NFL Nation: Tommy Kelly

OAKLAND, Calif. -- When Arizona Cardinals left tackle Jared Veldheer woke up Sunday morning, he knew his return to the O.co Coliseum wouldn’t be just another game.

“It was kind of nostalgic -- more than I thought would even hit me being back,” the former Raiders third-round draft pick said. “Coming out pregame and running around back on the field, being back in the Coliseum and all the familiar things coming back from the last four years, it’s a lot of emotion.

“I knew it was going to be a special game.”

Leaving Oakland with a 24-13 win made it even more special.

Veldheer was one of three former Raiders on the field for Arizona. A lot was made last week about quarterback Carson Palmer’s return, but defensive tackle Tommy Kelly played the first nine years of his career with the Raiders.

He said he wanted to get a win for Palmer, who played half of 2011 and all of 2012 with Oakland before a trade landed him in Arizona, but Kelly wanted the win for himself.

“As a football player, I learned a lot,” he said. “I have a lot of love for this city and I wish the team nothing but the best. But on the football field, it’s not anything personal. It’s business. We just wanted to go out there, execute and win.”

While Kelly didn’t talk to any of his former Raiders teammates on the field -- “They kind of leave me alone. They know how I am,” he said -- he discussed playing a former team with his new head coach, Bruce Arians.

“You can see the smiles on their faces all week and [the] energy they brought to practice and meetings,” Arians said. “It was special for them, especially Tommy Kelly.”

Palmer and Kelly left the Raiders in 2013, and Veldheer in 2014. Veldheer, who was drafted by Oakland in 2010, returned with a chip on his shoulder because of how his departure went down.

“It was a big win for both of us,” Veldheer said.

“It meant a ton,” he added.

Palmer, who completed 70.9 percent of his passes for 253 yards, two touchdowns and his first interception of the season, downplayed having a chip on his shoulder. He did, however, make sure to get a box of favorite sandwiches delivered to the locker room after the game. He also talked about seeing his former Oakland teammates still on the roster.

“It was a great environment to play in,” Palmer said. “This place is awesome. It was great to play [here] when you’re wearing silver and black and it’s a fun place to play as an opponent. Great to get a win.”

One has been a league power broker, one wants to be.

And when the Denver Broncos and Arizona Cardinals get together Sunday afternoon in Sports Authority Field at Mile High, the Broncos (2-1) will try to knock some of the rough edges off while the Cardinals (3-0), one of just two teams to arrive to Week 5 undefeated, will try to show they are ready to be at the front of the line.

Cardinals reporter Josh Weinfuss and Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold take a look at the game.

Legwold: At 3-0, how do the Cardinals see themselves? Upstart in NFC? Or team that believes it should have made the playoffs last year and is ready to take the next step to be in this postseason mix this time around?

Weinfuss: If there's one thing the Cardinals don't see themselves as, it's an upstart team. That much was instilled in them by Bruce Arians last season. Especially after upsetting Seattle at home last December, this team believed it should've been in the playoffs. And with how they played in the second half of the season, it's hard to argue with them. But the Cardinals who returned this year learned a lot from last season's first half, most notably how important it is to win those early games. What they're doing now isn't a surprise to those who pay attention to this team, and a lot of it is a direct result of Arians' demeanor. His straight-shooting personality -- curse 'em out on the field but hug 'em off of it -- has rubbed off on everyone in the locker room. It has led to this team to believe it could win for the first time since Kurt Warner was here.

Speaking of learning from last year, what was the main thing the Broncos took away from last season's loss in the Super Bowl, and how have they used it in 2014?

Legwold: The main thing GM John Elway took away was he wanted far better personnel on defense and some more receivers who could battle their way through physical play from defensive backs. The result was an offseason spending spree that reeled in DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward on defense to go with wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders. The Broncos also used a first-round pick in the draft on cornerback Bradley Roby and a second-rounder on wide receiver Cody Latimer. So, the 35-point loss certainly forced a roster makeover and for the holdovers it did provide plenty of incentive as they went through the offseason workouts. There is a feeling, after the overtime loss to the Baltimore Ravens in the divisional round of the 2012 playoffs followed by the Super Bowl blowout, of trying to finally close the deal this time around.

In terms of roster makeover, with all that has happened to the Cardinals' defense with the injuries, etc., how have they pushed themselves into the league's top five?

Weinfuss: Nobody expected Arizona to be among the league's top five defenses this year after losing the likes of Karlos Dansby and Daryl Washington before the season and then Darnell Dockett during training camp and John Abraham in the first few weeks of the year. But credit must be given to the Cardinals' front office. The brain trust has done a good job of finding veterans who still have gas in the tank, such as linebacker Larry Foote and defensive lineman Tommy Kelly. But the biggest reason for the defense's success is defensive coordinator Todd Bowles. His single-gap scheme revitalized this defense last year and all he has been doing is adding wrinkles here and there to adjust to his personnel. For example, Arizona is running a lot of nickel and dime packages because it gets rookie safety Deone Bucannon on the field. For as good of an offensive mind as Arians is, Bowles is his equal on the defensive side.

Have the additions to the Broncos' defense been paying off? Or is it too early to see a difference? Do you think they'll be the difference between another ring and a consolation prize?

Legwold: The new arrivals have all had impact in the season's early going. Ware leads the team in sacks (2.5), Talib has been every bit the No. 1 corner they hoped he would be and Ward is one of two players on defense who have played every snap in the first three games, having been used in a variety of roles. The Broncos have seen enough from Roby. They've tossed him into the deep end of the pool as the rookie and he has matched up with some of the league's front-line receivers. All of that said, however, the Broncos still haven't consistently shown the kind of play they'll need to hoist a trophy, particularly on third down. As linebacker Von Miller and cornerback Chris Harris Jr., who both had ACL injuries last season, continue to work back to full speed, the Broncos should continue to improve. Also, linebacker Danny Trevathan, who was the team's leading tackler last season and who suffered a fracture on the top of his tibia in training camp, will play in his first game of the season Sunday. It will mean the Cardinals will be the first team to face the revamped defense with all of the starters in place.

Sticking to defense, Manning heads into this game with 499 career touchdown passes. Between the two of them, Cardinals' assistant head coach/offense Tom Moore and head coach Bruce Arians have seen many of those up close as former Colts assistants. To that end, with that kind of up-close-and-personal knowledge, how do you think the Cardinals will defend Manning and the Broncos' offense?

Weinfuss: One thing the defense has stayed consistent on this week is that they don't want to tip their hand to Manning before the snap. With that being said, I think they'll blitz him constantly -- all three of his sacks this season have come off the blitz, which, I can imagine, was good news to Bowles. But they won't blitz Manning like they'll blitz other quarterbacks because he's so good at adapting so quickly. Arizona plans on giving Manning the same look every snap. But guys who have played Manning know he'll wait until the very last second to make a decision because the defense will have to show their blitz by then, but the Cardinals will try to hold their disguise as long as possible.

With Manning coming up on such a historic mark, has it been a distraction for this team in the sense of more non-football attention has descended upon them? Are they ready for Manning to pass Brett Favre so they can just get back to focusing on football?

Legwold: One thing about this team is the swirl around them doesn't get to them very often. Last season they had Miller's suspension in training camp, John Fox's open-heart surgery during the bye week and five defensive starters on injured reserve by the time they were preparing to play in the Super Bowl. The Super Bowl loss may have been the first, and worst, time for the Broncos not to play to the level of a game's standing last season. Before the title-game blowout, they had handled everything that had come their way without losing their edge. This time around players here simply assume Manning will hit 500 and then go on and break the record through the natural course of things. The record is nice, but they want another shot at the title and, for the most part, they see whatever happens along the way as issues that must be dealt with to get that chance.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- It’s easy to laugh now at the film of Tommy Kelly's blocked field goal.

At the time, however, the Arizona Cardinals weren’t aware of the situation they had just avoided by having nine men on the field for a fourth-quarter field goal attempt by San Francisco kicker Phil Dawson.

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“When they showed us in the special-teams meeting, I was like, ‘Damn,’” Kelly said. “They could’ve just raised up and ran the ball over there where Pat (Peterson) was at. So, we got lucky. It was our day.”

The Cardinals got away with one.

It would’ve been almost too easy for Niners holder Andy Lee to take the snap and just run left with it. The Cardinals had lined up six of their nine players either in line with or to the right of San Francisco long snapper Kyle Nelson. But the Niners had overloaded the left side of the line, sending five blockers to the left of Nelson, who ended up being responsible for three Cardinals.

“We could’ve done nothing about it,” Kelly said.

“They would’ve trampled Pat P., that’s all that would’ve happened.”

It was Arizona’s 17th blocked field goal since 2008, which leads the NFL.

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians wasn’t surprised the Niners didn’t run a fake field goal down 20-14 on fourth-and-17 with 13:40 left in the game -- even though they had the manpower to bulldoze their way for a first down.

“Those points are too critical, especially at that point,” Arians said. “That was going to get it back to a three-point game. We did have our corners out there, but our outside 'backers came off the field.”

Rookie Kareem Martin said he was one of the 'backers Arians was talking about.

It was either impressive or lucky that Kelly was able to get his hand on Dawson’s kick with just nine players on the field. Dan Williams, who was on the field, said he didn’t know the Cardinals were short-handed but said the momentum swing carried Arizona through the rest of its 23-14 win.

Next time, however, the Cardinals will stick to blocking kicks with everyone on the field.

“We’re going to try that with 11 guys next time instead of just nine,” Arians quipped. “We had the right guys in the right spots, we just didn’t have anybody on the outside of it.”
Veteran defensive tackle Kevin Williams told ESPN.com NFL Nation Vikings reporter Ben Goessling that he took a little less money to sign with the Seattle Seahawks than the New England Patriots. With the specifics of Williams' contract now known, there is some added context on how far the Patriots were willing to extend financially.

Williams
Via colleague Field Yates, Williams' deal breaks down this way:

Term/total value: One year, $2.1 million
Signing bonus: $250,000
Base salary: $1.5 million ($250,000 guaranteed)
Incentives: Up to $350,000 in per-game roster bonuses

With Williams electing to sign in Seattle, here is a snapshot look at the Patriots' defensive tackle depth chart, with a quick-hit thought on each player:

Vince Wilfork (6-2, 325): Captain and 11-year veteran is making progress in his return from a ruptured Achilles last September. Looks to be moving well.

Tommy Kelly (6-6, 310): Another 11-year veteran, he took another step in his return from a torn ACL by participating in 11-on-11 drills Tuesday.

Dominique Easley (6-2, 288): First-round draft choice is coming off two torn ACLs over the past 22 months, suffered in college, and has yet to take the field this spring.

Chris Jones (6-1, 309) Second-year player was claimed on waivers last year and led all Patriots defensive tackles in snaps played in 2013. Best when penetrating.

Sealver Siliga (6-2, 325): After a slow start to his career, the run-stuffer looks like he has built some momentum as a developmental prospect behind Wilfork.

Armond Armstead (6-5, 305): The former Southern Cal and Canadian Football League standout has been sidelined for most of spring camps after missing all of last season with an infection.

Joe Vellano (6-2, 300): Hard-working second-year player from Maryland is a lunch pail type of guy who plays with top effort.

Marcus Forston (6-3, 305): Second-year player has spent multiple seasons on the practice squad and has filled in when injuries hit.

L.T. Tuipulotu (6-1, 305): Undrafted free agent from Utah is on the developmental track.

Seali'i Epenesa (6-1, 310): Undrafted free agent from UCLA was signed on Tuesday.

New England Patriots season wrap-up

January, 22, 2014
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Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final power ranking: 4
Preseason power ranking: 6

Biggest surprise: How about a murder charge to a tight end who had previously been thought of as a centerpiece of the team? Aaron Hernandez's murder charge threatened to sink the Patriots' season before it even started, but in a credit to Bill Belichick, his staff and the players, it was hardly a distraction as they once again advanced to the AFC Championship Game. There were no on-field surprises that could come close to topping that.

.Biggest disappointment: Rob Gronkowski's knee injury Dec. 8. This falls into the wider-ranging category of “season-ending injuries to top players” and the Patriots had their fair share early in the season -- defensive tackles Vince Wilfork (Sept. 29) and Tommy Kelly (Oct. 6), linebacker Jerod Mayo (Oct. 13), and starting right tackle Sebastian Vollmer (Oct. 27). But Gronkowski’s felt like a season-changer in some respects, deflating some of the optimism that had been built up at that point because the offense looked markedly different with him back on the field.

Biggest need: Re-signing cornerback Aqib Talib. The four-game stretch of football he played from Sept. 22 to Oct. 13 was as impressive as we’ve seen from a Patriots cornerback in recent memory, the highlight coming when he was matched up against Saints tight end Jimmy Graham and held him without a catch before leaving in the third quarter with injury. The 2013 season showed how the Patriots’ defense is different with a healthy No. 1 matchup option like Talib, with the final piece of evidence coming in the AFC Championship Game when he left with a knee injury in the second quarter.

Team MVP: It has to be quarterback Tom Brady, with Talib, receiver Julian Edelman and kicker Stephen Gostkowski the other strong candidates. This was a “do more with less” type season for Brady, similar to 2006, and he willed the offense to productive results despite almost a complete overhaul. He’s the consummate leader, almost like another coach, and the Patriots don’t advance to the conference championship without him.

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Double Coverage: Patriots at Texans

November, 29, 2013
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Andre Johnson and Chandler JonesUSA Today SportsAndre Johnson, left, and the Texans hope to surprise Chandler Jones and the Patriots.
HOUSTON -- The last time the Houston Texans faced the New England Patriots during the regular season, Houston was 11-1 and the hottest team in the league. To celebrate their youthful camaraderie, they ordered letterman jackets, the kind high school teams wear, and the jackets happened to come in right before the Patriots game.

That game marked a turning point for the Texans.

The timing of the jackets had nothing to do with the opponent; former Texans Connor Barwin and Shaun Cody were simply trying to create a tradition. That they lost so badly just after unveiling them turned the jackets into a punch line.

The Patriots won 42-14, and the Texans finished their season having lost three of their last four games. That meant losing the home-field advantage that seemed theirs before that game and led to another meeting with the Patriots in the divisional round of the playoffs. New England won again, 41-28.

It was a lesson for the Texans in what it takes to be a great team.

Heading into this season, many thought the Texans were positioned to be one of the top teams in the NFL. The Patriots seemed poised for a down year, by their standards, but here we are in Week 13 and they sit in their usual spot atop the AFC East.

ESPN.com Texans reporter Tania Ganguli and Patriots reporter Mike Reiss discuss the matchup.

Ganguli: Mike, how has the loss of so many of his top targets from last season impacted Patriots quarterback Tom Brady?

Reiss: We saw it impact Brady more significantly through the first eight games. But things have started to click the past two games, and it’s no coincidence that it coincides with tight end Rob Gronkowski's reaching a new level of comfort since his return Oct. 20, and running back Shane Vereen's coming off the injured reserve list. With those two joining receivers Aaron Dobson, Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and Kenbrell Thompkins, the pass-catching corps has been as stocked as we’ve seen all season.

I know it’s been a down year for the Texans, but is J.J. Watt still creating havoc? Is that defense still tough?

Ganguli: Watt is still creating havoc. He has 9.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and four passes defensed. He is someone opposing offenses must track on every play. The Texans' defense has played well, but it has holes. On Sunday, the Jaguars had success with the matchup of receiver Cecil Shorts against cornerback Brandon Harris in the slot. Injuries to middle linebacker Brian Cushing and strong safety Danieal Manning have been particularly damaging. The Texans have statistically been much better with Cushing than without him since he was drafted. Their attempt to add some mental toughness with Ed Reed didn’t work as they had hoped, so two young players are starting at safety -- Shiloh Keo at free safety and D.J. Swearinger at strong safety. Swearinger is the Texans’ rookie second-round pick. He will be really good, but right now he’s learning a lot about playing at this level. They haven’t allowed a lot of yards, but have allowed too many points and not created enough turnovers.

Speaking of turnovers, as I watched Sunday night’s Patriots game against the Broncos, it seemed every time I looked up the Patriots had either committed or forced a turnover. What did you make of that? Was it an aberration?

Reiss: The forced turnovers were the norm, as the Patriots recently ended a streak of 36 games with at least one forced turnover (Nov. 18 vs. Carolina). The Patriots' committing turnovers was a little more out of character, although one of the pressing issues facing the club is what to do with lead running back Stevan Ridley (3 lost fumbles in the past three games). The Patriots are traditionally strong in turnover differential, and this season is no different, as they are plus-8 with 23 takeaways and 15 giveaways.

I know this probably comes out of left field, but how is the playing surface at Reliant Stadium? Patriots followers remember the last visit, in 2009, when Wes Welker tore his ACL. I saw a recent game, and it looks like there are patches of grass on the field with noticeable seams in certain parts.

Ganguli: Not out of left field at all. If the game you saw was the Texans’ Nov. 3 Sunday night game against the Indianapolis Colts, this was a major topic of conversation that night. The field looked pretty bad, mostly because there was a college game played on the same grass that week. They replaced the center of the field, but the outer grass was a mess. The University of Houston has played five games at Reliant Stadium this season while its stadium is being renovated. It has played most of them on field turf. The Cougars will play again on Friday morning, and none of the grass will be replaced between that game and the Texans-Patriots game Sunday. I believe the thinking is that will give it enough time to recover. Something to watch, though.

Let’s talk more about defense to wrap up here. Will Aqib Talib be assigned to Andre Johnson on Sunday? How do you think he’ll fare?

Reiss: That would make a lot of sense, as Talib has often been assigned the opponent’s top receiver. After a rocky game Nov. 18 against Carolina and Steve Smith, he was very good this past Sunday night against Demaryius Thomas in the 34-31 win against the Broncos. Talib has been key for the pass defense. Meanwhile, the loss of key players to season-ending injuries (defensive tackles Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly, and linebacker Jerod Mayo) has hurt the run defense at times, such as in the Broncos game. But they played a 4-2-5 nickel for most of the game, and I don’t think that will be as much of a factor against the Texans. The Patriots will probably be in their base defense more often, and they played well against the Panthers’ tough running attack in that package.

One thing I think Patriots followers would be interested to hear is what has happened to the Texans? How could a team go so quickly from the AFC divisional round of the playoffs and talking about “letterman” jackets to vying for the No. 1 pick in the draft?

Ganguli: Even with some of the missteps in the offseason, it would have been difficult to foresee this. There are a lot of issues, but I'll focus on the quarterback situation. The biggest mystery is what happened to quarterback Matt Schaub. He was never on the level of Brady, but he gave the Texans what they needed. He was consistent and productive. He actually played really well in leading comebacks against the San Diego Chargers and Tennessee Titans this season. That seems so long ago. The Texans' turnover margin has been among the worst in the league all season, and Schaub was part of that. He became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw pick-sixes in four consecutive games. He threw one on the first pass of the game against the San Francisco 49ers, and that game marked the only time this season Schaub played poorly from start to finish. There were myriad other problems, but Schaub lost his starting spot when he suffered a foot and ankle injury in Week 6. First-year quarterback Case Keenum took over, but his play hasn't meant victories. In his first three starts, he played well in the first half and not so well in the second half. His most recent game, against Jacksonville, was his worst of the season. Keenum threw for 169 yards, no touchdowns and one interception.

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Injury report: Gronk limited again

October, 31, 2013
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For the second consecutive day, Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski practiced on a limited basis as he deals with a hamstring issue on top of his previously existing back and forearm injuries.

Along with Gronkowski, cornerback Aqib Talib, defensive tackle Tommy Kelly and running back Leon Washington, who all sat out in Week 8, were limited.

One change from Wednesday's report was that quarterback Tom Brady (right shoulder) was listed as limited. [Editor's note: The Patriots originally listed Brady as a full participant, but sent out a correction Friday morning]

The team will practice again Friday and release its final injury report before a Week 9 matchup with the Steelers.

Injury report: Brady a full participant

October, 25, 2013
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- After being limited Thursday during practice, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (right shoulder) was back to full participation Friday and was listed as probable to play Sunday against the Miami Dolphins.

Brady
He was a surprise addition to the team's injury report on Thursday, though the issue does not appear to be serious. Brady has been listed on the injury report with a right shoulder issue in previous seasons, but has never missed a game due to shoulder discomfort. He has started 71 straight regular-season games, dating back to the start of the 2009 season.

Wide receiver Danny Amendola (concussion/groin) and cornerback Aqib Talib (hip), who both practiced each day this week on a limited basis, are questionable to play after missing Week 7 due to injury.

Amendola will need to pass the NFL's concussion protocol, if he has not already, before returning to game action. Coach Bill Belichick did not indicate whether the receiver had taken it when asked Wednesday. On Friday, Amendola said, "I'm healthy and I'm ready to play."

Tight end Rob Gronkowski (back/forearm), who made his season debut on Sunday, is listed as probable after practicing every day this week. Earlier in the week, he indicated that he was ready to put his current injuries behind him.

The Patriots have ruled out just two players for Sunday, defensive tackle Tommy Kelly (knee) and running back Leon Washington (ankle), who have each been out since leaving a Week 5 game against the Bengals.

Here are the full reports:

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Talib and Amendola present at practice

October, 23, 2013
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib (hip) and wide receiver Danny Amendola (concussion) were present at practice on Wednesday, conducted in full pads on the fields outside of Gillette Stadium. Meanwhile, veteran defensive tackle Tommy Kelly (knee) and running back Leon Washington (ankle) were again not spotted.

Talib sat out practice Wednesday and Thursday of last week before returning to practice on a limited basis on Friday, though he was unable to suit up for the team's game against the Jets. In five games this season, Talib has recorded four interceptions and has established himself as arguably the most important defender on the team's active roster.

Amendola, meanwhile, was back on the field for the first time since a big hit taken back in Week 6 that forced him to miss his fourth game this season. In order to return to game action, he must pass the NFL's concussion testing protocol. He has 16 catches for 159 yards in three games played this season.

Kelly's absence from practice continues for the third straight week, as he was injured in the team's Week 5 game against the Bengals. In his absence, the team has relied on rookies Joe Vellano and Chris Jones as primary starters. Washington, who was also injured in Week 5, has been limited to just two games this season.

Newly acquired defensive end Andre Carter, wearing number 96, was present for practice, as was practice squad pick-up Sealver Siliga, wearing number 71.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots had one change on their Thursday injury report, adding reserve offensive tackle/guard Marcus Cannon with a shoulder injury. Cannon, who replaced starting right guard Dan Connolly in the first quarter of Sunday’s win after Connolly sustained a concussion, was limited in Thursday’s practice.

Connolly was also limited in Thursday’s practice after missing Wednesday’s practice altogether.

If Cannon or Connolly are unavailable for Sunday’s game against the New York Jets, it would thrust eight-year veteran Will Svitek into the starting lineup. Rookie Chris Barker adds another layer of depth.

There were no other changes on the team’s injury report, as receiver Danny Amendola, cornerback Aqib Talib, defensive tackle Tommy Kelly and running back Leon Washington remained out of practice.

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DT Tommy Kelly's status in doubt

October, 11, 2013
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Veteran defensive tackle Tommy Kelly wasn't at Friday's practice, marking the third straight day he hasn't been on the field with his teammates, which puts his status in doubt for Sunday's game against the Saints.

Kelly left Sunday's 13-6 loss to the Bengals with a right knee injury.

Should the New England Patriots be without Kelly, it would be a double-barreled blow because they also lost starting defensive tackle Vince Wilfork to a torn Achilles on Sept. 29. So they could be down to their third-, fourth- and fifth-string options at defensive tackle -- rookies Joe Vellano and Chris Jones and four-year veteran Andre Neblett, who was signed Wednesday.

On Neblett, Patriots coach Bill Belichick said, "He has some experience, played at Carolina and Tampa in preseason; we played against him. He has good playing strength and he's played a decent number of plays over the past three years, couple hundred plays a year, so he has some experience."

Belichick said the 6-foot-0, 310-pound Neblett has played both three-technique (outside shade on guard) and nose tackle.

Elsewhere on the injury front, veteran running back Leon Washington was the other player not spotted at Friday's practice. He's been absent all week after injuring his ankle in Sunday's loss to the Bengals and is unlikely to play against the Saints.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Veteran defensive tackle Tommy Kelly (right knee) and veteran running back Leon Washington (ankle) didn't practice for the second straight day, according to the team's participation/injury report, putting their status in doubt for Sunday's game against the Saints.

Rookie linebacker Jamie Collins was also absent Thursday, but it was not injury-related.

There were no changes on the participation/injury report from Wednesday.

Upon Further Review: Patriots Week 5

October, 7, 2013
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CINCINNATI -- A review of four hot issues following the New England Patriots' 13-6 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals:

[+] EnlargeTom Brady
AP Photo/Tom UhlmanPatriots QB Tom Brady finished Sunday's Week 5 game in Cincinnati with 197 yards, no TDs and one interception.
Offensive struggles: In a script that has been flipped from recent years, it's the defense carrying the offense at this point. Quarterback Tom Brady was held to fewer than 200 yards passing for the second time this season, as the Bengals defense controlled the game at the line of scrimmage. "We scored six points; I don't even remember the last time we've done that," Brady said Monday morning on sports radio WEEI. The last time the Patriots scored fewer points was a 21-0 shutout loss at Miami on Dec. 10, 2006. Looking for a place to start when it comes to turning around the fortunes of the offense? Start up front with the offensive line, where all five starters return and a better performance than what was put forth Sunday in Cincinnati is expected.

Rob Gronkowski's potential return: The tight end has missed the first five games of the regular season, but he could return Sunday against the Saints. The Patriots couldn't convert in their one trip inside the red zone Sunday, and Brady threw incomplete to left tackle-turned-eligible tight end Nate Solder in the end zone. Gronkowski, who figures to be managed upon his return to the field, could at least help in the red zone.

Tommy Kelly and defensive tackle depth: The veteran defensive tackle left Sunday's game with a right knee injury in the fourth quarter and didn't return. Kelly said after the game that "everything was good" with the knee, and he wasn't walking with a limp or with the aid of crutches, although it's still a bit unclear what that means. The Patriots are thin at defensive tackle after losing Vince Wilfork to a season-ending Achilles injury, and if Kelly is sidelined for any period of time, it would further deplete the ranks. Rookies Joe Vellano and Chris Jones are the only other defensive tackles on the roster, while Marcus Forston and A.J. Francis are on the practice squad.

Banged-up running back group: With veteran Leon Washington leaving Sunday's game with an ankle injury and not returning, Shane Vereen on short-term injured reserve, and Stevan Ridley sidelined Sunday with a knee injury, the Patriots were down to just two running backs -- LeGarrette Blount and Brandon Bolden. Both had miscues that hurt the team -- Blount a second-quarter fumble and Bolden two drops. As the passing game struggles to produce consistent results, it would help to be able to turn to the running game. But it's a depleted group and we'll be interested to see if Washington's injury leads the team to consider injured reserve as an option.

Locker Room Buzz: New England Patriots

October, 6, 2013
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CINCINNATI -- Observed in the locker room after the New England Patriots' 13-6 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals:

Following up with Tommy Kelly: The veteran defensive tackle, who left the game in the fourth quarter with a knee injury and didn't return, was one of the last players to leave the locker room. Unlike Vince Wilfork last week, who left Atlanta on the back of a cart after tearing his Achilles, Kelly walked out under his own power and his injury didn't appear, on the surface, to be as serious as Wilfork's. Kelly said he planned to speak with reporters later in the week, but when asked briefly about the knee, he said "everything's good." What that exactly means remains a bit unclear.

Brady
Tom Brady on his streak being snapped: The quarterback had his streak of 52 straight games with at least one touchdown pass snapped. When asked about it, Brady said, "I'm bummed that we lost. That's all that really matters."

Crediting the Bengals' defense: As is often the case in a losing team's locker room, there was plenty of focus on the team's mistakes. At the same time, receiver Julian Edelman -- who singled out the red zone as the key area in the game -- pointed out that some credited belonged on the Bengals' side as well. "They were mixing it up, spinning the dial, doing what they do. They flat-out beat us. Sometimes you have to tip your hat," he said. "We have no excuses."

Letting the defense down: Offensive lineman Logan Mankins said, "The truth right now is that we're so inconsistent offensively. ... Today, the defense played great, as they have all year. I think we really let them down." No further explanation required.

Amendola's groin responds well: Receiver Danny Amendola was charted on the field for 38 of 64 snaps (including penalties), as he was managed in his return from a groin injury. He drew a large crowd of reporters at his locker after the game and said he felt good, although there were a few plays he wanted to have back. Amendola also said he felt he had scored on a play in which he was ruled just shy of the end zone.

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots altered their defensive strategy in Sunday’s 23-3 victory over the visiting Tampa Bay Buccaneers, turning to an outside-the-norm game plan that highlighted the value of a clear-cut No. 1 cornerback coupled with some coaching creativity.

It started early in the week when defensive coordinator Matt Patricia pointed in Aqib Talib’s direction and told him that dangerous Buccaneers receiver Vincent Jackson was all his.

“That’s what Matty P said -- that was going to be my task this week,” Talib relayed after the game, saying he buried himself in tape of Jackson over the last seven days. “That’s love. That’s what you want to hear. My coach tells me to go get their No. 1 target; I take pride in that kind of stuff.”

It’s been a while since the Patriots had a cornerback capable of handling such a responsibility. With respect to Asante Samuel, who was a top playmaker, but not necessarily a man-to-man stopper, it’s probably been since Ty Law was patrolling the New England secondary (1995-2004) that coaches could employ such a plan with confidence.

[+] EnlargeAqib Talib
Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesAqib Talib is proving to be a shutdown corner, as the Buccaneers found out.
So it’s not overstating things to say Talib has been a big-time difference maker for the Patriots since he was acquired from the Buccaneers last November.

“It’s great. Being able to put him on [Jackson] and know he’s going to be able to handle him pretty well is definitely a big thing and a big addition for our defense,” veteran safety Steve Gregory said.

That was the first part of the Patriots’ plan on Sunday, with Jackson totaling three catches for 34 yards before leaving in the second half with injured ribs. The second part, and this is where the creativity came into play, was how the defense matched up against the Buccaneers’ three-receiver package.

Most weeks, the Patriots will be in their nickel defense (five defensive backs) against the three-receiver package, which lightens the box against the run but adds help in the passing game. On Sunday, the Patriots switched things up by subbing out Gregory at safety for a third cornerback (Alfonzo Dennard), while keeping their front seven intact.

That gave them a little more of a coverage element in the secondary without adding an extra defensive back, but kept them sturdy in the box against slippery Doug Martin (20 carries, 88 yards) and the Buccaneers’ running game.

“Those are two premier players in this league and you need to understand where they are on the field and be able to contain them if you want to beat a team like that,” Gregory explained. “It starts with stopping the run. We were able to execute our game plan pretty well today and limit those guys with what they could do.”

The Patriots’ defensive work included three stops on fourth down (two of which turned into touchdowns and one into a field goal), a Talib interception that set up an end-of-the-first-half 53-yard field goal, and two stops inside the 20-yard line. So while the Buccaneers chewed up yards at times, the Patriots won the critical situations. Some ineptitude by the Buccaneers also helped the cause.

The performance capped a strong three-game stretch for the Patriots’ defense, which has had to carry more of the slack than usual as the offense has struggled to shift into the high gear that New England fans have grown accustomed to seeing. At the same time, even players themselves seemed to realize that it’s one thing to do it against the Buffalo Bills, New York Jets and Buccaneers, and another to do so against what is ahead.

Next up: The Atlanta Falcons on Sunday night.

“If we hold Atlanta to three points, we will have played a hell of a game,” admitted veteran defensive tackle Tommy Kelly. “We’re just going to try to keep those boys out of the end zone -- Julio Jones, Roddy White, they’re a lot to handle.

“If you can’t get up to play against Atlanta -- hey, they’re going to throw the ball, you’re going to get a chance to hit the quarterback, as a D-lineman your eyes have to light up. I’m looking forward to it.”

Maybe then Kelly will be more willing to declare this Patriots defense as one developing an attitude similar to the units that were big parts of three Super Bowl championships in 2001, 2003 and 2004.

For now, it’s being viewed as a promising start, with Sunday showing the combination of a clear-cut No. 1 cornerback and some coaching creativity can be a winning formula when the team’s own offense is still searching for its identity.

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