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Report: Pete Morelli will work as referee for Patriots-Colts playoff tilt

01.07.14 at 3:13 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Pete Morelli will work as lead official for Saturday’s divisional playoff contest between the Patriots and Colts at Gillette Stadium, according to

This will mark Morelli’s second New England game of the year — he worked as the referee for the Patriots-Texans game back in November. Prior to that, his last New England games came in 2011, when he served as the lead official for a pair of games involving the Patriots ‘€” a Nov. 6 loss to the Giants in Foxboro, and a win over the Dolphins in the season opener in Miami.

Here’€™s a look at each lead official assigned to work Patriots games to this point in the 2013 season:

Sept. 9 vs. Buffalo: Walt Anderson
Sept. 12 vs. NY Jets: Carl Cheffers
Sept. 22 vs. Tampa Bay: Jeff Triplette
Sept. 29 vs. Atlanta: Walt Coleman
Oct. 6 vs. Cincinnati: Gene Steratore
Oct. 13 vs. New Orleans: Tony Corrente
Oct. 20 vs. NY Jets: Jerome Boger
Oct. 27 vs. Miami: Walt Anderson
Nov. 3 vs. Pittsburgh: Walt Coleman
Nov. 18 vs. Carolina: Clete Blakeman
Nov. 24 vs. Denver: Gene Steratore
Dec. 1 vs. Houston: Pete Morelli
Dec. 8 vs. Cleveland: Jerome Boger
Dec. 15 vs. Miami: Tony Corrente
Dec. 22 vs. Ravens: Ron Winter
Dec. 29 vs. Bills: Ed Hochuli

For more on Morelli’s work as a referee, check out his page at Pro Football Reference. For more information on this week’€™s assignments, click through to the always reliable Football Zebras.

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Bill Belichick on Adam Vinatieri: ‘A Hall of Fame kicker if there ever was one’

01.07.14 at 12:55 pm ET
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FOXBORO — The debate goes on every Saturday before the Super Bowl. Should kickers be considered for the Hall of Fame? Jan Stenerud is the only pure placekicker enshrined in Canton while Lou Groza and George Blanda made it with the help of their other positions. Groza was a dominating offensive tackle while Blanda was a quarterback.

Well, if the writers ask Bill Belichick, he has a gold standard for the position – Adam Vinatieri.

The Patriots coach was asked on a conference call with Indianapolis writers Tuesday if he is surprised the 41-year-old Vinatieri is performing so well so late in his career.

‘€œNot really. I think Adam, when he was here, trained very hard in the offseason, was one of our hardest workers,” Belichick said. “He worked out with all the other position players and he was never really looked at as a kicker in terms of his offseason program and what he did as far as training, that kind of thing. He was a very well-conditioned athlete. Mentally, he’€™s as tough and as consistent as they come. I can’€™t think of anybody, certainly no other kicker, that I’€™ve coached that I would put ahead of him in terms of mental toughness, concentration, focus, professionalism, all of those things.

“He just did his job as well as he could possibly do it every day that I was here. I was here in ‘€™96 when he came in as a rookie and then as the head coach when I came back. I have the utmost respect for Adam and the way he approaches his job, the way he does his job. It really seems like every year, you turn on the film and he’€™s making 50-yard field goals and kicking them right down the middle and doing the same things that he did 17, 18 years ago, however long it’€™s been since ‘€™96. He’€™s a great player and a Hall of Fame kicker if there ever was one.’€

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Patriots practice Tuesday: Logan Mankins (ankle), Alfonzo Dennard (knee) return, Aaron Dobson (foot) not spotted

01.07.14 at 11:37 am ET
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FOXBORO — The Patriots escaped the frigid temperatures outdoors and moved practice inside Dana Farber Field House Tuesday morning as they began on-field preparations for Andrew Luck and the Colts this Saturday night in an AFC divisional playoff at Gillette Stadium.

Logan Mankins, who injured his ankle in the season finale against the Bills on Dec. 29, was back on the practice field as was cornerback Alfonzo Dennard. Mankins played in all 16 games this season while Dennard missed three games, including the season finale with a knee injury.

Rookie receiver Aaron Dobson, who re-injured his left foot in the Dec. 29 win over the Bills, was the only player not spotted.

A new receiver was on the field wearing No. 84. The player was later identified in the locker room as Reggie Dunn, the former Utah Utes speedster that set an NCAA record in 2012 by returning four kickoffs for touchdowns.

The Patriots were originally going to practice outside but moved practice indoors to the Dana Farber Field House due to the sub-zero wind chills in Foxboro.

A warming trend is expected to hit New England by Saturday, with an early forecast calling for the chance of rain and temperatures in the low-to-mid 40s for the 8:15 p.m. kickoff.

Read More: Indianapolis Colts, Logan Mankins, New England Patriots, nfl

Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski reportedly set for Thursday surgery

01.07.14 at 10:33 am ET
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Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski will have surgery on his right knee Thursday, according to a report from’s Ian Rapoport. Gronkowski tore the ACL and MCL when he was hit by Browns safety T.J. Ward during a Week 14 game.

The procedure — the eighth surgery of Gronkowski’s career — will be performed by renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews.

There has been speculation that Gronkowski might be able to return for the start of the 2014 season, but that’s unclear. In the past two years, Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson and Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III had similar surgeries in January and were able to return for the start of the following seasons.

Gronkowski, 24, missed the first six games of the season while recovering from offseason back surgery as well as an operation on his forearm. He then played six games, recording 37 receptions for 560 yards and four touchdowns.

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Analysis: Closer look at Colts’ addition of Deion Branch, Patriots’ decision to place Brandon Spikes on IR

01.06.14 at 5:06 pm ET
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Even though the Patriots were off on Monday, it still was an eventful afternoon around Gillette Stadium.

First, it was announced the Colts signed former New England wide receiver Deion Branch. The veteran pass catcher, who made his bones for the better part of seven years with the Patriots, did have a tryout with the Colts earlier this season, so it wasn’t all that big a surprise, but the move still adds some juice to an already interesting divisional playoff showdown between New England and Indy this weekend.

It remains to be seen how much Branch still has left in the tank. The 34-year-old was on the shelf all year after ending the 2012 season with the Patriots — a year when he had 16 catches for 145 yards — and the fact that he’s coming into a new system likely means the learning curve is steep. Even armed with his smarts, it’s not likely he’ll have that much of an impact when New England and Indy take the field this weekend.

Where Branch could help is as an unofficial sounding board for the Indianapolis coaching staff and players when it comes to New England’s offensive tendencies. It’s always debatable about what sort of impact a player like that could have — it’s important to remember that the play calls, schemes and packages vary from week-to-week, let alone year to year. However, Branch was one of quarterback Tom Brady‘s closest and most trusted teammates when the receiver was in New England — the Colts believe he may have some minor knowledge of Brady’s style, however minute, that could help Indy gain a small edge when it comes to this weekend’s action.

Second, the Patriots placed linebacker Brandon Spikes on season-ending injured reserve later Monday afternoon with a knee injury. The 26-year-old, who was a second-round pick out of Florida in the 2010 draft, was accorded as one of the best run-stoppers in the league — the analytical site Pro Football Focus had him rated as one of the best defenders against the run over the last two years, giving him a +11.6 grade as a run defender in 2013. This season Spikes played in all 16 games with 12 starts in the regular season and finished with 134 total tackles. Overall, the 6-foot-2, 255-pounder has played in 51 games with 40 starts during his NFL career and has registered 384 total tackles. He has also played in six postseason games with five starts and accumulated 45 total tackles.

However, he has been battling a knee injury all year, and in an interview with Shalise Manza-Young of The Boston Globe earlier this season, Spikes announced that he would have to undergo knee surgery at the end of the year to deal with the issue. Spikes, who’s contract is up at the end of the 2013 season, now heads into free agency as one of the great debates of the offseason — when healthy, he’s been one of the best run-stoppers in the league. At the same time, he has struggled in coverage and has yet to display the needed consistency when it comes to health. (The 2013 season marked the first time in his four-year career he was able to play all 16 regular-season games.)

For the defense as a group, it’s yet another blow to a squad that already is dealing with the loss of several impact players, including defensive linemen Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly and linebacker Jerod Mayo. It’s expected that more responsibility will be placed on the shoulders of rookie Jamie Collins, Dane Fletcher and Dont’a Hightower the rest of the way.

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Patriots place linebacker Brandon Spikes on season-ending injured reserve

01.06.14 at 4:35 pm ET
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The Patriots announced Monday they have placed linebacker Brandon Spikes on season-ending injured reserve with a knee injury.

Spikes, 26, is in his fourth NFL season after joining the Patriots as a second-round draft pick (62nd overall) out of Florida in the 2010 NFL Draft. Spikes played in all 16 games with 12 starts in the regular season and finished with 134 total tackles.

The 6-foot-2, 255-pounder has played in 51 games with 40 starts during his NFL career and has registered 384 total tackles. He has also played in six postseason games with five starts and accumulated 45 total tackles.

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Former Patriots wide receiver Deion Branch signs with Colts

01.06.14 at 4:01 pm ET
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The Colts announced Monday they have signed former Patriots wide receiver Deion Branch.

Branch, who played most of seven seasons in New England, recently had a workout with Indy, so the signing didn’t come completely out of the blue. But it certainly adds some spice to this weekend’s divisional playoff game between the Patriots and Colts.

Here’s a portion of the press release from the Colts on the signing:

Branch, 5-9, 195 pounds, holds career totals of 518 receptions for 6,644 yards and 39 touchdowns in 140 regular season games (111 starts). He has also recorded 64 receptions for 948 yards and four touchdowns in 17 postseason games (13 starts). Branch is a two-time Super Bowl winner and was awarded the Pete Rozelle Trophy as the Most Valuable Player of Super Bowl XXXIX. His 11 receptions in the game tied the Super Bowl record, also achieved by Jerry Rice, Dan Ross and Wes Welker. Branch also led all receivers in Super Bowl XXXVIII and has totaled a combined 21 receptions in three Super Bowl appearances, which ranks third all-time, trailing only Jerry Rice (33) and Andre Reed (27).

Branch set a team playoff record with 153 receiving yards on eight catches in the Patriots’€™ 2005 Divisional Playoff game at Denver. He also grabbed a 73-yard completion in the game, establishing the longest reception in Patriots playoff history. Branch was the NFL’€™s leading receiver in the 2004 playoffs, pacing the league in receptions (16) and receiving yards (264). In addition to being named Super Bowl XXXIX MVP, he was selected as the NFL’€™s Offensive Player of the Week following the AFC Championship Game (1/23/05), when he led all receivers with 116 yards, including a 60-yard touchdown grab.

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