|01.13.15 at 4:35 pm ET|
Yes, the Patriots are playing in their fourth consecutive AFC championship game this Sunday against the Colts by way of their thrilling, 35-31 come-from-behind win over the Ravens last Saturday, in which they came back from two, 14-point deficits.
But that doesn’t mean the game was perfect by any standards.
Although the Patriots only turned the ball over once (a Tom Brady interception at the end of the first half), the Patriots fumbled on three different occasions, but fortunately retained possession on all three.
There was Danny Amendola‘s fumble on the kickoff early in the first quarter following Baltimore’s first touchdown of the game, but fortunately Chris Jones was able to recover. Julian Edelman fumbled in the second quarter, but he somehow recovered it, even with five Ravens players on top of him. Finally, on New England’s final drive before Brandon LaFell’s game-winning touchdown catch, Shane Vereen fumbled, although the play was reviewed and he was ruled down.
Coach Bill Belichick knows the team cannot have the same thing happen again on Sunday.
“I’d say the bottom line on all that is we have to do a much better job of taking care of the ball,” said Belichick on Tuesday’s conference call. “We had really four potential turnovers — one interception and three fumbles that we could have lost. We just have to do a better job of taking care of all those balls. Yeah, it speaks to the toughness of getting in there and fighting for the ball and all that, but we have to have better ball security than that, period.”
Turnovers are a huge part in both the Patriots success this year — they were second in the NFL with a plus-12 turnover differential, turning the ball over a tied for league-low 11 times — and also in the postseason, as since 1970, the Patriots are 18-1 when having a positive turnover ratio, and are just 4-12 when they have a negative turnover ratio.
|01.13.15 at 4:26 pm ET|
Walt Anderson will work as the lead official for Sunday’s AFC title game, according to FootballZebras.com.
This will mark the third Patriots game of the year for Anderson, who was the referee for New England’s season-opener against the Dolphins in Miami, as well as the Nov. 2 contest against between the Patriots and Broncos at Gillette Stadium.
Anderson, a retired dentist and current Big 12 coordinator of officials, has worked two Super Bowls, Super Bowl XXXV (where he worked as a line judge) and XLV (where he was the lead official).
Here’s a look at who has worked as the lead official for each New England game this year, and the corresponding penalties for each game, not counting the flags that were offset or declined.
Sept. 7 at Miami: Walt Anderson — 9 penalties, 100 yards (Dolphins — 4 penalties, 26 yards)
Sept. 14 at Minnesota: Tony Corrente — 15 penalties, 163 yards (Vikings — 7 penalties, 58 yards)
Sept. 21 vs. Oakland: Pete Morelli — 6 penalties, 59 yards (Raiders — 6 penalties, 49 yards)
Sept. 29 at Kansas City: John Parry — 3 penalties, 30 yards (Chiefs — 4 penalties, 35 yards)
Oct. 5 vs. Cincinnati: Jerome Boger — 12 penalties, 114 yards (Bengals — 4 penalties, 37 yards
Oct. 12 at Buffalo: Walt Coleman — 9 penalties, 60 yards (Bills — 8 penalties, 107 yards)
Oct. 16 vs. Jets: Bill Leavy — 9 penalties, 64 yards (Jets — 7 penalties, 70 yards)
Oct. 23 vs. Chicago: Brad Allen — 7 penalties, 38 yards (Bears — 5 penalties, 41 yards)
Nov. 2 vs. Denver: Walt Anderson — 9 penalties, 71 yards (Broncos — 10 penalties, 72 yards)
Nov. 16 at Indy: Pete Morelli — 5 penalties, 53 yards (Colts — 4 penalties, 27 yards)
Nov. 23 vs. Detroit: Tony Corrente — 11 penalties, 89 yards (Lions — 9 penalties, 54 yards)
Nov. 30 at Green Bay: Ed Hochuli — 4 penalties, 25 yards (Packers — 4 penalties, 22 yards)
Dec. 7 at San Diego: Bill Leavy — 6 penalties, 70 yards (Chargers — 8 penalties, 61 yards)
Dec. 14 vs. Miami: Bill Vinovich — 5 penalties, 51 yards (Dolphins — 5 penalties, 35 yards)
Dec. 21 at Jets: Brad Allen — 5 penalties, 38 yards (Jets — 2 penalties, 14 yards)
Dec. 28 vs. Buffalo: Terry McAulay — 5 penalties, 55 yards (Bills — 5 penalties, 44 yards)
Jan. 10 vs. Baltimore: Bill Vinovich — 7 penalties, 60 yards (Ravens — 7 penalties, 65 yards)
Jan. 18 vs. Indy: Walt Anderson —
For more on Anderson’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. And for more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.
|01.13.15 at 3:57 pm ET|
In the wake of Saturday’s thrilling 35-31 come-from-behind victory over the Ravens, a lot of attention has been focused on the four offensive linemen set that confounded Baltimore’s defense and led to three completions on a crucial touchdown drive.
The question moving forward is what new wrinkles the Patriots might add when they face the Colts this weekend, since Indy presumably won’t be fooled if Shane Vereen checks into the game as an ineligible slot receiver while Michael Hoomanawanui minds his own business at left tackle before taking off up the seam.
But here’s a potential wrinkle we ran by Bill Carollo, a former NFL referee and the current officiating coordinator for the Big Ten — what if the Patriots target Vereen on a lateral, backwards pass, or end-around toss even after he reports as ineligible?
“Yes to all,” Carollo wrote an in e-mail. “Legal.”
“Any player (eligible or ineligible) can always legally receive a lateral or backward pass,” he wrote. “Ineligible players cannot receive a forward pass in the NFL unless they report as eligible to the referee prior to the snap. Then the proper mechanics is the referee will inform the defense and announce on the mic.”
What this means is if the Colts were to ignore Vereen entirely, as many believed the Ravens should’ve done, that could be a dangerous game. As long as the ball isn’t moving forward when he receives it, Vereen could still be targeted behind the line on a screen, or if the Patriots really want to get tricky, they could run a play like Tennessee’s infamous “Home Run Throwback” that led to the Music City Miracle against the Bills in the 2000 playoffs.
That would certainly require next-level gutsiness on the part of head coach Bill Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, but judging from some of the plays the Patriots ran last week – including a 51-yard option pass from wide receiver Julian Edelman – we shouldn’t rule out anything.
|01.13.15 at 2:52 pm ET|
Here are some leftover thoughts from Law on Peyton Manning, as well as one of the unsung plays of his Patriots career, in the Snow Bowl against the Raiders.
On Manning: Law picked the future Hall of Famer three times in the 2003 AFC title game, cementing his place as one of the great postseason performers of this generation.
But whereas many consider Manning a postseason choke artist, Law looks at the QB differently.
“I didn’t get many balls thrown at me most of my career,” Law said. “Peyton Manning, he always threw it. Peyton was a little different. I understand I’m covering Marvin Harrison, his go-to guy. He’s supposed to think his guy is better than me. He’s supposed to be confident. He’s one of the best two or three quarterbacks ever to play the game.
“It was like a Super Bowl or the playoffs. If I knew there was any game where I was going to be on ESPN all week either getting beat or making a play, it was going to be against Peyton, because he was one of the few QBs who wasn’t afraid to throw at me consistently. You’ve got to respect that. I actually looked forward to it. Hell, you ain’t getting no stats if nobody throws at you!”
On the Snow Bowl: The Patriots would never have had a chance for Adam Vinatieri to send the game to overtime if they hadn’t stopped Raiders fullback Zack Crockett on third and 1 with just over two minutes left in regulation. Richard Seymour shot into the backfield to blow up the play, and Tedy Bruschi and Law flew over the line to finish him off.
“I wasn’t thinking about covering Jerry Rice or Tim Brown,” Law said. “I’m thinking in this situation they’re going to run the ball and play it safe, because they need that yard to keep the ball. You play the situation and you take the same approach to making that tackle as breaking up a pass.
“I didn’t want to be known as just a cover corner or tackler. I wanted to be known as a complete player that could do everything. In that particular situation, it’s doing what you have to do to get your team to the next level, and if that means sacrificing your body, that’s what it means. It didn’t matter what surface we were playing on. You’re going full bore as hard as you can to make sure he doesn’t get that yard.”
|01.13.15 at 1:53 pm ET|
On Nov. 16, the Patriots prepared for the mobility of Andrew Luck and had a great deal of success, limiting him to just three runs out of the pocket for 15 yards, including a long of seven yards.
If they can repeat that again on Sunday night in the AFC championship, the odds are good they’ll be going back to the Super Bowl for a sixth time in the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady era. But that’s a big if. And the Patriots head coach acknowledged as much in a Tuesday conference call.
The reason is that the Patriots have shown the ability to cover receivers downfield in their routes for the better part of the season. When a quarterback scrambles and still possesses the strength to throw or run for big chunks of yardage, that can (as defensive coordinator Matt Patricia pointed out Monday) wreak havoc on defensive responsibilities.
“He’s like a sixth receiver you have to cover,” Belichick said of Luck. “He can run, but again, if he extends the play then he has the ability to create big plays. We’ve seen him do that multiple times throughout his career already. The play he made against Denver where he kept the ball on about the nine, 10-yard line in the red area and ran it in for an easy touchdown ‘ it was called back, but it was an easy touchdown.
“It’s another guy you have to defend in the running game, the passing game in terms of his ability to scramble and make first-down yardage on possession-type downs. And he makes good decisions, so all those things are a problem: having to cover receivers longer and having to deal with his ability to run for yardage.”
Comparisons to Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger have been made, in terms of Luck’s toughness as a runner and in the pocket. But Belichick noted Tuesday that the thing to watch Sunday is Luck’s pure speed as a running quarterback, something that can get overlooked.
“He’s a big, strong guy that runs out of a lot of arm tackles and that type of thing. He’s a lot faster than Roethlisberger, so he’s much more of a threat to gain more yardage and gain it quicker,” Belichick said. “But, yeah, similar. Roethlisberger is, that guy is really hard to tackle. He’s a really strong guy in the pocket. So is Luck, but they’re both a problem.”
“Yeah, he’s done it,” Belichick said. “We’ve definitely seen the play before from them. I wouldn’t say that’s a main part of their offense, like we saw from Miami, for example. It’s something they do, but it’s not something you’re going to see 20 times a game, like other teams in the league do it like that, or more.” Read the rest of this entry »
|01.13.15 at 12:29 pm ET|
NBC Sports NFL analyst Rodney Harrison made his weekly appearance on Middays with MFB on Tuesday to discuss the upcoming AFC championship game and also to talk about other matters around the league, including Peyton Manning. To hear the interview, go to the MFB audio on demand page.
The Colts come into this weekends game after upsetting the Broncos in Denver on Sunday and beating the Bengals at home in the wild card round. Although the offense, led by Andrew Luck, led the NFL in passing yards in the regular season with 4,894 yards, Harrison feels they can be beat, especially with Luck being prone to turn the ball over.
“I think from a physical standpoint, I think the Ravens were probably the most physical team that [the Patriots] have played all year,” said Harrison. “The Colts really surprised me. I didn’t believe in the Colts and you watch them during the regular season and they lost to the Patriots. Ben Roethlisberger put up what, 500, 600 passing yards, 51 points on them. They didn’t really beat any marquee teams. Cincinnati isn’t really a marquee team. I didn’t really believe in the Colts with Andrew Luck and all the turnovers, but I do believe this is a favorable matchup for the Patriots.
“You didn’t want to see Denver. As terrible as they played against the Indianapolis Colts I think with Andrew Luck and these weapons, which I think these weapons are a little bit overblown. I think T.Y. Hilton is a standout, Reggie Wayne — he’s not the same player, Coby Fleener is a decent tight end and they can make some plays. Hakeem Nicks is nothing that you’re going to lose sleep over. I do believe if they can get pressure on Andrew Luck, which other teams have shown, they can rattle him and he will turn the ball over.”
Much of the talk after Sunday’s Colts-Broncos game was more about Peyton Manning and whether or not the 38-year-old will retire after the season. It was also learned on Monday he played the final month of the year with a torn right quad. Harrison thinks it might be time for the quarterback to call it a career.
“Obviously Peyton coming off an emotional loss, it’s going to take time,” he said. “I mean, right now he’s at a crossroads in his career because the last few years have been a huge disappointment — obviously this loss to Indianapolis to me is just devastating. This is a team that you should have beat. To go out there and play the way that team played, to spend the money that John Elway spent, bringing guys on the defensive side of the ball and that is all they preached all season. ‘We finally got all the pieces to our puzzle. We knew what we needed from a defensive standpoint. We already have the offense.’ To go out and play the way they played was absolutely stunning to me.
“I think Peyton Manning, he has to look long and hard at what his options are. Retirement, he can go into the booth. He’d be a great broadcaster, but at the same time, you keep playing, your arm is not going to get any stronger. Things won’t get better as you get older. He’s at a point, he’s 39 next year and if I am him I am really seriously considering walking away from the game.”
|01.13.15 at 10:41 am ET|
Starting center Bryan Stork left Saturday’s divisional round game with the Ravens in second quarter with a knee injury. It was then announced right after halftime he would not return to the game.
The rookie was not seen in the locker room following the game, and coach Bill Belichick didn’t have much of an update to offer on Tuesday’s conference call.
“I think Bryan has done a good job for us,” said Belichick. “We finished the game without him last week and if he wasn’t available then we’d be in a similar situation this week. Whether it would be the same [personnel] or different, I don’t really want to get into that. He’s obviously done a good job for us, he’s grown along the way.”
When Stork went down the Patriots made some adjustments on the offensive line, as Ryan Wendell shifted over from right guard to center and Josh Kline was inserted at right guard. Kline has emerged as the team’s top backup offensive linemen, as he started in place of Dan Connolly at left guard when he missed the final two games of the regular season. When it comes to Sunday’s game against the Colts, if Stork cannot play, it would seem Jordan Devey would become active, and along with Marcus Cannon, serve as the backup offensive linemen.
Another scenario to consider is rookie offensive lineman Cameron Fleming could be active, as the team had a lot of success in the last meeting with the Colts with Fleming serving as an extra offensive lineman. The Patriots ran for a total of 257 yards in the game.
Stork has been very important to the offensive line after taking over at center in Week 4. As noted last week, when the Patriots had a starting offensive line of Nate Solder, Connolly, Stork, Wendell and Sebastian Vollmer, they allowed only four sacks in the regular season, compared to 17 with any other combination. Tom Brady also a QB rating almost 14 points higher.
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