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Pressure Points: Which New England defenders have done the best job of getting after the quarterback through 10 games?

11.23.11 at 5:40 pm ET
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According to official NFL gamebooks, opposing quarterbacks have 401 dropbacks against the Patriots through 10 games this season, and have been hit by New England defenders a total of 58 times, to go along with 23 sacks (16th in the league). Here’€™s a breakdown of who has been getting to the quarterback for the Patriots through ten games:

Quarterback hits:
Defensive end Andre Carter: 19
Defensive end/linebacker Mark Anderson: Nine
Defensive lineman Vince Wilfork: Six
Linebacker Rob Ninkovich: Six
Linebacker Dane Fletcher: Four
Defensive lineman Myron Pryor: Three
Defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth: Two
Defensive lineman Kyle Love: Two
Defensive lineman Gerard Warren: Two
Defensive lineman Shaun Ellis: One
Safety Pat Chung: One
Linebacker Brandon Spikes: One
Cornerback Phillip Adams: One
Linebacker Jerod Mayo: One

Sacks:
Carter: 9 (65 yards)
Anderson: 7 (49 yards)
Ninkovich: 2.5 (5 yards)
Wilfork: 1.5 (10.5 yards)
Chung: One (3 yards)
Love: One (11 yards)
Pryor: 0.5 (4.5 yards)
Mike Wright: 0.5 (4 yards)

Read More: Albert Haynesworth, Andre Carter, Brandon Spikes, Dane Fletcher

Matthew Slater doesn’t want to get burned by the ‘amazing’ DeSean Jackson again

11.23.11 at 5:08 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Matthew Slater knows all too well just how dangerous DeSean Jackson is on a football field with the ball in his hands.

The highlight everyone remembers came in 2010 when he ended a game between the Giants and Eagles at the Meadowlands with an electrifying punt return for a touchdown, a return that began with a bobble and a fumble.

“I think we all saw that play,” Slater said. “The guy has amazing talent and tremendous ability. He’s going to be a challenge for us.”

On the that play, Giants punter Matt Dodge punted the ball with 14 seconds left in the fourth quarter of a 31-31 game. Jackson fumbled the ball at his 35-yard line, retreated back to his 27 then darted up the middle for the “Miracle of the Meadowlands II.”

When Slater played at UCLA, Jackson played at Cal, and the two had many encounters on special teams in their Pac-10 rivalry.

“I’ve been dealing with him since college so I’m seen him at the college level and the pro level and he’s gotten the better of me a couple of times, and our unit so hopefully we can go out there and prepare for him and be ready for him come Sunday,” Slater said.

This year, Jackson has been battling distractions he caused himself in holding out for a new contract and then injuring his foot on Sunday night when he had it stepped on. Jackson did not practice on Wednesday but he was not wearing a boot and was showing no limp, leading to speculation he’ll play Sunday against the Pats.

Jackson, who has been a symbol of Philly’s inconsistent season, was even a healthy scratch during the team’s stunning home loss to the Cardinals on Nov. 13. Still, the Patriots are wary.

“The guy is a very special talent,” Slater said. “He can change the game in one play so we’re very well aware of that. We know we have a lot to do as far as preparation is concerned. We know we have to have a sense of urgency when dealing with a guy like this.”

Is it his speed, shiftiness or vision that impresses the most?

“All of the above, shiftiness, speed, he’s not afraid to field the ball and take chances,” Slater said. “He wants the ball in his hands. He wants to make plays. The speed, that’s just something you can’t coach. Either you have it or you don’t and he has plenty of it.” Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Cal, DeSean Jackson, Julian Edelman, Matt Dodge

Patriots ready for the post-Thanksgiving push to begin this weekend

11.23.11 at 3:03 pm ET
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FOXBORO — It has been a constant theme around Gillette Stadium for several seasons — the real season starts after Thanksgiving.

Since 2001, New England has compiled an NFL-best 61-15 (.803) record in games after Thanksgiving. Only once during that time have the Patriots played sub-.500 football after Thanksgiving: 2009, when they split their last six regular-season games and lost in the first round of the playoffs to Baltimore, 33-14.

Most of the time, when the Patriots have enjoyed success late in the regular season and into the playoffs, the seeds for greatness have been planted in November: In their three Super Bowl years (2001, 2003 and 2004), New England was a combined 33-2 after Nov. 1, with only one of those losses in three seasons coming after Thanksgiving. (Those teams were a combined 25-1 after Thanksgiving.)

This year’€™s Patriots kick off the post-Thanksgiving stretch this year on Sunday against the Eagles in Philadelphia. Asked if this year’€™s team was ready, quarterback Tom Brady would only acknowledge that the push toward the postseason will begin against a difficult Eagles team.

‘€œI think this game will … this is a very important game for us,’€ he said. ‘€œWe’€™re putting it all into this week. We have a lot on the line. It’€™s a very good team. They’€™re skilled at every position. Going on the road and trying to win a really tough game on the road at the most important time of the year — that says a lot for what we’€™re looking for as a team.

‘€œThis is the time of year when it’€™s most important,’€ Brady added. ‘€œThere aren’€™t a lot of games left.

It’€™s not only the case in New England — most teams who raise the Lombardi Trophy in February start that push toward greatness shortly after the Thanksgiving meal is cleared away. As a group, the last six Super Bowl winners compiled a 42-15 (.737) record following Thanksgiving, including the playoffs. Last year, the Packers were 7-3 after Thanksgiving, with their three losses by a combined 11 points (including a 31-27 defeat to the Patriots on Dec. 19.). As a group, here’€™s a look at the last six Super Bowl champions and their post-Thanksgiving records:

‘€¢2010: Packers, 7-3 (six-game winning streak to end the season).
‘€¢2009: Saints, 6-3 (three-game winning streak to end the season).
‘€¢2008: Steelers, 7-1 (four-game winning streak to end the season).
‘€¢2007: Giants, 7-3 (four-game winning streak to end the season).
‘€¢2006: Colts, 7-3 (five-game winning streak to end the season).
‘€¢2005: Steelers, 8-2 (eight-game winning streak to end the season).

Of course, a great late season push doesn’€™t always mean postseason glory. Last year, the Patriots stormed into the playoffs with wins in their final six regular-season games by an average score of 38-12 … and followed that up with a season-ending defeat to the Jets in their only playoff game.

But a look at their schedule reveals that this New England is at least well positioned for a post-Thanksgiving bounce. New England plays Philadelphia (4-6), Indianapolis (0-10), Washington (3-7), Denver (5-5), Miami (3-7) and Buffalo (5-5), a group of opponents that have a combined record of 20-40 (.333). Among playoff contenders, it is the easiest stretch of games between now and the end of the regular season.

In truth, the most compelling matchup left for the Patriots could be this week when the travel to meet the Eagles, who went to Jersey last week and surprised the Giants. Stocked with terrific individual talent on both sides of the ball, they have struggled to mesh, and now face the prospect of having to win out down the stretch just to have a shot at the postseason.

‘€œWhen you play a tough team, on the road, that came off one of the biggest wins of their season — we have everything we could ask for,’€ Brady said.

Read More: Tom Brady,

Will it be Michael Vick or Vince Young on Sunday? Either way, Patriots will be ready and tested

11.22.11 at 9:52 pm ET
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This is hardly the week Bill Belichick and his staff want to prepare for any one of three quarterbacks they may face this Sunday in Philadelphia.

But that is exactly the task at hand on a short week as the Patriots get ready for another desperate team this Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field.

The Eagles are coming off their biggest win of the season, a 17-10 decision over the first-place Giants at MetLife Stadium that improved them to 4-6 on the season and gave them a pulse in the NFC East.

With Michael Vick out due to rib injuries, Andy Reid turned his offense over to Vince Young and Young directed the game-winning drive in the fourth quarter. Behind Vick and Young is Mike Kafka.

“We have to be ready for every player that’€™s on the roster, even whoever is in the game to start the game we all know that could be a different player on the second or some other play of the game,” Belichick said on Tuesday. “We’€™ll prepare for all three quarterbacks and maybe later in the week we’€™ll be able to zero in more on one than another. We need to be ready for all of them anyway, especially the two that played the most here ‘€“ Young and Vick.

“Both can run, have good scrambling ability, both have real big arms, can throw the ball down the field as far as they need to. Both guys have done the things offensively that you need to do to be productive and win ‘€“ make decisions, key pass plays on third down in the red area, scramble and get out of trouble, play-action and so forth. I think they’€™re both good ‘€“ whichever one we get, we get.”

Indeed, with the Eagles facing a third-and-1 at the Giants’ 31 late in the fourth quarter, Young took it on a keeper and kept his legs grinding for first down. Young and the Eagles converted five third downs on an 18-play, nine-minute, 80-yard, game-winning drive. It was Philadelphia’s longest in nine years.

There’s lots to consider for both head coaches heading into this game. Young has won 31 games in 48 career starts, including 13 thanks to fourth-quarter drives.

By comparison, Vick has 11 fourth-quarter game-winning drives in 49 career wins as a starter. Vick did not make the trip for Sunday night’s game in New Jersey but Reid said Vick was the first to call and congratulate Young after the game.

Vick was scheduled to throw the ball on Tuesday in an effort to test his two broken ribs. Reid said if Vick passes the tests this week in practice, he’ll get his starting role back.

“We’€™ll have to defend based on right-handed, left-handed, but I don’€™t think there is a big play preference for one over the other,” Belichick said. “I’€™d say it’€™s minimal at best, that they run their offense and both guys do a good job of it. Both guys have been productive and they have a lot of weapons to utilize and they do a good job of getting them the ball. We’€™ll hopefully be ready for all the players.”

Read More: Michael Vick, New England Patriots, nfl, Philadelphia Eagles

Slow starts continue to vex Patriots offense

11.22.11 at 5:27 pm ET
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While the Patriots finished strong, for the sixth consecutive game they had a bit of a sluggish start offensively. On Monday against the Chiefs, they managed just 10 points over the first two quarters and going punt-punt-fumble-punt over its first four possessions.

Overall, the Patriots didn’€™t even get into Chiefs’€™ territory until Kansas City botched an onside kick at the end of the first quarter, and didn’€™t engage in a sustained drive from their side of the field into the Chiefs side until late in the second when Tom Brady hit Rob Gronkowski with a 52-yard scoring strike to finally get New England on the board.

Including Monday night, the Patriots have now averaged 9.3 points over the first half of their last six games, including a high of 13 points (once against the Cowboys and once against the Jets) and a low of zero (against the Giants).

‘€œWe have to do a better job of starting the game with better plays, with better execution,’€ Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’€™Brien said Tuesday. ‘€œBefore we go any further, you really have to give Romeo [Crennel] and Kansas City, the defense there, a lot of credit. They came in and played a really good game. They came in and did some things that were really good against what we were doing. (But) we have to continue to go out and execute and have good plays and have good practices and start the game faster.’€

The Patriots had 24 points in the second half, but the slow starts remain a concern for O’€™Brien.

‘€œI believe we adjusted well during the game in the first half, in the first quarter going into the second quarter. And then, obviously, in the second half we played better,’€ O’€™Brien said. ‘€œWe just have to start faster.’€

Read More: Bill O'Brien, Rob Gronkowski, Tom Brady,

So what happened to Wes Welker on Monday night?

11.22.11 at 3:59 pm ET
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On Monday against the Chiefs, Wes Welker had his quietest game of the season — he wasn’€™t targeted by Tom Brady until the quarterback threw a pass his way with 9:59 left in the fourth quarter, and didn’€™t catch his first pass of the night until he hauled in a short six-yarder with six minutes left in regulation. On the night, he ended up with two catches for 22 yards.

On Tuesday, offensive coordinator Bill O’€™Brien acknowledged that it wasn’€™t one of Welker’€™s best games statistically, but he did a lot of things that didn’€™t show up in the boxscore.

‘€œHe only had two catches, but he does so many other things that help our offense,’€ O’€™Brien said. ‘€œI don’€™t know if you guys watched the tape, but if you go back and watch it, he was blocking extremely well and helping us in the running game. We rushed for 157 yards. Some of that was because of him and how well he blocked.

‘€œObviously, the Chiefs had a good game plan and they did a good job for most of the night and we were able to make some plays as the game wore on and it ended up being pretty good.’€

Coach Bill Belichick was also asked about Welker, and seemed to hint that even though the wide receiver had just two catches, he would get a positive grade for his work against the Chiefs.

‘€œWe grade players in the game based on them doing their assignment right and performing their responsibility on the play properly — that’€™s what they’€™re graded on,’€ Belichick said. ‘€œWhatever a player is supposed to do — run a route, block somebody, whatever it happens to be — if they do what they’€™re doing properly, that’€™s really all they can do. The opportunities that they get, then you can evaluate those. If those opportunities go to somebody else or the running play, the production is going to show up with the running back, not the guys who are blocking. That’€™s the way it is.

‘€œWes, he does a good job for us; has done a good job all year in terms of his route running, his assignments, his blocking — pretty much whatever we ask him to do, we can count on him to do it and perform it well. He’€™s done that consistently; he did it last night.’€

Read More: Bill Belichick, Bill O'Brien, Tom Brady, Wes Welker

Deion Branch on M&M: ‘We have to get back to starting fast’

11.22.11 at 1:01 pm ET
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Patriots wide receiver Deion Branch joined Mut & Merloni on Tuesday to discuss New England’s 34-3 rout of the Chiefs on Monday night.

While the Patriots offense was excellent in the second half of Monday’s game, it struggled at times in the first half, scoring just 10 points against a Chiefs team that is 25th in the NFL in scoring defense. New England’s first four drives resulted in three punts and a fumble. According to Branch, the Patriots were simply getting in their own way on those initial drives.

“[Chiefs defensive coordinator Romeo] Crennel came in with a great game plan, but the thing is our execution was our fault,” Branch said. “The plays that were messing up on, whether it be protection, whether it be getting the right plays, somebody releasing on a certain route, that was all of us.

“There was nothing that they were doing that was really stopping us within those first four possessions. I’m not taking anything away from them, they have a great team, great coordinator who came in and had a great game plan. But if we go out and just execute our plays the way we know we can, you’ll see the output you saw in that second half.”

Patriots wide receivers combined for just four receptions in Monday night’s win. The production of outside receivers on the New England offense has been lacking, but Branch said that the Patriots are just taking what the defense gives them.

“I think last night we took advantage of what Kansas City was giving us,” Branch said. “We said, ‘Hey, if they want to leave [Rob] Gronkowski in the end zone, let’s give it to him.’ And that’s what we have to do.”

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Read More: Chad Ochocinco, Deion Branch, Rob Gronkowski,
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