Versatile Akeem Ayers adapts to Patriots

October, 23, 2014
Oct 23
4:00
PM ET
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Newly acquired linebacker Akeem Ayers drew a large media crowd in the locker room today following his second practice with the New England Patriots.

Here were some quick hits:

Ayers
Explaining his dip in Tennessee: Ayers went from high second-round pick in 2011 to falling out of favor this season. Asked to explain how things unfolded, Ayers said, "I was a part of some coaching changes, and things like that can happen. That’s in the past and I’m happy to be here."

Knees feel good: Ayers had surgery to repair both patellar tendons in the offseason. "I worked hard to get back healthy and have good rehab. It paid off," he said. "I’m feeling great. I’m not limited. Fully able to go."

How he would define himself as a player: Asked what type of player he feels the Patriots are getting, Ayers started with this, "I believe I have a lot of versatility ... I’m able to drop in coverage, I can rush, and things like that ... I think the defensive scheme can fit what I’m able to do well. We do a lot of different things."

Biggest challenge of a midseason trade: Ayers feels up to the task physically. The bigger challenge is the mental side. "Just moving midseason and learning an entirely new defensive scheme; sometimes it takes months to learn a playbook," he said.

Thoughts on the trade: Ayers described his thoughts on the trade, saying, "I’ m happy to get in a good situation here, and a better position where I can get a better opportunity to play, possibly."

Extra points: Ayers said he’s not sure if he will play Sunday, because he’s still in the acclimation process. ... Special teams captain Matthew Slater was one of the few Patriots that Ayers had a background with, as they crossed paths at UCLA. ... Ayers is wearing No. 52.

Vince Wilfork: Can't miss tackles against Matt Forte

October, 23, 2014
Oct 23
3:53
PM ET
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- In the Patriots’ narrow 27-25 victory over the Jets, the defense was gashed for 218 yards on the ground by Chris Ivory and Chris Johnson. The task doesn’t get any easier this week against one of the best running backs in the league: the Bears’ Matt Forte.

Vince Wilfork sees tackling -- an area he feels the defense has struggled with -- as the key to slowing down Forte and the Bears’ offense.

“That’s the biggest thing defensively -- being able to tackle,” Wilfork said. “And that’s part of our problem, too; sometimes we miss tackles, we overplay some things and it costs us. It costs us big.

“No matter how you slice it, we have to be able to tackle. We have to be able to get off the field on third down, in the red area, just make them kick field goals. The team has played good football in the red area. I think that’s one of those things that helped us last week was in the red area they kicked field goals instead of us giving up seven points. That’s big. That’s probably the only thing we did well.”

The last time the Patriots played the Bears, New England’s defense held Forte to a mere 25 yards rushing on nine carries. The Patriots also limited Forte in the receiving game as he only had two catches for 36 yards.

Wilfork, however, knows that game was back in 2010 and this is a different Bears’ team -- one with a strong offensive identity.

“Last time we played them they were totally different,” Wilfork said. “They probably have a couple guys that are still there but for the most part it’s a different team. A team we don’t play a lot. We have to do a lot of study on those guys on tendencies and what they want to do and how they do it, formations, situations in the game, understanding what they want to do.”

Wilfork gave high praise to Forte’s versatility and the balance he provides the Bears’ offense.

“There’s not a lot [of backs Forte compares to] because he is a big running back,” Wilfork said. “The way he catches the ball out the backfield you would think he is a receiver. And he can run the ball well, too.

“I could see them doing a lot more of [giving Forte the ball] coming into this game, especially trying to get that running game started so it can open up the play-action passes and throw the ball vertically to his big receivers. So we have to do a real great job up front of trying to take away the run game.”

The Patriots will have to slow down Forte without the help of defensive end Chandler Jones, who has a hip injury. Jones is reportedly out for one month, but Wilfork shrugged it off.

“Who said we don’t have Chandler?” Wilfork said. “I don’t know if we are going to have Chandler or not, but when the time comes we will figure it out.

“I’m confident in everybody we put on the field because the way we practice around here, the way guys get taught the same way. We don’t change any type of defense because we lack a person, we don’t care who that person is. Just the next man up, he has to be able to step in and do his job and do it to the fullest.”
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John 'Bull' Bramlett dies at 73

October, 23, 2014
Oct 23
12:52
PM ET

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- John "Bull" Bramlett, a former professional football and baseball player who was nicknamed the "Meanest Man in Football," has died. He was 73.

Shelby County Mayor's Office spokesman Steve Shular told The Associated Press that family members say the Memphis native died early Thursday. Shular said Mayor Mark H. Luttrell was close to Bramlett, who had been in declining health.

Bramlett was a star baseball and football player at Memphis State, now the University of Memphis.

He went on to play professional baseball with the St. Louis Cardinals for two years before changing to the NFL, where he played from 1965 to 1971 and was a two-time All-Pro linebacker. He was runner-up to Joe Namath for American Football League rookie of the year in 1965.

His pro football career included four teams: the Denver Broncos, Miami Dolphins, Boston Patriots (now New England) and Atlanta Falcons.

Because of his on-field aggressiveness and his antics off the field, Bramlett was given his nickname. But he changed his behavior when he retired from football, becoming a Christian evangelist.

According to a website dedicated to his ministry, Bramlett spent 40 years speaking to hundreds of churches, schools, prisons and conventions, as well as NFL and MLB chapel services.

"Indeed, he inspired many people as a professional football player," Luttrell said in a statement. "Yet ... John's stories of forgiveness and hope through his Christian witness made a real difference in the lives of countless people throughout the nation and here in Shelby County.

"John Bramlett was ... a dear friend. I'm grateful for having known him and his family."


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Chandler Jones is lone absence at practice

October, 23, 2014
Oct 23
12:50
PM ET
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Defensive end Chandler Jones was the only Patriots roster player missing from practice on Thursday.

 Jones is reportedly out for one month with a hip injury. He was listed on Wednesday’s practice report, the first report of the week.

Practice squad defensive lineman Kona Schwenke was not spotted at practice in his No. 97 jersey, but he may have still been at practice. There was a player wearing a No. 69 jersey who looked a lot like Schwenke. The No. 69 player was wearing a blue jersey, signifying that he is a defensive player.

Schwenke may have switched from No. 97 to No. 69 to give the No. 97 jersey to veteran defensive tackle Alan Branch, who reportedly signed with the Patriots earlier this week.

We have yet to see Branch practice with the team or in the locker room. The Patriots have not officially announced the signing of Branch.

Due to the rain, the Patriots were practicing inside Dana-Farber Field House and were wearing full pads.

Weekly Patriots chat recap

October, 23, 2014
Oct 23
12:30
PM ET
Every Thursday on ESPNBoston.com, there is a Patriots chat in the late morning/early afternoon. Today's chat kicked off at 11 a.m. ET, can be recapped here, and includes some of the following topics:

1. Holdup with the expected signing of DT Alan Branch.

2. Jonas Gray and the power running game.

3. Wide receivers and Danny Amendola's place on the roster.

4. Revisiting the decision to release defensive tackle Tommy Kelly.

5. Some concerns and matchup thoughts with the Bears coming to town.

6. Cornerback Darrelle Revis' play and missing Tuesday's practice.

7. Marcus Cannon and the offensive tackle rotation.

Bruschi's Breakdown: Pats-Bears

October, 23, 2014
Oct 23
11:04
AM ET
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Every week leading into the Patriots' next game, ESPN NFL analyst Tedy Bruschi and ESPN Patriots reporter Mike Reiss preview the matchup. This week, it's Sunday's home game against the Chicago Bears (Fox, 1 p.m. ET):

Mike: The Bears made some headlines this week but not necessarily for the right reasons. Receiver Brandon Marshall was reportedly fiery in the locker room after Sunday's loss to the Dolphins and later said he regretted not his actions but that the door wasn't closed.

Tedy: When something like this happens and Marshall calls out his team and uses the word "unacceptable," one way to look at it is that you have a player showing how much he cares. That can spark the Bears to come out this week with an inspired effort. That type of attitude can be contagious to a locker room, and you can almost say you'd feel differently about that team if there wasn't that emotion. This all comes back to something I believe: The emotions, mentalities and state of motivation of a team are huge factors in football.

Mike: That's a positive outlook. What about the other side of it?


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Patriots penalty watch: False starts spike

October, 23, 2014
Oct 23
10:45
AM ET
A weekly look at the New England Patriots' penalties, both from a player and infraction standpoint.

The Patriots’ record penalty pace has continued over the last two weeks as the team had 11 infractions apiece against the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets (including offsetting and declined penalties).

Of those 22 penalties, eight were false starts (six on offense, two on special teams). Bill Belichick has said in the past that he can accept some penalties, but false starts don’t fall into that category. They are just “bad football.”

That ups the season total to 74 penalties, 63 of which have been accepted. This puts the Patriots on pace to easily surpass their highest accepted penalty total under Belichick, which was 111 in the 2003 season.

Here is the weekly breakdown:

PENALTY LEADERBOARD
OT Nate Solder -- 7
CB Logan Ryan -- 6
OL Jordan Devey -- 5
WR Brandon LaFell -- 5
CB Darrelle Revis -- 4
OL Marcus Cannon -- 3
CB Alfonzo Dennard -- 3
TE Rob Gronkowski -- 3
LB Dont'a Hightower -- 3
(8 tied with 2 apiece)

PENALTY BREAKDOWN
False start -- 11
Holding (offensive) -- 11
Holding (defensive) -- 9
Pass interference (offensive) -- 5
Holding (special teams) -- 4
Pass interference (defense) -- 4
Unnecessary roughness -- 4

LOOKING AHEAD TO WEEK 8: Referee Brad Allen, in his first season in the NFL, has been assigned Sunday’s Patriots-Bears game. He worked the Week 1 Bears-Bills game and has not worked a Patriots game this season.

Weekly Patriots chat at 11 a.m.

October, 23, 2014
Oct 23
9:50
AM ET
Every Thursday on ESPNBoston.com, there is a Patriots chat. Today's chat is scheduled for 11 a.m. ET and questions can be asked in advance.

Catch up then.

Patriots-Bears through a stats-based lens

October, 23, 2014
Oct 23
5:00
AM ET
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- A look at the New England Patriots-Chicago Bears matchup through a stats-based lens (via ESPN's Stats and Information):

1. Brady's 100th career start at home. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady makes his 100th career regular-season start at home on Sunday and is 86-13 in Foxborough. According to Elias Sports Bureau, no quarterback who debuted in the Super Bowl era has a higher home winning percentage (minimum 40 starts, all regular season).
  • Tom Brady -- 86-13 (.869)
  • Terry Bradshaw -- 67-12 (.848)
  • Roger Staubach -- 49-10 (.831)
  • Joe Flacco -- 42-10 (.808)
  • John Elway -- 95-23 (.805)
2. Brady's three-game turnaround. The Patriots have won their last three games and Brady's improvement over that span is hard to miss.

Completion percentage
First 4 games: 59.1 percent
Last 3 games: 64.2 percent

Yards per attempt
First 4 games: 5.8
Last 3 games: 8.4

Touchdowns
First 4 games: 4
Last 3 games: 9

Interceptions
First 4 games: 2
Last 3 games: 0

Total QBR
First 4 games: 46.5
Last 3 games: 87.1

3. Downfield passing game on the rise. In the first four games of the season, Brady was 7-of-32 on passes thrown at least 15 yards down the field. Since then, he has gone 17-of-25, completing at least five attempts in each game, with five touchdowns and no interceptions. Meanwhile, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler has struggled in the deep passing game, with a 31.3 completion percentage on throws 15 yards or more down the field. Only Miami's Ryan Tannehill (21.6) and the Jets' Geno Smith (28.1) are worse.

4. Third straight game without a Gronkowski spike. Tight end Rob Gronkowski hasn’t scored a touchdown in his last two games (one was called back due to penalty), but if the past is any indication, he'll be back in the end zone on Sunday. Gronkowski hasn’t gone three straight games without a score since 2011 (Weeks 4-8, 4 games total).

5. Bears tough on the road. With a 3-1 road record, the Bears are one of just two NFL teams to record three road victories through the first seven weeks of the season. The Cowboys are the other team.

6. Turnovers the key. The Bears are 3-0 this season when they’ve won the turnovers battle and 0-4 when they’ve lost it. The Bears have committed one turnover and forced eight in their three wins, and have committed 12 while forcing four in their four losses. As for the Patriots, Brady noted Wednesday that the team is 5-0 this season in games in which it hasn't committed a turnover.

7. Forte on record pace. Bears running back Matt Forte leads the NFL in receptions (52). No running back has ever had as many receptions through his team’s first seven games.
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- In following up on the story of cornerback Darrelle Revis being late to Tuesday's practice (as initially reported by the Boston Globe) because he overslept, the conclusion I came to after speaking with multiple sources is this: Revis made a mistake, can probably expect to be fined by the team, as is normally the case in situations like these, and was ultimately accountable for his actions by personally meeting with coach Bill Belichick later in the day to apologize.

SportsNation

Have you been disappointed in Darrelle Revis as a Patriot so far?

  •  
    28%
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    72%

Discuss (Total votes: 9,585)

The Patriots have a hard-line rule, and this goes back 15 years under Belichick, that if a player is late he doesn't practice. That is just standard operating procedure, and Revis is hardly the first player to break that rule (albeit unintentionally).

I don't think this was anything about message-sending to the rest of the players. It was just maintaining the integrity of a rule that has always applied to everyone on the roster and is communicated regularly.

If Belichick lets it slide once, for anyone, his word loses its meaning and his standing as the leader of the team is compromised.

Being late and having the story come out publicly doesn't reflect well on Revis, but at the same time, Belichick himself often says, "No one makes more mistakes than me." That's why I think Belichick, while certainly displeased with Revis' missing practice, probably feels the accountability Revis has taken is what was necessary to move on with limited repercussions other than a fine.

I had wondered if Belichick might sit Revis for the start of Sunday's game against the Bears as part of discipline for being late -- somewhat similar to what we've seen in the past in other situations (e.g., Wes Welker) -- but I'd be a bit surprised if that happened at this point.
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Injury report: Chandler Jones lone Patriot who doesn't practice

October, 22, 2014
Oct 22
5:35
PM ET
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots' injury report confirmed that defensive end Chandler Jones has a hip injury. According to earlier reports, Jones will be out for a month.

Jones did not participate in practice Wednesday.

As Jones is expected to miss multiple games, the Patriots are preparing for the next man to step up. The team could turn to rookie defensive linemen Dominique Easley and Zach Moore to fill in for the injured Jones.

While the Patriots lost Jones to injury, Tom Brady (ankle), cornerback Brandon Browner (ankle), safety Devin McCourty (rib) and linebackers Dont'a Hightower (knee) and Jamie Collins (thigh) returned to full practice participation.

Offensive lineman Dan Connolly (concussion) and rookie center Bryan Stork (concussion) returned to practice after missing all of last week. Connolly missed the game against the Jets, and Stork missed two straight games. Both were limited participants Wednesday.

Core special-teamer Nate Ebner (finger) and rookie offensive lineman Cameron Fleming (finger) also returned to practice, though they were limited participants Wednesday. Both were spotted at Tuesday's practice wearing braces/casts on their right hands. Ebner's right thumb was protected by a cast.

Other limited participants include Easley (shoulder/knee) and core special-teamer Matthew Slater (shoulder).

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