NFL Nation: Alfonzo Dennard


And then there were two -- two teams that know most of what there is to know about each other, two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks who add to their legacies with every pass, all with a Super Bowl trip on the line.

The Denver Broncos and New England Patriots, who have faced each other in each of the past three seasons and in the divisional round of the 2011 season, took it to overtime Nov. 24. The Broncos let a 24-0 halftime lead get away, and the Patriots won 34-31 after a punt bounced off Broncos cornerback Tony Carter's leg in overtime on a frigid night in Foxborough, Mass.

ESPN.com Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold and Patriots reporter Mike Reiss discuss Sunday's AFC Championship Game in Sports Authority Field at Mile High.

Legwold: Peyton Manning and Bill Belichick yet again. Do you think, in all your time around Belichick, that he tries to bring something new to the table every time he faces Manning? Or does he assume Manning has done the homework and put his efforts into getting people in the right position?

Reiss: I'd say there's always a new wrinkle or two, Jeff. Belichick has said in the past that Manning is too smart to just do the same thing over and over again -- both within a game and from matchup to matchup. Part of that discussion is also the state of the Patriots' personnel entering the matchup. A player like rookie linebacker Jamie Collins, for example, might give Belichick the flexibility to introduce something unique based on his breakthrough since the Nov. 24 meeting between the teams.

The weather forecast looks promising for Manning. No icy cold forecast. How do you think he approaches this game compared to the Nov. 24 contest? Do you think he will be less reluctant to hand the ball off?

Legwold: It will be a postcard day Sunday with the temperature expected to be 58 degrees with 0 percent chance of rain and light winds. So any decisions the two teams make on offense will have to do with what's in front of them on defense only. Manning will be inclined to hand the ball off if he sees the Patriots in some of those lighter personnel groupings deployed to handle Denver's three-wide-receiver look. Offensive coordinator Adam Gase has a run option built into most things Manning can change into at the line of scrimmage. The Broncos certainly like how Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball are trending in the run game. They have split carries down the stretch, and both run with tackle-shedding power.

Gase, with coaching DNA that includes his time with Mike Martz, is an aggressive sort. With the next-generation numbers the Broncos' offense has put up this season, it's easy to forget they still averaged 28.8 carries per game and topped 30 carries per matchup nine times this season. If they get a look from the New England defense that calls for a run, the Broncos will be inclined to pound away.

Where is Tom Brady's game and the offense right now after some rough moments early in the season? Has Brady benefited from a run-heavy approach down the stretch and into the postseason?

Reiss: The biggest benefit for Brady with the run-heavy approach has been how it opens play-action opportunities. Danny Amendola's 53-yard catch in the divisional round is one of the best examples. Also, part of the reason the Patriots have gone so run-heavy is that it's the area where they have their most assets. They are limited when it comes to pass-catchers who create consistent separation at tight end and receiver. As for Brady's game, there have been no signs of decline in arm strength, accuracy or decision-making. The main reasons for the struggles early in the year, from my view, were more about the changes around him. That's not to say Brady didn't make his mistakes, but it's sort of interesting to look back on some of the media-based discussion around Weeks 6 to 8 about how maybe Father Time had caught up to him.

Now that we're a full season in, how would you sum up the Wes Welker signing? Just as the Broncos hoped for? Better? Worse?

Legwold: Welker finished the regular season with 73 catches for 778 yards and 10 touchdowns. His presence in the slot, along with Julius Thomas at tight end, is part of the reason the offense had a historic season. With the Broncos lining up in a three-wide-receiver set the majority of the season -- and every snap of the divisional round win over the San Diego Chargers -- they force defenses into some difficult choices. Thomas is often in the slot on one side of the formation, and Welker is in the slot on the other side. When Thomas missed two games earlier this season with a knee injury, both the Patriots and the Kansas City Chiefs (Dec. 1) elected to double-team Welker. He missed three games after suffering his second concussion in a four-week span Dec. 8 against the Tennessee Titans but played last week against the Chargers without issue.

Welker did have some spells this season when he had a cluster of dropped passes -- three against the Patriots on a frigid night to go with drops against Washington and San Diego in the regular season. Overall, though, he was exactly what the Broncos hoped he would be in their offense. He meshed with Manning quickly and was a big part of the plan right from his nine-catch performance against the Baltimore Ravens in the season opener.

The Patriots did not face Thomas in the Nov. 24 meeting. Do you think they will try to match up Collins on Thomas this time around?

Reiss: That seems like the natural matchup, especially after seeing Collins splitting out wide on Colts tight end Coby Fleener on Saturday night and playing very well. Collins is unique in that, at 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds, he is fast enough to be competitive down the field in coverage (e.g., fourth-quarter interception versus the Colts) but powerful enough to play in the box and deliver a blow in the running game and as a pass-rusher. The Patriots' top draft pick in 2013, selected 52nd overall out of Southern Mississippi, he is an intriguing player whom Patriots fans really got their first extended look at Saturday as he played every snap against the Colts. He had been groomed behind the scenes up to that point, playing just 25 percent of the defensive snaps on the season in more of a reserve role.

Thomas may not have played in the first game between the teams, but Von Miller did. How does Miller's season-ending knee injury affect the Broncos' defense?

Legwold: Of all the players who were signed in the weeks after the initial leaguewide binge in free agency, the Broncos' signing of Shaun Phillips was easily one of the best. Denver signed Phillips to a one-year, $1 million deal during the draft weekend in April, well over a month after free agency had opened, a deal that didn't have a signing bonus but did have some incentives based on sack totals.

Phillips was initially how the Broncos planned to deal with the loss of Elvis Dumervil in free agency. When Miller was suspended for the first six games of the season, Phillips had 5.5 sacks in those games to lead the way. He finished the regular season with 10 sacks to lead the team. In Sunday's win, with Miller on injured reserve, Phillips had two sacks against the Chargers. He is the single-most important player in the Broncos' pass rush in Miller's absence. Denver may have to take more risks without Miller on the field, and that's always a tough choice against someone like Brady, who can easily find the holes in coverage. But if Phillips can consistently create pressure -- with both sacks on three-man rushes against San Diego -- it allows the Broncos to move things around a little more and cover more of the bases.

Did Belichick make a conscious effort to get big backs like LeGarrette Blount and Stevan Ridley in the lineup when he knew he would get smaller defensive personnel against the team's passing attack?

Reiss: That's fair to say, as the Patriots pride themselves on creating those matchups during the game, with coordinator Josh McDaniels finding his groove in recent weeks. They refer to themselves as a "game plan" offense because they tailor their plan weekly based on what they perceive to be the weakness of the opposition. They'll shuttle in different personnel groupings early -- multiple receivers, two backs, two tight ends, etc. -- to get information on how the opponent is matching up and then focus on the one they like best. This week, what's fascinating to me is that I think they probably see vulnerability in the Broncos' secondary, but I wonder how they feel about their own personnel in being able to exploit it. So that could keep them grounded.

The Patriots have been running the ball very well. How is the Broncos' run defense?

Legwold: In a year when the Broncos have been forced, by injuries and Miller's suspension, to mix and match on defense, their run defense has likely been more consistent in comparison to some of the other issues they've had. When defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson went to injured reserve Nov. 27 with a hip injury, they did wobble a bit, surrendering 159 yards rushing to the Chiefs and 177 yards rushing to the Chargers in two of the three games that immediately followed.

They have regained their balance a bit since, moving Paris Lenon into the middle linebacker spot in the base defense, and rookie defensive tackle Sylvester Williams has played better each week. Overall, the biggest issue for the Broncos will be how they defend the run if the Patriots get them in nickel or dime personnel on defense and then run the ball at the smaller looks. The Broncos' safeties will have to tackle and tackle well to make it work.

Belichick has always tried to make "other" people beat him and take away an offense's front-line players. How do you think he would rank the Broncos' threats in the passing game, and where do you think the one-on-one matchups will be?

Reiss: One insightful point that ESPN analyst Tedy Bruschi made in his weekly chat was the idea of defending the Broncos from the inside-out. Manning is still an accurate marksman, one of the greatest of all time, but I'm guessing that even he would agree that some of the downfield and outside-the-numbers throws he used to make don't come as easily to him. So it makes sense that the Patriots would focus more resources on the inside part of the field, where it would seem we would most likely see Welker and Thomas. With this in mind, I could envision the Patriots matching up cornerback Aqib Talib with Demaryius Thomas on the outside and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard with Eric Decker and taking their chances that those one-on-one matchups will be competitive. Trusting those cornerbacks in those one-on-one matchups would allow the defense to focus extra attention/personnel to the inside part of the field.

Any X factors or special-teams contributors we should keep on the radar?

Legwold: The Broncos have usually been lockdown tight on special teams -- opening the season with two touchdown returns and two blocked punts, one of those returned for a score, in the first four weeks of the season. Those normally reliable units, however, have wobbled plenty down the stretch. The Chiefs' Knile Davis had a 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, the Titans' Leon Washington had a 95-yard kickoff return, and the Texans' Keshawn Martin had a 51-yard punt return. Toss in the first blocked punt of Britton Colquitt's career in Oakland to go with Trindon Holliday's occasional adventures catching the ball, and it's been an unpredictable stretch. But Holliday is always a threat to uncork a return because of his breathtaking speed. The Broncos used wide receiver Decker as the primary punt returner against the Chargers last week, and he had a 47-yarder. So the Broncos have the potential to pop one at any time, especially in Denver, where Holliday returned both a kickoff and a punt for touchdowns in last January's playoff loss to the Ravens.

 
Andrew LuckElsa/Getty ImagesAndrew Luck could not lead another big comeback during the divisional round of the playoffs.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The locker room was basically empty other than a few players dressing and equipment guys double-checking to make sure nothing was left. Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck sat alone at his locker, slowly putting his clothes on, expressionless as if he was replaying the game, or more like his errant throws, in his head.

Luck will eventually take the throne from Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, but the time's not now. It will come, you can count on it. Luck’s too good and too much of a perfectionist not to let it happen.

Through all the incredible comebacks he orchestrated, through all the times he shook off a blitzing linebacker to complete a throw downfield or tucked the ball and made something out of a broken play, Luck will likely spend the offseason thinking about the throws he didn’t make Saturday night and what it'll take to beat Bill Belichick and his New England Patriots.

Luck’s struggles against the Patriots continued when his four interceptions overshadowed the 331 yards he threw for in the Colts' season-ending 43-22 loss.

“As painful as it is, the experience is what it’s about,” Colts owner Jim Irsay said as he made his way out of Gillette Stadium. “The experience is invaluable. It hurts and it’s a hard time, but these types of moments is how you get better.”

Luck will have to figure out the defensive mind games Belichick likes to play with quarterbacks the same way Manning did with the Patriots coach.

Luck has turned the ball over eight times, including seven interceptions, in two meetings against New England. The Colts lost those games by a total of 56 points.

A sign of things to come occurred on the Colts’ third offensive play, when Luck locked in on receiver LaVon Brazill and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard picked him off.

“Mistakes from the first quarter to the last series,” Luck said. “It was indicative of how the game kind of went for us, for me. It starts on my shoulders on those picks. It stinks.”

Luck managed to shake off the constant pass rush and tight coverage on receiver T.Y. Hilton to have the Colts within seven points of the Patriots in the fourth quarter.

That set the stage for one of those feel-good moments -- you know, the kind where the young stud goes on the road and beats the future Hall of Famer in his own backyard, propelling the Colts to the AFC Championship Game.

That’s what you thought, at least.

After the real star Saturday -- New England running back LeGarrette Blount -- broke free for a 73-yard touchdown, Luck once again locked in his target and was intercepted by linebacker Jamie Collins, ending any chance of the Colts winning.

"Obviously this is not a good feeling right now," Luck said. "It’ll take a while to go away."

Luck’s interceptions weren’t just a one-game situation in the playoffs.

His heroic performance in leading the Colts back from 28 points down in the second half against the Kansas City Chiefs will always be talked about. What may be forgotten is that Luck threw three interceptions in that game, giving him seven in the playoffs.

That’s unacceptable when you consider he only had nine interceptions in the regular season.

“He had been doing a great job of managing the offense and taking care of the football,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. “So in those two games, certainly you can’t turn the ball over. He knows it, we know it and I know it. I thought he did a great job the entire season. Obviously you can’t do that when the stakes are this high and when it’s one and done. We’ll work to get that corrected.”

Luck can’t be knocked for not getting the Colts past the Patriots. The fact that he led the Colts to this stage can be looked at as successful. There aren’t many quarterbacks in the NFL that could shake off the loss of their go-to receiver, a sporadic running game and an offensive line that didn't always show up and still lead their team to a division title and playoff victory.

The 24-year-old Luck did.

And just imagine how much better he’ll be when general manager Ryan Grigson puts better talent around him.

“He’s on the right track, the fast track,” Colts linebacker Robert Mathis said. “Gotta let him do his thing. This is his team. He’s our engine, just gotta let him go.”

Luck’s the engine who will spend the offseason breaking down film and being his worst critic to make sure he’ll be back even more powerful next season.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- After 15 minutes of play, the New England Patriots lead the Colts 14-7. Passing along quick-hit notes and observations from the first quarter.

1. Dennard picks off Luck early, Blount cashes in. From the idyllic start playbook: Patriots cornerback Alfonzo Dennard intercepted Colts quarterback Andrew Luck on Indianapolis' first third down of the game, returning it to the Colts' 2 yard line. The Patriots needed just one offensive play to make Luck pay, as LeGarrette Blount dove in for a score, giving the team a 7-0 lead.

2. Blount dashes into end zone, again. On the Patriots' second offensive drive, Blount once again found the end zone. Following a methodical, 10-play, 74-yard drive down the field, which including a key 25-yard completion to Julian Edelman, Blount sprinted in from two yards away, his second two-yard score of the game.

3. Colts respond. As the Colts showed last week, there is no such thing as knocking them out early. Luck hooked up with wide receiver LaVon Brazill on a 38-yard touchdown to cut the Patriots' lead in half. Brazill beat Dennard in man coverage down the sideline.

4. Talib shadowing Hilton. We talked this week about how the Patriots would plan to cover Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton. As it turns out, it's been a steady dose of cornerback Aqib Talib, who has shadowed Hilton as he has bounced around the formation. It's a sign of the Patriots' continued confidence in Talib as a lockdown cornerback.

5. Penalty box. The following Patriots were flagged for penalties during the first quarter: linebacker Ja'Gared Davis (illegal block in the back) and wide receiver Matthew Slater (illegal block in the back).

Welcome to Gillette Stadium

January, 11, 2014
Jan 11
4:00
PM ET
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Welcome to Gillette Stadium, where the New England Patriots host the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC divisional round of the playoffs (8:15 p.m. ET):

Weather conditions: Temperatures are mild for this time of year, currently in the low 50s and high humidity, but it is raining and windy. The gusts coming into the stadium were powerful to the point that the two goalposts on the team’s lower practice field were blown sideways. It seems fair to say this will be an "elements" game (weather.com forecast).

Six more inactives for Patriots: With rookie receiver Aaron Dobson (foot) already having been ruled out, the Patriots have six more players to declare inactive. Those decisions are finalized and announced about 90 minutes before kickoff. Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard (knee/shoulder) and receiver Kenbrell Thompkins (hip) were the two players listed as questionable on the team’s final injury report.

Morelli gets the call: Pete Morelli has been assigned to referee tonight’s game. The NFL uses all-star crews in the playoffs, and two of the other six officials tonight had worked with Morelli during the regular season. Morelli’s crew was known for throwing among the fewest penalties in the NFL, but the all-star crew aspect alters any type of referee "scouting."

Belichick and Brady on GameDay cover: Quarterback Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick are pictured on the cover of tonight's GameDay magazine.

Final game for CBS analyst Dierdorf: Tonight’s game will be broadcast on CBS, with Greg Gumbel (play-by-play) and Dan Dierdorf (analysis) on the call. This is Dierdorf’s final game as he previously announced he was retiring after the season.

National Anthem: Performed by Michelle Brooks-Thompson, a TMG Gospel recording artist from Springfield, Mass.

Color Guard: MBTA Transit Police Honor Guard.

Mankins, Dennard back at practice

January, 7, 2014
Jan 7
12:10
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots starting left guard Logan Mankins and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard both returned to practice on Tuesday morning, the first on-field work for the team this week after their bye weekend.

Dennard
Mankins
Mankins, who suffered an ankle injury in Week 17, did not practice at all last week, while Dennard has been dealing with a shoulder and knee issue of late that kept him out of Week 17 entirely.

Wide receiver Aaron Dobson (foot), who also missed practice all of last week after suffering another foot injury in the regular season finale, was the lone player not spotted at the start of practice.

The Patriots had an open roster spot after placing linebacker Brandon Spikes on injured reserve yesterday, and it has apparently been filled. A wide receiver wearing number 84 was on the practice field today, though it's unclear if he has been signed to the active roster or if he was signed to the practice squad and the Patriots promoted a separate player.

Due to extreme cold in the area, the Patriots practiced inside the Dana-Farber Fieldhouse outside of Gillette Stadium. They practiced in shells and helmets.

Four absent from practice

January, 2, 2014
Jan 2
11:50
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- For the second consecutive day, guard Logan Mankins, wide receivers Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce, and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard were not spotted at the start of New England Patriots practice.

Mankins left Sunday's game briefly with an ankle injury and had a walking boot next to his locker on Monday afternoon. Given that the Patriots do not play until next Saturday night, it's possible they are looking to build in extra rest for their top offensive lineman.

Dobson, remains out after injuring his foot in Week 17, the same area that caused him to miss time late in the season. It's unclear if Dobson suffered the same injury to his foot or if a separate issue is now bothering him. Boyce has been hampered by an ankle injury since Week 16, and has not practiced since.

Veteran wide receiver Austin Collie was re-signed Thursday, according to a league source, and was spotted wearing number 10.

Dennard did not play in Week 17, and has dealt with injuries throughout much of the second half of the regular season. Beyond a knee injury, Dennard is also playing through a shoulder problem.

Today is the Patriots' second of three practice days this week before a break over the weekend. The team practiced on the game field at Gillette Stadium in the snow, where nearly a foot is expected to come down between Thursday and Friday.

The Patriots practiced in full pads.

Solder misses practice with concussion

December, 11, 2013
12/11/13
6:12
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Patriots starting left tackle Nate Solder missed Wednesday's practice due to a concussion, according to the team's practice report.

Solder did not miss any snaps during the Patriots' Week 14 win over the Browns, and it is unclear when the injury took place.

He was one of two Patriots to miss practice on Wednesday, as rookie wide receiver Aaron Dobson missed his seventh consecutive practice after suffering a foot injury during a Week 12 win over the Broncos.

Solder will need to pass NFL concussion protocols to return to practice. His status for this Sunday's game in Miami is not known at this time.

Tackle Marcus Cannon was limited in his return to practice, as he's sat out two weeks due to an ankle injury that has thrust Will Svitek into a starting role.

Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, who has been previously limited by a knee injury, was also limited by a shoulder injury, which he suffered on Sunday against the Browns.

Cornerbacks Aqib Talib (hip), Kyle Arrington (groin) and Marquice Cole (shin) were also limited, as was quarterback Tom Brady (right shoulder). Brady has been limited in practice during previous parts of the season, though the issue has not seemed to limit him at all during games.

Stevan Ridley, Alfonzo Dennard active

December, 8, 2013
12/08/13
11:46
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- As expected, running back Stevan Ridley is active for the Patriots and will dress for today's game against the Cleveland Browns. What remains to be seen is just how much he will play after being deactivated last week following three straight games with a fumble.

The team announced its final five inactives -- wide receiver Aaron Dobson and offensive tackle Marcus Cannon had previously been ruled out -- which includes running back Brandon Bolden, who was listed with a non-injury issue but probable to play, and rookie wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins (hip), who was limited this week in practice.

Starting cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, who has missed two of three games with a knee injury and was listed as questionable, will play. Veteran wide receiver Austin Collie, re-signed this week, is active and will play. With Dobson and Thompkins sitting, Collie could be in line for reps as the team's third or fourth receiver.

Below is a full list of Patriots inactives:

LB Steve Beauharnais
DE Jake Bequette
RB Brandon Bolden
OT Marcus Cannon
WR Aaron Dobson
TE Michael Hoomanawanui
WR Kenbrell Thompkins

Below is a list of Browns inactives:

WR Josh Cooper
OL Reid Fragel
OL Garrett Gilkey
TE Keavon Milton
QB Alex Tanney
OL Martin Wallace
QB Brandon Weeden
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Running back Brandon Bolden was not spotted at the start of Friday morning's rainy New England Patriots practice, which sparked the following question: Could this open the door for Stevan Ridley to return to the 46-man game-day roster?

Ridley
Ridley
Bolden hasn't been listed on the team's injury report this week and the absence could be non-injury related. More details regarding Bolden's absence should be learned around 4 p.m. ET when the official participation report is released.

The Patriots dressed three running backs for last Sunday's win against the Texans -- Shane Vereen (41 of 70 snaps), LeGarrette Blount (20 snaps) and Bolden (9) -- which left Ridley on the sidelines. Since that decision, one of the top storylines surrounding the team is if Ridley will continue to be a healthy scratch, or if he might re-emerge in some form. Bolden's status could have a direct impact on the answer.

The other area of note that caught the eye at practice was seeing fill-in starting right tackle Will Svitek's right ankle heavily taped. Svitek landed on the injury report Wednesday, leaving the Patriots vulnerable at tackle because starter Sebastian Vollmer (leg) is on season-ending injured reserve and top backup Marcus Cannon (ankle) remains out of practice.

Also with receiver Aaron Dobson (foot) not practicing, it essentially rules him out Sunday for the second straight game.

Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard wasn't present for the second day in a row as he is due in court for a second day in Nebraska.

Alfonzo Dennard back at practice

November, 29, 2013
11/29/13
11:59
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard (knee) returned to practice for the Patriots on Friday after missing Thursday's workout.

Offensive tackle Marcus Cannon (ankle), wide receiver Aaron Dobson (foot) and tight end Michael Hoomanawanui (knee) were not spotted, however, and none of them has practiced at all this week, making them unlikely to suit up on Sunday.

Should Cannon sit, veteran Will Svitek is likely to take over his role, making him the third player to start a game at right tackle this season. The Patriots signed tight end D.J. Williams this week, perhaps as insurance for the possibility of Hoomanawanui sitting. Fellow rookie wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins stepped up in the second half of Week 12 once Dobson's availability was limited.

Dennard also practiced on Wednesday, but if he is unable to play this Sunday, rookie cornerback Logan Ryan will likely join Aqib Talib and Kyle Arrington -- who are also playing through injuries right now -- among the top three cornerback trio.

The Patriots practiced in shells and helmets.

Dennard, Talib active for Patriots

November, 24, 2013
11/24/13
7:20
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Cornerbacks Alfonzo Dennard and Aqib Talib are active for Sunday's game against the Denver Broncos, which was the most notable news from the team's list of inactive players.

Multiple media reports early in the week had indicated that Dennard (knee) would be out tonight.

PATRIOTS INACTIVES
G Chris Barker
DE Jake Bequette
LB Steve Beauharnais
WR Josh Boyce
DL Marcus Forston
S Steve Gregory
TE Michael Hoomanawanui

ANALYSIS: Steve Gregory, the team's starting safety and primary communicator, will miss his second straight game. He had returned to practice this week but it wasn't enough for him to clear the hurdle of being active. ... Josh Boyce was the primary kickoff returner last week, so his inclusion on the inactive list is a bit of a surprise. LeGarrette Blount will likely handle those duties. ... Otherwise, no major surprises as linebacker Brandon Spikes -- who was downgraded to questionable earlier today (knee) -- is active.

BRONCOS INACTIVES
QB Zac Dysert
RB Ronnie Hillman
CB Champ Bailey
S Michael Huff
C J.D. Walton
G Chris Kuper
TE Julius Thomas

ANALYSIS: The big news is with Julius Thomas (right knee), as he made the trip but just couldn't get over the hump. Joel Dreessen likely will take the majority of his reps. ... Champ Bailey said he would test his left foot on the FieldTurf, but it didn't seem like a reasonable chance that he would play, and that's the way it turned out.

Patriots' top CB trio questionable

November, 22, 2013
11/22/13
5:04
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots' top three cornerbacks -- Aqib Talib (hip), Alfonzo Dennard (knee) and Kyle Arrington (groin) -- and safety Steve Gregory (thumb) are all listed as questionable to play Sunday night when the team hosts the Denver Broncos.

Talib, the team's top cornerback, left Monday night's game against Carolina after his hip tightened up, though he has practiced each day this week on a limited basis. Dennard, who sat out Monday night's game, and Arrington also practiced each day this week.

Gregory, the team's starter alongside Devin McCourty, sat out Monday's game after injuring his thumb in Week 9.

The status of these four will be an area to monitor as the Patriots face the Broncos' top-rated passing attack, which looks likely to have receiver Wes Welker on the field, as he is listed as probable to play after suffering a concussion last Sunday night.

The Patriots also listed running back Leon Washington, who has not played since suffering a Week 5 ankle injury, as questionable.

Tight end Michael Hoomanawanui, who left Monday's game with a knee injury that cost him each day of practice this week, will not play on Sunday.

Linebacker Brandon Spikes, who has been bothered by a knee injury since Monday night, is listed as probable despite practicing on a limited basis each day this week.

Quarterback Tom Brady (shoulder), tight end Rob Gronkowski (back, forearm, hamstring), wide receiver Danny Amendola (groin), and running back Shane Vereen (wrist) are also among those Patriots listed as probable for Sunday.

Patriots don't have time to lick wounds

November, 19, 2013
11/19/13
9:30
PM ET


Call it a case of football déjà vu.

Four weeks ago, the New England Patriots found themselves with more questions than answers relating to a controversial penalty call in an overtime loss to the New York Jets, with a matchup against a divisional rival ahead of them.

Today, questions remain over a controversial non-call that proved costly for the Patriots in their 24-20 Monday night defeat at the hands of the Carolina Panthers, and a high-powered passing attack now waits in the wings.

There’s nothing that can be done to atone for what looked like an obvious officiating error (the league stands by the call), and there’s no time for disappointment within the walls of Gillette Stadium.

That’s because the Patriots will welcome the Denver Broncos and their 39.8 points per game to Gillette this Sunday for one of the most highly anticipated games of the regular season.

As if the challenge of facing the Broncos on its own were not enough, the Patriots have a short week to do so, as they’re already a day behind after playing on Monday night. The players received their customary day off on Tuesday, meaning they’ll likely spend little -- if any -- time reviewing Monday night’s defeat, focusing instead on what lies ahead with Denver.

[+] EnlargeDemaryius Thomas
John Sleezer/Kansas City Star/MCT/Getty ImagesDemaryius Thomas is one of three Broncos with at least nine touchdown receptions.
The Broncos, riding high at 9-1 and fresh off of a win over the Kansas City Chiefs, own the AFC’s best record (by virtue of a tiebreaker over the Chiefs) with an eye toward a top-two seed in the conference for a first-round playoff bye.

It won’t be hard for Bill Belichick and his staff to size up the challenge ahead, as the Broncos are on pace to score nearly 50 more points than the Patriots did during their record-setting 2007 regular season.

Peyton Manning is on pace to break Tom Brady’s record for touchdown passes in a season, and the Broncos have three players who already have at least nine touchdown receptions this season (there are just five such players in total).

Manning is the orchestrator of the offense that has endured the loss of its best lineman, left tackle Ryan Clady, and still has surpassed 40 points in five games this season. His cast of receivers is unrivaled, with Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker dominating the perimeter, while old Patriot Wes Welker and upstart tight end Julius Thomas present a nightmarish duo in the middle of the field. Welker's status for Sunday's game is uncertain, however, as he suffered a concussion in the win over the Chiefs.

This offense would be a challenge for the Patriots to contain even if they were at full strength, but the defense is dealing with injuries to each of its top three cornerbacks. Aqib Talib (hip) was forced out late in Monday night’s game, Alfonzo Dennard (knee) sat it out entirely and Kyle Arrington (groin) had to leave the game temporarily for stretch and recuperation. Their status for Sunday is unknown, but it’s fair to assume the secondary won’t be at 100 percent. Add in the potential absence of starting safety Steve Gregory (thumb), and the Patriots will have their hands full while possibly leaning on reserve-level players.

It’s nothing new for the Patriots, as they’ve weathered a litany of injuries already in 2013, led by season-enders to nose tackle Vince Wilfork and linebacker Jerod Mayo. Those have led to the ascension of little-known players such as Joe Vellano and Chris Jones in addition to the acquisition of veteran defensive tackle Isaac Sopoaga.

The Broncos aren’t an imbalanced foe, however. The defense doesn’t draw the same attention as the offense, but for the second consecutive week the Patriots will have their hands full with a pair of talented edge rushers, Von Miller and Shaun Phillips. And though the numbers are slightly skewed because they are so often playing with a sizable lead, the Broncos also boast one of the stingier run defenses, surrendering just 92.7 yards per contest.

Simply put, getting things going against this defense is no small feat.

Following their last controversial finish, the Patriots started slowly against the Miami Dolphins, falling behind 14-0 early. The Patriots flexed their resolve in scoring 27 of the game’s final 30 points, catapulting them past their AFC East rival and putting to bed any lingering disappointment from the Jets game.

Falling behind against the Broncos is a recipe for trouble, something the Patriots are well aware of.

So that’s why, as difficult as it may be given the circumstances surrounding Monday night’s defeat, the Patriots have no time to feel bad for themselves.

With Peyton & Co. coming, the Patriots know it’s time to go to work.

Injury report: Gregory the only absence

November, 14, 2013
11/14/13
4:38
PM ET
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots safety Steve Gregory was the only player not to practice Thursday as he continues to recover from a thumb injury sustained in Week 9. It is unclear whether Gregory will be able to play on Monday night when the team travels to Carolina.

Cornerback Aqib Talib led the list of six players who practiced on a limited basis, joined by fellow cornerbacks Alfonzo Dennard (knee) and Kyle Arrington (groin) and tight end Rob Gronkowski, who continues to be limited by a hamstring injury to go with his recovery from offseason back and forearm surgeries.

Talib has not played since Week 6, though he sounded upbeat Thursday in talking to reporters for the first time since the injury, declaring himself "day-to-day."

Wide receiver Danny Amendola was a full participant in practice for the first time since suffering a groin injury in Week 1, as was quarterback Tom Brady (right shoulder).

The Patriots will take the practice field on Friday for their third of four practices this week.

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Rapid Reaction: New England Patriots

November, 3, 2013
11/03/13
7:57
PM ET

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick thoughts from the New England Patriots' 55-31 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers:

What it means: The banged-up Patriots enter their bye with a 7-2 record. For much of the first half of the season, it was the defense that picked up the struggling offense. But the offense found its groove in this game, with quarterback Tom Brady, tight end Rob Gronkowski and receivers Danny Amendola and Aaron Dobson playing starring roles. This was an offensive explosion against the NFL's No. 2-ranked pass defense in terms of yards allowed per game.

Injuries continue to add up: This was a physical game that left a mark. No. 4 receiver Austin Collie left with a knee injury in the second quarter and did not return. ... Starting safety Steve Gregory left with a right thumb/wrist injury in the third quarter and did not return. ... Starting left defensive end/outside linebacker Rob Ninkovich left in the third quarter with a foot injury and did not return. ... Starting cornerback Alfonzo Dennard came off on the final drive and was being looked at by the medical staff and didn't finish. Ninkovich seemed to dodge a bullet as he returned to the sideline and gave a thumbs-up to his teammates. It might have been a case where the Patriots just decided to play it safe by not putting him back in the game.

Ridley is the workhorse: One week after being limited to just 20 snaps, which sparked media-based discussion on why the Patriots aren't playing their best running back more, Stevan Ridley was used as the workhorse and responded with his first 100-yard rushing game of the season. It almost makes one wonder if the coaching staff was out-thinking itself at times in limiting Ridley, who we charted on the field for 51 snaps (including penalties).

Gronkowski impact in full effect: Playing in his third game since returning from five surgeries since November, tight end Gronkowski was immense. He had seven of his nine receptions in the first half and quite simply, the Patriots' offense is a much different unit when he's at full health. He's a true difference-maker.

Any more questions about Brady? His age is showing. He can't throw the deep ball. He's not the same quarterback we've seen in the past. All those storylines that have surrounded Brady can be tossed out the window after a game like this. Same old Brady.

Defense limps to the bye: How many more hits can the defense take? Playing without cornerback Aqib Talib for the third straight game, the unit hung tough, with newly-acquired nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga showing up with a few plays in limited work (he held his ground on a fourth-and-1 stop and nearly had an interception on a batted ball). Losing starting safety Steve Gregory would be a blow as he's been playing well and leading the defensive huddle the past two weeks.

What's next: The Patriots enter a long bye week as they visit the Carolina Panthers on ESPN's "Monday Night Football" on Nov. 18.

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