NFL Nation: Kyle Arrington

Solder misses practice with concussion

December, 11, 2013
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.

Patriots' top CB trio questionable

November, 22, 2013
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

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
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.


Sharing Patriots halftime thoughts

October, 27, 2013
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Sharing a few thoughts at halftime, as the New England Patriots trail the Miami Dolphins, 17-3:

Ugly half of football. This has been one of the Patriots' worst halves of the season. The tone was set by Tom Brady's interception on the team's second offensive play -- an inaccurate delivery to tight end Rob Gronkowski. It was a bad throw by Brady, who might be dealing with discomfort with the middle and ring fingers on his throwing hand.

Where's Ridley? Running back Stevan Ridley, the team's leading rusher in 2012, was limited to six snaps in the first half (not including final kneel-down) as the Patriots went mostly with Brandon Bolden (15 snaps), while mixing in LeGarrette Blount (starter who totaled 5 snaps). A bit of a head-scratcher there.

Cole over Ryan at cornerback. Without top cornerback Aqib Talib, the Patriots started Alfonzo Dennard and Kyle Arrington at the position, with Marquice Cole playing the nickelback role. It was Cole who overran receiver Brandon Gibson on the Dolphins' first touchdown. The Patriots used rookie cornerback Logan Ryan in that role last week, but he hasn't played a defensive snap today, with Cole getting the nod over him.

Dolphins sparked by run. Miami ran the ball 21 times in the first half, and you wonder if the same approach would be taken if the Patriots had Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly at defensive tackle, and Jerod Mayo at linebacker. The Patriots just aren't as sturdy in the front seven and the Dolphins are taking it to them. Credit goes to the Dolphins for executing and winning the critical situations.

Injury report. Starting right tackle Sebastian Vollmer left with a right leg injury and has already been ruled out. Looked like the season-ending type, but that hasn't been confirmed. That thrusts third-year player Marcus Cannon into the statring mix at right tackle, with veteran Will Svitek now the top backup.

Patriots get the ball. The Patriots had won the opening toss and elected to defer, so they will receive the opening kickoff of the second half. The home crowd booed the Patriots as they kneeled on the ball at the end of the second quarter.

Fifth DB trumps third LB for Patriots

October, 4, 2013
One of the areas that will be charted throughout the season is the New England Patriots' defensive breakdown between their sub and base packages. This can highlight player value and take us deeper into the X's and O's of each game.

One of the themes from the first quarter of the season is that the Patriots' fifth defensive back (Kyle Arrington or Alfonzo Dennard) has been more of a "starter" than a third linebacker (Brandon Spikes).

Spikes, who is viewed as more of a run-stuffing linebacker and a potential liability in coverage, has played just 90 of 285 snaps this season.

This particularly showed up last Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons when the Patriots were in either a nickel (five defensive backs) or dime (six defensive backs) package for all but six of their snaps. Spikes played just six snaps in the game.

The reason the Patriots leaned toward the sub defense was because the Falcons most often had three receivers on the field, and the Patriots also viewed their tight ends more as receivers.

That has heavily skewed the numbers for the season:

Sub defense: 209 of 285 snaps
Base defense: 76 of 285 snaps

Spinning it forward, the Bengals mostly run a two-tight end offense with one running back and two receivers.

How the Patriots view tight ends Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert will determine whether they stay in a pure base defense, or if they lean toward a sub package. Losing top run-stuffing defensive tackle Vince Wilfork also will be a factor in the coaching staff's thinking.

Looking closer at cornerbacks

August, 29, 2013
The Patriots' release of Ras-I Dowling on Wednesday opens a spot on the cornerback depth chart. In previous projections, I had Dowling making the team, in part because the salary-cap charge to cut him was greater than the salary-cap charge to keep him.

Dowling projected as a No. 4 or 5 option at the position, with the chance to elevate up the depth chart if he could stay healthy.

If I had to make an educated guess on why the Patriots ultimately cut Dowling, who was one of the club's 10 offseason award winners, it's likely tied to health. Dowling hasn't played this preseason after coming up hobbled in an early training camp practice, and there sometimes comes a point when the team and player just can't get on the same page in terms of when the player is ready to return. Sort of like what we saw with cornerback Leigh Bodden a few years ago.

So now let's look at what's left at the position, with our projected depth chart and a quick-hit thought:

Aqib Talib (6-1, 205) -- Plays on the left side and can be used to sometimes shadow a top receiver as the club's top cover man.

Kyle Arrington (5-10, 190) -- Because of injuries and legal uncertainty surrounding Alfonzo Dennard, he is the clear-cut No. 2 right now; can move inside to the slot in nickel.

Logan Ryan (5-11, 195) -- Third-round draft choice from Rutgers draws some similarities to Arrington -- physical, hard-nosed, smart and plays inside and outside.

Dennard (5-10, 200) -- Played well as the No. 2 option last season, but hasn't been on the field much in training camp, and also has legal issues swirling.

Marquice Cole (5-10, 195) -- Five-year veteran is considered a top locker-room presence; on the field, he's primarily a slot option who can be a factor on special teams. Viewed by some as being on the bubble.

Justin Green (5-11, 195) -- Undrafted free agent from Illinois has practice-squad potential.

Stephon Morris (5-8, 190) -- Undrafted free agent from Penn State was re-signed last week after suffering an injury.

One other factor to consider is that Devin McCourty (5-10, 195) could sometimes factor into the cornerback mix. While he's spent the majority of his time at safety, he has position flexibility.
» NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

A look at whether each AFC East team has been a winner or a loser in free agency.

Buffalo Bills: The Bills have been losers in free agency mostly due to inactivity. Buffalo made just one signing: linebacker Manny Lawson. With a new head coach and new schemes on offense and defense, the Bills need a lot more than one linebacker to be competitive next season. Most importantly, they need to find a quarterback after cutting former starter Ryan Fitzpatrick. Buffalo also lost starting guard Andy Levitre, linebacker Nick Barnett, veteran safety George Wilson and receivers Donald Jones and David Nelson. The team has yet to fill those holes. Interestingly, the Bills were major players in free agency a year ago. They signed defensive end Mario Williams to a $100 million contract and made several other signings. However, Buffalo finished 6-10 in 2012 and decided to take a much quieter approach in 2013.

Miami Dolphins: The Dolphins are big winners in free agency. They landed the best wide receiver on the market (Mike Wallace) and the top linebacker (Dannell Ellerbe). Miami also signed a pass-catching tight end (Dustin Keller) and an additional, athletic linebacker (Philip Wheeler). Miami’s roster looks much stronger and more dynamic than it did heading into the 2012 season, when the team went 7-9. Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland said it was his goal to close the gap with the New England Patriots. Ireland deserves a lot of credit for a solid game plan and executing it well. The Dolphins still have holes to fill at cornerback, left tackle and at pass-rusher. But Miami still has cap room to spend and 11 total draft picks next month. The Dolphins are not finished adding talent.

New England Patriots: The Patriots have had mixed results in free agency. But overall I would just barely put them in the winners' category. I do not like what they've done on offense, where they lost two starting receivers: Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd. The pair accounted for 192 receptions, 2,265 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. That's a lot of lost production that Danny Amendola and Donald Jones -- New England's two free-agent signings at receiver – will not be able to match. The Patriots also haven't re-signed starting right tackle Sebastian Vollmer, who remains a free agent. New England must patch these two holes offensively. On the other hand, I like what New England has done defensively. The Patriots solidified their secondary by signing former Pro Bowl safety Adrian Wilson and re-signing No. 1 cornerback Aqib Talib. They also re-signed backup corners Kyle Arrington and Marquice Cole and added exciting kick returner Leon Washington on special teams.

New York Jets: The Jets are huge losers so far in free agency. They lost talented players much faster than they can replace them. Former New York starters Shonn Greene, Keller, LaRon Landry, Yeremiah Bell, Sione Pouha, Bart Scott and Calvin Pace were either recently released or signed with other teams. The Jets are hamstrung by a tight salary cap. Therefore, first-year Jets general manager John Idzik has been forced to bargain shop. New York made several low-cost signings, such as tailback Mike Goodson and guard Willie Colon. But overall, the Jets have more holes than they can fill in one offseason.
The New England Patriots made their second free-agent signing Friday. According to the Boston Herald, the Patriots re-signed cornerback Kyle Arrington to a four-year contract.

It’s a somewhat surprising move considering how much Arrington struggled last season. New England was 29th against the pass and Arrington eventually lost his starting job. He was moved to the slot and recorded 62 tackles and zero interceptions.

Arrington was a playmaker two years ago when he recorded a team-high seven interceptions. Perhaps New England feels it can get closer to that level of production from Arrington in future seasons. In addition to Arrington, New England also signed former Buffalo Bills receiver Donald Jones on Friday.

Aqib Talib is the major, in-house cornerback for the Patriots. Due to character concerns, the market hasn't been very busy for Talib thus far. The Patriots would like to keep Talib with a short-term contract, but that will be determined by the market.
The New England Patriots could be without one starting cornerback next season. Alfonzo Dennard was found guilty this week on three charges in Nebraska, including felony assault of a police officer, and faces a maximum of six years in jail. At the very least, the NFL could issue Dennard a suspension.

Can the defending AFC East champs afford to lose another starting corner -- Aqib Talib -- to free agency?

Talib's value to the Patriots most likely went up this week. New England was already interested in re-signing the talented, but troubled, corner. Now the position is reaching crisis levels.

New England’s No. 1 corner (Talib) is an unrestricted free agent. The Patriots’ No. 2 corner (Dennard) could be facing jail time or a suspension to start next season. New England’s No. 3 and nickel corner (Kyle Arrington) also is a free agent and not expected to return. This was already a defense ranked No. 29 against the pass.

Look for New England to aggressively fill these secondary positions in free agency. The Patriots don’t have many holes, but cornerback certainly is at the top of the list.

Previewing Patriots' top free agents

January, 21, 2013
Pro Bowl receiver Wes Welker obviously is the biggest name. But that's not the only key player the reigning AFC East champion New England Patriots could lose in free agency.

Here is an early look at New England's top players who are scheduled to hit the open market this offseason:

[+] EnlargeAqib Talib
AP Photo/Kevin TerrellAqib Talib came to the Patriots with a lot of baggage, but he was their best cornerback when healthy.
Aqib Talib, cornerback

2012 stats: 19 tackles, one interception, one touchdown

Analysis: Talib will be a very interesting case for the Patriots. He was a good midseason addition to New England's defense. The Patriots acquired Talib in a trade with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who wanted to get rid of the often-troubled corner. But Talib was a model citizen for several months in New England, and the Patriots must decide if that is enough to warrant offering him a long-term contract. On the field, Talib was easily New England's best cornerback. It was obvious when the Patriots’ pass coverage fell apart following Talib’s first-quarter injury in Sunday’s playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens. The Patriots need Talib or another corner of his caliber in the secondary, or it could be another long year for the pass defense.

Sebastian Vollmer, right tackle

2012 stats: 15 starts

Analysis: Vollmer is one of the most underrated players in the NFL. He is extremely steady and does an excellent job protecting the front side for Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. Vollmer also is tough and plays through pain. I think he’s the best right tackle in the AFC East. Vollmer has been a bargain find for the Patriots and he deservedly will look to get a sizable raise this offseason. New England must consider his injury history before committing to him with a long-term contract.

Julian Edelman, wide receiver

2012 stats: 21 receptions, 235 yards, three touchdowns

Analysis: The Patriots could have an interesting cat-and-mouse game in free agency with Edelman and Welker. These are New England’s best slot receivers, and the Patriots need to bring one back in the fold. However, the team may use one player against the other in order to get the best value in free agency. Most likely, the Patriots will re-sign Edelman because he is younger and much cheaper. Edelman split time with Welker in the slot this year and did pretty well. Edelman also is great on special teams. Welker had 112 receptions last year and made $9.5 million. His asking price could be too much for the Patriots.

Patrick Chung, safety

2012 stats: 44 tackles, two interceptions

Analysis: Chung was a disappointment this season. He continued dealing with injuries and was not consistent in pass coverage. The Patriots kept waiting for Chung to stay healthy and turn the corner, but he never developed into the playmaking safety they envisioned. In a contract year, Chung slid down the depth chart behind converted corner Devin McCourty and veteran Steve Gregory. It’s probably best for Chung and the Patriots to part ways.

Danny Woodhead, running back

2012 stats: 301 rushing yards, four touchdowns

Analysis: Woodhead is the type of player the Patriots like. He’s dependable and won’t make many mistakes. Woodhead has proved to be a valuable backup behind tailbacks Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen. Woodhead also will come relatively cheap. So I wouldn’t be surprised if the Patriots bring him back with a team-friendly contract.

Kyle Arrington, cornerback

2012 stats: 74 tackles

Analysis: Arrington may have played his last game as a Patriot. He has good hands, as evidenced by his seven interceptions in 2011. But Arrington struggles mightily in man-to-man coverage. Often, Arrington was a liability this season that the Patriots tried to hide. New England played a lot of zone before the Talib trade and moved Arrington to the slot after the trade. Arrington also failed to step up when Talib was injured in Sunday’s AFC title game. The Patriots need better cover corners.

Deion Branch, wide receiver

2012 stats: 16 receptions, 145 yards

Analysis: Branch is at the point of his career where he won’t be a priority for the Patriots, but he’s usually on the waiting list. I don’t expect New England to re-sign Branch early in the offseason. He may get a job somewhere else. But the Patriots would only bring him back next season if they need his leadership. Branch doesn't bring much value in terms of production at this stage in his career. New England needs to find youth and athleticism at receiver.

Reviewing the Patriots' blame game

January, 21, 2013
The key third-quarter drop by Pro Bowl receiver Wes Welker certainly wasn’t the only reason the New England Patriots lost in the AFC Championship Game to the Baltimore Ravens. There was plenty of blame to go around.

Here are several key plays and players that crushed New England’s hopes to advance to Super Bowl XLVII:
  • The pass coverage was horrendous once Aqib Talib went out with a thigh injury in the first quarter. Backup cornerback Kyle Arrington and rookie seventh-round pick Alfonzo Dennard struggled against Baltimore’s tandem of Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith. Boldin had two touchdown receptions and made several big catches in traffic in which he won the one-on-one battles. New England’s linebackers also failed to cover over the middle. Patriots linebacker Brandon Spikes, in particular, had trouble keeping up with Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta, who had five receptions for 55 yards and a touchdown.
  • Patriots quarterback Tom Brady played one of his worst games of the season. Brady, who has struggled against Baltimore in his career, was 29-of-54 for 320 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. The Ravens did a masterful job against Brady by not allowing many big plays. His longest completion was for 36 yards, but that was in garbage time in the fourth quarter. Baltimore also didn’t get any sacks but hit Brady seven times, which was enough to rattle him. One interception was off a deflection, and another was in the end zone to Ravens cornerback Cary Williams.
  • Speaking of Brady, his rare poor clock management at the end of the first half was inexcusable. New England was leading by a field goal and had a chance to go up by 10 points with a touchdown at the end of the second quarter. Brady connected with Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez for 17 yards to get to Baltimore’s 10-yard line with 26 seconds left. Brady only got one play off in 26 seconds, which was a quarterback sneak, before using New England’s final timeout. The Patriots settled for a field goal to go up 13-7 at halftime. But a touchdown to go up 17-7 at the half could have dramatically changed the momentum of the game for New England.
  • Patriots starting tailback Stevan Ridley’s fumbling issues came up again in a big spot. Ridley was knocked out of the game with a concussion during a fourth-quarter fumble that sealed any hopes of the Patriots coming back in the game. Ravens safety Bernard Pollard delivered a crushing blow to Ridley, who walked off the field under his own power.

Baltimore outplayed New England in just about every facet of this game. This is further proof that you always have to be at your best in the playoffs.

Final Word: AFC East

November, 9, 2012
» NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Here are five nuggets of knowledge for Week 10:

Spiller Time: If the Buffalo Bills have any chance of pulling off a monumental upset of the New England Patriots, the Bills must get C.J. Spiller involved. Spiller is Buffalo’s most dynamic player, but doesn’t get enough touches. He leads the NFL with 7.2 yards per attempt, but only had six carries in last week’s loss to the Houston Texans. Spiller is a threat to take it to the house every time he touches the football. New England’s defense must account for him.

[+] EnlargeWes Welker
AP Photo/Jon FerreySeveral injured Patriots, including Wes Welker, were helped by the bye week.
Healthy returns: The bye week helped the Patriots with several injuries. Receiver Wes Welker (ankle) and cornerback Kyle Arrington (head) were injured in a win against the St. Louis Rams. Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins (hip) and tight end Aaron Hernandez (ankle) didn’t play in the game. The time off should help the Patriots get back most of these key players Sunday against Buffalo.

New and improved Tebow: The New York Jets said that during the bye week they would figure out how to get backup quarterback Tim Tebow more involved in the offense. New York (3-5) plans to unleash more Tebow in a tough road game against the Seattle Seahawks. Tebow has been mostly a dud in the first eight games. He hasn’t done much on offense, but successfully converted on several fake punts on special teams. On Sunday we will see what the Jets came up with.

Rookie vs. Rex: Jets head coach Rex Ryan is a longtime defensive coordinator who has made a habit of battering rookie quarterbacks. Look no further than Miami Dolphins rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who lost his first meeting against the Jets and was knocked out of the second game in the first quarter. Ryan’s defense gets another rookie this weekend in Seattle’s Russell Wilson. Expect plenty of blitzes and exotic looks to confuse and get in the face of Wilson, who has won five games this season. The Jets’ best chance to pull the upset is to stop the run and bring the kitchen sink at Wilson to see if he can beat New York with his arm.

Quick turnaround: The Dolphins (4-4) have an important two-game stretch that could determine their season. Miami hosts the Tennessee Titans on Sunday and travels to play Buffalo on Thursday. The Dolphins have a chance to take two winnable games in five days. The Dolphins could quickly be 6-4 if they take care of business. Miami also could be 4-6 if it loses focus.
Jake LockerAP Photo/Wade PayneJake Locker and the Titans made too many mistakes to keep up with the defending AFC champs.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- One of the things that made critics wary of the five-year, $35 million contract Michael Griffin signed in the offseason was the safety’s propensity for missed tackles.

We saw a picture perfect “Griff whiff” with 7:17 left on the clock in the second quarter at LP Field on Sunday, when New England Patriots running back Stevan Ridley took a carry wide right. He ran through what seemed to be a meager effort from Griffin, who had arrived relatively quickly, and Ridley ripped off 15 yards.

It was symbolic of a defensive struggle Tennessee simply couldn’t afford in a first start for quarterback Jake Locker. As New England racked up 390 net yards and benefitted from big Locker gaffes, the Titans saw just how much distance lies between them and the defending AFC champs in a 34-13 loss.

“This was our first real, live test,” cornerback Alterraun Verner said. “And obviously we failed.”

One of the things that moved the Titans to sign Griffin, whom they had designated their franchise player, to the long-term deal was a transformation in his attitude. Rather than moping about being kept from free agency, he showed new resolve, dedication and accountability.

Although the Titans are doing him a disservice playing him close to the line of scrimmage as the strong safety instead of as a roaming free safety, a player deemed worthy of that kind of deal simply has to do more than wave at people or get run over. (He offered no comment when asked about being asked to play in the box.)

He spoke very softly after the game, but showed more accountability regarding his tackling troubles and performance than he has on poor Sundays in the past.

“Ain’t nobody got to tell me right now, I know I played a terrible game,” he said.

“I know I was missing tackles. I’m on myself right now about missing tackles and what not. That was one of the things that I preached and preached and preached going into the season. Got to get better, try to get bigger. I gained like five, six pounds to try to be stronger in the run game. I guess I just need to work on my tackling. My focus right now is just to try to get better at tackling.”

He’s clearly got the physical qualities needed to bring ball carriers down and he often shows the football sense to be in the right place.

So why the struggles?

“It’s trying to get there,” he said. “Coach tells me all the time, a lot of times I get there and I try to shoot my gun rather than trying to make a sure tackle. It’s just my nature. When you shoot your guns sometimes you’re going to miss tackles like that. In the NFL, we don’t tackle during the week. I’ll see if I can talk to the coaches about trying to work on, trying to make open-field tackles and things like that.”

He also looked to be responsible and at fault on a handful of big pass plays involving Brandon Lloyd and tight end Aaron Hernandez.

But Griffin was hardly the lone offender for the Titans when it came to a failure to make plays.

The pass rush got one big sack from Kamerion Wimbley, but otherwise hardly bothered Tom Brady as he completed 74 percent of his throws en route to a 117.1 passer rating.

And Ridley had a great day, seemingly surprising the Titans with the sort of decisive and determined running they don’t see from their own back, Chris Johnson, anymore. Ridley had 21 carries for 125 yards and scored a touchdown while Johnson had 11 carries for 4 yards.

“They ran the ball better than they should have been able to,” Titans coach Mike Munchak said.

Meanwhile, Locker made a couple of poor choices just the way you imagine he might against a Bill Belichick-coached defense.

From near midfield at the start of the second quarter, he threw a wobbly ball for Nate Washington with two defenders nearby. Corner Kyle Arrington tipped it and safety Tavon Wilson picked it off.

It stopped an offense that had moved the ball reasonably well to that point, but the mistake didn’t lead to any points for the Patriots.

The next one was a crusher.

Rookie defensive end Chandler Jones slapped the ball out of Locker’s hand near the Titans’ goal line, and rookie linebacker Dont’a Hightower scooped it up and took it 6 yards for a touchdown that put the Patriots up 14-3.

The Titans were never closer than 11 points again.

“The first one was a bad decision,” Locker said. “They were just in a soft coverage. I shouldn’t have thrown it. The fumble, I have to take better care of the ball in the pocket.”

Locker was knocked out of the game early in the fourth quarter as he tackled safety Patrick Chung and hurt his left, non-throwing shoulder.

He and his coach lamented missed opportunities.

“They didn’t make many mistakes,” Munchak said. “They didn’t turn the ball over, they didn’t do some of the things we did, have crucial penalties that hurt them like we did. That’s what the separation is. It's us consistently getting better and making plays and not helping the other team. And that’s kind of where the gap is right now.”

Rapid reaction: Bucs 30, Pats 28

August, 24, 2012
TAMPA -- Rapid reaction from the Patriots’ 30-28 loss to the Buccaneers in preseason action:

PatriotsBucsUgly night for Patriots. This was somewhat similar to last season’s third preseason game at Detroit in which the Patriots were pushed around and quarterback Tom Brady took too many hits. The Buccaneers were aggressive on defense and had success disrupting the rhythm of the passing game by getting to Brady early and building a 20-7 halftime lead. The overall pass protection -- from the line, to tight end, to running backs -- was shaky. Some might also say Brady didn’t always help his cause by holding on to the ball too long on some plays. The Patriots got behind early -- the defense was shredded on the opening drive -- and were playing catch-up the rest of the night. Bill Belichick will likely say that the team has a lot to work on after this one. He’d be speaking the truth.

Brady plays into late third quarter. Brady’s final play came with 54 seconds remaining in the third quarter and was a 16-yard touchdown pass to tight end Rob Gronkowski. This highlighted Bill Belichick’s approach of playing Brady and the top guns into the second half in this “dress rehearsal” for the regular season. It was hot and humid here in Tampa, so while the results weren’t necessarily desired, one positive was that the Patriots’ conditioning was tested.

Three injuries of note -- Vereen, Larsen, Arrington. Second-year running back Shane Vereen and fifth-year fullback Spencer Larsen limped off in the first half and did not return. That left the offensive backfield a bit thin. Vereen had been making a charge for some more playing time, and in his absence, Stevan Ridley was one of the bright spots for the Patriots and looks like he’s positioned to be the opening-day starter and lead option. Meanwhile, cornerback Kyle Arrington was replaced by Ras-I Dowling for the final two series of the second quarter and was having his back examined by the athletic training staff on the sideline. All three players did not return.

Writing on the wall for Stallworth? With Wes Welker not dressing for the game, the Patriots didn’t turn to Donte' Stallworth -- who played extensively on Monday night -- until late in the fourth quarter (he had a few late catches). Julian Edelman received a lot of playing time at receiver but had a quiet night on the stat sheet (no catches). That could be bad news for Stallworth in his hopes for a roster spot.

Defense -- up and down night. Outside of a 19-yard Doug Martin run, the Patriots played solid run defense. That was one of the positive aspects of the defensive performance, as it’s live work they can’t often get in practice. The secondary had some early struggles, but with rookie safeties Tavon Wilson and Nate Ebner seeing significant playing time, there weren’t major issues on the back end outside of the first drive. Some valuable experience gained there.

Demps -- up and down debut. Olympic silver medalist Jeff Demps didn't play until midway through the third quarter and had an up-and-down debut, with two kickoff returns that didn’t produce big results and a penalty for simulating the snap count. But his explosiveness was on display late in the fourth quarter with a 29-yard run that showcased his blazing speed. He’s one of those players: When the ball is in his hands, you don’t want to miss it. Exciting.

Reminder -- it’s just the preseason. It wasn’t an inspiring performance from the Patriots, but as we’ve seen before, beware of reading too much into preseason results. The Buccaneers took it to the Patriots, just as the Lions did last year in the third preseason game. The Patriots’ 2011 season turned out to be pretty successful.