ride home for Randy wasn't a good one."
Brown gave a glimpse into what Bill Belichick's conditioning tests were like, discussed Belichick's decision to whitewash history from the Patriots' facility and shared his thoughts on New York Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis' holdout.
"I really can't blame him," Brown said of Revis. "You asked him to go out there last year and guard Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, all these guys in your division, one on one with no help. It's really not his fault.
"You should really blame the Jets for this blunder because you ask this guy to do this all year. Now you don't have a contract for him, a solution to keep him on your football team and keep him happy this year. It's really their fault and not his."
But 2004 stands apart. The Patriots claimed their third Vince Lombardi Trophy in four seasons to establish themselves as one of the all-time great teams. Brady and head coach Bill Belichick ensured their place in Canton.
The Patriots picked up where they left off after winning Super Bowl XXXVIII the year before. They increased their win streak to an NFL record 21 games. They ranked fourth in scoring and second in points allowed. They lost two games all season, Week 8 at the Pittsburgh Steelers and Week 15 at the Miami Dolphins.
After beating the Indianapolis Colts for the second time and holding Peyton Manning's offense to three points in the divisional round of the playoffs, the Patriots scored 41 points to avenge their defeat in Pittsburgh.
In Super Bowl XXXIX, the Patriots beat the Philadelphia Eagles more comfortably than the 24-21 score indicates. Adam Vinatieri didn't need to drill a field goal in the closing seconds for a change.
Most impressive win: The Patriots never were more dominant than they were in Week 10 against the Buffalo Bills, a borderline playoff team that won three out of four heading into Gillette Stadium and six straight afterward. The Patriots rolled up a season-high 428 offensive yards and limited the Bills to 125 yards to win 29-6.
What can Brown do for you? Pretty much whatever you could ask of him. Brown caught only 15 passes in the regular season, but in Week 9 against the St. Louis Rams, he entered the game as an emergency defensive back when Samuel went down with an injury. Brown finished the season with three interceptions (one shy of the team lead) and broke the Super Bowl record for punt returns.
2007: It's the greatest NFL team not to win the championship. Brady, Randy Moss and Wes Welker rewrote a good chunk of the offensive record book, but the Patriots fell short of finishing the season undefeated, losing in the Super Bowl to the New York Giants.
2001: New England won its first championship with an offense that ranked sixth in scoring and a defense that ranked sixth in points allowed. Belichick's controversial decision to stick with Brady when Drew Bledsoe returned to health created a superstar.
2003: New England went 14-2 to win its second title in three years. The offense was pretty mediocre, but the defense posted three shutouts, gave up six points or fewer five times and averaged 11.9 points against over the final 10 weeks of the regular season.
1976: Patriots fans thought a storybook season was unfolding in the bicentennial. Steve Grogan and Sam Cunningham led the Pats to an 11-3 record, but a controversial late-hit call helped them lose to the Oakland Raiders in the playoffs.
Quarterback: Tom Brady
Running back: Corey Dillon
Receivers: Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Troy Brown
Tight end: Daniel Graham
Center: Dan Koppen
Guards: Logan Mankins, Joe Andruzzi
Tackles: Matt Light, Nick Kaczur
Nose tackle: Vince Wilfork
Defensive ends: Richard Seymour, Ty Warren
Outside linebackers: Willie McGinest, Mike Vrabel
Inside linebackers: Tedy Bruschi, Roman Phifer
Cornerbacks: Ty Law, Asante Samuel
Safeties: Rodney Harrison, Lawyer Milloy
Kicker: Adam Vinatieri
Punter: Josh Miller
Kick returner: Kevin Faulk
Coverage: Larry Izzo
The gritty slot receiver was dominant in helping the Patriots thump the New York Jets 31-14 in Gillette Stadium.
With Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis handling Moss, Welker had 15 receptions (club record in a non-overtime game) for 192 yards (third in team history). Welker also ran for 11 yards, making him just the sixth NFL player since 1990 to notch at least 15 receptions and 200 yards from scrimmage in a game.
"He's like the Energizer bunny," Revis said. "He keeps on going and going, even if he gets knocked down. That's what we wanted to focus on this week, getting up in his face and making it hard for him. He's shifty in there. He's very fast. He does it week by week."
Brown holds the franchise record with 16 receptions, but that was in an overtime game and he didn't have as many yards as Welker did Sunday. Glenn had the two best days in yardage with games of 214 and 193 yards.
ESPN Stats & Information tracked every play and determined 10 of Welker's catches came across the middle for 116 yards, with 32 yards coming after the catch. That's the highest YAC total he's had in the middle of the field this year.
"He played big, and he always does," Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said. "He's a great player, and he's working the middle of the field, and when the coverage goes to Randy, Wes has some opportunities. He played a great game. What a performance."
After two weeks of polling, the ballots have been counted to determine your picks for the Mount Rushmore of each AFC East team.
To play off ESPN's quest to determine the best sports Mount Rushmore from the 50 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, I solicited your thoughts on the four legends who best symbolize the Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots and New York Jets.
Patriot Nation responded with 16 nominees, and the polling was the closest among the four AFC East clubs.
The final four are quarterback Tom Brady, head coach Bill Belichick, linebacker Andre Tippett and guard John Hannah. The last two are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The first two are on their way.
Brady and Belichick were runaway selections. Tippett and Hannah tied for third, while owner Robert Kraft was one vote behind them. Fan-favorite receiver Troy Brown finished one vote behind Kraft.
Top 10 voting went like this:
1.Tom BradyHere are a few of the comments from the readers who participated:
2. Bill Belichick
3. Andre Tippett
5. Robert Kraft
6. Troy Brown
7. Tedy Bruschi
8. Drew Bledsoe
9. Steve Grogan
10. Adam Vinatieri
Mike in Natick, Mass., writes: My Top 4: Tom Brady Bob Kraft John Hannah Bill Belichick I think Brady and BB are on the list for obvious reasons. Hannah was one of the most, if not the most dominating interior linemen in the league in his era, maybe even the most dominating lineman. And Bob Kraft took a franchise which was heading in the wrong direction since Super Bowl XX. He bought the franchise, hired the best coach at the time to run his team (though Parcells didn't have full control) and eventually built a state of the art stadium. He has taken the team from a second class citizen in the NFL to the benchmark of success and the class of the NFL. For as much as anybody else has done for the New England Patriots on the field, the Patriots would not be who they are today without the ownership of Bob Kraft.
Jeff W in Boston writes: Hey Tim, As for a Patriots Mount Rushmore, it's a very difficult decision, but I have to go with championships. Tom Brady obviously makes it in, as does Bill Belichick. My last two choices are a bit more controversial, but I think they represent everything the Patriots stand for. Those two would be Bob Kraft and Troy Brown. Kraft turned around a losing culture and helped make the Patriots relevant, while Brown was the ultimate team player. It's tough for me to leave Andre Tippett off of here, and while he was certainly one of the top Patriots players of all time, I have to think of who brought championships to New England.
Quinton from Parts Unknown writes: I would say Brady, Belichick, Bob Kraft, and my uncle Bruce Armstrong(LT) who after his 14 year career ended up with the patriots record for career and consecutive starts and bridged that gap from the bad years to the good.
Pats_fan_1961 writes: I would have to put at least one member from the original AFL days, and one from today's team, and fill in the other two spots in between. So, My selections would be Gino Capaletti, John Hannah, Andre Tippett, and "In Bill We Trust" Belichick.
Gino was Mr. Patriot in the 60s, you have to include him. Honorable mention: Steve Grogan, Sam Cunningham, Darryl Stingley, Steve Nelson, Mike Haynes, Babe Parelli, Tom Brady, and Tedy Bruschi, Billy Sullivan, and finally Bob Kraft.
Sullivan gets an honorable mention because, after all, he was the founder of the Patriots, and Sam "Bam" Cunningham was the best back the Pats have ever drafted and remained a Patriot.
rickstoneburnersr writes: How could you leave out Tedy Bruschi and Adam Vinatieri? Also give Drew Bledsoe some respect, don't forget what the team was like before Bledsoe. Patriots Rushmore: Tom Brady, Drew Bledsoe, Tedy Bruschi, and Adam Vinatieri!!!
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Troy Brown said a major reason why the New England Patriots are so successful is because nobody wants be like Billy Joe Hobert.
Buffalo Bills fans regrettably remember Hobert as the second-string quarterback who, after replacing injured starter Todd Collins in a 1997 loss to the Patriots, admitted he didn't bother to read the playbook that week.
"Everybody's got to be ready to go," Brown said. "You never know when your number's going to be called.
"You don't want to be one of those guys in the press conference, saying 'I didn't think I was going to play today,' like that Buffalo Bills [player]. You don't want to be that guy. You don't want to be the guy that's going to be looking at your teammates like 'Man, I wasn't ready to play.' Guys aren't ready to hear that in the locker room."
Brown, the former Patriots receiver and defensive back, spoke to reporters before Thursday night's game against the New York Jets. He will be honored on the Gillette Stadium field at halftime to salute his career.
The timing of Troy Brown Night is appropriate. Brown was an underdog, an eighth-round draft pick who did whatever was asked of him, even pinch-hitting as a defensive back during his 15-year career.
This year's Patriots are 6-3 and playing for sole possession of first place in the AFC East despite injuries to star quarterback Tom Brady, three top running backs, defensive captain Rodney Harrison and leading sackmaster Adalius Thomas.
Brown said he hasn't been surprised at all to see the Patriots cope. Not only has Brown seen it before, he's been a key replacement in similar situations.
"It's typical Patriots football to me," Brown said. "I'm used to seeing that. I'm used to being on the field, being one of those guys having to fill in and plug in.
"I watch them and think about being one of those guys that set the foundation for what this football team is about today -- guys like Tedy Bruschi that's been here, Mike Vrabel that's setting good examples for the players that's coming behind them on what it takes to be not just a New England Patriots football player, but what it takes to be a champion, what you have to do, the sacrifices you've got to make the knowledge you have to have about the game.
"I think a lot of guys fall in line when they see how we work around here, and not just on the football field but in the classroom, in the weight room. There's a lot that goes into building a champion and we got a lot of guys that know how to do it.
"They just keep finding guys to plug in, and tonight they got to find a guy to step in for Adalius. He's been having a great year, a tremendous year. It's going to be hard to replace that production. If they got to use two or three guys to get it done, then they'll find a way to get it done."
In other words, the Patriots don't have any Billy Joe Hoberts on their roster.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
New York Jets
- Jane McManus of the Journal News tracks the development of running back Leon Washington.
- Newsday reporter Erik Boland writes that the Jets' secondary will face difficult assignments again Sunday.
- New York Daily News reporter Rich Cimini looks at the matchup between Brett Favre and Kurt Warner, both born before Nerf footballs were produced. You can look it up.
- Alex Marvez of FoxSports.com sorts out the 3-0 teams as contenders or pretenders.
- USA Today reporter Erik Brady writes quarterback Trent Edwards "has the Niagara Frontier in a tizzy with his early season play."
- Associated Press reporter John Wawrow says the Bills are reflecting their head coach's demeanor -- except when safety Donte Whitner clubs an opponent after the whistle.
- Sal Maiorana of the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle tells us why the Bills rank No. 1 in third-down defense.
- Olean Times Herald sports editor Chuck Pollock takes a look at relentless defensive tackle Kyle Williams.
- Miami Herald columnist Armando Salguero outlines the debate of whether running back Ronnie Brown is all that.
- Harvey Fialkov of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and Edgar Thompson of the Palm Beach Post share what they learned from general manager Jeff Ireland's confab with local beat writers.
- Andy Kent of MiamiDolphins.com looks at the defense and other notes.
New England Patriots
Much love for Troy Brown, who retired Thursday after 15 years as a Patriot:
As for the Patriots still playing:
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
New England Patriots
- Troy Brown made it official this morning and retired. Here are stories from the Boston Globe and from the Boston Herald.
- Mike Reiss of the Boston Globe writes about Patriots kickoff returns, which lead the league.
- Metro Boston News reporter Christopher Price writes Ellis Hobbs was the only Patriot who did his job well Sunday.
- Boston Herald reporter Karen Guregian takes a look at whether Matt Cassel is impairing his protection.
- Buffalo News columnist examines safety Donte Whitner's illegal hit that might have sparked Sunday's comeback victory.
- Mark Gaughan of the Buffalo News, among other notes, writes Roscoe Parrish's injury is an opportunity for a couple of rookies.
- Rochester Democrat & Chronicle reporter Sal Maiorana examines left tackle Jason Peters' performances so far.
- Palm Beach Post columnist Greg Stoda warns Dolfans not to get worked into a tizzy over one victory.
- Miami Herald reporter Jeff Darlington writes quarterback Chad Pennington might be finding a groove (an editorial aside: the Herald's redesigned Web site looks pretty sharp).
- Joey Porter says he has no excuse for not recording double-digit sacks this year, writes Harvey Fialkov of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
- The Sun-Sentinel's Omar Kelly takes a look at how the rookies are doing so far.
New York Jets
- Erik Boland of Newsday takes a look at Brett Favre's injury status and how much his games-started streak will impact his decision to play.
- Favre is suspicious of teammates or fans who are losing faith, writes New York Post reporter Dan Martin.
- Newark Star-Ledger reporter Dave Hutchinson writes there's reason to worry.
- Mike Florio of the Sporting News says the pressure to win is mounting for the Jets.
- The New York Daily News' Rich Cimini reports nose tackle Kris Jenkins is expected to play Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals.
The New England Patriots are holding a news conference Thursday at 10 a.m. in Gillette Stadium for "an important announcement" involving former receiver Troy Brown.
Patriots owner Robert Kraft and head coach Bill Belichick also are scheduled to speak.
We probably don't need a soothsayer to tell us Brown finally will announce his retirement after 15 years with the Patriots.
Boston Globe reporter Mike Reiss breaks down all of the anecdotal evidence that points to Brown's expected announcement.
Brown, an eighth-round draft choice in 1993, is destined to be enshrined in the sparkling new Patriots Hall of Fame the team dedicated Sunday and opened to the public Monday.
He is the team's all-time leading receiver with 557 catches and punt returner with 2,570 yards. He ranks second to Stanley Morgan in receiving yards. He's sixth in receiving touchdowns. He also leads all Patriots in the postseason with 58 catches for 694 yards.
Brown's best season was 2001, when he was selected for the Pro Bowl. He caught 101 passes for 1,199 yards and five touchdowns. He also played nickelback in 2004 and recorded three interceptions.
I suppose there's an outside shot the Patriots could announce Brown has re-signed with the Patriots, but last year he was inactive for all but the penultimate game -- the Patriots' regular-season home finale -- against the Miami Dolphins, presumably as a farewell gesture.