AFC East: Vince Wilfork

DAVIE, Fla. -- Miami Dolphins starting center Samson Satele has been through plenty of battles with New England Patriots defensive tackle and five-time Pro Bowler Vince Wilfork. Satele has played against Wilfork in the regular season and postseason as a member of the Indianapolis Colts and Dolphins.

Therefore, Satele knows exactly what he's up against Sunday when Wilfork and the Patriots visit Sun Life Stadium.

"He's smart. He's going to pick up the offense, I think, within two series," Satele said. “He's going to know what's going on. He's just smart and he knows how to play that nose position.”

The Dolphins know their battle in the trenches between their offensive line and New England's defensive line will be key in Sunday's Week 1 matchup. Miami's new offense under Bill Lazor is making its regular-season debut, and a balanced running game is the goal. Wilfork will be waiting in the middle to try to make the Dolphins one dimensional.

Wilfork recently uped the ante in this game with a recent tweet saying how important this game was for him.
Wilfork is returning from an Achilles injury and an offseason contract dispute with New England. He is also a South Florida native (Boynton Beach) and former star at the University of Miami. So there are plenty of reasons for Wilfork to be motivated for Sunday's game.

The Dolphins will be starting five new offensive linemen against the Patriots, who boast a veteran group of defensive linemen led by Wilfork in the middle.

“He's a very gifted athlete,” said Dolphins guard Shelley Smith, who played against Wilfork in 2012. “He's very strong, he's very stout and it's hard to move him. He plays with great leverage and he's a smart player. He can read things and see things coming before they happen.”

Miami knows if Wilfork has a big game that could mean big trouble for the Dolphins on offense. Satele, who signed a month ago, said he's now comfortable with the offense. But Satele did not draw an easy assignment to kick off the regular season.

“I know he's coming off an injury, so I know he's going to be motivated to be back on the field plus he's back in Miami, because he's from here,” Satele said of Wilfork. “It's going to be his first game back, but I will be ready. I'm going to do what I know from this offense and work on my technique.”
Veteran defensive tackle Kevin Williams told NFL Nation Vikings reporter Ben Goessling that he took a little less money to sign with the Seattle Seahawks than the New England Patriots. With the specifics of Williams' contract now known, there is some added context on how far the Patriots were willing to extend financially.

Via colleague Field Yates, Williams' deal breaks down this way:

Term/total value: One year, $2.1 million
Signing bonus: $250,000
Base salary: $1.5 million ($250,000 guaranteed)
Incentives: Up to $350,000 in per-game roster bonuses

With Williams electing to sign in Seattle, here is a snapshot look at the Patriots' defensive tackle depth chart, with a quick-hit thought on each player:

Vince Wilfork (6-2, 325): Captain and 11-year veteran is making progress in his return from a ruptured Achilles last September. Looks to be moving well.

Tommy Kelly (6-6, 310): Another 11-year veteran, he took another step in his return from a torn ACL by participating in 11-on-11 drills Tuesday.

Dominique Easley (6-2, 288): First-round draft choice is coming off two torn ACLs over the past 22 months, suffered in college, and has yet to take the field this spring.

Chris Jones (6-1, 309) Second-year player was claimed on waivers last year and led all Patriots defensive tackles in snaps played in 2013. Best when penetrating.

Sealver Siliga (6-2, 325): After a slow start to his career, the run-stuffer looks like he has built some momentum as a developmental prospect behind Wilfork.

Armond Armstead (6-5, 305): The former Southern Cal and Canadian Football League standout has been sidelined for most of spring camps after missing all of last season with an infection.

Joe Vellano (6-2, 300): Hard-working second-year player from Maryland is a lunch pail type of guy who plays with top effort.

Marcus Forston (6-3, 305): Second-year player has spent multiple seasons on the practice squad and has filled in when injuries hit.

L.T. Tuipulotu (6-1, 305): Undrafted free agent from Utah is on the developmental track.

Seali'i Epenesa (6-1, 310): Undrafted free agent from UCLA was signed on Tuesday.
After news broke that defensive tackle Vince Wilfork had agreed to terms on a new deal with the Patriots that could run through 2016, teammates took to Twitter to react.

Below are some of their tweets:

Defensive end Chandler Jones:
Defensive tackle Marcus Forston:


Safety Devin McCourty:

Belichick: Should verify with Vince

March, 25, 2014
ORLANDO, Fla. -- When a reporter asked Bill Belichick about defensive tackle Vince Wilfork's request to be released, this was Belichick's response at Tuesday's AFC coaches breakfast:

"You need to talk to him about any of those statements, which I think you should verify first."

Earlier in the breakfast, Belichick had been asked about the "contentious" situation with Wilfork and said, "I don't really know the nature of your question, maybe that's something you have to talk to Vince about."

Belichick's remarks came one day after owner Robert Kraft said, "I very much hope we get it done, and I believe [Vince] very much would like to do it as well."

These comments have stood out to me over the past 24 hours.

Belichick's, in particular, seems to call into question the context and/or accuracy of Wilfork's reported request to be released, or perhaps Belichick is simply focusing on the present snapshot, which has shifted from two weeks ago.

There was a point Tuesday morning when Belichick was asked specifically if Wilfork had requested his release, and the coach said he wouldn't get into specifics on any players.

The big takeaway from all of this?

It's clear the sides are working through a complicated contractual issue, and in light of that, Wilfork's future with the franchise still hangs in the sensitive balance.

But remarks from Belichick and Kraft paint a picture of a situation that isn't as contentious as it might seem to be from a public perception standpoint.

How that affects the endgame still remains to be seen.
Now that we have definitive financial details on contracts signed by receivers Julian Edelman (4 years) and Brandon LaFell (3 years); cornerbacks Darrelle Revis (2 years) and Brandon Browner (3 years); and tight end Michael Hoomanawanui (2 years), there is a better feel for where things stand with the New England Patriots' salary cap.

Salary-cap space is often fluid, so we'll focus on the general range of $4-7 million in space for the Patriots at this time.

That's not a lot of breathing room on the $133 million cap, especially when it comes to factoring in space needed to sign draft picks. Also, only the top 51 contracts are accounted for when factoring salary-cap space at this time on the NFL calendar.

As is often stated, a team can quickly alter its salary-cap picture with a few transactions. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, for example, created about $16 million in space when they released Revis last week.

With this in mind, here are a few areas where the Patriots might seek cap relief:

Vince Wilfork -- The defensive captain has an $11.6 million salary-cap charge. The Patriots would gain about $7.6 million in space if Wilfork is not on the roster, but that would also create a rather large void at the heart of the defense. The team would seemingly like to have the best of both worlds -- Wilfork on the roster, but at a reduced cap charge.

Dan Connolly -- The starting right guard is scheduled to earn a base salary of $3 million in 2014, and will count $4 million on the cap. If he isn't on the roster, the team would pick up about $2.6 million in space, but it would also create an opening on the line to fill. Similar to Wilfork, the Patriots would seemingly like to have the best of borh worlds -- Connolly on the roster, but at a reduced cap charge.

Adrian Wilson -- The veteran safety who spent last season on injured reserve has a $1.8 million cap charge. He looked to be in jeopardy of not making the roster out of training camp last year, which would seem to put his spot on the team in 2014 in jeopardy. The Patriots would pick up just shy of $1 million in space if he's not on the roster.

Devin McCourty -- A foundation player who figures to be approached about a contract extension at some point, he counts $5.1 million against the salary cap in 2014, which is the final year of his initial rookie contract. A big-money extension could create space in the $2-3 million range depending on the way it's structured.

Stephen Gostkowski -- The reliable kicker has a $3.8 million cap charge in the final year of his contract. Similar to McCourty, he's a candidate for an extension that could create some breathing room on the cap.

Logan Mankins -- The perennial Pro Bowl guard is scheduled to earn $6.2 million in base salary this season. The Patriots could turn that into a signing bonus and protate it over the remaining three years of the deal, which would lower the 2014 cap charge but increase the cap charge in 2015 and 2016 to potentially set up a similar situation to what the Patriots have now with Wilfork.

QUICK-HIT THOUGHTS: In putting this list together, a hat tip is warranted for Miguel Benzan of, who does meticulous work on the cap. Some of his latest work on the Patriots' cap situation can be read here, and he keeps an updated snapshot of the team's salary-cap status that is often a nice guide. If there is one thought to sum it all up, it's that a big-money signing or acquisition (e.g. Jared Allen/DeSean Jackson) seems highly unlikely at this point. At some point down the line, the Patriots could get some relief from Aaron Hernandez's $7.5 million cap charge, but there is nothing imminent on that front as we understand it. That figures to be a longer process.

Sound bites from Robert Kraft at Bowl

January, 31, 2014
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will hold his “state of the NFL” news conference on Friday, which is usually attended by most team owners. New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft is in attendance and expected address reporters later in the day.

This morning, Kraft was a guest on “CBS This Morning” and CNBC’s “Squawk Box”, and one of the common threads in the interviews is that Kraft is a big proponent of a cold-weather Super Bowl.

Here were some of the sound bites from Kraft:

Looking ahead to the Patriots’ 2014 season (CNBC): “The good news is, I believe we’re the third youngest team in the NFL. People don’t realize that. We have a great young crop of players, and we’re still privileged to have Tom Brady and Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo -- core veterans. I think we have the best coach and best quarterback in the NFL.”

On quarterback Brady, who turns 37 in August, and his current standing (CNBC): “I’ll just tell you, all week this week, he’s been in the stadium, working with our offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels to see what they can do to improve. There is a great focus.”

On an NFL franchise potentially located in London (CBS): “We have three games there; [I think] they’re sold out next year. We’ve played there a couple times. I think that’s a great place. I really believe that before the decade is out we’ll have a team there.”

On the Thursday night broadcast package out for bid (CBS): “We have a Thursday night package that’s in the bidding process now, and you talk about the great interest of football, the interest in our Thursday night package from all our broadcast partners is tremendous. We are the only way to get a mass audience watching, as you will see this Sunday. I would hope the next few weeks we’ll choose the right partner.”

What the Brady vs. Peyton Manning rivalry has meant for football (CBS): “It’s wonderful. We’re going to play them again next year, and it might be the last time the two of them -- the two greatest quarterbacks in the modern era are on the field [together]. They have great respect for one another. They’ve played 15 times, and my guy Tommy has won 10 of them. Not that we’re competitive [panel laughter].”

Who is he rooting for in the Super Bowl (CBS): “I have people on both sides. I love Wes Welker. I’ve hired two coaches in my career, Pete Carroll and Bill Belichick, in 20 years. I get torn, but to be honest, it’s hard to root for anybody when you’re in my position. ... [Pete] is such a great guy, one of the nicest men. He’s a different profile than most of the coaches; he’s like an energetic, enthusiastic young man on the sideline. He has a great family. He’s a very special person. ... Wes Welker is also a pretty special guy.”

New England Patriots season wrap-up

January, 22, 2014

Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final power ranking: 4
Preseason power ranking: 6

Biggest surprise: How about a murder charge to a tight end who had previously been thought of as a centerpiece of the team? Aaron Hernandez's murder charge threatened to sink the Patriots' season before it even started, but in a credit to Bill Belichick, his staff and the players, it was hardly a distraction as they once again advanced to the AFC Championship Game. There were no on-field surprises that could come close to topping that.

.Biggest disappointment: Rob Gronkowski's knee injury Dec. 8. This falls into the wider-ranging category of “season-ending injuries to top players” and the Patriots had their fair share early in the season -- defensive tackles Vince Wilfork (Sept. 29) and Tommy Kelly (Oct. 6), linebacker Jerod Mayo (Oct. 13), and starting right tackle Sebastian Vollmer (Oct. 27). But Gronkowski’s felt like a season-changer in some respects, deflating some of the optimism that had been built up at that point because the offense looked markedly different with him back on the field.

Biggest need: Re-signing cornerback Aqib Talib. The four-game stretch of football he played from Sept. 22 to Oct. 13 was as impressive as we’ve seen from a Patriots cornerback in recent memory, the highlight coming when he was matched up against Saints tight end Jimmy Graham and held him without a catch before leaving in the third quarter with injury. The 2013 season showed how the Patriots’ defense is different with a healthy No. 1 matchup option like Talib, with the final piece of evidence coming in the AFC Championship Game when he left with a knee injury in the second quarter.

Team MVP: It has to be quarterback Tom Brady, with Talib, receiver Julian Edelman and kicker Stephen Gostkowski the other strong candidates. This was a “do more with less” type season for Brady, similar to 2006, and he willed the offense to productive results despite almost a complete overhaul. He’s the consummate leader, almost like another coach, and the Patriots don’t advance to the conference championship without him.


Patriots have to like chances in playoffs

December, 29, 2013

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- It has seldom come easy for the New England Patriots in the 2013 season, so it was fitting Sunday’s finale against the visiting Buffalo Bills was played in a steady downpour from start to finish. Just another obstacle to overcome in a season full of them.

“I haven’t played in one like this,” quarterback Tom Brady, now in his 14th season, said after the soggy, closer-than-it-looked 34-20 victory. “The water on the field at the end, it was just puddles. I’ve never seen that on our field before.”

That’s because the Patriots haven’t played in such waterlogged conditions since the Gillette Stadium surface was changed from natural grass to FieldTurf in 2006. The ball was slick, the footing far from secure, and it turned into a running game.


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Thankfully for the Patriots, they had 6-foot, 250-pound bulldozer LeGarrette Blount on their side, as he broke a 51-year-old franchise record with 334 all-purpose yards (189 rushing, 145 on kickoff returns). Blount, as smiling coach Bill Belichick said afterward, “was clearly the best player on the field” and “carried the team on his back most of the day.”

This is what the good teams do, finding different ways to win and new players to rise up when adverse conditions and injuries strike. After 16 regular-season games, we can now decisively declare that the banged-up 12-4 Patriots are in that category.

Where it takes them, even after they secured the AFC’s No. 2 seed and a first-round playoff bye, no one knows.

But there’s a feeling from seemingly all corners of the locker room that this group is one players feel good about taking their best shot with in the every-play-is-magnified postseason. At this point, that’s really all they can ask for, with their first game in the divisional round scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 11, at 8:15 p.m. ET.

“This team has been through a lot this year, a lot of adversity, a lot has not gone our way. But we’ve found a way to put ourselves in a good position,” said special teams captain Matthew Slater, who has been handed the responsibility of delivering an inspirational message to players after each victory before breaking the team down.

“I can’t guarantee us winning a game, I can’t guarantee us making a run, but I can guarantee that we’re going to come out, give great effort and compete.”

That, in many ways, defines a 2013 Patriots squad whose resilience is its most admirable quality.

[+] EnlargeTom Brady
Winslow Townson/USA TODAY SportsTom Brady congratulates LeGarrette Blount, the latest member of the Patriots to carry the load.
As Slater knows from his six years in the NFL, there are few guarantees at this time of year. In 2010, the Patriots went 14-2, earned a first-round bye, then were bounced by the New York Jets at home in the divisional round. The year before, they limped into the playoffs when receiver Wes Welker tore his ACL in the season finale at Houston and were blown out by the Baltimore Ravens in the wild-card round.

While that seemed bad at the time, it actually pales in comparison to what the Patriots have endured injury-wise this season, with top players Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo, Rob Gronkowski and Sebastian Vollmer among those placed on season-ending injured reserve.

It looked like Pro Bowl left guard Logan Mankins, who once played parts of a season on a torn ACL, might join the group when he needed help coming off the field in the second quarter Sunday after injuring his ankle. At that point, most Patriots fans had to be asking, “Can this team really absorb the loss of another top player?”

But Mankins came back after retreating to the locker room, his toughness reflective of what observers have seen from the Patriots' all season.

“There’s nobody I’ve ever played with as tough as him,” Brady marveled. “Logan is second to none.”

These Patriots, on the whole, are pretty tough, too, a result of weathering a 16-game season that has delivered them some haymakers -- either by injury or pressure-cooker on-field situations.

“This is one of the most mentally tough teams I’ve been on, through the close games that we’ve played,” said defensive end Rob Ninkovich, now in his eighth NFL season. “The games that you win by three, one, those are the games that take a lot out of you, and we just keep coming back every week.”

“As you’ve seen from the 16-game season, despite the injuries, there definitely was a youth movement with younger guys having to step up, and we hung in there,” veteran defensive end Andre Carter added. “We constantly fought. We showed a lot of poise through adversity. We showed a lot of character through adversity.”

It’s a quality that Belichick himself seemed to admire as he allowed himself a moment to step outside of his one-game-at-a-time focus and view the 16-game big picture.

“I’m happy for them. They definitely earned it,” he said. “Nobody gave them anything, they had to go out and earn it -- won 12 games, and a lot of them were very tough and competitive and came down to the wire. This team earned it.”

Then Belichick said, “At the same time, this isn’t our only goal for the season.”

So the short-handed but resilient team will take its best shot after a well-deserved playoff bye, with more obstacles surely ahead for a club that keeps finding new ways to overcome them.

Double Coverage: Patriots at Texans

November, 29, 2013
Andre Johnson and Chandler JonesUSA Today SportsAndre Johnson, left, and the Texans hope to surprise Chandler Jones and the Patriots.
HOUSTON -- The last time the Houston Texans faced the New England Patriots during the regular season, Houston was 11-1 and the hottest team in the league. To celebrate their youthful camaraderie, they ordered letterman jackets, the kind high school teams wear, and the jackets happened to come in right before the Patriots game.

That game marked a turning point for the Texans.

The timing of the jackets had nothing to do with the opponent; former Texans Connor Barwin and Shaun Cody were simply trying to create a tradition. That they lost so badly just after unveiling them turned the jackets into a punch line.

The Patriots won 42-14, and the Texans finished their season having lost three of their last four games. That meant losing the home-field advantage that seemed theirs before that game and led to another meeting with the Patriots in the divisional round of the playoffs. New England won again, 41-28.

It was a lesson for the Texans in what it takes to be a great team.

Heading into this season, many thought the Texans were positioned to be one of the top teams in the NFL. The Patriots seemed poised for a down year, by their standards, but here we are in Week 13 and they sit in their usual spot atop the AFC East. Texans reporter Tania Ganguli and Patriots reporter Mike Reiss discuss the matchup.

Ganguli: Mike, how has the loss of so many of his top targets from last season impacted Patriots quarterback Tom Brady?

Reiss: We saw it impact Brady more significantly through the first eight games. But things have started to click the past two games, and it’s no coincidence that it coincides with tight end Rob Gronkowski's reaching a new level of comfort since his return Oct. 20, and running back Shane Vereen's coming off the injured reserve list. With those two joining receivers Aaron Dobson, Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and Kenbrell Thompkins, the pass-catching corps has been as stocked as we’ve seen all season.

I know it’s been a down year for the Texans, but is J.J. Watt still creating havoc? Is that defense still tough?

Ganguli: Watt is still creating havoc. He has 9.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and four passes defensed. He is someone opposing offenses must track on every play. The Texans' defense has played well, but it has holes. On Sunday, the Jaguars had success with the matchup of receiver Cecil Shorts against cornerback Brandon Harris in the slot. Injuries to middle linebacker Brian Cushing and strong safety Danieal Manning have been particularly damaging. The Texans have statistically been much better with Cushing than without him since he was drafted. Their attempt to add some mental toughness with Ed Reed didn’t work as they had hoped, so two young players are starting at safety -- Shiloh Keo at free safety and D.J. Swearinger at strong safety. Swearinger is the Texans’ rookie second-round pick. He will be really good, but right now he’s learning a lot about playing at this level. They haven’t allowed a lot of yards, but have allowed too many points and not created enough turnovers.

Speaking of turnovers, as I watched Sunday night’s Patriots game against the Broncos, it seemed every time I looked up the Patriots had either committed or forced a turnover. What did you make of that? Was it an aberration?

Reiss: The forced turnovers were the norm, as the Patriots recently ended a streak of 36 games with at least one forced turnover (Nov. 18 vs. Carolina). The Patriots' committing turnovers was a little more out of character, although one of the pressing issues facing the club is what to do with lead running back Stevan Ridley (3 lost fumbles in the past three games). The Patriots are traditionally strong in turnover differential, and this season is no different, as they are plus-8 with 23 takeaways and 15 giveaways.

I know this probably comes out of left field, but how is the playing surface at Reliant Stadium? Patriots followers remember the last visit, in 2009, when Wes Welker tore his ACL. I saw a recent game, and it looks like there are patches of grass on the field with noticeable seams in certain parts.

Ganguli: Not out of left field at all. If the game you saw was the Texans’ Nov. 3 Sunday night game against the Indianapolis Colts, this was a major topic of conversation that night. The field looked pretty bad, mostly because there was a college game played on the same grass that week. They replaced the center of the field, but the outer grass was a mess. The University of Houston has played five games at Reliant Stadium this season while its stadium is being renovated. It has played most of them on field turf. The Cougars will play again on Friday morning, and none of the grass will be replaced between that game and the Texans-Patriots game Sunday. I believe the thinking is that will give it enough time to recover. Something to watch, though.

Let’s talk more about defense to wrap up here. Will Aqib Talib be assigned to Andre Johnson on Sunday? How do you think he’ll fare?

Reiss: That would make a lot of sense, as Talib has often been assigned the opponent’s top receiver. After a rocky game Nov. 18 against Carolina and Steve Smith, he was very good this past Sunday night against Demaryius Thomas in the 34-31 win against the Broncos. Talib has been key for the pass defense. Meanwhile, the loss of key players to season-ending injuries (defensive tackles Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly, and linebacker Jerod Mayo) has hurt the run defense at times, such as in the Broncos game. But they played a 4-2-5 nickel for most of the game, and I don’t think that will be as much of a factor against the Texans. The Patriots will probably be in their base defense more often, and they played well against the Panthers’ tough running attack in that package.

One thing I think Patriots followers would be interested to hear is what has happened to the Texans? How could a team go so quickly from the AFC divisional round of the playoffs and talking about “letterman” jackets to vying for the No. 1 pick in the draft?

Ganguli: Even with some of the missteps in the offseason, it would have been difficult to foresee this. There are a lot of issues, but I'll focus on the quarterback situation. The biggest mystery is what happened to quarterback Matt Schaub. He was never on the level of Brady, but he gave the Texans what they needed. He was consistent and productive. He actually played really well in leading comebacks against the San Diego Chargers and Tennessee Titans this season. That seems so long ago. The Texans' turnover margin has been among the worst in the league all season, and Schaub was part of that. He became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw pick-sixes in four consecutive games. He threw one on the first pass of the game against the San Francisco 49ers, and that game marked the only time this season Schaub played poorly from start to finish. There were myriad other problems, but Schaub lost his starting spot when he suffered a foot and ankle injury in Week 6. First-year quarterback Case Keenum took over, but his play hasn't meant victories. In his first three starts, he played well in the first half and not so well in the second half. His most recent game, against Jacksonville, was his worst of the season. Keenum threw for 169 yards, no touchdowns and one interception.


Upon Further Review: Patriots Week 7

October, 21, 2013
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- A review of four hot issues following the New England Patriots' 30-27 overtime loss to the Jets:

[+] EnlargeTom Brady
AP Photo/Kathy WillensTom Brady's struggles came at a bad time for the limping Patriots.
Tom Brady and offensive struggles: We led off the "Upon Further Review" feature last week with the subtitle "Tom Brady magic" after he led the team's game-winning touchdown drive against the Saints. But the magic act did a disappearing act against the Jets. Credit, first and foremost, to a tough Jets defense that held the Patriots to 1-of-12 on third down. It was a day when the undermanned defense needed Brady and Co. to step up and carry the day, and the quarterback didn't deliver. It isn't all on him, but one of the defining characteristics of his play -- accuracy -- isn't showing up consistently.

Special teams coaching: Bill Belichick often says that his opinion on NFL rules isn't important; what's truly important is that everyone understands them and they are coached accordingly. This is a topic to revisit after the Patriots were penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct on Nick Folk's 56-yard field goal in overtime when rookie defensive tackle Chris Jones was flagged for pushing teammate Will Svitek into the formation. After the game, Belichick shared his viewpoint that he didn't think it was a penalty because Jones wasn't on the second level, meaning he initially aligned on the line of scrimmage. The league's vice president of officiating, Dean Blandino, said otherwise. This was the first time the penalty has been called since the rule was implemented this season. On Monday, Belichick took accountability, saying: "Obviously we are wrong."

Injuries on defense show up: The Patriots have lost defensive tackle Vince Wilfork and linebacker Jerod Mayo to season-ending injuries, and with cornerback Aqib Talib (hip) missing Sunday's game, that left them without three of their best players. It showed at times, as the Jets were 6-of-6 on third down to open the game. In the end, the defense made enough plays to give the team a chance to win, but the personnel losses make one wonder if they can sustain it.

Inconsistent offensive line: Returning all five starters along the offensive line, it seems fair to say that the unit should be the strength of the offense. But when the game swung in the third quarter, a big part of it was because of protection breakdowns up front. Better play is needed on a more consistent basis from the big guys up front: left tackle Nate Solder, left guard Logan Mankins, center Ryan Wendell, right guard Dan Connolly and right tackle Sebastian Vollmer.

Locker Room Buzz: New England Patriots

October, 6, 2013
CINCINNATI -- Observed in the locker room after the New England Patriots' 13-6 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals:

Following up with Tommy Kelly: The veteran defensive tackle, who left the game in the fourth quarter with a knee injury and didn't return, was one of the last players to leave the locker room. Unlike Vince Wilfork last week, who left Atlanta on the back of a cart after tearing his Achilles, Kelly walked out under his own power and his injury didn't appear, on the surface, to be as serious as Wilfork's. Kelly said he planned to speak with reporters later in the week, but when asked briefly about the knee, he said "everything's good." What that exactly means remains a bit unclear.

Tom Brady on his streak being snapped: The quarterback had his streak of 52 straight games with at least one touchdown pass snapped. When asked about it, Brady said, "I'm bummed that we lost. That's all that really matters."

Crediting the Bengals' defense: As is often the case in a losing team's locker room, there was plenty of focus on the team's mistakes. At the same time, receiver Julian Edelman -- who singled out the red zone as the key area in the game -- pointed out that some credited belonged on the Bengals' side as well. "They were mixing it up, spinning the dial, doing what they do. They flat-out beat us. Sometimes you have to tip your hat," he said. "We have no excuses."

Letting the defense down: Offensive lineman Logan Mankins said, "The truth right now is that we're so inconsistent offensively. ... Today, the defense played great, as they have all year. I think we really let them down." No further explanation required.

Amendola's groin responds well: Receiver Danny Amendola was charted on the field for 38 of 64 snaps (including penalties), as he was managed in his return from a groin injury. He drew a large crowd of reporters at his locker after the game and said he felt good, although there were a few plays he wanted to have back. Amendola also said he felt he had scored on a play in which he was ruled just shy of the end zone.

Wilfork: 'No need to feel sorry'

October, 1, 2013
Vince Wilfork, who underwent surgery on his Achilles tendon on Tuesday, released the following statement via his Twitter account:
I just want to thank everyone for your support and encouragement. ... Please know your words are heard. Bianca [Wilfork's wife] is making sure I see all the comments. I wish I could respond to everyone. But please know your words are heard.

One thing I know is I signed up to play football. I don't regret anything that has happened and there is no need to feel sorry about it. I've been blessed to only have one surgery prior to today and that was in high school.

I know what signing up to play football means and I know the rewards and risks. This is my job and I will switch positions for now and play the role of patient, but that is only temporary. I have so much confidence in our team and know that they will do great and I will be right beside them maybe not in uniform but in all other ways.

Thanks again.

Why Vince Wilfork is so hard to replace

October, 1, 2013
Once a training camp, New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick throws his team a bone, metaphorically speaking.

It usually takes place after a morning practice, often on a Saturday, and the circumstances are these: If a player of his choosing -- typically a lineman -- can catch a punt, the team will have the afternoon and evening off from meetings. Six to eight extra hours of freedom may not seem like much, but during training camp, every spare minute counts.

[+] EnlargeVince Wilfork
Winslow Townson/Getty ImagesWill Patriots veteran Vince Wilfork become a salary-cap casualty this offseason?
Forgive us for not recalling the year, but one fair-catch attempt will forever be remembered. Belichick tabbed nose tackle Vince Wilfork -- all 325-plus pounds of him -- to catch a punt (in the air, of course) with a night off on the line. But there was a catch to the catch: Wilfork had to do so with a ball in one hand, allowing him just one free hand to make the catch.

As the punt soared into the air, spiraling down the field, Wilfork gently glided laterally, lining his frame up under the punt. Just seconds later, the arcing football landed in his free arm, almost as if Velcro were affixed to both the ball and his forearm.

For a moment, Wilfork could have been mistaken for his pint-sized teammate and master ball handler Kevin Faulk, a regular punt returner.

The point of this vignette is that it illustrates Wilfork’s rare athleticism for a man of his stature, proof that men who stand 6-foot-2 and well over 300 pounds can be exceptional athletes, not merely human mountains.

But not all defensive tackles have Wilfork’s movement skills. In fact, maybe a handful of others around the league do.

And that is -- at least in part -- what makes Wilfork such an invaluable member of the Patriots' defense. It’s the ability to align in a variety of spots on the defensive line, the quickness and agility to disrupt as a pass-rusher and, yes, the hands to make a play on the ball as a pass defender, as we saw against the Chargers back in 2011, when he nearly returned an interception for a score.

Three-down defensive linemen are hard to find, especially among interior defensive tackles.

Vince Wilfork fits the bill.

When the Patriots opt to put Wilfork on the injured reserve list -- which looks like a certainty at this point, after he had surgery Tuesday to repair a torn Achilles tendon -- a key cog in their defensive wheel will be done for the season.

And we haven’t even talked about Wilfork’s contributions against the run. The Patriots don’t always play three-man fronts. In fact, they often align with four men at the line of scrimmage. But when Wilfork was selected by the Pats in the 2004 draft's first round, he provided the team a refined and ready-made nose tackle to anchor the defense.

In the Patriots' two-gap system, a defensive lineman is called upon to engage an opposing offensive lineman, lock his arms out to gain leverage, and be prepared to move laterally with the flow of a run. If a running back tries to squirt through one of the two gaps the defensive lineman is controlling, it’s up to him to shed the block and make a tackle.

That’s not easy. It’s an arduous task that requires unique skills. And yet, on virtually every play, the Patriots rely on Wilfork to man this task at a dominant level. A look at the numbers affirms his importance: According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Patriots in the past five seasons have allowed 4.1 yards per rush with Wilfork on the field, ninth-best in the NFL. When Wilfork was off the field, the Patriots ranked last in yards per rush allowed (5.0).

Brady: Wilfork's presence is unmatched

September, 30, 2013
Appearing at halftime of the "Monday Night Football" radio broadcast on Westwood One, Tom Brady commented on Vince Wilfork's season-ending injury. Here's a transcript of what he said:

"Well, to say we'll miss him is an understatement. His presence in the locker room and on the field is really unmatched, so it will be a team effort. I know Coach Belichick said there's no Vince Wilforks on the street corner waiting to sign with the Patriots, which is the truth, but we're going to have to find a way to -- in a group effort -- replace such a valuable player. And he'll be around, his spirit, his leadership, he'll still have a big impact on our team. But he's been a great player for a long time and everyone's disappointed about his injury."

On if he can gauge what it does to the morale of the team when you lose such a player of that level of importance:

"Yeah, well, initially there's a blow to the team morale in that you wonder who's going to fill in that spot and who's going to take the void of such a great player. But then as soon as you get into the week, you start thinking about your job, how much you need to do and what the coaches are asking you, and then you really leave it to coach to think of the things that he can do now to help replace a guy like Vince as well as personnel. So injuries are really a part of the game and I think we've learned over the years that there's not one player that makes the team. Certainly losing a guy like
Vince doesn't help our team in any way, but we're going to have to find somebody to go in there and do the job of that nose tackle position and do it to the level that they're capable of. It's a team sport so the rest of the team has to pick up the pieces."

On if he sensed the severity of the injury when it occurred:

"I wasn't sure of the severity, I know that Vince never really goes down and stays on the ground so when he came over to the sideline and I went over and tapped him on the shoulder to ask him how he felt and he just kind of nodded his head which, I knew at that point that it wasn't a minor injury. He's as tough as they come. He's been durable, consistent. Like I said, his leadership and his ability to motivate the other players on the defensive side of the ball has been one of the best I've ever seen. So we'll miss him, we'll miss him for the rest of the year, but I know he'll come
back next year strong and as determined as ever."

On Rob Gronkowski and his injury status:

"He's been on the active roster for the last four weeks and I've seen him every day working as hard as he can to get back. So it ends up being a medical decision and that's not my role. So I'm just waiting for the day that he does get back because he adds so much to our offense. Every week that he's been out there he's made significant improvement. So it'll be great when he's back and it'll be great when we get Danny Amendola back and Shane Vereen back and finally we can see what our offense is really made of. Whether that's this week or the following week or the following week. I mean those things are really not determined by me."

Belichick: Vince Wilfork undergoing tests

September, 30, 2013
New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick didn’t shed any new light on Vince Wilfork's Achilles injury on Monday morning, telling reporters on a conference call that the defensive lineman was undergoing tests but he otherwise did not have information on his injury.

“I really don’t know much right now,” Belichick said, adding that with the late game Sunday and traveling back Monday, he hasn’t had a chance to talk to the medical staff.

Wilfork left Sunday night’s victory against the Falcons in the first quarter and did not return. A league source indicated early Monday that the injury was a torn right Achillies and would likely sideline him for the season.

“He’s a great player, we all know that, and he gives us great leadership,” Belichick said. “He’s a strong contributor on and off the field and in the locker room. ... We’ll just have to see how things come together for him. Obviously if he’s not there, everybody will have to pull a little bit more weight on their end.”

Belichick did indicate he might have more information later Monday.

“It’ll all come together here at some point during the day,” he said.