NFL Nation: Nick Mangold

Miami Dolphins inactives

December, 28, 2014
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- The Miami Dolphins will host the rival New York Jets (3-12) at 1 p.m. ET at Sun Life Stadium.

Here are the Dolphins players you will not see in Sunday's game: Analysis: There are not any major surprises for Miami. Thomas injured his foot and will miss his second straight game, despite practicing throughout the week. This will give backup Jason Fox his second start and another audition before becoming an unrestricted free agent in the offseason. Receiver Percy Harvin and center Nick Mangold are the biggest inactives Sunday for the Jets.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Corey Linsley, like any good NFL rookie, does as he's told.

That was evident Wednesday in the Green Bay Packers' locker room, where he was about to share the story of the apology letter he wrote -- apparently to his fellow offensive linemen -- that quarterback Aaron Rodgers referenced Tuesday on his radio show.

But first, the Packers center had to check with guard T.J.Lang to see if it was OK.

[+] EnlargeCorey Linsley
Brad Barr/USA TODAY SportsPackers center Corey Linsley, No. 63, has earned praise for his play this season from Aaron Rodgers.
A minute later, Linsley returned. The contents of the letter, apparently at Lang's request, would remain classified.

Whatever Linsley apologized for, it probably had nothing to do with his performance this season.

Forget that that he wasn't even supposed to play this season but was thrown into the starting center job in the final week of the preseason after JC Tretter's ankle injury, Linsley has not just performed well for a first-year, fill-in starter. He has done it by any measure, and here's one: the website, which grades every player on every play, has Linsley ranked as the No. 3 center in the NFL behind only Nick Mangold of the New York Jets and Max Unger of the Seattle Seahawks. Between them, they have seven Pro Bowls -- five for Mangold and two for Unger.

"At some point, there needs to be a little bit of campaigning about him for Pro Bowl, I think," Rodgers said on his ESPN Milwaukee radio show. "He's played that good. He doesn't have the name recognition yet. A lot of times, you get voted in a year after you deserve to and maybe a year longer than you deserve to, but Corey's been so solid at center for us. I'm really proud of him. He's been a rock in there. He's had two great guys to play next to, but I think they'd say the same thing; that he's been playing a really high level."

The 23-year-old Linsley doesn't spend his off day listening to Rodgers' radio show, but nonetheless those comments were relayed to him by his girlfriend, Anna, who proudly follows what is being said about him on Twitter, or as Linsley described her: "Retweet, retweet, favorite, retweet."

"It's an honor that he would say that, and I feel very fortunate that he thinks that about me," Linsley said at his locker Wednesday. "But for him, this is his 10th season and for me this is my eighth week, ninth week. I've got a long way to go. I've got seven weeks left and a lot more ball to play. I can't be thinking about that. I do feel very fortunate and very honored that he would say that about me."

Linsley, a fifth-round pick from Ohio State, has handled every situation that has presented itself -- from the opening game at Seattle, where Rodgers yelled him at for prematurely launching a shotgun snap into the quarterback's chest (and no, that wasn't the source of the apology letter) to last week when he didn't know until game day whether his bookend guards Lang and Josh Sitton would be healthy enough to play against the Chicago Bears.

There will be another challenge this week from the Philadelphia Eagles, who run as complex a defensive scheme as the Packers have faced this season.

"I don't want to let any of my teammates down," Linsley said. "That's my biggest thing. That's why I prepare. I don't want to point the finger at myself and say I'm the reason why we lost this game. That's what really drives me."

And apparently, he's also quite the writer.

"Especially of apology letters," Rodgers said.

And then Rodgers added: "That's kind of an inside story. He might want to tell it, but you have to ask him."

He might share it some day, perhaps when he's the veteran on this offensive line -- something that seems inevitable based on the way he's played so far.

Pouncey, Polamalu crack top 100

August, 25, 2014
PITTSBURGH -- Two more Pittsburgh Steelers surfaced on’s list of the top 100 NFL players for both offense and defense.

Center Maurkice Pouncey is No. 42 on offense and strong safety Troy Polamalu is No. 46 on defense.

Polamalu dropped 13 spots from his 2013 ranking after the Steelers slipped to No. 13 in total defense last season, when they had trouble stopping the run and were vulnerable to big plays. Polamalu still made his eighth Pro Bowl in 2013 after finishing third on the Steelers with 85 tackles, forcing a career-high five fumbles and tying for the team lead with two interceptions.

Polamalu, who is entering his 12th season, played every snap last season.

Pouncey, was on the other end of the spectrum in 2013, missing all but eight snaps after tearing several ligaments in his right knee, including his ACL.

The three-time Pro Bowler was hurt when teammate David DeCastro crashed into his lower leg after missing a cut block in the Steelers’ season opener against the visiting Tennessee Titans.

Pouncey has since made a full recovery, and the Steelers signed the fifth-year veteran to a five-year, $44 million contract in June, making him one of the highest paid players at his position.

Pouncey, who moved up 12 spots from his 2013 ranking, is ahead of centers such as Carolina's Ryan Kalil (No. 47) and the the Jets' Nick Mangold (No. 49).

Cromartie, Mangold drafted by Team Rice

January, 23, 2014
In case you missed it (hopefully, you had better things to do), the Pro Bowl "draft" was conducted Wednesday night in Hawaii. As you know, in a desperate effort to maintain a game no one cares about, the NFL changed the format, eliminating AFC vs. NFC and instituting a fantasy-style draft.


Antonio Cromartie and Nick Mangold landed on the same team for Sunday's Pro Bowl in Hawaii -- Team Rice, in case you're wondering. Offensive linemen weren't part of the actual draft, so Mangold was spared a lengthy stay in the green room, which wasn't a room at all. It was an outdoor tent on the grounds of a swanky resort.

As it turned out, Cromartie lasted until the 11th round, four rounds after former teammate Darrelle Revis was picked. At least Cromartie maintained a sense of humor, tweeting, "All I know is 4 Corners have gone n front of me right now. Feels like 06 draft all over again. Dieon (sic) n Jerry Rice r on something lol."


In a far more interesting development Wednesday, former Jets offensive-line coach Dave DeGuglielmo was hired by the New England Patriots to replace Dante Scarnecchia, who is retiring after 30 years with the franchise. DeGuglielmo was fired by the Jets after one season, 2012.

"Guge," as they call him, actually did a decent job as a coach, but his abrasive personality chafed people in the organization. He also created an adversarial relationship with the media; he spoke with reporters only three times, I think.

He made headlines when he professed his belief in embattled right tackle Wayne Hunter, declaring before the season that "until they ship him out of this building or until they shoot me dead in my office, that son-of-a-gun is going to be the starting right tackle."

Hunter was traded before the season. There was no bloodshed in Guge's office.

In training camp, Guge threatened to spit tobacco juice on reporters if they didn't take a step back during a crowded interview session. During the season, he engaged in a combative session with reporters, once again creating a headline. He basically accused the front office of forcing the coaches to play Matt Slauson and Vladimir Ducasse in a platoon at left guard, making it clear he wasn't happy with the arrangement.

DeGuglielmo sat out the 2013 season and was hired a week ago by Maryland, but he bailed when Bill Belichick came calling. Guge is a Boston native, so he probably views it as a dream job.

Memo to reporters in Boston: Check on Hunter's availability and watch your shoes if Guge is chewing tobacco during an interview.

Cromartie scores a trip to Pro Bowl

January, 20, 2014
Cornerback Antonio Cromartie, who admitted last week that he had "one of the worst seasons of my career," is headed to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl. That pretty much says everything about the Pro Bowl and the process of selecting players.

Cromartie, a second alternate, will replaced the injured Aqib Talib of the New England Patriots, it was announced Monday.

The New York Jets will have two players in the game, Cromartie and center Nick Mangold, another injury replacement. It's farcical that defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson, arguably the best player on the team, will be sitting at home.

Cromartie is a likely salary-cap casualty.

Pro Bowl selections: New York Jets

December, 27, 2013
A few takeaways on Friday night's Pro Bowl announcement:

Who's In: No one. No players were selected to the Pro Bowl for the first time in the Rex Ryan era.

1. It's a personnel problem, not a coaching problem: This underscores what we've known all season: The Jets don't have enough talent, and yet Ryan could pay the price with his job. This was a resounding message from the rest of the league. What made this is a real kick in the stomach was that Darrelle Revis -- remember him? -- was selected to the Pro Bowl as a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

2. Mo wuz robbed: Defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson (career-high 10.5 sacks) was the Jets' best candidate and deserved to make it. Six defensive ends were selected: Greg Hardy (Carolina Panthers), Cameron Jordan (New Orleans Saints), Robert Quinn (St. Louis Rams), Cameron Wake (Miami Dolphins), J.J. Watt (Houston Texans) and Mario Williams (Buffalo Bills). Wake and Williams? Wake (8.5 sacks) is having an off year; Williams has 13 sacks, but he's an accumulator, not a truly dominant player. Wilkerson probably was hurt by a late-season dip in his sack production. He was named a first alternate, small consolation.

3. Other alternates: Center Nick Mangold was named a first alternate, and cornerback Antonio Cromartie a second alternate. How Cromartie made alternate status is beyond comprehension. If he gets to play in the game, he should have to pay for his own flight. Kicker Nick Folk got no recognition whatsoever, which is too bad. He's having a career season, but his timing stinks because this has been a great year for kickers. Justin Tucker (Baltimore Ravens) and Nick Prater (Denver Broncos) were deservedly named to the two kicking spots.

4. A look at the AFC East: The New England Patriots and Dolphins placed four players apiece in the Pro Bowl. The Bills had three.

Click here for the complete Pro Bowl roster.

Practice report: Cromartie runs

November, 29, 2013
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- With Dolphins wide receiver Mike Wallace fresh off a 127-yard performance, the health of Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie is in sharp focus.

He didn't practice Wednesday or Thursday with a hip injury, but Cromartie was on the field Friday in a uniform and helmet. He was able to run as he went through positional drills with the defensive backs. He didn't appear too hampered by the recurring hip injury that has bothered him all season.

When team drills began however, Cromartie moved over to the stationary bike.

Jets coach Rex Ryan has said Cromartie's availability for the Miami game could be a game-time decision.

Safety Antonio Allen was missing from the portion of practice that reporters are allowed to watch. Allen has not been on the injury report this week.

Nick Mangold (wrist) was limited both days and appeared to take snaps at center Friday. Caleb Schlauderaff had been doing that earlier in the week. Mangold said Wednesday that he would play and said the wrist injury is just cumulative wear and tear.

Punter Ryan Quigley also spent time on the stationary bike, but to be fair, it was a pretty cold day and the Jets practiced outside. Jeremy Kerley (elbow) was out there with the wide receivers. The wide receiver has been limited all week after missing the last two games.

Injury report: Mangold should play

November, 27, 2013
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- As Thanksgiving Day approaches, Jets fans can give thanks that center Nick Mangold's wrist injury doesn't appear to be serious.

Mangold said his wrist injury was the result of "wear and tear," and that it might take him out of practice but not of a game.

"I think those guys get beat up all the time," Jets coach Rex Ryan said. "I don't know the extent. He was limited today but we expect him to play."

Mangold said going forward he might have a lighter load in practice so that his wrist can get the rest it needs, guaranteeing backup center Caleb Schlauderaff a spot on the team for the rest of another reason.


Did not practice: CB Antonio Cromartie (hip).

Limited: WR Santonio Holmes (foot, hamstring), RB Chris Ivory (ankle), WR Jeremy Kerley (elbow), C Nick Mangold (wrist), LB Garrett McIntyre (knee), TE Kellen Winslow (knee).

Full: G Willie Colon (calf), DT Kenrick Ellis (back), WR Stephen Hill (knee), CB Dee Milliner (wrist), WR Greg Salas (finger), DE Muhammad Wilkerson (wrist).


Out: T Jonathan Martin (illness).

Did not practice: S Chris Clemons (knee, hamstring), CB Dimitri Patterson (groin), RB Daniel Thomas (ankle).

Limited: C Sam Brenner (knee), WR Rishard Matthews (back), CB Jamar Taylor (hamstring).

Full: LB Koa Misi (knee), WR Marlon Moore (hamstring), DT Jared Odrick (knee), RB Marcus Thigpen (wrist), S Jimmy Wilson (abdomen).

Sunday notes: Jets follow Big Blueprint

September, 29, 2013
Week 4 notes on the New York Jets:

1. Green with envy: The Giants won their last two Super Bowls, in large part, because of a franchise quarterback and a dominant defensive line. Clearly, that defensive line is eroding before our eyes. For a change, the best D-line in town belongs to the Jets, whose front three/four is emerging as a premier unit. I'm not saying they'll be playing a home game next February, but it's hard not to be optimistic about the early returns.

[+] EnlargeMuhammad Wilkerson
William Perlman/The Star-Ledger/USA TODAY SportsWith the likes of Muhammad Wilkerson, the Jets have one of the better defensive lines in the NFL.
"They've got one of the best defensive lines in the NFL," said ESPN analyst Damien Woody, a former Jet. "You don't think the Giants would trade for the Jets' defensive line? The Giants would kill for the Jets' defensive line right now."

The Jets' front should be good because they picked a lineman in each of the past three first rounds -- Muhammad Wilkerson (2011), Quinton Coples (2012) and Sheldon Richardson (2013). Because of salary-cap restrictions, it's rare for a team to invest that much into one position group. Finances eventually could cause the break up of the group, so enjoy it while you can. Damon Harrison, undrafted in 2012, is the low-cost guy of the bunch.

You probably won't see another eight-sack performance anytime soon, but the front's ability to generate pressure seems to have affected Rex Ryan's play calling. This season was supposed to mark the return of Blitzing Rex, but check out the numbers: The Jets have used five or more rushers on only 34.9 percent of the pass plays, the league average, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

2. Naming rights: It's premature to bestow a nickname on the defensive line, but Twitter follower @travisppisani raises an interesting quirk: The line is led by the three "sons" -- WilkerSON, HarriSON and RichardSON. I'll take that a step further. How 'bout "My Three Sons" as a potential nickname? I guess Ryan would be Fred MacMurray, right? I haven't figured out how to get Coples in there, but give me time. That linebacker/line hybrid position is a challenge.

3. Premature celebration: Richardson said he's motivated by people who questioned his ability to play the run. He's doing well, and not shy about sharing his feelings.

"I've been playing the run most definitely exceptionally well," he said. "I made sure I'm sound in that because of my knocks coming into the NFL, which I didn't understand."

Based on overall performance, Richardson is the seventh-rated 3-4 end in the league, according to ProFootballFocus. His grade would be higher if he tackled Fred Jackson last Sunday instead of celebration before the whistle -- "a rookie mistake," he said. "Won't happen again." By the way, the man he replaced, Mike Devito (Kansas City Chiefs), is fourth in the ratings.

4. The Buc stops in 2014: Unless rookie QB Mike Glennon is some sort of savior, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-3) appear headed to a top-10 draft pick -- or maybe higher. Naturally, the Jets will be second-guessed for not demanding the Bucs' 2014 first-round pick in the Darrelle Revis trade.

Before the trade, there were reports saying the Bucs were offering the '14 choice, not their '13 first rounder -- and the Jets were balking. It would be a second-guess on my part if I criticized the outcome because I wrote at the time that the smart play would be take the immediate and known quantity -- the Bucs' No.1 this year (13th overall). They did, using it to select Richardson, who looks like the real deal.

Remember, the Jets will get the Bucs' third rounder as part of the deal, meaning they will have at least three picks in the top 70 if the Bucs continue to tank.

5. Bay Watch: A divorce between the Bucs and demoted QB Josh Freeman seems inevitable. Who could've imagined that Mark Sanchez and Freeman -- the second and third-drafted quarterbacks in 2009, respectively -- would be on the outs after five years? They both showed real positive strides in 2010. Of the 11 quarterbacks drafted in '09, only one still has a starting job -- the Detroit Lions' Matthew Stafford, chosen No. 1 overall.

Freeman will be a free agent after the season. Sanchez is signed through 2016, but likely will be traded or released.

6. Nick the Quick: The Jets return to the scene of their 2012 lowpoint -- Nashville, where they committed five turnovers and were eliminated from playoff contention last Week 15 with a 14-10 loss to the Tennessee Titans. I asked C Nick Mangold what he remembered most about that night, and he replied without hesitation: "I short-armed that snap at the end." They had a chance to pull out a victory in the final minute, but Sanchez failed to handle a low, but catchable shotgun snap from Mangold. The Titans recovered.

Mangold has appeared in roughly 7,000 plays in his career and, by his count, he has botched only three snaps -- one in 2006 (Chad Pennington at quarterback), last December in Nashville and last week (a premature snap to Geno Smith).

"You don't forget them," he said. "I know all of them, biblically."

7. Evil twins: The Jets should be wary of Titans CB Jason McCourty. He and his twin brother, New England Patriots S Devin McCourty, have turned into Jets killers over the last two seasons.

In Week 2, Devin recovered a fumble and returned it 44 yards. In two meetings last season, Devin scored on a 104-yard kickoff return and, in the Butt Fumble Game, he forced a fumble on a kickoff return -- and the fumble was returned for a touchdown. Jason upheld the family tradition by recording two interceptions in last December's game in Nashville.

The McCourty brothers grew up in Nyack, N.Y., and both attended Rutgers. Maybe this is some sort of payback after being ignored in the '09 draft by one of their local teams.

8. Perspective, please: The Buffalo Bills are a dangerous team in one respect, and one respect only: The Jets usually play so well against the Bills that it creates a false sense of confidence about the team, internally and externally. It happened early last season, and it could be happening now, coming off last week's win. The same people who predicted a 4-12 season are now talking about playoff possibilities. It's a long season, folks. Relax.

9. Johnny on the spot: One thing I've noticed about GM John Idzik: He likes to be near the action -- or maybe I should say the "competition." It was apparent in training camp, where he was on the practice field, lurking near positional drills. In last Sunday's win, he was on the Jets' sideline in the fourth quarter, behind the bench. In fact, there was a TV shot of him, congratulating Santonio Holmes after his game-winning touchdown. I'd like to say Idzik is a Jerry Jones wannabe, but that wouldn't be accurate. Idzik isn't exactly a spotlight guy.

10. The wild, wild East: Things are moving pretty fast in the AFC East -- literally. The Bills average one play every 29.3 seconds (first in the NFL), followed by the New England Patriots (36.9, seventh), Miami Dolphins (37.2, ninth) and Jets (37.7, 11th), according to ESPN Stats. Who knew?

Finally, Rex, too, shall pass

September, 25, 2013
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Welcome to the modern age of pro football, Rex Ryan. You’re late to the party, but maybe not too late.

The same coach who once preached from the ground-and-pound bible … who insulated his first rookie quarterback in a protective cocoon … who never considered a punt a bad thing …

That guy is gone, as gone as his bravado and prodigious waistline.

Ryan, in his fifth season as the New York Jets coach, has gone from an old-school, defensive-minded coach to a pragmatist who realized it was time to adapt his philosophy to the current trend -- or least that’s the message he’s sent through three games.

Instead of putting Geno Smith in bubble wrap, which is what he did with Mark Sanchez in 2009, Ryan has allowed Marty Mornhinweg to operate an aggressive, pass-oriented attack. Smith is tied with Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers for the NFL lead with nine completions on attempts of more than 20 yards in the air.

[+] EnlargeRex Ryan
Al Pereira/New York Jets via Getty ImagesRex Ryan has changed his offensive approach and gotten behind the arm of Geno Smith.
Ground-and-pound is so Jurassic. The league now is all about the passing craze.

“I give him credit for evolving as a coach,” said ESPN analyst Damien Woody, a member of the ’09 team that rushed a staggering 607 times. “Rex realized you can’t win with 3 yards and a cloud of dust. If you want to win a championship, you have to do it through the air.”

Ryan came to the realization before the Jets drafted Smith and before he hired Mornhinweg to replace Tony Sparano, a one-year bust who had no background in passing offense. As soon as last season ended, Ryan announced his intention to play an aggressive style of offense that would mirror his approach on defense.

Ryan and Mornhinweg are Oscar and Felix in terms of football background, but Ryan -- perhaps out of self-preservation -- seems willing to take a walk on the wild side. Mornhinweg likes to pass. Ryan likes to win. Hence, the marriage.

What we’ve seen so far is a dramatically different approach than in 2009. That season, Sanchez averaged only 24 attempts per game. He exceeded 34 only once. Smith is averaging 34 passes, and we’re not talking about a lot of dinking and dunking, either.

“That’s why they brought me in here, because of my ability to throw the ball downfield and be accurate with it,” Smith said.

There are four reasons Ryan has loosened up:

1. The game has changed. As Woody noted, it’s hard to win these days with a ground-oriented attack. You can’t win consistently by scores of 17-14 and 21-17.

2. Mornhinweg operates a West Coast system, one predicated on short passing, but his DNA includes a gene not inherent in most Bill Walsh disciples: the gunslinger gene. He’s not afraid to throw deep.

3. Smith arrived with a lot more experience than Sanchez, who started only 16 games in college. Smith started 39 games at West Virginia. Clearly, there’s more trust in Smith than there was in Sanchez, whose only requirement was to manage the game.

4. The current Jets don’t have Thomas Jones, Leon Washington and Shonn Greene in the backfield, the way they did in ’09. That team, with a dominant offensive line, was built to bludgeon opponents with the ground game.

Center Nick Mangold, a holdover from ’09, believes the difference lies in the coordinators -- Mornhinweg versus Brian Schottenheimer. There might be some truth to that, but the coordinator takes his marching orders from Ryan.

Mangold likes the new way of doing things.

“You love scoring points,” he said. “It gives you an opportunity at all times to keep your foot on the gas. It’s exciting. It’s fun to be part of.”

This will help Smith in the long run because it will allow him to develop as a passer. This season is all about Smith, finding out if he’s The Guy. They could probably lower the interception total by being more cautious with him, but you can live with the mistakes (most of the time) if he averages 11 yards per attempt, as he did last week, and the defense continues to keep teams out of the end zone.

“I’d rather have Geno’s mistakes than hold him back and not see him develop,” said Woody, who believes the ultra-conservative approach with Sanchez might have stunted his growth.

Not every game will turn out as well as last week's did, but it’s the correct approach. Ryan is backing up what he vowed to do.

Welcome to the 21st century, Coach.

Ferguson fined for fracas in Foxborough

September, 18, 2013
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- As expected, D'Brickashaw Ferguson was fined by the league for his role in last Thursday's melee with the Patriots, the left tackle confirmed Wednesday. Ferguson wouldn't reveal the amount of the fine.

Guard Willie Colon and center Nick Mangold said they hadn't heard from the NFL as of Wednesday afternoon. Colon made contact with referee Carl Cheffers and Mangold was penalized for a late hit on cornerback Aqib Talib, who was returning an interception in the final minute. Mangold's tackle triggered the skirmish. Colon and Ferguson, who threw a punch at cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, were ejected from the game.

Some thought Mangold's tackle was a cheap shot, but Talib told Wednesday that he believes it was a clean hit.

UPDATE: A league source said that Ferguson was fined $15,000 for the fight.

Aqib Talib: Nick Mangold hit not dirty

September, 18, 2013
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib said Wednesday that he didn't have an issue with the low tackle by Jets center Nick Mangold that sparked a melee at the end of Thursday's 13-10 New England win.

"I thought he kind of dove a little early. He started to dive when I was in bounds and I kind of went out of bounds at the end of his dive. I didn't see it as dirty," Talib told ESPN. "I haven't seen it too many times, but I'm good. I ain't worried about it."

When Talib wasn't present for the Patriots' Monday practice, some wondered if perhaps he had sustained an injury on the play. But Talib told ESPN on Wednesday that he was tending to a family emergency.

"I came out of the game healthy," he said.

On the play that sparked the end-of-game melee that ultimately led to ejections for Jets linemen Willie Colon and D'Brickashaw Ferguson, and a 15-yard personal foul penalty for Mangold, Talib had intercepted a pass and returned it along the sideline when Mangold lunged toward his legs.

Talib had slowed a bit, spun around, so Mangold ended up making contact with him from behind around the knees.

That sparked a reaction from Patriots coach Bill Belichick and others as the play happened in front of the team's sideline. Soon enough, there was a scrum between several members of both teams that is currently under review by the league office.
Quick-hit thoughts around the NFL and with the New England Patriots:

1. The composition of the Patriots’ roster is perhaps the most unique we’ve seen in Bill Belichick’s 14 years as coach. The club returned 19 of 22 starters this season, so there is what many would consider the ideal layer of continuity. But as of opening kickoff, the Patriots also had more first- and second-year players (21) than all but two teams in the NFL (the St. Louis Rams and Cleveland Browns). Makes for a different type of mix -- a contending team that from an overall perspective trends younger. The question remains: Is it the right mix?

2. The Patriots are off to a 2-0 start, which has traditionally meant good things for a team’s playoff hopes. Since the playoffs expanded to 12 teams in 1990, 63 percent of teams starting 2-0 have advanced to the postseason. And here’s a key stat for those teams looking to avoid an 0-2 start on Sunday: Just 12 percent of teams that started 0-2 have reached the playoffs. The 2001 Patriots, of course, are one of the clubs that bucked the trend.

3. For all the scrutiny the Patriots’ rookie receivers have been under for the first two games, somewhat overlooked is that top draft pick Jamie Collins has played sparingly on defense (six of 138 snaps, including penalties). When the Patriots drafted Collins 52nd overall out of Southern Mississippi, there was some question as to how he’d fit in the team’s scheme -- pure defensive end/pass-rusher or more of an off-the-line linebacker? The Patriots have worked him mostly at linebacker, and the feeling here is that once he fully starts to grasp the team’s scheme, assuming there are no injuries to other linebackers, we’ll begin to see him integrated into the mix a bit more. In his limited snaps Thursday night against the New York Jets, Collins dropped into coverage or spied quarterback Geno Smith as the Patriots tapped his speed and athleticism. Until he’s a more regular defensive contributor, he will make his biggest contributions by playing on each of the “Big 4” special-teams units.

[+] EnlargeJamie Collins
AP Photo/Bill WippertThe Patriots appear to be working top draft pick Jamie Collins slowly into the defensive mix.
4. I thought last Sunday’s Patriots-Bills season opener revealed one of the flaws behind the Bills’ all-the-time up-tempo approach. At a point when the clock was their ally in the fourth quarter, quarterback EJ Manuel was snapping the ball with more than 20 seconds left on the play clock. The up-tempo offense is catching on across the NFL, and while the Philadelphia Eagles' approach in the first half of their opening victory over the Washington Redskins was electric, I think teams who only play in one gear are going to quickly find out there needs to be some flexibility and level of comfort to downshift when the situation dictates.

5. There is second-guessing and then there is first-guessing. The defection of running back Danny Woodhead from the Patriots to the San Diego Chargers struck me as puzzling when it happened, and those thoughts are revisited in the wake of the Patriots losing running back Shane Vereen for at least eight weeks with a wrist injury. How nice would it be for the Patriots to have Woodhead as an insurance option? Assuming that Woodhead would have accepted a similar deal in New England (contract here), I still don’t understand why he’s still not with the Patriots.

6. Also in the puzzling category: The Patriots going with LeGarrette Blount as their primary kickoff returner when 2012 Pro Bowl returner Leon Washington is on their roster.

7. I didn’t think Jets offensive lineman Nick Mangold took a cheap shot at Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib at the end of Thursday’s game, even though he probably can expect a fine from the NFL. Talib, who never should have returned the interception because it wasn’t a smart situational play (just stay down and the game is over), was sort of tiptoeing along the sideline, and I thought it was a bang-bang play. More so than Mangold, I’m interested to see how hard the NFL comes down on starting Jets right guard Willie Colon, who tossed aside referee Carl Cheffers to get into the scrum. That’s one of the biggest no-nos in the game and earned Colon an ejection and at least a $25,000 fine.

8. Here’s one stat from each of the Patriots’ AFC East rivals that caught the eye this week: Jets left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson has started every game since joining the team as a first-round draft choice in 2006. Impressive durability and dependability and a good pick by then-Jets coach Eric Mangini. … Miami Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake is off to a strong start after notching 2.5 sacks in the opener at Cleveland. Of his 45.5 career sacks, 30.5 have come on the road. Would have thought those numbers would be flipped. … With the Bills losing to the Patriots in Doug Marrone’s coaching debut last Sunday, first-year Bills head coaches are now 0-17 in their opening games (1960-present). The Buffalo News has the forgettable breakdown.

9. When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers visit the Patriots next Sunday, would anyone be surprised if rookie Mike Glennon is the team’s starting quarterback? This was foreshadowed at the Patriots-Buccaneers joint practices in August. After watching Josh Freeman in the regular-season opener against the Jets last Sunday, and hearing coach Greg Schiano on Thursday telling reporters about how Freeman (no longer a captain) overslept and missed a team photo, it seems like it’s more a matter of when than “if” on a torch-passing from Freeman to Glennon. Maybe it happens in the Buccaneers’ home opener Sunday against the Saints.

10a. When the Patriots played the NFC West in the 2008 season, it was a division that many viewed as the worst in football. In fact, when analyzing how the Patriots went 11-5 that season with untested Matt Cassel replacing the injured Tom Brady, many pointed to an easier schedule that included four winnable games against NFC West opponents. Five years later, some might make the case that the NFC West is now the best division in football. For those who have doubts, tune in to Sunday night's San Francisco 49ers-Seattle Seahawks game. On a related note, Seattle might have the best home-field advantage in the NFL; it’s a great, underrated environment for football that is now receiving more attention because of the team’s emergence. But it was like that even before the Pete Carroll/Russell Wilson regime.

10b. My rankings on the best divisions in football: (1) NFC West, (2) NFC East, (3) NFC North, (4) NFC South, (5) AFC North, (6) AFC South, (7) AFC East and (8) AFC West.

10c. Random question: When did the NFC suddenly become so much deeper than the AFC? Seems like yesterday it was the other way around.

NFL to look at Patriots-Jets melee

September, 13, 2013
The NFL will be looking into the melee at the end of Thursday night’s 13-10 Patriots win over the Jets, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

The conflict started after center Nick Mangold dove to tackle cornerback Aqib Talib, who had intercepted Geno Smith with 48 seconds left in the game. Patriots players thought it was a cheap shot, while Mangold and coach Rex Ryan said in was a legal and unintentionally low tackle. Mangold was issued a 15-yard personal foul, and took heat from Patriots coach Bill Belichick on the sideline.

[+] EnlargeNick Mangold and Aqib Talib
Photo by Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty ImagesNick Mangold's hit on Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib following an interception set off a scrum that ended with two Jets players getting ejected.
On Friday, Jets coach Rex Ryan said Belichick should have known Mangold wouldn’t take a cheap shot on another player.

"Look, I've yelled at his players, too," Ryan said on 98.7 ESPN New York. "That's part of it. A lot of that stuff happens. Yelling at my player that he did something intentional, that's not the case. Nick wasn't trying to injure the guy or hit him out of bounds or anything else. That wasn't the case. Mangold isn't that kind of player and Belichick should know better than that. I promise you he does."

The league will also look at the ensuing scrum, in which LT D’Brickashaw Ferguson and RG Willie Colon appeared in replays to throw punches at Patriots players, and Colon was cited for shoving a referee. The two, who were just a small part of the fracas, were ejected. No Patriots players were disciplined and Ryan later complained that, “apparently our team was the only one involved in it.”

Both Colon and Ferguson claimed not to remember exactly what happened in the scrum. Both could be subject to a fine or possibly a suspension from the NFL this week. The league's VP of football operations will evaluate the tape.

In the less-likely event that an offensive lineman is suspended, it could be tricky for the Jets to replace him. Chris Ivory cited solid line play as the reason the Jets had more success running the ball in Week 2, but after the starting five there is a bit of a drop-off in experience. Brian Winters, Will Campbell, Caleb Schlauderaff and rookie Oday Aboushi are the backups.

There haven’t been a lot of incidents like this one in recent Jets history, so the chances that one of them will be harshly disciplined seems more remote. Ryan likes to get his players fired up. He once sent offensive lineman Rob Turner into a training camp practice to tangle with Vernon Gholston as documented by "Hard Knocks" that year, but the waning seconds of the fourth quarter may not offer the same kind of emotional return.

There was no place to take that energy, except the Gillette Stadium visiting locker room after a loss.

W2W4: Five things we'll be focused on

September, 11, 2013
Things turned around fast for the Patriots after their season-opening win over the Bills on Sunday. The coaching staff graded the film on the plane ride home from Western New York in anticipation of fast-forwarding to this week’s opponent, the Jets.

Whenever the Patriots and Jets square off there’s going to be a layer of intrigue. The teams have had no shortage of dramatic moments in the recent past, both during games and in the days leading up to them.

To the surprise of many, the Jets got the job done narrowly at home over the Bucs in Week 1, sparked by a late scramble by quarterback Geno Smith and subsequent personal foul penalty that pushed them into game-winning field goal range.

With a chance to jump out in front of the rest of the division at stake, here are five items we’ll be watching for on Thursday night.

1. Who catches passes? With Danny Amendola (groin) likely to sit out Thursday’s game, the Patriots must go back to the drawing board to find their top receiver. The presumptive top target this week is Julian Edelman, a Week 1 star who has long held the trust of Tom Brady. Behind Edelman, Kenbrell Thompkins will hold down the perimeter targets, with Josh Boyce as a candidate to step into a third receiver role. Fellow rookie Aaron Dobson (hamstring) could be active this week, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if he doesn’t play a major offensive role even if he suits up. He’s still in the development stages. Tight end Zach Sudfeld (hamstring) might be out, catapulting Michael Hoomanawanui into a starting role.

2. Ridley the bell-cow back? After being benched in the second quarter due to a fumble, might running back Stevan Ridley be put right back into his starting role in the backfield? The team needs him with Shane Vereen now on the short-term injured reserve list, and Ridley has bounced back from fumbling woes before. Consider this: In the four games following his fumbles in 2012, Ridley averaged 17.75 carries. In the other 12 games, he averaged 18.25. Don’t be surprised if he takes on a leading role again this week. Veteran Leon Washington, if healthy, could be used to replace Vereen.

Geno Smith
(AP Photo/Bill KostrounThe pressure will be on the Patriots' defensive line to get to Jets rookie quarterback Geno Smith.
3. Pressuring Geno. Sacks don’t always tell the story as it relates to generating pressure on opposing quarterbacks, but Thursday night would be a good time for the Patriots to register their first sack of the season after being shut out against Buffalo. They’ll face another rookie quarterback. One way to knock Geno Smith off of his game is to make him uncomfortable in the pocket. The Patriots' defensive ends and edge players will be under the microscope in this department.

4. Wilfork vs. Mangold. We don’t often dig into individual matchups for our items to watch for, but this one is too good to ignore. When the Patriots play the Jets, it means two of the very best at their craft go head-to-head, as nose tackle Vince Wilfork will often align over Jets center Nick Mangold. Mangold left Week 1 with an elbow issue but later returned and should be good to go on Thursday. The Jets love to run the football, but Mangold will have his hands full in trying to generate movement against Wilfork.


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5. Jets DL in focus. In reviewing the Jets' first game of the season, it was clear that the defensive line is an explosive and disruptive group that won’t make things easy on Brady. Muhammad Wilkerson is a star already, while first-round pick Sheldon Richardson had an active afternoon against both the run and pass, totaling seven tackles and a half sack. Veteran Antwan Barnes adds edge pressure and the Jets' front seven will be a big test even without 2012 first-round pick Quinton Coples. The Patriots' offensive line picked it up down the stretch against Buffalo, but it must be ready again when the Jets take the field. This defense will find ways to manufacture pressure through both schemes and individual rushers.