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Terrell Suggs may have just lit a fire under Tom Brady

12.22.10 at 12:46 pm ET
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FOXBORO — It would make for great playoff theater. Baltimore against New England. Not because it would be a rematch of last January’s playoff match. Not because it would be a replay of October’s thrilling Patriots comeback, won by the Patriots, 23-20, in overtime.

But simply because of Tom Brady vs. Terrell Suggs.

Brady may be having one of his best seasons ever but that’s not good enough to even land a spot on one AFC player’s Pro Bowl ballot. Suggs – Baltimore’s perennial Pro Bowl linebacker – told Yahoo’s Michael Silver he voted for Peyton Manning, Phillip Rivers and Ryan Fitzpatrick but not Brady for the game to be played Jan. 30 in Hawaii.

Brady and Suggs have a past of exchanging shots at one another. The two have had big battles in the last year, including the playoffs last January when the Ravens won, 33-14, and on Oct. 17, when the Patriots prevailed in overtime, 23-20. It was after the game in October that Suggs made fun of Brady’s supermodel wife, Gisele Bundchen, and Brady replied, “They talk a lot for only beating us once in nine years.”

Asked if he was forgetting about Brady’s prolific season in omitting the Patriots quarterback, Suggs replied, “I’m pretty sure he didn’t vote for me either.”

As an aside, fans not only voted for Brady, he was the top Pro Bowl vote-getter at any position with 1,877,079 votes. Brady was followed by Michael Vick, Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers, Drew Brees, Adrian Peterson and Aaron Rodgers in results released by the NFL.

Read More: Baltimore Ravens, Gisele, New England Patriots, nfl

Pats add DL Landon Cohen

12.22.10 at 11:12 am ET
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FOXBORO — The Patriots made another move to add depth to their injury-ravaged defensive line on Wednesday when they announced the signing of Landon Cohen. To make room for Cohen on the roster, the team released DL Louis Leonard, who was signed last week.

The defensive lineman was a seventh-round selection of the Detroit Lions out of Ohio University in 2008 and has played for Lions and Jaguars.

After being drafted by the Lions, Cohen spent his rookie season as a backup defensive tackle. He was elevated to a starting position in 2009, but was released on the day of final cuts in 2010 and subsequently signed by the Jaguars. He spent two games with Jacksonville before being released. Cohen has since worked out for a number of teams, including the Philadelphia Eagles.

Dan Connolly wins AFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors

12.22.10 at 9:25 am ET
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Patriots offensive lineman Dan Connolly has been named the AFC Special Teams Player of the Week.

Connolly returned a first-half kickoff 71 yards to the 4-yard line in the second quarter. According to Elias Sports Bureau, it is the longest kickoff return by an offensive lineman in NFL history. The run by Connolly topped the 48-yard touchdown return by Atlanta’s Mal Snider in 1969. The previous longest kickoff return for a Patriots offensive lineman was a 27-yard return by Stephen Neal on Nov. 30, 2008 vs. Pittsburgh. Connolly’€™s previous best was a 16-yard return vs. Miami on Nov. 8, 2009. Connolly’€™s return set up a 2-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady to Aaron Hernandez that cut the Packers‘€™ lead to 17-14.

Connolly is the second offensive lineman to ever be named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week. Oakland’€™s Langston Walker won the award in Week 12 of the 2004 season after blocking a field goal attempt.

New England has now been honored four times with Player of the Week Awards in 2010. James Sanders was named AFC Defensive Player of the Week following the Patriots 39-26 victory over Pittsburgh in Week 10. Brady earned the award in back-to-back weeks, following the 45-24 win at Detroit in Week 12 and the 45-3 win vs. the Jets in Week 13. In addition, Connolly’€™s honor is the first Special Teams Player of the Week for New England since Stephen Gostkowski was honored in Week 9 of the 2009 season.

Read More: Dan Connolly, James Sanders, Langston Walker, Stephen Gostkowski

Target practice: Wes Welker remains Tom Brady’s favorite receiver

12.22.10 at 12:23 am ET
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Since the start of the 2009 season, roughly one in every four times a Patriots quarterback has passed the football, it’€™s been in the direction of Wes Welker.

Targets have been compiled by the NFL since the start of the 2009 season, and while it remains an 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. And it’€™s clear that Welker has an extraordinary chemistry with quarterback Tom Brady.

A look at the NFL box scores reveals that since the start of the 2009 season ‘€” including the playoff defeat to the Ravens last January, when Welker wasn’t on the field ‘€” the Patriots have completed 714 passes on 1,077 targets for a target rate of 66 percent. In the last 31 games the Patriots have played, Welker has missed three of them. In that time span, a Patriots quarterback (usually Brady ‘€” backup Brian Hoyer only has 29 pass attempts since the beginning of 2009) has thrown 278 passes in Welker’€™s direction ‘€” more than anyone else on the team ‘€” and the receiver has 206 receptions, a catch rate of 74 percent, best among anyone on the team with at least 50 receptions. In all, Welker has accounted for a team-high 29 percent of all Patriots’€™ receptions and been targeted on 26 percent of the New England pass attempts.

(The numbers are all the more impressive when you consider the fact that, according to STATS Inc., Welker ranks third in the league this season with 10 drops, trailing only Terrell Owens and Reggie Wayne, who each have 11.)

As for the rest of the pass catchers, predictably, the biggest numbers belong to Randy Moss. In just 21 games in New England since the start of 2009, he was targeted 166 times and caught 97 passes, which was good enough to put him second on each list by a wide margin. (He is far off Welker’s catch rate, however ‘€” Moss caught 58 percent of the passes a Patriots’€™ quarterback threw in his direction.) Overall, he accounted for 14 percent of the receptions and 15 percent of the targets.

The New England offense has seen a lot of turnover in the last year-plus ‘€” the trades of Moss and Laurence Maroney, the season-ending injury to Kevin Faulk in Week 2 of the 2010 season, as well as the departures of Ben Watson, Joey Galloway, Chris Baker and Sam Aiken. Many of those who left produced good numbers when it came to catch rates ‘€” Watson, Baker (71 percent each) and Maroney (78 percent) all caught at least 70 percent of the balls thrown in their direction in 2009.

But the Patriots have been able to keep those numbers high because of the addition of rookie tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, as well as running back Danny Woodhead. All three youngsters also have catch rates over 70 percent this season, with Hernandez (45 catches on 64 targets, 70 percent), Gronkowski (32 catches on 42 targets, 76 percent) and Woodhead (31 catches on 40 targets, 78 percent) all providing some reliability in the passing game.

When it comes to Gronkowski, a lot of that has to do with his 6-foot-6, 264-pound frame.

‘€œIf you get it in his area, he’€™s going to catch it,’€ Brady said after the recent win over the Jets. ‘€œHe’€™s so tall. He’€™s got long arms. He’€™s got huge hands. Wherever you put it with him, he’€™s able to come down with it. So, he’€™s got a great what they call ‘€˜catch radius.’€™ That is, he’€™s got a huge wingspan, he’€™s able to snatch that ball wherever you put it.’€

In addition, the addition of Deion Branch (46 catches on 69 targets, 67 percent) and the continued growth of BenJarvus Green-Ellis (10 catches on 13 targets this season for a total of 77 percent) in the passing game are also part of the reason the team target rate has risen since 2009.

Here are the complete numbers, culled from the official box scores:

Randy Moss: 88 receptions ‘€“ 144 targets.
Wes Welker: 123 receptions ‘€“ 162 targets.
Ben Watson: 32 receptions ‘€“ 45 targets.
Kevin Faulk: 43 receptions ‘€“ 60 targets.
Laurence Maroney: 14 receptions ‘€“ 18 targets.
Chris Baker: 15 receptions ‘€“ 21 targets.
Sammy Morris: 22 receptions ‘€“ 33 targets.
Joey Galloway: 7 receptions ‘€“ 20 targets.
Isaiah Stanback: 3 receptions ‘€“ 7 targets.
Julian Edelman: 43 receptions ‘€“ 62 targets.
Fred Taylor 2 receptions ‘€“ 3 targets
Sam Aiken: 21 catches ‘€“ 46 targets.
Michael Matthews: 0 catches ‘€“ 1 target.
Matthew Slater: 0 catches ‘€“ 1 target.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis: 2 catches ‘€“ 5 targets.
Brandon Tate: 0 catches ‘€“ 2 targets.
Totals: 17 games, 415 catches ‘€“ 630 targets.

Wes Welker: 83 receptions ‘€“ 116 targets.
Randy Moss: 9 receptions ‘€“ 22 targets.
Kevin Faulk: 6 receptions ‘€“ 11 targets.
Brandon Tate: 22 receptions ‘€“ 42 targets.
Fred Taylor: 2 receptions ‘€“ 2 targets.
Aaron Hernandez: 45 receptions ‘€“ 64 targets.
Rob Gronkowski: 32 receptions ‘€“ 42 targets.
Sammy Morris: 5 receptions ‘€“ 8 targets.
Julian Edelman: 4 receptions ‘€“ 9 targets.
Alge Crumpler: 4 receptions ‘€“ 8 targets.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis: 10 receptions ‘€“ 13 targets.
Matthew Slater: 0 receptions ‘€“ 1 target.
Danny Woodhead: 31 receptions ‘€“ 40 targets.
Deion Branch: 46 receptions ‘€“ 69 targets.
Totals: 14 games, 299 receptions ‘€“ 447 targets.

Read More: Aaron Hernandez, Ben Watson, BenJarvus Green Ellis, Danny Woodhead

Report: Patriots waive Louis Leonard

12.21.10 at 8:16 pm ET
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The Patriots have waived defensive lineman Louis Leonard, according to ESPN. Leonard was signed last Wednesday and was active for Sunday’s win over the Packers, but did not play defense. The 26-year-old Leonard is a 6-foot-4, 325-pounder who played collegiately at Fresno State, then spent one season with Cleveland and a year-plus with Carolina before signing with the Patriots last week.

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The Big Nickel: Chad O’Shea discusses Taylor Price and Julian Edelman, while Nick caserio talks about finding talent in the CFL

12.21.10 at 4:48 pm ET
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The five most important things you need to know about the Patriots on Tuesday:

1. When it came to wide receiver coach Chad O’€™Shea’€™s conference call with the media Tuesday afternoon, both rookie Taylor Price and second-year receiver Julian Edelman were big topics of discussion.

Price has been inactive for all 14 regular-season games, but O’€™Shea said the 90th overall pick in the 2010 draft is rapidly improving behind the scenes: ‘€œTaylor is working extremely hard right now,’€ O’€™Shea said of the Ohio product who reminded more than a few people of David Givens during training camp.

‘€œHe’€™s doing what we ask him to do which is go to practice and try to get better every day. He’€™s got some great receivers, in my opinion, in front of him that he can learn from and if he does so, he’€™ll continue to progress. All that we ask of him is to keep working hard and I think he has worked hard.’€

2. Meanwhile, Edelman has struggled at times this season ‘€” after catching 37 passes as a rookie, he only had four through 13 games this year. Included among those are some bad drops, including one he suffered last week in the win over the Packers.

‘€œCoach [Bill] Belichick is the first to say it, that our job as receivers is to get open and catch the ball,” O’€™Shea said of Edelman, who had 10 catches for 103 yards in last year’€™s regular-season finale. ‘€œRegardless of what the reason is that we drop it, we need to go out there and correct the mistakes. Julian will work hard to do so, just as all our receivers will work hard to catch the ball and get open every week.’€
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Read More: Bill Belichick, Chad O'Shea, David Nelson, Julian Edelman

WEEI NFL Power Rankings: Week 16

12.21.10 at 6:48 am ET
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The top two teams in the WEEI NFL Power Rankings are on the verge of clinching the No. 1 seed in their respective conference. The Patriots (1) and Falcons (2) are cruising through the regular season and are poising themselves for a playoff run. The Falcons will collide with their division rival New Orleans Saints (7) on Monday Night Football in Week 16.

Moving on up are the Eagles (3), the Ravens (4), and the Jets (5). All three of those teams were victorious against playoff caliber opponents over the weekend. Meanwhile, the G-Men fall to No. 10 after their giant collapse against the Eagles at home.

A playoff spot is on the line in the NFC West and no team in that division ranks higher than No. 21 in the rankings. The Rams (21), 49ers (24), and Seahawks (25) will battle it out over the next two weeks for the NFC West crown. It is impossible for any of those teams to have a record over .500.

1. (1) 12-2 It wasn’t the prettiest victory but every year people say “Super Bowl caliber teams find ways to win games.” The most important quality about this team is that they continue to protect the football. The Patriots have nine total turnovers and a quarterback that hasn’t thrown an interception since Week 6. The three-time Super Bowl champs are one win away from locking up the No. 1 seed in the AFC.

2. (2) 12-2 Matt Ryan and the Falcons have won eight straight games and continue to play well in all areas of the game. They are extremely balanced on offense and do a great job creating turnovers on defense. The Falcons are one win away from clinching the No. 1 seed in the NFC.

3. (5) 10-4 It doesn’t matter what the other team did to choke the game away, the Eagles came back from a 21-point deficit in the fourth quarter and found a way to win the game. This win will certainly be a momentum booster as Mike Vick and the Eagles soar into the playoffs . I think it’s safe to say that no team in the NFC will want to face them in the playoffs.

4. (6) 10-4 Ray Rice proved that the Ravens offensive game plan should go through him. The third-year running back had 153 yards on the ground and 80 yards receiving. The Ravens will certainly have to rely on Rice going forward into the playoffs. After a mediocre performance last week on defense, they were able to get solid pressure on Drew Brees and force a key interception late in the fourth-quarter.

5. (8) 10-4 Mark Sanchez and the Jets offense returned against one of the best defenses in the game. The Jets scored their first offensive touchdown in 12 quarters. What was also impressive was the way the Jets defense stepped up during the closing seconds of the game and stopped the Steelers from scoring a touchdown. This was a quality win on the road from the Jets.

6. (3) 10-4 The Steelers D needs Troy Polamalu on the field to be be the dominating defense we’re all accustomed to seeing. The defensive unit looks completely different without No. 43 patrolling the secondary.  Luckily for the Steelers, they can afford to let Polamalu rest up for the playoffs if they choose to do so. Their final two games are against two last place teams, the Panthers and the Browns.

7. (4) 10-4 Defending the Vince Lombardi trophy will certainly be a lot harder now that the division seems almost impossible for the Saints to win. The Saints will most likely have to play on the road during the playoffs.

8. (10) 10-4 The NFC North champions now turn their focus on getting the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye in the playoffs. If the Bears win their remaining two games against the Jets and Packers, they will have that opportunity.

9. (9) 8-6 The Chargers are rolling– they’ve won six of their last seven games. The pass rush has stepped up in a huge way. In their latest win, the Chargers D sacked 49ers quarterback Alex Smith six times.

10. (7) 9-5 Giants players and coaches need to put their heartbreaking loss behind them or they might not even make the playoffs. The Giants have an extremely big game against the Packers this Sunday and playoff implications are on the line. Defensively, they’ve played well against Michael Vick and need to use the potential of getting another shot at the Eagles in the playoffs as motivation.

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