Patriots have three defenders in for tryouts

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots had defensive end Cam Henderson (South Florida), defensive tackle Antonio Johnson (Mississippi State) and defensive end/outside linebacker Rufus Johnson (Tarleton State) in for free-agent tryouts Friday.

The Patriots are most familiar with Henderson, as he was a member of their practice squad for a week in September.

The tryouts could be with 2015 in mind, as this is the time of year when clubs start planning for when rosters expand to 90 players, with teams soon allowed to sign players to "future contracts."

Of the three players in Friday, Antonio Johnson is the most experienced, having played for the Colts (2008-12) and Titans (2013). He had entered the league as a fifth-round draft choice of the Titans in 2007, but spent his rookie year on injured reserve before the Colts signed him off Tennessee's practice squad in 2008.

This year, Johnson reportedly had arthroscopic surgery on his knee, which forced him to miss the preseason before he reached an injury settlement with Tennessee.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots receiver Julian Edelman, who has been limited in practice all week with a concussion and thigh injury, is officially listed as questionable for Sunday’s road game against the New York Jets.

In addition, starting left guard Dan Connolly (knee) and No. 3 cornerback Kyle Arrington (hamstring) are questionable, giving them a 50-50 chance to play.

In all, the Patriots list 12 players as questionable, while the Jets' key injury to monitor is with defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson, who is also questionable with a toe injury.

Patriots' locker room hopping on typically quiet Friday

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- With an upcoming rivalry matchup with the Jets on tap, the Patriots' locker room was full of energy Friday.

Fridays are typically quiet in the Patriots’ locker room. The defensive backs changed that on this day. Safety Devin McCourty and Co. had a heated, but friendly, debate about the best position groups from a skills standpoint.

“Just a little debate between position groups and speed,” McCourty said. “The defensive backs are obviously the fastest guys.”

Wide receivers, running backs and special teams gunner Matthew Slater -- one of the team’s fastest players -- entered into the discussion to stake their claim as the premier positional group.

“Some receivers have better hands,” McCourty said. “I wouldn’t say all. But we have some pretty good hands out here, too.”

The Patriots’ defensive backs are a tight-knit group that carries a lot of energy into the locker room, but Friday’s room was unlike anything seen before.

The energy was flowing and there were quite a few players involved in the debate. When 15-plus players start talking and shouting over each other, the locker room gets really loud.

When asked to expand on the debate a little more, McCourty shifted gears back to the rivalry. He quickly utilized a line from coach Bill Belichick’s playbook.

“We’re on to the Jets,” McCourty said.

Brandon Browner fined for roughness

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots cornerback Brandon Browner was fined $8,268 for unnecessary roughness for throwing Miami Dolphins receiver Brandon Gibson to the ground in the fourth quarter of last Sunday's 41-13 victory. Browner was penalized on the play.

In turn, Gibson was fined $11,025 for unsportsmanlike conduct (taunting) against Browner on the same play.

Rex Ryan has held his own against Patriots' offense

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19
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On Sunday afternoon at MetLife Stadium, the Jets and New England Patriots face off for their 12th --and quite likely final -- regular-season meeting of the Rex Ryan era. Gang Green is 3-11 and hasn't enjoyed a winning record since going 11-5 in 2010, but no matter how his team has fared against the rest of the league, throughout his Big Apple tenure, Ryan has earned a reputation as the man who knows how to contain Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and the explosive Patriots offense.

[+] EnlargeRex Ryan
Jared Wickerham/Getty ImagesRex Ryan is 4-8 against the Patriots during his tenure as coach of the Jets.
We decided to explore if that reputation was built merely on perception or on hard results. Here is what we found:

Although head-to-head Ryan is a mere 3-8 against The Hoodie (4-8 if you count New York's 28-21 divisional playoff victory at Foxborough following the 2010 season), no other head coach over the past six seasons has defeated Belichick as often (though no one has lost more often, either).

In the 94 regular-season games the Patriots have played since the start of 2009, Brady & Co. failed to score at least 14 points just three times. Two of those -- Week 2 of 2009 in East Rutherford and Week 2 last season at Gillette Stadium -- came against Ryan's Jets.

Ryan's defense has consistently limited, if not altogether frustrated, New England's offense. The Patriots have averaged 28.3 points per game against Ryan's Jets, 24.3 of which were supplied by the offense. Against the 30 teams not coached by Ryan over the same time frame, the average balloons to 31.2 total points per game, with 29.0 of those coming from the offense. The difference of 5.7 offensive points produced per contest would be enough points to drop the top-ranked scoring team this season all the way to 10th.

New England's troubles against Ryan's defense aren't just confined to the scoreboard.

Brady's QBR against Ryan’s Jets is 61.8. Against the rest of the league it's 73.4. Just one of Brady's top 20 QBR games over the past six seasons has come against New York, yet three of his worst nine QBR games came when facing New York. Brady’s completion percentage is a not-so-terrific 59.4 percent when facing the likes of Kendrick Ellis, Muhammad Wilkerson and even back to the days of Darrelle Revis, compared to a much more robust 64.7 percent against all other teams. No. 12 particularly struggles against Ryan's blitz packages, posting a QBR of nearly 20 points lower against Gang Green’s pass pressure (58.1) than when the rest of the league comes at him full bore (77.4).

The limitations placed on the Patriots are crystal clear in terms of yardage. New England has averaged 358.7 yards per game against Ryan’s defense. Against all others they gain an NFL-best 402.8 yards per game. Much of that discrepancy is in rushing the football, an area in which the Pats average nearly 30 fewer yards (95.4) versus the Jets than against all others (125.1). The drop in passing yards (277.7 to 263.4) is not insignificant, either.

Perhaps the most telling difference of all is in "offensive win probability added," an advanced metric that uses score, time, down, distance, and field position to estimate how likely each team will go on to win the game. On average, New England's offense has been nearly twice as likely to contribute to a win (0.27) against teams other than the Jets as it has been against Ryan's squad (0.14).

So no matter which team you're pulling for in a game of interest mainly for seeding (playoffs for the Pats, draft for the Jets) and fantasy football playoffs, you can appreciate the job Ryan has consistently done against one of the most prolific offenses in NFL history. Even if his days are numbered in New York, don’t be surprised to see him orchestrating a game plan to stop Belichick and Brady again down the road.

Bruschi's Breakdown: Patriots-Jets

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19
12:30
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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 road game against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium (CBS, 1 p.m. ET):

Mike: From a Patriots perspective, this is one of those games where you figure the Jets have nothing to lose and will try to pull out all the stops -- fake punts, onside kicks and more. In that sense, these types of games can be dangerous.

Tedy: The Jets are 3-11 and it's been a tough season for them. There's a lot of talk about potential changes next year with coach Rex Ryan. But in a situation like this, it's simple: A win over the rival Patriots would make their season and would be something for Ryan to hang his hat on, if this is indeed the end. The idea that they could hurt the Patriots' playoff seeding is something that figures to motivate them.

Mike: Some have wondered whether the Patriots might be looking at a trap game, but I don't see it. Not when the Jets controlled most of the action Oct. 16, holding a time of possession edge of 40:54 to 19:06.


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Patriots-Jets: ESPN Boston's picks

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19
11:35
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videoHere's how ESPNBoston.com's experts see Sunday's game between the Patriots and Jets (1 p.m. ET, CBS) playing out. What is your prediction? Leave your pick in the comments section.

Quick hits from Bill Belichick

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick hits from New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick’s news conference on Friday:

Decision to bring back Maneri. With the open roster spot from moving Dominique Easley to season-ending injured reserve, the Patriots signed tight end Steve Maneri to a one-year deal (through 2014) on Wednesday. Belichick was asked what he thought Maneri could bring the team. “I thought he did a good job at the end of training camp,” he said. “Just wanted to bring him in; maybe he can help us here as we go forward.”

Easley
Reflecting on Easley’s rookie season. The Patriots placed 2014 first-round pick Easley on injured reserve on Wednesday, and this was the first time to ask Belichick about the decision. Easley played both defensive tackle and end, and finished with nine tackles, one sack and one interception in 11 games (261 snaps played). “I think he made a lot of progress, but the chapter is closed for this year,” Belichick said. “He has a lot of opportunity to make gains in the offseason like all first-year players.”

Jets’ success on third down in first matchup. In the first meeting between these teams, the Jets went 9-for-16 on third down. “Yeah, it killed us,” Belichick said. “Third down was a big problem for us on third down on both sides of the ball (Patriots were 6-of-13 on offense). It’s been a problem for us with them. We didn’t have the ball very long on offense and we are out there on the field too long on defense.”

Branch and Siliga’s addition to the run game. Last time the Jets and Patriots played, the Patriots didn’t have run-stopping defensive linemen Alan Branch and Sealver Siliga playing for them. Both of these players have helped the Patriots shore up the run defense since then. “The combination of getting Alan and [Sealver] Siliga and even Chandler [Jones] last week have definitely given our line more depth and more versatility really,” Belichick said. “And Branch is a big guy, Siliga is a big guy, Chandler is more of an edge, but you put them all together and it looks a little different than it did a few weeks ago. They’ve improved too.”

On Spurs’ coach Gregg Popovich. Recently, San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who has a demeanor similar to Belichick’s, praised how Belichick coaches his team. Belichick was asked about Popovich on Friday morning. “Tremendous respect for Gregg,” Belichick responded. “I think that the consistency that they’ve had there, the level that they’ve played at, and the level at the way he coaches that team – I love to watch that team. … I admire him, I really do. It’s flattering that he would say that. It means a lot coming from somebody of his stature.”

Belichick's exit? Jets' worst day, ever

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19
11:10
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Imagine if Bill Belichick trotted out of the MetLife Stadium tunnel Sunday dressed in a green hoodie as he led the best team in the AFC -- the home team, in this case -- in pursuit of his fourth Super Bowl ring.

Imagine the reception awaiting the head coach of the New York Jets, a three-time champ for a franchise that, until he took over, hadn't won it all since Richard Nixon became the 37th president. Imagine how Belichick would be celebrated in the big city after serving as an invaluable defensive coordinator for Bill Parcells' two title teams with the Giants and then taking the Jets places Parcells could not take them.

Imagine if Belichick stood before the microphone on that early January day in 2000 and told reporters that he was grateful for a second chance as an NFL head coach after failing in Cleveland, and that he planned to finish the job Parcells started by taking the Jets to the AFC Championship Game a year earlier.

Imagine if Belichick hadn't shown up 24 hours after agreeing to succeed Parcells looking and sounding more nervous than a teenager on his first date when saying, "Due to various uncertainties surrounding my position as it relates to the team's new ownership, I've decided to resign as head coach of the New York Jets."

Of course, nobody knows for sure whether Belichick would've won the same three rings with the Jets that he's won with the New England Patriots, or whether he would've run away from the job like Al Groh did after one season. Remember, Belichick had four losing seasons in five tries in Cleveland and had lost 13 of his first 18 games in New England before the 199th pick in the 2000 draft, Tom Brady, made his first start and ultimately allowed his coach to grow into one of the all-time greats.


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Is it too early for a Patriots mock draft?

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- For teams not in the playoff hunt, the focus of fans who follow those clubs has in many ways shifted to the NFL draft. That obviously isn't the case for New England Patriots followers.

So we're passing along the first of what figure to be many first-round mock drafts from ESPN's Todd McShay while understanding that a false-start penalty may very well be in order.

As McShay notes, much will change between now and the draft but "this mock draft can serve as an early primer on where the draft board stands right now, and the prospects teams could be considering with their picks in 2015."

Such framework helps narrow down the field of sorts and McShay has the Patriots going with South Carolina interior offensive lineman AJ Cann.

The first thing that stands out about Cann is that he's a team captain and a three-time member of the SEC Fall Academic Honor Roll who is set to graduate this month. He has been durable and productive and, at initial glance, appears to be a "clean" prospect from an injury standpoint, on-field performance and off-field intangibles.

That sounds like a good match for New England.

As for the Patriots' interior offensive line snapshot, they are set at the center spot with rookie Bryan Stork (fourth round, Florida State) for the foreseeable future, while starting left guard Dan Connolly is scheduled for free agency and starting right guard Ryan Wendell (flexibility to also play center) enters the final year of his contract in 2015.

The Patriots' current interior depth comes in the form of second-year player Josh Kline, first-year player Jordan Devey and practice squad blockers Chris Barker and Caylin Hauptmann. While Marcus Cannon and Cameron Fleming also have lined up at guard, the feeling here is that they are better fits at tackle.

All told, we wouldn't be surprised if an interior offensive lineman was on the team's radar in the 2015 draft.

Run defense eyes second straight bounceback

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Bill Belichick's weekly plays of the week were split up into two parts this week, with special teams highlighted earlier and then offense and defense showcased in their own segment. Run defense, specifically linebacker Dont'a Hightower's strong downhill play, was singled out by Belichick from Sunday's New England Patriots win over the Miami Dolphins.

"I thought our run defense was certainly a lot better than it was down there in Miami [in Week 1] where they gained [191 yards] on us," Belichick said, calling up a tackle by Hightower on a second-quarter play for minus-5 yards. "Nice job here on the outside run, that's Hightower running through and shooting the gap to set up a third-and-long situation. Those negative plays in the running game are really kind of like sacks -- they waste a down, they lose yardage and create long-yardage situations. You see how explosive Dont'a is going through the gap there, making the tackle."

Hightower's downhill presence in the running game had been noted in film review as well, as it also showed up in the third quarter.

Belichick also showed linebacker Jamie Collins shooting the gap on an outside zone run to bring down Lamar Miller for a 4-yard loss with 13 seconds remaining in the third quarter.

"Good run defense really helped us in this game and created some long-yardage situations," Belichick said on Patriots.com.

The focus on run D continues this week against the Jets, who totaled 218 rushing yards against the Patriots in Week 7.

A few other plays highlighted by Belichick in his plays of the week segment:

Play-action aids Gronkowski's 34-yard catch to open the second half. Belichick showed how play-action does enough to hold the linebackers and create the opening for Rob Gronkowski up the left seam.

Brady's eyes work the safety on Gronkowski touchdown. On the 27-yard touchdown connection from Tom Brady to Gronkowski up the left side at 4:35 of the third quarter, Belichick showed how Brady's eyes hold the safety to create the opening. "The key on this play is the quarterback coming back and looking over here to his right, holding the safety," Belichick explained. "This free safety really belongs to the quarterback. If Tom were to throw the ball right to Rob, the safety would come over and make the play. But Tom is able to freeze him long enough and make the throw for a big touchdown. ... Excellent job at controlling the free safety."

Strip sack by Jones.The Patriots rushed three with 11:50 remaining in the fourth quarter, and Chandler Jones showed his explosiveness with a strong rush on left tackle Ju'Wuan James. One key to the play was linebackers showing a pressure look inside, which held the interior offensive linemen, before they ultimately backed out. That set up Jones for his 1-on-1 rush, and he beat James despite the Patriots rushing just three and dropping eight into coverage.
video

Matthew Berry discusses players at the flex position he loves and hates for Week 16.

Injury report: 12 limited at Pats practice

December, 18, 2014
Dec 18
5:39
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots are still dealing with 12 players who were limited participants at Thursday’s practice.

The lone change to the team’s injury report is that starting left guard Dan Connolly is no longer listed with an ankle injury. He is now listed with a knee injury.

Defensive ends Chandler Jones (hip) and Rob Ninkovich (heel), long snapper Danny Aiken (finger), cornerback Kyle Arrington (hamstring), running backs LeGarrette Blount (shoulder) and Shane Vereen (ankle), wide receivers Julian Edelman (thigh, concussion) and Brandon LaFell (shoulder), rookie offensive lineman Cameron Fleming (ankle), and linebackers Dont’a Hightower (shoulder) and Chris White (ankle) were all limited at Thursday’s practice.

A good sign for Edelman is that he is progressing despite suffering a concussion.

Quarterback Tom Brady (ankle) remains a full participant.

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- With the Rex Ryan chapter of the New York Jets-New England Patriots rivalry likely coming to an end, we're taking a look back at six years of memories. In keeping with the holiday spirit, it's a "Twelve Days of Christmas" theme:

Jets-Patriots, by the numbers:

Revis
12 -- Regular-season meetings between the teams; also the number of millions earned this season by former Jet-turned-Patriot Darrelle Revis.

11 -- Number of "feet" references by Wes Welker during a nine-minute Q&A with reporters during the run-up to the 2010 divisional playoff game -- an obvious shot at Ryan. Welker was benched by Bill Belichick at the start of the game.

10 -- Santonio Holmes' uniform number. He made one of the greatest touchdown catches in Jets history, a diving, toe-tapping grab in the playoff game.

9 -- Points scored by the Patriots in their first meeting against Ryan, on Sept. 20, 2009. It was one of the best defensive performances under Ryan.

8 -- New England victories.

7 -- The Jets' margin of victory in the divisional playoff game, 28-21 -- the franchise's biggest win since Super Bowl III.

6 -- Games decided by seven points or less, including the past three; also the uniform number of Mark Sanchez, one of the central figures in the rivalry.

5 -- Touchdowns scored by the Patriots in the second quarter of the game on Nov. 22, 2012. Two of the touchdowns came on fumble returns.

4 -- Touchdown passes by Tom Brady in the 45-3 blowout on Dec. 6, 2010, prompting this memorable quote from Ryan: "I came in here to kick (Belichick's) butt and he kicked mine."

3 -- Number of Belichick Super Bowl rings that Ryan has refused to kiss.

2 -- Questions by ESPN reporter Sal Paolantonio during his unforgettable interview with Bart Scott after the Jets' playoff upset. It didn't take much prodding to spark Scott's epic "Can't Wait!" rant.

1 -- Butt Fumble.

Rob Gronkowski: 'I grew up a lot'

December, 18, 2014
Dec 18
4:15
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – When New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski arrived at his locker Thursday, he playfully took a few items and put them behind where he’d be standing. He joked that it was for “product placement” as the cameras pointed in his direction.

It was a brief glimpse of “Gronk the Businessman.”

Soon enough, he was asked about “Gronk the Maturing Football Player.”

Gronkowski
Gronkowski
Gronkowski’s maturity has been noted by quarterback Tom Brady in recent weeks, as the 2010 second-round draft choice has a different perspective after almost five full seasons in the NFL.

“I grew up a lot [smiling],” Gronkowski said when asked about how different he is now compared to his rookie year.

“Just being in the league a few years, you see the ins and outs -- how older guys do everything, how they last; and how you see some guys come in and leave right away and see what they did. And see guys like Tom and Rob Ninkovich, Revis, older guys like that, and see what they do and how they practice. It leads [by] example.”

Injuries have also added to Gronkowski’s perspective.

“Oh yeah, no doubt. It can be taken away any time,” he said. “Don’t take anything for granted.”

Two other sound bites from Gronkowski:

On Darrelle Revis: “He’s a great player, with ball skills, and so relaxed out there that you don’t even think he’s trying. That’s how good he is, When you see a player like that, you say, ‘Is he trying?’ Because he’s right at the ball every time. That means he has a lot of skills, he’s quick on his feet, and the way he reacts to the ball is unbelievable.”

Preparing to face the Jets. “It doesn’t make a difference in records at all. The Jets are always a tough team, always physical, and always ready to play. It’s always a big game against them.”

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