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Brandon LaFell not spotted at start of Patriots practice Tuesday

12.30.14 at 12:52 pm ET
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Brandon LaFell

Brandon LaFell

According to multiple reports, the lone Patriots player not spotted at the start of Patriots practice Tuesday was wide receiver Brandon LaFell. The wide out appeared to injure his foot in the regular-season finale against the Bills, but returned to the game for the final series.

After leaving the game just before halftime with a knee injury, Nate Solder was present. Also present were all the players who missing Sunday’s game including Julian Edelman, Dan Connolly, Sebastian Vollmer, among others.

The Patriots’ first playoff game is a week from Saturday, so it is too early to really have any idea of LaFell’s status for the game.

With it being a bye week, the Patriots are not required to put out an injury report.

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Following the flags: Tracking Patriots penalties for 2014 season

12.30.14 at 12:21 pm ET
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The Patriots ended the regular season with 120 penalties (tied for fourth in the league) for a total of 1,080 yards (third in the NFL). Here’€™s a breakdown of the calls that went against the Patriots over the course of the regular season, not including penalties that were declined or offset.
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Rodney Harrison on MFB: J.J. Watt should be voted NFL MVP

12.30.14 at 12:20 pm ET
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NBC Sports NFL analyst Rodney Harrison made his weekly appearance on Middays with MFB on Tuesday with Butch Stearns and Christan Fauria to discuss a number of league matters, including the MVP award and the suspension of Ndamukong Suh. To hear the interview, go to the MFB audio on demand page.

With the regular-season over, the league will now vote on the MVP. Harrison is a firm believer that J.J. Watt should be the winner, even though the Texans didn’t make the postseason. Watt finished the year with 20.5 sacks, an interception, one defensive touchdown, and even caught three touchdown passes on offense.

“I would say based on the history, no,” Harrison said when asked if he would win the award. “But, the NFL has not come out and really defined what is the MVP. Is it the MVP of the league — are you talking the most valuable player, like does your team have to have success — or are you talking just the best player in the league? He’s proven beyond the shadow of a doubt that he is the best player on the football planet. He’s had the best year. He’s been the most consistent.

“You look at Aaron Rodgers, he hasn’t just flat out lit it up the last three weeks. He’s been hobbled, he’s been in-and-out of games, he hasn’t looked great. They’ve managed to win against a few teams, but J.J. Watt has absolutely been outstanding. I don’t remember a defensive performance like this since maybe Lawrence Taylor won the MVP years ago in the 80s. The league needs to do the right thing, they need to vote this guy the MVP because he really deserves it. You can’t tell me that Aaron Rodgers had a better year than J.J. Watt.”

Suh was suspended one game (Wild Card weekend) by the NFL, for stepping on the ankle of Rodgers in Sunday’s regular-season finale. Harrison believes it was the right decision by the league.

“It was a dirty play, are you kidding me Christian?,” said Harrison. “Based on his reputation, based on his history of doing things, but how selfish of a play is that? When you step on someone on the football field ‘€¦ it’s not like he even reacted, he just stepped. Most of the time you would react because you don’t want to twist an ankle. You don’t want hurt yourself. But, he went back on Aaron Rodgers’ leg. He took all his weight off his front leg and he purposely did that.

“He has a history of being dirty. It is a very serious act because now you’re playing against the Dallas Cowboys who have the best rushing attack in the league, now you lose you’re best defensive player. I think the NFL did the right thing, I hope they don’t change it because it was the right thing to do.”

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Breaking down Patriots pass rush numbers for 2014 regular-season

12.30.14 at 9:00 am ET
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Rob Ninkovich led the Patriots in sacks with eight this season. (Getty Images)

Rob Ninkovich led the Patriots in sacks with eight this season. (Getty Images)

Every week over the course of the 2014 season, we’€™ve looked at the Patriots pass rush numbers. Like all stats, the numbers have to be placed on context of game-situations and personnel. And while sacks can be overrated, when evaluated as part of a bigger picture that includes quarterback hits and quarterback pressures (the latter courtesy of Pro Football Focus), it gave us a good picture as to what defenders were consistently able to get after the quarterback. The Patriots ended the regular season tied for 13th in the league in sacks with 40. Based on the official NFL game books and PFF, here’€™s a look at the pass-rush numbers for the Patriots for the 2014 regular-season:

Sacks (via gamebooks)
DE Rob Ninkovich: 8 (54 yards)
LB Dont’€™a Hightower: 6 (50 yards)
DE Chandler Jones: 6 (49.5 yards)
LB Akeem Ayers: 4 (35 yards)
LB Jamie Collins: 4 (30 yards)
DL Chris Jones: 3 (17.5 yards)
DL Sealver Siliga: 2.5 (11.5 yards)
LB Deontae Skinner: 1 (10 yards)
LB Jerod Mayo: 1 (9 yards)
DL Casey Walker: 1 (5 yards)
DL Joe Vellano: 1 (4 yards)
DB Kyle Arrington: 1 (0 yards)
DE Zach Moore: 0.5 (2.5 yards)
DL Dominique Easley: 0.5 (2 yards)
DL Vince Wilfork: 0.5 (2 yards)

Quarterback Hits (via gamebooks)
DE Rob Ninkovich: 16
LB Dont’€™a Hightower: 12
DE Chandler Jones: 12
LB Jamie Collins: 7
DL Chris Jones: 6
LB Akeem Ayers: 5
DL Sealver Siliga: 4
DL Alan Branch: 2
DL Dominique Easley: 2
LB Jerod Mayo: 2
DL Vince Wilfork: 2
LB Jonathan Casillas: 1
DL Joe Vellano: 1
CB Brandon Browner: 1
LB Deontae Skinner: 1
DB Patrick Chung: 1
DL Casey Walker: 1
DB Tavon Wilson: 1

Quarterback Hurries (via PFF)
DE Rob Ninkovich: 33
LB Akeem Ayers: 23
DE Chandler Jones: 19
LB Jamie Collins: 17
LB Dont’€™€’„¢a Hightower: 17
DL Vince Wilfork: 16
DL Dominique Easley: 7
DL Chris Jones: 7
LB Jerod Mayo: 5
DE Zach Moore: 4
DL Casey Walker: 3
DL Sealver Siliga: 4
DL Alan Branch: 2
DL Joe Vellano: 2
S Devin McCourty: 2
S Patrick Chung: 2
LB Jonathan Casillas: 2
CB Alfonzo Dennard: 1
CB Kyle Arrington: 1
LB Darius Fleming: 1
S Tavon Wilson: 1

A few notes:

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Tedy Bruschi on D&H: Patriots defense ‘will have to’ pick up offense in playoffs

12.30.14 at 8:21 am ET
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ESPN analyst and former Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi joined Dale & Holley Monday for his weekly appearance and discussed the postseason for the Patriots, touching on a few things — what team the Patriots don’t want to play in the first-round, how good their defense is — among other topics. To hear the interview, go to the Dale & Holley audio on demand page.

The Patriots offense isn’t going into the playoffs playing their best — scoring 23 points or less in four of their last five games. When it comes to the postseason, there will be games where the offense is going to struggle and it will be up to the defense to bail them out. Bruschi feels this defense is capable, and will need to do that if the Patriots want to ultimately get and win the Super Bowl.

“I don’t delay, yes it is. They will have to,” said Bruschi. “I do see moments where this offense will struggle in the playoffs because every run to every Super Bowl, win or loss that the Patriots have had in the five I’ve been on, eventually there are games that one unit is going to have to pick up the other. If you think this offense is going to score 30 points a game, for three games in a row for the playoffs — the divisional game, the AFC Championship game, the Super Bowl — you’re mistaken. There is going to be a Matthew Slater, a Rob Ninkovich, Chandler Jones, Jamie Collins, those types of players that have to make big plays. It’s really only the final step. Even with Darrelle Revis, it is really the only final step. They made all the plays.

“They won the division. They’ve got their first-round bye. The only thing left for them to do is to make the plays when it is third-and-9 and you have to make a stop and the game is on the line, or the offense is going to have to convert by running the ball on a short-yardage situation in close games. [Stephen Gostkowski] is going to have to make a field goal … Divisional games, those types of moments from players that you don’t expect them from not named [Tom] Brady that will make this team a championship caliber team.”

With the Patriots earning a first-round bye, they don’t know who their first opponent will be. It will be either the Ravens, Colts, or Bengals — whatever the highest remaining seed is following this weekend’s Wild Card games. Bruschi feels the Ravens are the team the Patriots should least want to play because quarterback Joe Flacco and the rest of the team don’t fear the Patriots and playing in Gillette Stadium.

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Tim Wright set new mark for dependability in Patriots passing game in 2014

12.30.14 at 8:00 am ET
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Tim Wright

Tim Wright

Targets have been compiled by the NFL since the start of the 2009 season, and while it remains a vaguely imperfect stat –€” a badly thrown ball from a quarterback can often go against the record of the receiver as opposed to the quarterback –€” it remains a good indication of the confidence level a passer might have in his pass catcher. Here’€™s a look at the target breakdown for the 2015 regular-season, by receptions.

WR Julian Edelman: 92 catches on 134 targets (69 percent)
TE Rob Gronkowski: 82 catches on 129 targets (64 percent)
WR Brandon LaFell: 74 catches on 119 targets (62 percent)
RB Shane Vereen: 52 catches on 77 targets (68 percent)
WR Danny Amendola: 27 catches on 44 targets (61 percent)
TE Tim Wright: 26 catches on 33 targets (79 percent)
WR Kenbrell Thompkins: 6 catches on 10 targets (60 percent)
FB James Develin: 6 catches on 8 targets (75 percent)
RB James White: 5 catches on 5 targets (100 percent)
WR Brian Tyms: 5 catch on 11 targets (45 percent)
RB LeGarrette Blount: 4 catches on 4 targets (100 percent)
RB Stevan Ridley: 4 catches on 5 targets (80 percent)
WR Aaron Dobson: 3 catches on 5 targets (60 percent)
TE Michael Hoomananwanui: 3 catches on 6 targets (50 percent)
RB Brandon Bolden: 2 catches on 6 targets (33 percent)
RB Jonas Gray: 1 catch on 3 targets (33 percent)
TE Steve Maneri: 0 catches on 1 target (0 percent)
TOTAL: 392 catches on 600 targets

A few notes on these numbers, as well as some context:

— In his first season with the Patriots, Wright managed to set a new mark for dependability in the passing game with his 79 percent catch rate, a high for any offensive skill position player who was targeted at least 20 times in a single season. The tight end broke the previous mark of 77 percent, set by five different pass catchers, most recently Danny Woodhead (who caught 34 of 44 passes in 2010). Of course, that sure-handed skill is nothing new for Wright, who now has a two-year total as a pro (with the Bucs and Patriots) of 73 percent, a remarkable total for any receiver.

— This marked the second straight season that Edelman led the Patriots in targets — he had 105 catches on 151 targets last season.

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Could Patriots see Rex Ryan on opposing sideline this postseason?

12.30.14 at 12:55 am ET
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Could Rex Ryan be back to face the Patriots as a consultant to another playoff team next month? (Getty Images)

Could Rex Ryan be back to face the Patriots as a consultant to another playoff team next month? (Getty Images)

The Jets made it official on Monday, firing Rex Ryan as head coach. In five seasons, Ryan’€™s defenses made life difficult for Tom Brady and the Patriots offense at least twice a year — while his teams were almost always offensively challenged, Ryan’€™s defenses always managed to provide a stern test for New England.

But could Ryan show up on an opposing sideline to face the Patriots sooner rather than later? Specifically, this postseason? It’€™s not out of the realm of possibility. After all, New England football fans can recall the case of Josh McDaniels, who was allowed to leave the Rams at the end of the 2011 regular-season following the firing of head coach Steve Spagnuolo. McDaniels joined the Patriots that postseason, and was part of the coaching staff — as an offensive assistant — for the playoff game against his old team, the Broncos before taking over as the offensive coordinator the following season when Bill O’Brien left for Penn State.

With that in mind, there’€™s nothing to prevent Ryan joining another postseason team in the next week or so, and potentially bringing the secrets of his defensive success against the Patriots with him. Granted, it’€™s considered a long-shot for a few reasons, not the least of which is the fact that Ryan apparently wants a head coaching gig, and the idea of a short-term stopover with another franchise on the way to a full-time job probably isn’€™t all that palatable for him. (Not to mention the idea of another team letting him into their building for a month or two, only to see him stroll out the door with any sort of inside info he might attain along the way.)

But the idea of Rex and another playoff opponent conspiring to take down the Patriots next month is certainly food for thought. And while there are 11 other possibilities still out there, Ryan with the Broncos would likely be the most intriguing scenario, for a few reasons.

Denver is thought to have all the requisite pieces in place on the defensive side of the ball to allow him to play the sort of aggressive, attacking style he loves. With the exception of last year’€™s AFC title game, Denver defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio has looked pretty much clueless when it comes to going up against Brady and the Patriots. And while Del Rio and Ryan share some of the same basic defensive ideas from their time together in Baltimore, Ryan’€™s secrets to slowing Brady and the Patriots would represent a sizable improvement in that regard for the Broncos. (Against this backdrop, there’€™s also the possibility of Del Rio interviewing — or even taking — one of the available head coaching jobs, which would certainly add some potential intrigue to the mix.)

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