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Nuggetpalooza: How do the stats look in the Patriots matchup with Tim Tebow and the Broncos?

12.17.11 at 9:28 am ET
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Here’s my take on “Tebow-mania”: I’m a fan of the sport, so I tend to overlook all the esoteric stuff that doesn’t have anything much to do with the games themselves. But I’m not blind, and Tim Tebow is the most polarizing athlete in years, maybe ever. There’s no gray area with him. Fans either love him or hate him.

But as a fan of the sport, I just see that the guy’s team seems to win the games that he plays in. I give him a lot of credit for stepping up despite all the criticism that’s been heaped on him from all corners (“He can’t play quarterback in the NFL”) and making it work to the best of his ability. But give the most credit to John Fox and the Broncos‘ coaching staff for thinking outside the box to come up with an offensive system in which Tebow can thrive (to whatever extent possible) and to Tebow’s teammates, for recognizing his ability as a leader and for buying into the possibility that they can have success with him at the helm. That’s not easy to do in this age of the rich, pampered athlete who is generally hesitant to leave his comfort zone. Love him or hate him, it’s been breathtaking to watch.

Can Tebow and the Broncos take down the 10-3 Patriots? It shouldn’t happen, but New England better not get caught flat on Sunday. Get ready for this week’s NFL’s headliner with some numbers I’ve noticed:

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* – Since the start of the 2006 season, the Patriots defense has faced an opposing quarterback for the first time on 30 occasions, winning 27 of those games, including games against the Colts (Orlovsky) and the Chiefs (Palko) this season. Here are the losses in that span:

November 7, 2010 at Cleveland (Colt McCoy)
October 11, 2009 at Denver (Kyle Orton)
September 20, 2009 at NY Jets (Mark Sanchez)

Their last such loss, prior to the three listed above, was also at Denver, on October 16, 2005, with Jake Plummer at the helm. So two of their last four losses against quarterbacks they’ve faced for the first time, have come at Mile High.

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* – Denver has scored 111 of their 269 points in the fourth quarter this season (41.3%). That would be the highest percentage since the 2005 Dolphins (43.7%).

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* – By winning last week, Denver became just the second team in the last eight seasons to win three overtime games in a single season:

2010 Redskins
2003 Panthers
2002 Chargers
2001 49ers
1997 Steelers

Note this: No team has ever won four overtime games in a season.

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* – The Broncos have gone 3-and-out a league high 51 times this season, already surpassing their previous club record of 50 in a single season since they began tracking the stat in 1995 (set in 1999 and last year). For the record, since 1995, only one team that has finished 30th or worse in 3-and-outs has won more than eight games in a season (the 11-5 Bears of 2005) and they’ve averaged just 5.1 wins each.

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Peter King on M&M: Patriots need fast start vs. Broncos

12.16.11 at 12:50 pm ET
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Peter King of Sports Illustrated and NBC Sports checked in with the Mut & Merloni show Friday for his weekly discussion about the Patriots and the NFL.

Looking at Sunday’s game against Tim Tebow and the Broncos, King said one coach told him, “You always talk about getting off to a fast start. This is the one week you have to get off to a fast start. Whether it be no-huddle, whether it be varying how quickly [Tom] Brady goes to the line, whatever it is. He said just play fast and get out to a big lead. Score the first two or three times you have the ball. Then you change everything about Denver’s plan. Because the last time they got behind a lot was the Detroit game. Tebow threw the ball I think 39 times. It was a disaster. They don’t want to play that way.”

The Broncos are expected to counter by trying to slow the game down.

“I think they’re going to try to run the ball and bleed the clock,” King said. “My belief is that John Fox has a number in his head of possessions he wants Tom Brady to have. I think he would love it if Tebow’s snapping the ball as the play clock is down at four, three, two, every time. He wants to bleed the clock and he wants to hold Brady to whatever, seven or eight possessions. That’s easier said than done, but I think that that is what he’ll try to do.

“I think they’re going to try to bash them with Willis McGahee, if he’s healthy enough to do that, and just make sure that Tebow gets enough touches and is able to carry the ball the way he has in the last few weeks.”

Following are more highlights from the conversation. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.

On Tebow’s future with the Broncos: “I think they want to be disciplined and wait and see the entire season before they make that decision. But I think it’s highly unlikely they’re going to be able to go into this offseason with the idea of having another guy quarterback this team. I would be stunned if they replaced him now. ‘€¦ I think that he’s played so well, especially down the stretch. And the fan base is so enamored with him.”

On Bears receiver Sam Hurd’s arrest on a drug dealing charge: “This story is going to flesh itself out soon, but I know, having talked to [a reporter] in Chicago last night, there are some drug dealers in Chicago who didn’t even know who Sam Hurd was. For somebody to be moving that amount of drugs in the city of Chicago or in the environment of Chicago ‘€¦ you’ve got to figure that the drug kingpins would know. And evidently some of them didn’t even know who this guy was. I’m not saying that it is true that it’s exaggerated; I don’t know whether it is or not. The only thing I would say is I think it’s probably safe to say that some NFL players are going to be in trouble, but I’m not sure that Sam Hurd was the drug kingpin of Chicago. I guess that’s the way I’d put it.”

On Ben Roethlisberger’s status for Monday night’s game against the 49ers: “He’s going to try to practice tomorrow. ‘€¦ If he cannot protect himself and if he can’t move around in any way to protect himself, then Mike Tomlin is not going to play him on Monday. But I believe that Roethlisberger is going to give it a really good effort and try to play. What I have been told about this particular game is that the Steelers are really hesitant to play him in this game because San Francisco has a really good pass rush and they’ve got a great run defense. And at some point, the quarterback’s going to have to make some plays. He’s going to have to move around to make some plays. ‘€¦ I think it is a huge huge mistake for Roethlisberger to try to play in this game.”

Read More: Ben Roethlisberger, John Fox, Sam Hurd,

Five thoughts on the Patriots’ (alleged) courtship of Tim Tebow

12.15.11 at 10:21 pm ET
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FOXBORO — While we count down to the inevitable clash between the Patriots and Broncos, here are five thoughts on New England’€™s courtship of Tim Tebow in 2010:

1. Let’€™s assume for the sake of this discussion that the Patriots could have found some way to take him in the mid to late 20s. (He ended up going 25th overall to Denver, while New England ended up taking cornerback Devin McCourty at No. 27.) Frankly, the idea of Tebow in New England sparks more questions than answers, and opens the possibility he could have become Michael Bishop for a whole new generation of Patriots fans. (Google the name, youngsters. We’€™ll be here when you get back.) Would the Patriots think about using him in a nontraditional fashion? Could be he anything more than a backup quarterback to Tom Brady? And how would have his selection affected what New England did in the rest of the 2010 draft and the entire 2011 process? First and foremost, if they had gone with Tebow in 2010, the positional battle at backup quarterback between Brian Hoyer and Tebow would have given plenty of Patriots fans plenty to chew on. (Considering that Hoyer’€™s contract is up after this season, if they did take Tebow back in 2010, it’€™s conceivable that New England could have been moving into the 2013 season with a quarterbacking tandem of Brady and Tebow.)

2. There’€™s always the possibility that Belichick, while being genuinely intrigued about Tebow as a possible offensive Swiss Army Knife, was more interested in a doing a favor for a friend in Florida coach Urban Meyer. Belichick and Meyer are very tight off the field, and the coach certainly wouldn’€™t be above helping out a pal whose quarterback needed a pre-draft spike. A sitdown between Belichick and Tebow was guaranteed to get tongues wagging around the league, and the Patriots weren’€™t exactly clandestine when it came to this affair. (Think to yourself: When’€™s the last time you saw the Patriots do something like this so out in the open? Agents have told me that the team has cancelled workouts with possible prospects because the news was leaked to the media. Taking someone like that to Tresca in the North End is a guarantee people will find out about it … even before the dinner is over.) If the Patriots start sniffing around a nontraditional prospect like Tebow, it’€™s likely that’€™ll draw the interest of the rest of the league. If the Patriots are interested, there must be something there. The added draft buzz from a high-profile meeting between Belichick and Tebow was enough to give Tebow’€™s pre-draft stock a serious bounce.

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Read More: Aaron Hernandez, Brian Hoyer, david givens, Devin McCourty

Matthew Slater prays for Tim Tebow because ‘he’s putting himself out there on a limb’

12.15.11 at 4:28 pm ET
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FOXBORO — A Bible was open to the book of Isaiah on the locker stall of Matthew Slater.

It was like any other day at Gillette for the devout Christian. Slater – a member of the Patriots special teams and secondary – is among the many athletes who openly recognize their faith after a performance, giving praise to God before addressing their own achievements.

And this week, with all talk about Tim Tebow, Slater has a unique perspective on the most popular Christian athlete on the planet.

He took time to speak with WEEI.com Thursday and offer his thoughts on a man he will be chasing and defending on Sunday in Denver.

“I truly have a lot of respect for him,” Slater told WEEI.com on Thursday. “I think he’s a great ambassador for Christ and for the faith. I know he’s taken some criticism for how outspoken he is but I feel like, as Christians, we’re all called to be outspoken for Christ and take a stand and he’s definitely done that. I have a ton of respect for him.

“I definitely pray for the guy because he’s putting himself out there on a limb. But he’s doing it for the faith and I can relate. I understand his beliefs and where he’s coming from. So, I have a tremendous amount of respect for him.”

Slater has heard all the jokes about athletes being on the “God Squad” and all the NFL players who have mocked Tebow this year, dropping to one knee and pointing skyward going as far as “Tebowing” on the field when they tackle Tebow for a loss.

“Those who are familiar with the bible, Christ said they persecuted him and they’re going to persecute us as followers of him, also,” Slater said. “That’s criticism. As Christians, we kind of look at that as, ‘Well, I guess we’re doing something right,’ if we’re taking a stand for what we believe in, and whether people like it or not, he’s following his beliefs to the best of his ability and he’s a great ambassador for the faith.”

Slater has never sat down and discussed his faith with Tebow in person.

“I met him once when he was in here for a visit but haven’t spoken with him,” Slater said. “I’ve always admired him from afar, strictly for what he’s done for the faith and the for the man he seems to be. He’s truly a great ambassador for our faith.

“We’re out there competing. We’re out there to do a job, to win a game that we love and we compete hard. Hey, we can be brothers in Christ but I want to win the game and I’m sure he wants to win the game, also. It’s not going to be like, ‘Hey, brother, love you, man.’ No, we’re out there to win a game. We can play hard and compete as Christian athletes. It doesn’t change how we play the game. We play hard, we play physical and we want to win the game.”

Has Slater ever endured criticism for his open show of faith?

“I have in some cases but he’s just in the spotlight so much, being a quarterback, being as successful as he’s been and being as outspoken for the faith as he is, he’s more in the spotlight than I’ve been, personally,” Slater said. “But I have to admire him. Despite all the criticism that he has taken, he’s standing by his beliefs, and if people say he’s talking about the faith too much, this, that and the other. And respect him for that.”

Read More: Christian athletes. God Squad, Denver Broncos, Matthew Slater, New England Patriots

With Gheorghe Muresan as inspiration, Zoltan Mesko becomes one of the best in the NFL

12.15.11 at 11:15 am ET
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FOXBORO — When Zoltan Mesko pinned the Redskins inside the 5 on his first punt of the afternoon Sunday, it resulted in arguably the biggest touchdown of the game.

Andre Carter sacked Rex Grossman in the end zone, forcing the ball loose, and allowing Vince Wilfork to pounce on it for an early 7-0 lead. Both teams would score three offensive touchdowns and kick a pair of field goals but it was the defensive TD that was the difference.

Mesko has quietly been having an outstanding season.

In just his second year out of Michigan, he is sixth in NFL in net yards punting at 40.6, pinned the opponent inside the 20-yard line 16 times and is allowing just 8.6 yards per return, a testament to his hangtime on his punts.

“It comes down to performing practice first,” Mesko said. “If you’re going to do it in practice, it will carry over to games. I’ve done not many things different. I’ve tweaked my technique here and there a little bit, and everyone does that with any type of technique they’re involved in, whether it’s golf or football or anything. It’s just the continuous search for improvement.”

Mesko was quick to credit the work of Matthew Slater and Sergio Brown for getting down the field quickly and down the punt that was one of the key early moments in the 34-27 win.

“To me, I realize that I am making a difference and the field position battle is huge any Sunday,” Mesko said. “It’s good to have teammates like Sergio Brown and Matthew Slater that can get down there and make the play for me. The guys do a great job of blocking and Danny [Danny Aiken] does a great job of snapping – couldn’t ask for more.

“The only thing I can do is get more repetitions. Through preparation comes confidence. So, it’s a mixture of both that pays off on Sunday.”

“He’€™s built on his rookie year and he’€™s done a real good job for us,” Bill Belichick said on Wednesday. “His holding has been very good ‘€“ not that it was ever not good, but it’€™s gotten better. He’€™s really worked hard on that. Again, punting is so situational. You don’€™t just sit out there and bang it away; you’€™ve got rushes you have to do deal with, you have field position, wind conditions, things like that. His situational punting has really improved.

“There are still some things that he can do better, but I think he’€™s taken a solid jump from his rookie year in terms of his overall mechanics and also his situational awareness and being able to execute different types of kicks in different situations. Again, the holding is also part of it too. You don’€™t want to overlook that. He’€™s a big part of the field goal operation.”

So where has all the inspiration come from for Mesko?

Turns out he had a chance meeting this past weekend in Washington with his childhood hero – and former NBA legend – Gheorghe Muresan, the 7-foot-7 beast of a center from Romania who starred for the Washington Bullets. Mesko, who stands 6-foot-4 himself, felt like a kid again next to “Ghorgeous Gheorge.”

“I did feel short on that occasion,” said Mesko, who was also there with 5-foot-8 Danny Woodhead. “I’m glad I got Danny in there. Should’ve done a Sprint commercial.

“Just a connection through a couple of Romanian journalists that made the connection. They’ve been friends for a long time. I wanted to meet my childhood hero. It was awesome. It was like talking to a movie star – which he was in “My Giant”. I admitted to him that I’ve seen “My Giant” about 20 times and I still own it on VHS. He gave me a high-5 for it.”

What about this week in the mile-high air of Denver? Is Mesko looking forward to kicking the ball out of the stadium like he did for a kicking camp promotion last year?

“I haven’t kicked in Denver but I’ve been to Denver,” Mesko said. “I’ve gone skiing a little bit so I know what the air is like. But you get a sense for that watching film, how guys compare in kicking the ball but until I get there and try it out in warmups myself, that’s when the adjustments happens.”

As for another sports legend, he’ll be trying to lengthen the field for Tim Tebow, making it hard for Broncos to excel in “Tebow Time.”

“I think it’s cool for the league,” Mesko said. “He’s done a lot of the league this year, and ignoring the noise.”

Read More: Danny Woodhead, Denver Broncos, Gheorge Muresan, Gheorghe Muresan

Pressure Points: Which New England defenders have done the best job of getting after the quarterback through 13 games?

12.15.11 at 1:21 am ET
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According to official NFL gamebooks, opposing quarterbacks have 519 dropbacks against the Patriots through 13 games this season, and have been hit by New England defenders a total of 71 times, to go along with 29 sacks (tied for 17th in the league). Here’€™s a breakdown of who has been getting to the quarterback for the Patriots through 13 games:

Quarterback hits:
Defensive end Andre Carter: 22
Defensive end/linebacker Mark Anderson: Nine
Linebacker Rob Ninkovich: Eight
Defensive lineman Vince Wilfork: Seven
Linebacker Dane Fletcher: Five
Linebacker Jerod Mayo: Four
Defensive lineman Kyle Love: Four
Defensive lineman Myron Pryor: Three
Defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth: Two
Defensive lineman Gerard Warren: Two
Defensive lineman Shaun Ellis: One
Safety Pat Chung: One
Linebacker Brandon Spikes: One
Cornerback Phillip Adams: One
Defensive lineman Brandon Deaderick: One

Sacks:
Carter: 10 (70 yards)
Anderson: 7 (49 yards)
Ninkovich: 4.5 (20 yards)
Wilfork: 2.5 (17.5 yards)
Love: Two (11 yards)
Deaderick: One (3 yards)
Chung: One (3 yards)
Pryor: 0.5 (4.5 yards)
Mike Wright: 0.5 (4 yards)

Read More: Albert Haynesworth, Andre Carter, Brandon Deaderick, Brandon Spikes

Complete transcript of Tim Tebow’s Q&A with the New England media

12.15.11 at 12:43 am ET
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Thanks to the Patriots’ PR staff, here’s the complete transcript of Denver quarterback Tim Tebow’s Q&A with the New England media on Wednesday afternoon:

Q: What stands out for you the most about this Patriots defense?
TT: They’€™re a very good defense; obviously very well coached from Coach Belichick. They have a lot of playmakers, they create a lot of turnovers, they get to the quarterback a lot ‘€“ just find a way to make big plays and keep teams from getting in the end zone. Might give up some yardage here and there but they always stand stout in the red area and find away to come up with some big plays.

Q: You had a pre-draft visit with Coach Belichick. What did you take out of that and how did that go down?
TT: It was just a great opportunity to get to know a great coach. All those opportunities pre-draft when I went to meet with teams and organizations I know they were trying to get a feel for me but I was also definitely trying to learn something each and every visit. Just to be around Coach Belichick and all the great coaches there in New England, I felt like it was a great opportunity to try to learn. I tried to take as much as I possibly could and learn from a great coach, one of the best to coach. It was a phenomenal opportunity for me and I’€™m very grateful they were even that interested in me.

Q: What were you able to learn during that meeting?
TT: I think it was just picking up a lot of different things just from how certain things, how they go about it, what different things he’€™s looking for, just a lot of little things that you just try to pick up as a player from demeanors to attitudes to certain things from fundamentals. I think it was just a great opportunity to learn a lot and I feel like I really did.

Q: Did your impression of Coach Belichick change once you met him? How did you guys interact? There are preconceived notions about both of you.
TT: I actually had the pleasure of first meeting him when he came to Florida early on, maybe my freshman or sophomore year, something like that. Then he came down to Gainesville and worked me out with [Aaron] Hernandez and [Brandon] Spikes and [Riley] Cooper and a bunch of us worked out for him. That was a fun day and a pleasure. Then they brought me up after that. I’€™ve had the opportunity to be around him quite a bit and what an opportunity to be around a great coach.

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Read More: Tim Tebow,

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