New England Patriots: Matthew Mulligan

Lining up Patriots 2014 free agents

February, 27, 2014
Feb 27
With various top free agent lists starting to surface, let's narrow things down to the Patriots with a snapshot look at the team's free agents:

1. CB Aqib Talib -- Difference-maker when healthy and added a different dynamic to the cornerbacks room since November of 2012. A top priority for the team.

2. WR Julian Edelman -- Deserves everything coming to him after a terrific 2013 season. Patriots would obviously like him back, but if another team ups the bidding, he's probably gone.

3. RB LeGarrette Blount -- Mutual interest in his return. A player who seemingly has more value to the Patriots than most others, which makes us think it's a greater likelihood he's back.

4. LB Brandon Spikes -- The way 2013 ended makes it unlikely he returns.

5. C Ryan Wendell -- A scrappy heady performer, Wendell maximizes his talents. I don't evision the Patriots extending their budget to ensure his return, but if a market doesn't develop for him, he'd surely be welcome back in a situation where there might be top competition for the No. 1 job.

6. TE Michael Hoomanawanui-- Played his role well in 2013. Would think he's back unless another team unexpectedly ups the ante.

7. LB Dane Fletcher -- One of the Patriots' best special teams players. Would think there is a competitive bid to retain him.

8. DE Andre Carter -- They don't get much better from a locker-room perspective, but we'd be surprised if the team makes his return a priority at this point.

9. TE Matthew Mulligan -- More of a blocking presence, he filled his role well in 2013. Although the Patriots will probably look to add to the position, it wouldn't be a surprise if Mulligan competes for a roster spot again.

10. WR Austin Collie -- Veteran was dependable and should warrant serious consideration to re-sign.

11-. OT Will Svitek -- Smart, versatile veteran probably will see his spot go to a youngster, unless Sebastian Vollmer's recovery doesn't look promising.

Rapid Reaction: New England Patriots

January, 11, 2014
Jan 11

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Sharing thoughts on the New England Patriots' 43-22 divisional-round playoff victory Saturday over the Indianapolis Colts:

What it means: The Patriots advance to the AFC Championship Game for the eighth time in Bill Belichick's 14 years as head coach, which continues a remarkable run of success for Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady. Many of the faces around them have changed over the years, but Belichick and Brady have been the constants, and one could make a case this has been their most impressive season as a tandem. The Patriots have been hit as hard by injuries as any team in the NFL, but they've willed their way to put themselves in position to win their first Super Bowl championship since the 2004 season.

Running game sparks attack again: For the third consecutive game, the Patriots' ground attack was the difference-maker, led by hard-charging LeGarrette Blount (franchise-record four rushing touchdowns). The Patriots split snaps at running back evenly among Blount, Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen, and sliced up the Colts with strong work up front by the offensive line -- left tackle Nate Solder, left guard Logan Mankins, center Ryan Wendell, right guard Dan Connolly and right tackle Marcus Cannon -- as well as tight ends Michael Hoomanawanui and Matthew Mulligan and fullback James Develin. When the Patriots run it like this, it brings back memories of the 2004 Super Bowl championship team for which bruiser Corey Dillon was the lead back.

Injuries to monitor: Punter Ryan Allen left the game in the second quarter with a shoulder injury and did not return. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski handled the punting duties, and Brady handled the holder responsibilities as part of the field-goal operation. If Allen is unavailable in the AFC Championship Game, the Patriots would almost certainly bring in another punter. Former Patriot Zoltan Mesko isn't an option, as he punted for the Bengals in the playoffs and isn't eligible to join another team. ... Elsewhere, rookie receiver Kenbrell Thompkins left the game in the fourth quarter with a head injury (presumably a concussion) and did not return. Veteran Austin Collie was his replacement.

Stock watch: Jamie Collins -- up. The Patriots' top pick in the 2013 draft (52nd overall) was thrust into an expanded role, in part because linebacker Brandon Spikes was placed on season-ending injured reserve earlier in the week. Collins had played just 25 percent of the defensive snaps during the regular season, but he didn't come off the field and made his presence felt as a tackler, pass-rusher and in coverage with an interception. He was all over the field in what was a coming out party for the ultra-athletic defender from Southern Mississippi.

What's next: The Patriots will play in the AFC Championship Game against the winner of Sunday's game between the visiting San Diego Chargers and Denver Broncos (4:40 p.m. ET). If Denver beats San Diego, the AFC Championship Game will be played in Denver. If San Diego beats Denver, the AFC Championship Game will be played in New England. Regardless of location, the game will be played at 3 p.m. ET next Sunday.

Hulkster back with another video for Pats

January, 10, 2014
Jan 10

For the second time in two weeks, former pro wrestler Hulk Hogan has taken to YouTube to show his support (and pythons) for the New England Patriots.

This started last week when, after hearing that the wife of Patriots tight end Matthew Mulligan purchased a replica title belt from his merchandise store, Hogan pledged his allegiance to New England. The belt has been spotted in Mulligan’s locker in the Patriots’ locker room.

His latest motivational speech concludes with this inspirational message:

“As the energy of Hulkamania is passed through all the players, brother, as the power of the largest arms in the world is passed to the commander in chief, [Tom] Brady, the Patriots will be successful in every endeavor. The Patriots will dominate every time on the field.

“And if by some weird chance somebody's back cracks, liver quivers, or knees freeze, you can tear off one of the largest arms in the world, brother. You can tear off one of the Patriot missiles and you can strap it to Brady's waist if one of his wheels goes bad. Mully, you can use the other one to run touchdown after touchdown after touchdown.

“So whatcha gonna do, New England Patriots, when a piece of Hulk Hogan brings victory after victory for you, brothers!?”

Matthew Mulligan talks of Hulk Hogan link

January, 2, 2014
Jan 2
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- When a legendary wrestling and sports entertainer mentions you by name in a video that has gone viral, it draws attention.

So after Hulk Hogan announced himself as a Patriots fan, addressing tight end Matthew Mulligan by name in the video, the veteran tight end was one of the more popular players in the locker room Thursday.

As it turns out, Mulligan drew notice from Hogan after purchasing a replica of the championship belt worn in professional wrestling from a merchandise store that Hogan owns. In the past, the Patriots used a similar belt to recognize the practice player of the week.

The soon-to-be prized possession was a gift from Mulligan's wife.

"She actually wanted to give me one of his belts for Christmas, because, obviously, I'm a big Hulk Hogan fan," Mulligan said on Thursday. "I mean, anybody that grew up in my era, if you [weren't] watching professional wrestling then you [weren't] watching much."

In a video posted to his Facebook page Thursday morning, Hogan proclaimed his allegiance.

"With the world title belt around your waist or hanging in the locker room with the Patriots, you guys got a piece of Hulk Hogan there, Jack," Hogan said.

"Right in New England, you've got a piece of Hulk Hogan. And what that means, brother, is if you get tired, if [Tom] Brady gets tired, or if anybody's knees wobble, their back cracks or their liver quivers, brother, you can take one of the largest arms in the world, Hulk Hogan's arm, you can strap it to your hips and can score as many touchdowns as you want, brother."

He finishes the video with his trademark line: "What are the Patriots gonna do now that they got Hulk Hogan running with all of you?!"

Mulligan, as a self-proclaimed Hulkamaniac, conceded that meeting the iconic figure would be an honor.

"I believe there's only a few people in life that as a grown man you'd be pretty giddy about meeting, and I think Hulk Hogan is one of them," he said.

The belt hasn't arrived yet (Mulligan suspects the current weather conditions in New England could have something to do with that), but when it does, there's just one question to ask: Will he wear the belt all the time, or is it a situational accessory?

"As soon as we get it we'll have to see," he said after a laugh. "I don't have it just yet, so it should be coming pretty soon, though."

Hulk Hogan declares he's a Pats fan

January, 2, 2014
Jan 2
From out of right field this morning, former wrestler Hulk Hogan posted a Facebook video announcing he is a Patriots fan, even mentioning tight end Matthew Mulligan by name.

We're not sure whether there's a connection between the Patriots or Mulligan and Hogan, but the former champ seemed to be suggesting a title belt was in the New England locker room.

"With the world title belt around your waist or hanging in the locker room with the Patriots, you guys got a piece of Hulk Hogan there, Jack," Hogan says.

"Right in New England, you've got a piece of Hulk Hogan. And what that means, brother, is if you get tired, if [Tom] Brady gets tired, or if anybody's knees wobble, their back cracks or their liver quivers, brother, you can take one of the largest arms in the world, Hulk Hogan's arm, you can strap it to your hips and can score as many touchdowns as you want, brother."

We'll try to find out more today in the Patriots' locker room.

He finishes the video with his trademark line: "What are the Patriots gonna do now that they got Hulk Hogan running with all of you?!"

Editor's note: The video that was posted earlier today is currently not available.

Reiss' P.A.T. with Matthew Mulligan

December, 26, 2013

In this week's P.A.T., Mike Reiss delivers the latest news from Gillette Stadium, catches up with tight end Matthew Mulligan and answers your Twitter questions.

Picked-up pieces from 1st-quarter review

December, 23, 2013
Picked-up pieces from reviewing the first quarter of the New England Patriots’ 41-7 win over the Baltimore Ravens:

1. Offensive lineman Logan Mankins talked after the game about the Patriots having success with zone runs, which displaced the Ravens' sturdy defensive front, as defenders were often over-pursuing. This was evident on LeGarrette Blount’s 11-yard run (1:50 remaining) as the Patriots created a strong side to the left with tight ends Michael Hoomanawanui and Matthew Mulligan and ran in that direction, with Blount hitting the cut perfectly as the left side sealed things off and right guard Dan Connolly got enough of nose tackle Terrence Cody to create enough of a crease. That was the type of run play in which the Patriots had great success throughout the day, and the key seemed to be getting the big Ravens defenders moving east-west at the snap.

[+] EnlargeLeGarrette Blount
Patrick Smith/Getty ImagesLeGarrette Blount's runs in the first quarter, including one for a TD, owed much to the Patriots' offensive line.
2. The overall offensive line play was solid, although right tackle Marcus Cannon seemed to be the primary breakdown with two negative runs – defensive tackle Arthur Jones crossed his face to bring down Stevan Ridley for a loss of 2 yards (7:03 remaining) while Cannon missed a block on Terrell Suggs when Blount was brought down for a loss of 3 yards (1:18 remaining).

3. The first offensive play foreshadowed what was to come the rest of the day in terms of the Patriots’ approach. Out of their 2 WR/2 TE/1 RB package, the Patriots aligned tight ends to both sides (in more of a pass set) and brought receivers Aaron Dobson and Julian Edelman in tight to the formation to constrict the defense. The Ravens countered with an eight-man box and Connolly pulled to deliver one of several solid blocks on Blount’s 5-yard run over the left side. An opening play can sometimes be described as an “attitude” play, and that’s how we’d view this one.

4. Marquice Cole, playing the role of gunner on the punt team, drew the penalty on Jimmy Smith that led to the Ravens starting their initial drive at their own 7.

5. When the Patriots’ running game is discussed, much credit goes to the offensive line, tight ends and backs. But receivers shouldn’t be overlooked. Patriots receivers are willing blockers, and they were involved in run-blocking Sunday, as evidenced on Blount’s 14-yard run (12:18 remaining). Dobson half-motioned into the line of scrimmage and blocked down on Suggs before getting up on linebacker Jameel McClain. Good effort, and you also see Edelman doing his part, knocking safety Matt Elam on his backside in front of the play.

6. More physical play – fullback James Develin plowing through the hole and pancaking linebacker Josh Bynes on Blount’s 1-yard touchdown run.

7. Develin was also a factor on the Patriots’ second red-zone touchdown, his vertical route helping create traffic so McClain had to go around him to cover running back Shane Vereen. Great design and execution, which came after CBS analyst Phil Simms said, “Of course they didn’t give us any details last night, but I think the Patriots have a lot of stuff up their sleeve [in the red zone], ways to get guys singled up so they can make plays a little easier. No Gronkowski for the jump ball. No big, tall receiver on the outside to throw the fade to in the corners. Gotta find a different way.” Simms’ timing, like the Patriots’ execution, was perfect.

8. For such a flag-happy game, one detail stood out on the play in which Patriots cornerback Logan Ryan intercepted Joe Flacco: Ravens left tackle Eugene Monroe isn’t on the line of scrimmage, as it’s noticeable that the left side of the Ravens’ line is fanned out in a way that gives them an unfair advantage in pass protection. That should have been an illegal-formation penalty from our view.

9. Defensive tackle Vince Wilfork once again accompanied the team on the trip and was seen jotting down notes after Ryan’s interception. Looks like the Patriots have an addition to their staff: Coach Wilfork.

10. Cornerback Kyle Arrington can be a lightning rod of sorts among Patriots followers because of his occasional struggles on the outside, but one aspect that coaches have to appreciate about him is his toughness when playing in the slot. On Bernard Pierce’s 5-yard run (3:41 remaining), Arrington set the edge against tight tackle Michael Oher, forcing Pierce to cut the run back. Tale of the tape – Arrington (5-foot-10, 190 pounds) vs. Oher (6-4, 315). Those are little effort things that showed up throughout review of the game -- the Patriots getting more of those type of plays. The run wasn’t defended particularly well on the backside, but Arrington more than did his part.

11. One change for the Patriots in their rush front was keeping Chandler Jones outside, with Andre Carter instead rushing from an interior position. Probably just a case of the Patriots attempting to dictate specific blocking matchups, but it was a switch from the norm.

12. Edelman’s first quarter: 34-yard pass-interference penalty drawn, 5-yard illegal-contact penalty drawn, one incomplete pass, a 17-yard reception and an 11-yard punt return. It’s the type of production we regularly saw from Wes Welker in 2007-2012. No doubt, this is as well as Edelman has played in the NFL. He's their go-to guy right now in the passing game.

13. Vereen came out of the game after pulling up on a second-and-13 incomplete pass in his direction (44 seconds remaining) as he was running down the left sideline with McClain in coverage. Vereen left for the locker room but later came back to the sideline (although he never re-entered the game). As of late Sunday night, it wasn’t considered anything serious with Vereen; it was more of a precaution. There was a penalty on the play for an illegal shift on receiver Danny Amendola.

McDaniels: Can't replace Gronkowski

December, 10, 2013
The Patriots have turned the page after their Week 14 win over the Cleveland Browns, with a focus now on the Miami Dolphins, their Week 15 foe.

Offensively, the challenge this week is not only sizing up the Dolphins' defense, but game planning without tight end Rob Gronkowski, placed on injured reserved Monday afternoon.

In a conference call with reporters Tuesday afternoon, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels dissected the process of trying to account for Gronkowski's absence.

"I don't think you can replace a player like that, a guy that can do so many unique things, with anybody," he said. "I think the thing that we rely on the most from one week to the next has always been trying to figure out what part of our offensive system do you use to maximize the strengths of the players that we have available for us that week against the strengths of the opponent we're playing that week as well.

"And so I think for us the formula's not going to change, the variables that can we use, however, will and I think that happens a lot during the course of the season," he continued.

For the Patriots, that could mean more of a reliance on tight ends Matthew Mulligan, recently re-signed D.J. Williams and perhaps Michael Hoomanawanui, who is working his way back from a knee injury.

Playing without Gronkowski is not necessarily a new challenge for the Patriots -- he missed 11 games dating back to last season before making his 2013 debut -- though McDaniels doesn't know whether playing without Gronkowski previously makes them better equipped to do so again now.

"I think we've experienced playing without him before and I think that -- I don't know if we're better equipped," he said. "I'm not exactly sure how to rate that, I just know that any time you lose a player like that where you can't use a player like that, you need to put your time in to a few different things and other people have to play different roles and you just play offense a little differently."

With a trip to Miami on the horizon, McDaniels and the rest of the offensive staff are focused on ways to maximize the healthy personnel on the roster for this Sunday and going forward.

"I think we kind of have an idea exactly what we need to use, how to kind of formulate our game plan to max out our strengths and try to make up for the loss of a unique player," he said.

Rapid Reaction: New England Patriots

November, 18, 2013

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- A few thoughts on the New England Patriots' 24-20 loss to the Carolina Panthers:

What it means: Great game as Cam Newton outdueled Tom Brady. Brady brought his "A" game but this was Newton's night. He had some dazzling runs against a defense that couldn't make the stop at the critical time. The Patriots fall to 7-3, and they will look back at some lost opportunities as this game was there for the taking. This was a limited-possession game -- the Patriots had just seven offensive drives -- which magnified mistakes on both sides. The Patriots had more of them early and trailed 10-3 at the half before the teams combined to play an exciting second half. A third-and-1 incomplete pass through the back of the end zone forced the Patriots to settle for a field goal to go up 20-17, which set up the Panthers' game-winning touchdown drive. The Patriots fought to the finish, but their final drive fell short with the clock also working against them. Should a penalty have been called on the final play? Fair question.

Aqib Talib vs. Steve Smith: This was the matchup within the matchup and the win goes to Smith, the Panthers' veteran receiver. The two were jawing from the get-go and had to be separated several times after plays. Talib appeared to lose his cool early. Smith beat Talib for a 42-yard gain down the left side in the first quarter, which was a tone-setter of sorts for a one-on-one battle that was especially fun to watch. Talib ultimately left the game in the fourth quarter with a hip injury and didn't return.

Stock watch: Patriots running back Stevan Ridley's ball-security issues resurfaced. He fumbled on the team's second drive and was kept on the sideline for 18 snaps before the coaches went back to him. Ridley runs hard, but if he continues to struggle holding on to the ball, it will likely lead to a drop in his playing time.

Injuries to monitor: Patriots No. 2 tight end Michael Hoomanawanui left the game in the second quarter with a knee injury and did not return. In his absence, five-year veteran Matthew Mulligan bumped up the depth chart and fullback James Develin was utilized a bit more. Also, as noted above, Talib left with a hip injury in the fourth quarter.

Leg whip by Cannon draws scrutiny: Patriots tight tackle Marcus Cannon's leg whip on Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson, which knocked Johnson out of the game with a knee injury, wasn't penalized. But Cannon will likely hear from the NFL in terms of a fine.

Turnover streak snapped: The Patriots had forced a turnover in 36 straight games entering the night, which was the longest active streak in the NFL, but that came to an end.

What's next: The Patriots return home to host the Denver Broncos on Sunday night. Another Brady versus Peyton Manning matchup will be a top storyline, along with receiver Wes Welker's return to town. Welker sustained a concussion in the Broncos' win over the Chiefs on Sunday and his status will be monitored closely.

Highlighting Patriots-Jets connections

October, 18, 2013
Each Friday, we lead our coverage with a post that highlights connections between the Patriots' upcoming opponent and the organization. As this is the second time they will face the Jets, that list was previously covered. To change things up, we'll use this space this week to look at current members of the Patriots' organization who have a tie to the Jets, led by head coach Bill Belichick.

Head coach Bill Belichick. Belichick served as the Jets assistant head coach from 1997 to 1999, just after his first tenure in New England (where he was also the assistant head coach to Bill Parcells). When Parcells abruptly retired from the Jets, Belichick was named the head coach, though he resigned shortly thereafter as he was named the Patriots head coach. It was in New York that Belichick first started working with Berj Najarian, currently the Patriots director of football/head coach administration.

Linebackers coach Pepper Johnson. Johnson played for Belichick in New York, finishing up his NFL career with the Jets from the 1997-1998 seasons. A respected player who has turned into a respected coach, Johnson was named a team captain for the Jets during his two-year stay.

Offensive assistant Brian Daboll. Daboll returned to the Patriots early in 2013 after stints elsewhere around the NFL, including a two-year window with the Jets from 2007 through 2008 as the team's quarterbacks coach. He now serves in a variety of roles in New England, including assisting along the offensive line.

Defensive back Marquice Cole. Cole is in his second season with the Patriots, providing special-teams value and situational defensive back play. Before he was a Patriot, he spent three years with the Jets, playing on both defense and special teams.

Tight end Matthew Mulligan. Mulligan has bounced around the NFL since entering the league back in 2008, but his most prolonged stay was with the Jets, as he was with the team from the 2009 to 2011 seasons, catching six passes in 34 games played.

Running back Leon Washington. A fourth-round pick of the Jets during the 2006 draft, Washington enjoyed success both as a runner, receiver and returner during four seasons with the Jets. His most productive year came as a rookie, during which he totaled 151 carries for 650 yards and four scores. He was named an All Pro for the Jets in both 2007 and 2008.

Picked-up pieces from 1st quarter review

October, 14, 2013
Tom BradyAP Photo/Aaron M. SprecherQuarterback Tom Brady had two scrambles on the Patriots' first drive against New Orleans.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Picked-up pieces from a first-quarter review of the New England Patriots30-27 win against the New Orleans Saints:

1. The tight end position hasn’t been as big a part of the Patriots’ offense from a pass-catching standpoint, but if opponents ignore it altogether, the Patriots have shown a willingness and ability to capitalize. Such was the case on the Patriots’ second offensive play, as Michael Hoomanawanui lined up between receivers Aaron Dobson and Danny Amendola on the left side, and was simply uncovered as he ran up field. Tom Brady didn’t hesitate and the Patriots had a 16-yard gain. Later, on the final play of the first quarter, Hoomanawanui’s blitz pickup on linebacker David Hawthorne as he came across the formation from right to left was critical to give Brady the time to connect with Dobson on a 19-yard gain. Hoomanawanui might not be the fastest tight end, but he has reliable hands, is smart, and gives a team everything he has. On Sunday, he finished with four catches for 57 yards. Last season, he had five catches all season. Overall in 2013, Hoomanawanui has played 354 snaps through the first six games. He played 283 all last season.

2. The ability to beat man coverage is critical and receiver Julian Edelman did so on the Patriots’ initial third-down play. It was a big one given that the Patriots were coming off a 1-for-12 performance on third down the week before and needed to get off on the right foot. They did as Edelman came in motion from left to right, and was covered by safety Malcolm Jenkins, who got his hands on Edelman within the legal 5-yard zone. But Edelman fought through it, ran a short-in cut, then cut back outside as he absorbed more contact to his shoulder/helmet. As he cut out, Brady delivered a strike for a 15-yard gain. That’s the type of play we saw Wes Welker run with great success from 2007-2012. Same play, different player, same result.

3. We don’t talk often about Brady’s rushing "abilities," but his two scrambles on the first drive (5 yards, 11 yards) shouldn’t be overlooked. They were his only rushes of the game and came as a result of being forced out of the pocket (first by coverage, second by pressure). When you consider that Brady was able to elude the lunging swiping tackle by 6-foot-3, 288-pound defensive lineman Tom Johnson, and Saints quarterback Drew Brees had a similar play late in the game in which he was brought down by Chandler Jones, it warrants a mention. When Brady runs, it often seems as if the game is in slow motion. But it didn’t necessarily look that way on Sunday.

4. We’ve touched on the Patriots’ struggles in the red zone, in terms of turning opportunities into touchdowns, and all it often takes is one breakdown to set things back. We saw that on the team’s first drive, as on second-and-4 from the 9-yard line, left guard Logan Mankins pulled to his right and left tackle Nate Solder couldn’t get a hat on penetrating linebacker Junior Galette, who had initially lined up over Mankins and ended up dropping LeGarrette Blount for a 3-yard loss. That’s the second time in two weeks the Patriots haven’t executed a play in which Mankins pulls and Solder has to account for the player lined up over him. On the ensuing play, Brady was sacked on a three-man rush after having plenty of time to survey his options.

5. The Patriots value physicality and strong play against the run from cornerbacks, which is one reason why a prospect like 5-foot-11, 195-pound Logan Ryan (third round, Rutgers) appealed to them. On the Saints’ first offensive play, Ryan’s run force was textbook (and fearless) as he took on offensive lineman Bryce Harris (6-6, 300) and forced running back Darren Sproles back toward the pursuit of the defense (he was stopped for a 1-yard gain). We thought this was a good example of how a cornerback's ability and willingness to play the run is critical in the Patriots' scheme, and also how Ryan rose up to help the Patriots in an expanded role Sunday.

6. One of the Patriots’ forgettable plays was on their first punt return, when Edelman attempted a backwards lateral to Aqib Talib. It was a designed play and one the Patriots were fortunate didn’t hurt them. Edelman took accountability after the game, saying: “That was horrible football and I’m probably going to hear about that. I probably should have kept that. Thank God, Talib being the player he is, got on top of it and took me out of the doghouse a little bit.”

7. The Patriots got caught with just 10 defenders on the field on Benjamin Watson’s 25-yard catch in the first quarter, and here’s what appeared to happen: They were in their not-often-utilized three-cornerback base defense on the previous play, a beautifully executed 29-yard screen pass to running Pierre Thomas, which was a counter to the Saints’ 2 backs/2 tight ends package. In that defense, safety Steve Gregory comes off in favor of cornerback Kyle Arrington. Yet when Gregory came on to the field on the next play, he was replacing linebacker Dont’a Hightower because the Patriots were supposed to be their nickel defense against the Saints’ 1 back/2 tight ends/2 receivers grouping. Yet both Hightower and Arrington left the field, creating the short-handed situation. It was a little surprising that the coaching staff didn’t pick up on it beforehand, yet at the same time, it was somewhat understandable given the constant matchup game that was taking place. Also, on a day when the defense did its part with a rock-solid plan, the defensive coaching staff is well deserving of a mulligan.

8. A solid block by Mankins, coupled with hard-charging running by Stevan Ridley, produced an impressive 18-yard gain late in the first quarter. Blocking tight end Matthew Mulligan might have gotten away with a hold on the play, but created enough of an obstacle for Hawthorne to help open up the running lane for Ridley. When the Patriots can get the running game going, it settles things down, and it often takes a close look at players like Mankins and Mulligan to fully appreciate their work in that area. Mankins, despite showing up with with two penalties, is still playing at a very high level from what we've seen. His combination block on Ridley's 1-yard touchdown early in the second quarter further showed his effectiveness.

Patriots release TE Zach Sudfeld

October, 3, 2013
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots announced the release of rookie tight end Zach Sudfeld on Thursday, which could be an indication Rob Gronkowski is set to return.

Sudfeld, an undrafted free agent out of Nevada who had a surprise emergence in training camp, didn't carry the momentum he had generated in the preseason into the regular season. He was used sparingly in Sunday night's 30-23 win against the Atlanta Falcons, playing eight snaps, and couldn't corral an onside kick that was recovered by the Falcons late in the fourth quarter.

If he clears waivers, he will likely return on the team's practice squad.

At 6-foot-7 and 260 pounds, Sudfeld is more of a receiver than a pure tight end. The first indication that he might be on shaky ground came when the Patriots started using four-year veteran Michael Hoomanawanui in the role eyed for Sudfeld -- the "move" tight end in the three-receiver package. Sudfeld played 17 snaps in the season-opener, missed the team's Sept. 12 win against the Jets with a hamstring, and then played 19 snaps against the Buccaneers on Sept. 22 before he was hardly on the field Sept. 29 versus the Falcons. He didn't record a catch this season.

The Patriots currently have Gronkowski, Hoomanawanui and Matthew Mulligan as tight ends on the roster.

Positional groupings: Pats favor 3rd WR

September, 27, 2013
One of the things that will be charted on a weekly basis is the positional groupings utilized by the New England Patriots' offense, as they reveal player value and take us deeper into the X's and O's of how coordinator Josh McDaniels is attempting to attack the opposition.

Here is the big takeaway through three games: The usage of multiple-tight-end packages is down considerably compared to the past two seasons. Here is a simplified breakdown of the team's 232 offensive snaps (including penalties, not kneel-downs):

3 or more WRs: 142 of 232
2 backs: 61 of 232
2 or more TEs: 51 of 232

There is a 22-play overlap, which accounts for snaps in which there was a combination of 3 WRs/2 backs and 2-3 TEs/2 backs.

Four-year veteran Michael Hoomanawanui is playing most of the tight-end snaps.

When the Patriots added a second tight end last Sunday, it was either rookie Zach Sudfeld or veteran Matthew Mulligan. Sudfeld is more of a receiver-type, while Mulligan is more of a pure blocker. Because each of them trends clearly in one direction, it makes the Patriots a bit more predictable when they are in the game in multiple-tight-end packages.

So with a heavy focus on the passing game the first three weeks, it has essentially come down to a third receiver (most recently Aaron Dobson) being deemed more valuable than Sudfeld.

When Rob Gronkowski returns, it makes sense to think we could see an increase in multiple-tight-end groupings.

Positional groupings: Disappearing TE

September, 20, 2013
One of the things that will be charted on a weekly basis is the positional groupings utilized by the New England Patriots' offense, as they can reveal player value and take us deeper into the Xs and Os of how coordinator Josh McDaniels is attempting to attack the opposition.

Through two games, one theme that stands out is how the team known for its two-TE offense has gone away from it without Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Here is a simplified breakdown of the team's 159 offensive snaps (including penalties):

3 or more WRs: 89-of-159
2 backs: 46-of-159
2 or more TEs: 38-of-159

There is a 14-play overlap, which accounts for snaps in which there was a combination of 3 WRs/2 backs and 2-3 TEs/2 backs.

A few takeaways:

Adds context to stats. As noted by ESPN's Stats & Information this week, Patriots tight ends rank last in the NFL in receptions, yards and drop percentage, and 31st in targets. Part of the reason this is the case is that the Patriots aren't using the tight end as heavily as they have in the past. Michael Hoomanawanui has been the workhorse, with 140 of 159 snaps played. He's a dependable player who was never known as a big pass-catcher (career high 13 catches in 2010). After that, it's a big drop-off, with offensive-lineman-reporting-eligible Nate Solder (19), rookie Zach Sudfeld (19) and Matthew Mulligan (10) taking the tight end snaps.

Third receiver a better matchup than second tight end. In playing the majority of their snaps with three receivers, it reflects how the Patriots view a No. 3 receiver (Julian Edelman in the opener; Aaron Dobson in Week 2) as a better fit than a second tight end. This generally sets up a matchup against the opponent's sub defense.

Fullback presence notable. The Patriots are using fullback James Develin in place of a second tight end more than we've seen in recent years. The ability to move Develin around the formation (in the backfield, split wide, on the line of scrimmage) has been tapped in place of a second tight end at times. Hard to imagine that would be happening if the Gronkowski-Hernandez combo was on the field.

Football journey: Matthew Mulligan

September, 14, 2013
Every Saturday, the “football journey” of one New England Patriots player will be highlighted as part of a regular feature.

This week, tight end Matthew Mulligan is in the spotlight. He was signed as a free agent Sept. 3, released by the team two days later, then re-signed Sept. 10.

He played 10 snaps in Thursday's 13-10 victory over the New York Jets, used mostly as a blocker.

Mulligan has a different-from-the-norm journey in the sense that he didn’t play football at Penobscot Valley (Maine) High School because there was no team. The 28-year-old comes across as down-to-earth and appreciative of his unexpected success in playing in the NFL.

When he first started playing football: “I guess it really depends on how you define it. My first opportunity was in my sophomore year at Husson College. But they didn’t require much of me, really. They basically said, ‘Run out and we’ll throw you the ball.’ As far as blocking went, it was just ‘kind of get in front of someone.’ I was thankful for the opportunity, but I always attribute, really, that I first started playing football my junior year of college [at Maine]. I played two years there.”

Recollections of attending Husson College: “When I first got there, I went to play basketball, for coach Warren Caruso, and then after that I played for Gabby Price. It was a great opportunity to get my feet wet playing football and just kind of grow up a little bit. You’re still young at 18 and 19 years old.”

How he got into football at Husson: “My cousin’s friend had been pushing me for a while, ever since he had met me when I was 13 years old. He was saying, ‘Look, you’re playing the wrong sport. You need to play football.’ But we didn’t have it at my high school, so I just played soccer and basketball. When I was at Husson my sophomore year, he called Gabby Price and said ‘You should go talk to this kid. He should be playing football.’ I don’t know if I ever would have played, because I was comfortable playing basketball and everything. He kind of went around me and did it anyways, and Gabby came and talked to me. I always wanted to play football, but basketball was my first love and I wasn’t going to jeopardize that. When Gabby Price came to talk to me, I’ve been real thankful since then. That’s how it got started.”

Top memories at University of Maine, where he played in 21 games (18 starts): “Catching my first touchdown. Being on local television, people talking about that, it was a great experience. Just initially getting there, and the type of atmosphere that coach [Jack] Cosgrove has up there, it’s a good place. I’m from the area anyways, and that’s the big program in our state. So it was just an all-around amazing experience.”

[+] EnlargeMatthew Mulligan
John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty ImagesSigning with the Patriots was a homecoming for tight end Matthew Mulligan, a Maine native.
Favorite football players growing up: “I can remember loving Emmitt Smith. Not playing football, I didn’t really know the positions, I just knew who the big names were. Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin, Charles Haley.”

Signing as an undrafted free agent with the Dolphins in 2008: “Very difficult. The learning curve was so steep, having really no football experience besides Maine, going to a different offense. Maine did a really good job of catering to my strengths and trying to bring me along. Once you get into the NFL, they’re like, ‘Either you can do it or you can’t.’ The tight end group I had down there was a really good group -- Anthony Fasano, Justin Peelle, David Martin, Sean Ryan. They really did a good job with me, but it was tough -- the heat, I’m a Maine boy and was in Miami. The temperature difference was crazy for me. Just the whole experience, it was difficult, but at the same time I was thankful to go through it because it’s made everything a whole lot easier, too.”

Landing with the Tennessee Titans' practice squad and staying there through 2009 training camp: “Jeff Fisher is a tremendous coach. The tight ends that were there -- Alge Crumpler was a great leader, and I learned a lot from him blockingwise. That’s when I really felt like I started to work on my craft, being able to watch him. Also with the other tight ends that were there, one of my close buddies Craig Stevens, who is still there. That was a good learning experience, seeing another side of football, because the way Jeff runs his camp is different than most.”

Signing with the Jets in Rex Ryan’s first year as coach in 2009 and spending three seasons with New York: “I really owe a lot to them because they really gave me my first shot -- keeping me for three years and grooming me. I was behind Ben Hartsock, and he taught me a lot about being a professional. It was awesome. My best friend, Mike DeVito, played there. He and I lived together when I first got there, and it helped me transition.”

After becoming a free agent in 2012, signing with the Rams: “[Former Jets offensive coordinator Brian] Schottenheimer was there, and I felt like it was too good of an opportunity to pass up to go with him. I knew the offense, and he’s been great to me. That was one of my most fun years in athletics in general, just being there with those guys and the camaraderie we had.”

Signing with the Packers as a free agent: “My agent [Kristen Kuliga] had a lot of teams calling, and it came down to Green Bay and the 49ers. We felt like Green Bay was the best decision, and I wouldn’t change anything. Things didn’t necessarily play out the way we wanted, but it’s a very stand-up organization, a lot of history, with a great head coach in Mike McCarthy and a great tight ends coach in Jerry Fontenot. The players over there, it’s almost like a college atmosphere there. They really accepted me.”

Getting released after training camp and hooking on with the Patriots: “I didn’t expect it, but you never know who is looking at you. The news was out before I had actually signed, and everybody in Maine was blowing up my phone. It was just awesome. When they called, I was really happy because it’s basically like coming home. I know a lot of people. Obviously, it’s a fantastic organization and a chance to further my career.”

Role models in his life: “My parents. Still to this day, I run everything by them, what my wife and I do -- big decisions. Also, my church family. I’ve had a great pastor my entire life, as well. That type of stuff, when you have people you can trust and lean upon, I feel like I’ve been very fortunate and blessed -- to not just have a great set of parents and a brother but also a great church [community].”

What he loves about football: “Sometimes it can be the most difficult thing, but sometimes it can be the most rewarding thing. You can always get better. There is not a day where you’re coming in to play football and you say, ‘I have it all down today.’ Technique, your plays, your sharpness, there’s always a way to get better, and I feel that stimulates your mind. The ceiling is as far as you can push yourself.”

Summing up his football journey with numerous stops along the way: “I joke with my wife that it’s her fault because she said she always wanted to travel the country; that’s what God is doing to us, putting us all over the place. I just feel really blessed to have an opportunity to play for so many different teams and meet so many great teammates. There is something to be said about a guy who is good enough and respected enough that the team loves him to stay in one place. But I wouldn’t change what’s happened to me.”