|10.15.11 at 10:19 am ET|
It’s already Week 6 and before the Patriots can enjoy the bye week, they’ll have a tough matchup against the Cowboys in Foxboro. Get ready with all the numbers that I bet you won’t see elsewhere:
* – Lots was made of Tom Brady throwing his first red zone interception ever at home last week (although it wasn’t his fault). But for New England as a club, it snapped just an 18-home game streak without such a pick as Matt Cassel threw two in 2008. The longest home red zone interception avoidance streaks still going:
36 – 49ers (last was Week 14, 2006)
24 – Panthers
22 – Jets
Clip-and-save since I’m on the subject: While Denver hasn’t intercepted a red zone pass on the road since 2006 (38 road games), the Patriots have one such pick in four of their last five road tilts.
* – The Patriots have won 19 straight regular season home games, tied with the 1997-1999 49ers for the third longest home streak since 1970. Only the Packers (25 in a row from 1995-1998) and the Broncos (24 straight from 1995-1998) have had longer streaks.
Note this: New England has scored 20 or more points in their last 19 regular season home games as well. If they extend the streak to 20, they will tie the longest home streak with 20+ points since 1970, currently shared by the 2007-2009 Saints and the 2003-2005 Chargers. Want some perspective? Carolina has played 10 home games since the beginning of last year and has put up 20+ points just twice.
* – Last Sunday, Tom Brady and the Patriots completed 77% of their throws that were 10 yards downfield or shorter. It was the 57th consecutive game in which the Pats have completed 60% or higher on those short throws. Here are the three longest current streak of over 60% completions on such passes:
57 – Patriots
34 – Saints
21 – Seattle
Let’s take that one step further and see the streaks for 55% or higher on throws of 10 yards or less:
84 – Patriots
45 – Packers
44 – Saints
Note this: Dallas’ defense has held two of their last six opponents to under 60% completions on those throws.
* – The best way to attack third-and-long situations is not to put yourself in them. Well, that’s the Patriots’ approach as they have attempted third down and six or more yards just 25 times, the fewest in the league. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to convert those situations whenever possible, and the Patriots have done that at a 40% clip, trailing only the Saints (55%).
Note this: Another reason to get into third-and-short this weekend: Dallas’ defense has allowed 70% conversions on third down and five or less, second highest/worst in the NFL. Only the Eagles (71%) have been worse.
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|10.14.11 at 2:17 pm ET|
He was also big Leon Lett fan, as long as he wasn’t trying to carry the ball or pick it up.
Asked Friday during his weekly gab with reporters in front of his locker stall about if he was ever concerned about the “blue jerseys” jinx of the Cowboys, Welker said he never worried about his favorite team coming out in blue but rather defensive linemen trying to advance the ball.
“Not so much. I was more concerned when D-linemen were trying to handle the ball,” Welker joked about the two most infamous plays in Cowboys history, both performed by the 300-pound Pro Bowl defensive lineman.
The first instance came in Jan. 1993, in Super Bowl XXVII, when the Cowboys crushed the Bills, 52-17. Late in the fourth quarter, Lett recovered a fumble on Buffalo’s 45-yard line and ran it back towards the end zone. When he reached the 10, Lett slowed and held the ball out as he neared the goal line. Lett, though, didn’t notice Bills player Don Beebe chasing him down from behind.
Beebe knocked the ball out of Lett’s outstretched hand just before he crossed the goal line, which sent the ball through the endzone, and resulted in a touchback that cost Lett his touchdown. Lett later admitted to watching the Jumbotron, and trying to do a “Michael Irvin”, where he put the ball out across the goal line.
“Well, they still won that game,” Welker said. “That wasn’t too tough but the one where he kicked the ball in the snow, that was a little discouraging at the time.”
On Thanksgiving Day in 1993, Welker’s Cowboys weren’t as lucky.
During a rare snow and sleet storm in Dallas, the 7-3 Cowboys were leading the 8-2 Miami Dolphins, 14-13, with 15 seconds left in the game. The Dolphins tried a 41-yard field goal to take the lead but the kick was blocked. While most of his teammates began celebrating, Lett attempted to recover the ball. He slipped on the ice as he tried to pick up the football, and Miami recovered the Lett blunder on the Dallas one-yard line.
Had Lett simply done nothing, the Cowboys would have automatically received possession and could have run out the clock. By touching the ball and then failing to hold onto it, Lett enabled the Dolphins to take possession and then try another field goal with three seconds left on the clock. The second attempt was good, and the Dolphins won the game, 16’14, as time expired.
Welker and the Cowboys have since recovered.
|10.14.11 at 1:24 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Sporting a gray alternate Reds baseball cap, Cincinnati native Mike Wright spoke with great articulation and emotion about an injury all too common in the sports world today, an injury that has ended his season and put his professional football career in serious question.
Wright was placed on season-ending injured reserve by the Patriots on Thursday, after a second concussion in 10 months made it only sensible to let his brain heal and see where he can go afterward.
‘Worrying about the future right now is not going to help me get better,’ Wright said. ‘I think I’ll make that decision with the doctors and coaches after the season. Right now, my focus is just getting everything better and back to normal.’
This is a proud man who still has trouble doing simple things like watching TV and reading a computer screen because of the effect flashing lights and processing millions of bits of information at once places on his brain.
‘I still have issues with that, but it’s a lot better,’ Wright told reporters Friday. “But I have had some troubles and I think that’s why we are where we are.”
Wright, who was staring into the bright lights of TV cameras during his 12-minute session Friday, said he is relieved that so much attention is being paid to concussions in the NFL, and sports in general, given what he’s learned about brain injuries.
‘Pushing through getting hit on the field and being dizzy is not normal. Your brain is extremely important. You have no idea what your brain has to process to even stand up out of a chair. I think it’s great what the NFL is doing now to educate everyone. I think kids and high school players can learn a lot, and they need to keep their ears open, and they need to look out for the other guys on the field. Football is a game of toughness and some guys feel like minor pain or minor dizziness is OK. But it’s not. When it comes to your brain, it’s very, very serious. It’s nothing to play with.’
Wright originally sustained a concussion last Nov. 21 against the Colts when he and teammate Tully Banta-Cain collided. Wright missed the final six regular season games and the playoff loss to the Jets.
The 29-year-old, seventh-year pro out of the University of Cincinnati said he felt good in the offseason and was looking forward to returning this season. He missed some time in the preseason and camp, not related to his concussion but then got hit in the side of the head in the first week against the Dolphins.
‘I took a hit similar to last year, but not as severe,’ Wright said. ‘It kind of triggered a few things and turned into a little bit more than what I thought it was at the time.’
Wright said he plans to stay around the team and can do things like lift weights and run to keep his heart rate up and his conditioning at a good level, should he be ready to come back in 2012.
Wright added he thought he was going to be able to come back this season, after practicing with the team before the Jets game last week. But then he sat down with doctors and team staff and the decision was made to be safe rather than sorry with his brain.
‘I felt like I was going to be ready,’ he said. ‘[But] based off my concussion history and coaches and doctors and trainers looking out for me and my best interests and my health, it was just the right decision to do what we did [going on injured reserve]. I did not want to go on IR. It’s the last thing I wanted to do. I was really looking forward to being part of this team this year. There are a lot of great players in there that I wanted to continue to play with, but that’s not in the cards.’
|10.14.11 at 1:03 pm ET|
Sports Illustrated’s Peter King joined Mut & Merloni Friday at noon for his weekly appearance. King talked about the Jets, the Patriots and New England’s game against the Cowboys this Sunday.
“In this division right now, I’d say that Buffalo is a better team than the New York Jets,” King said. “I think the Patriots are better than the Bills, so I don’t see the Patriots having a lot of trouble winning this division this year, but the whole question is, that hasn’t been their biggest problem in recent years, it’s been what happens in January and beyond.”
While many thought the Patriots and Jets would battle it out atop the AFC East, New York has not lived up to expectations, going 2-3 through five games. It’s been the 4-1 Bills who have given New England the most problems within the division. King said that pass protection is one of the Jets’ biggest problems.
“You can’t protect the quarterback, and the biggest thing you want to do on offense is throw the ball downfield to Plaxico Burress and Santonio Holmes,” King said. “I look at this team and I say, if they can’t protect [Mark] Sanchez any better, they’re an 8-8 team maybe.”
Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo has had an up-and-down season. The Cowboys, who were off this past weekend, most recently blew a 27-3 lead to the Lions in a Week 4 loss. Romo threw three interceptions in that game, two of which were returned for touchdowns. Romo’s penchant for making mistakes in big moments is well known, and some have compared him to Brett Favre for his make-or-break mentality.
“I think it’s a good comparison because, I’m not saying he’s in Favre’s league as far as his upside, but the rollercoaster aspect of his game, he’s a lot like Favre because he takes chances,” Kings said. “I just think that at this point in his career … you never want to tell a quarterback, ‘Hey, be careful out there.’ That’s a stupid way to operate your business. But I think you need to know when to take chances and when to not take them, and that’s the one thing in Tony Romo’s game right now that is by far his biggest flaw.”
|10.14.11 at 10:57 am ET|
Patriots defensive back Patrick Chung checked in with the Mut & Merloni show Friday morning for his weekly discussion as the Patriots prepare to host the Cowboys Sunday. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.
Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo has made news for his highlight-reel plays — both good and bad — this season.
“They can say what they want to say, he’s definitely a good player,” Chung said. “He wouldn’t be starting if he wasn’t. He can make the throws, he can make the big plays and he has guys that he can get the ball to that can make big plays. Whatever they say about him, you can throw that out the window. He’s definitely a good player.”
One of Romo’s key weapons is tight end Jason Witten.
“He’s a great player,” Chung said, “He can do pretty much everything you ask him to do. We have to take care of that guy. ‘¦ He’s big, he’s savvy, he knows how to run a route. Romo’s looking to him and he knows how to catch the ball and block people out. He’s just overall good. He’s big and fast, and he has great hands.”
|10.14.11 at 10:24 am ET|
FOXBORO — The Achilles heel for the Patriots’ defense in the first three weeks of the season was the big play.
In NFL language, that’s any play of over 20 yards.
In wins over the Dolphins and Chargers and the self-destructive loss to the Bills in Orchard Park, the Patriots were burned numerous times by the big play.
As a matter of fact, they allowed 17 plays of more than 20 yards in the first three weeks, en route to allowing more yards than any defense in the league.
But a funny thing happened on the way to 4-1, the Patriots learned to adjust. In wins over the Raiders and Jets, the Patriots allowed just five plays of more than 20 yards. Still, by coaches’ standards not great and certainly not perfect but it’s definitely the right direction.
“I think we’re doing our best to improve every week and make the corrections we need to make week to week,” said Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich. “That’s coming in and watching tape and trying to correct all those mistakes, get better through the week of practice and be prepared for the games come Sunday.
There are several theories behind the improvement. More zone coverage in the secondary to make better use of safeties Patrick Chung, Josh Barrett, Sergio Brown and James Ihedigbo, who were getting burned deep in pass coverage. Another factor was the fact that the Raiders and Jets had quarterbacks in Jason Campbell and Mark Sanchez who were not as intent on getting the ball vertical.
“We’re still winning these games, which is a good thing,” Ninkovich said. “As long as we get the offense the ball, and let them do what they do best, we’re going to be OK.”
The Patriots will have to be on the Ps and Qs this weekend, as well as their Xs and Os. They go up against a quarterback who loves to make the big play in Tony Romo, who happens have to have big playmakers in Dez Bryant, Jason Witten and Miles Austin.
Whereas the Patriots were hardly tested last week by Mark Sanchez and his group of dysfunctional, bickering receivers, that is likely not to be the case this weekend. This is the second week without Jerod Mayo and this figures to be a much bigger test, as Michael Lombardi pointed out on Dennis & Callahan on Friday.
“Not having a guy like Mayo on the field is obviously going to hurt your defense but I think that we did a good job of everyone stepping up, and knowing that without him out there, everybody has to step up. I think we did well as a defense.”
|10.14.11 at 8:01 am ET|
Patriots cornerback Devin McCourty made his weekly appearance on the Dennis & Callahan show Friday morning, as the Patriots prepare for Sunday’s game against the Cowboys. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.
“He’s a very explosive player, similar to those guys in size and strength,” McCourty said. “I don’t know if he’s more explosive, but he’s definitely a guy that’s an explosive player. He does punt returns at times, kickoff returns at times. It just shows how versatile and explosive he is. You have to really be aware of him all over the field — screen passes, short passes, deep passes. He kind of does a lot in their offense.”
Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo has come under fire for his fourth-quarter collapses this season, but McCourty said the Patriots are paying more attention to the success Romo has had, calling him a “great quarterback.”
“When you play this game, you make mistakes, guys make plays. But I think with Romo, sometimes it’s overlooked how many plays he does make,” McCourty said. “That’s what we’re focusing on for this game, all the plays he’s made throughout the season. We can’t focus on the bad plays. There’s a chance he could come here and not make any bad plays.”