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Sunita Williams is out of this world for Rob Gronkowski and her Patriots

11.08.12 at 4:17 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Patriots public relations chief Stacey James held an iPad in the middle of the locker room Thursday while Patriots owner Robert Kraft, Zoltan Mesko and Rob Gronkowski took turns speaking into it while holding a cell phone.

On the the other end of the connection was Sunita Williams several hundred miles above Earth in the International Space Station, which is very appropriately the size and width of a football field.

She graduated from Needham High School in 1983 and has been a Patriots fan through thick and thin. She holds the record for the longest space walk ever by a female. But on Thursday, she was in front of video terminal talking to three people from her favorite team.

Williams, who went up on her current mission in July, is scheduled to live and work aboard the station through the end of this month.

“Take some pictures and send them down to us,” Gronkowski told her. “That’d be great.”

What seemed to really impress Gronkowski was the amount of armor and equipment the astronauts carry, up to 300 pounds worth.

“It’s not that difficult for us,” Gronk said. “Aren’t your suits way heavier than ours? Yeah, our armor is about five to six pounds. It’s a lot less than 300 pounds.”

Williams has been keeping close tabs on her Patriots as they return from the bye at 5-3 to play the Bills Sunday at Gillette.

“We prepared pretty well this week,” Gronk told Williams. “We have another practice [Friday]. We’re definitely ready after this bye week to get back to playing some games for sure.

“It was nice talking to you and get back safe.

After giving the phone back to James, Gronk made the following observation about the discussion over , “Wow, there’s an incredible, weird delay.”

And you thought London was a long trip.

Read More: Gronk, International Space Station, Needham High, New England Patriots

Catching up with … the Colts

11.08.12 at 1:35 pm ET
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The latest in our semi-regular series that looks at the other potential playoff teams in the AFC. This week, it’s the Colts.

Well, this was unexpected.

The Colts’€™ 5-3 start this season can be partially attributed to a spark providing from a new coaching staff, a hotshot quarterback and the emotional charge provided by the team rallying behind head coach Chuck Pagano, who is undergoing treatment for leukemia, going from “Suck for Luck” to “Don’t Suck for Chuck.” It can also partially be attributed to the fact that the Colts were bad last season, but not 2-14 bad.

It’€™s been a bizarre early going for the Colts, who lost their season opener to the Bears … which makes sense. Then, they beat an upstart Vikings team, which was surprising. Then, they lost to the Jaguars (Jacksonville’s only victory so far this season), which makes no sense. After a Week 4 bye, the Colts seem to have figured out who they are as a team, racking up four wins in five weeks, including a win against the Packers in Week 5, a week before, oddly enough, a rough loss to the Jets the following week.

The main storyline for the Colts this season has been their playing for their ill coach, a motivation that has led to some great victories. While it may be time to wonder how many times the Colts can play the ‘€œWin This One for Chuck’€ Card, here’€™s what we know about the Colts:

1. Andrew Luck is as good as advertised

The success of the top overall pick this season really raises one important question for the Indianapolis Colts: Just how bad were their quarterbacks last season?

After an early season experiment with then-38-year old Kerry Collins blew up in their faces, the Colts tried to run with Peyton Manning‘€™s former backup Curtis Painter at the helm, which also failed to produce much offense or, more importantly, any wins. The answer, it turned out, came in the form of journeyman Dan Orlovsky, who posted decent numbers in leading the Colts to two wins in their final three games, putting up serviceable numbers in the process.

What may be surprising is the fact that Luck hasn’€™t been all that more efficient than his predecessors. Luck’€™s current passer rating of 79.0 is actually lower than Orlovsky’€™s 82.4 and all that much higher than the team rating of 72.2. The biggest difference has actually been in terms of pure production, which is where Luck has completely transcended the Colts’€™ quarterback play in 2011.

After eight weeks, Luck is currently tied with Manning at fourth in the NFL in passing yardage with 2,404 yards, good for 300.5 yards per game. Painter, the Colts’€™ 2011 leader in yards per game, averaged just 171.2 yards per outing. Luck has also posted improved numbers in interception percentage, touchdown percentage and ESPN’€™s QBR stat with a mark of 76.09. No Colts quarterback posted a mark above 50 — the average rating — for 2011.

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Read More: Andrew Luck, Indiapolis Colts, Reggie Wayne,

Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski collecting several midseason awards

11.08.12 at 10:28 am ET
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The Patriots have been well represented in the handful of Midseason All-Pro teams that have recently been released. We already detailed the fact that our pals at Pro Football Focus have named right tackle Sebastian Vollmer one of the best at his position over the first eight games, but here are a few others that have been announced over the last few days.

‘€¢Daniel Jeremiah of put Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski on his Midseason All-Pro Team — regarding the big fella, Jeremiah quotes one NFC exec as saying, ‘€œHe’€™s a beast. He’€™s not the greatest athlete, but his length and body control are unreal. Can’€™t defend him.’€

‘€¢Gil Brandt of ranks the Top 20 rookies of 2012, and has defensive end Chandler Jones at No. 7 and linebacker Dont’€™a Hightower at No. 20. Of Jones, he writes, ‘€œWhen I put together a list of the best linemen in the NFL so far this season, Jones slotted in at No. 3 in the ‘€˜up-and-coming’€™ category on the defensive side of the ball. He’€™s gotten stronger since his days at Syracuse; a starter from Day 1, he has six sacks, 19 pressures and three forced fumbles in eight games.’€ As for Hightower, Brandt is also equally impressed. ‘€œHe’€™s missed two games due to injury, but he’€™s collected 25 tackles and two sacks in six games; when he’€™s healthy, he looks like he’€™s going to be a dominant outside linebacker.’€

‘€¢ESPN has a midseason All-Pro team — which was done by John Clayton — and he has Gronkowski as his tight end. Meanwhile, James Walker, who covers the AFC East for, has nine Patriots on his All-Division team, including six offensive players: Vollmer, Gronkowski, quarterback Tom Brady, right guard Dan Connolly, wide receiver Wes Welker and running back Stevan Ridley join Jones, defensive lineman Vince Wilfork and linebacker Jerod Mayo.

‘€¢Meanwhile, Gronkowski and Wilfork were named to the Pro Football Weekly Midseason All-Pro Team. On Gronk, PFW writes, ‘€œGronkowski has been great despite a hip injury that has limited his snaps. He’€™s on pace for 14 touchdowns ‘€” he already has scored 34 in 40 career games ‘€” and don’€™t forget his value as a blocker. The Pats have reemphasized the run this season and they love to run behind the strong blocking of ‘€˜Gronk.’€™’€œ When it comes to Wilfork, PFW says he’€™s been the anchor of New England’€™s run defense. ‘€œThe Patriots’€™ run ‘€˜D’€™ has been excellent and Wilfork is a huge reason why. He lines up in a number of different gaps as the Patriots use various fronts, and moves very well, making plays (like a huge hit on Bills WR Donald Jones in Week Four) you wouldn’€™t expect him to make. He has forced and recovered fumbles in key moments and is as reliable as they come.’€

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Chan Gailey: Bills can’t be concerned with history this weekend in Foxboro

11.08.12 at 10:02 am ET
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FOXBORO — Bills coach Chan Gailey says he and the rest of his team can’€™t worry about history as they head into this Sunday’€™s game against the Patriots at Gillette Stadium.

Despite the fact that Buffalo’€™s last win in New England came on Nov. 5, 2000 (with Doug Flutie leading the Bills to an overtime win at old Foxboro Stadium), Gailey said his players can’€™t worry about Buffalo’€™s historic struggles in New England.

‘€œI don’€™t think that is something that is thought about by the players and the coaches as much as it is by the outside people — that is what you all do is gather statistics and put them out there,’€ he said of the Bills, who have lost 11 straight in Foxboro. ‘€œThe majority of this team has been here for less than three years, so they don’€™t know. They just know that they have a big job in front of them as far as going in there and winning a tough game on the road.

‘€œWe have been able to win on the road a couple of times this year, so that is not something that is new to us — being able to go and try to win on the road. We played pretty good for the first quarter last year, so if you can turn that into three quarters, you give yourself a chance.’€

One thing that continues to weigh on the minds of the Bills is the way that the Patriots were able to close them out the last time they met. Back on Sept. 30 in Buffalo, the Bills had New England on the ropes ‘€“ they were holding a 21-7 lead in the second half. That was before the Patriots responded with 45 second-half points on the way to a 52-28 blowout.

‘€œWe let them run the football entirely too successfully in the second half of that ball game,’€ Gailey said of the Patriots, who had 247 rushing yards as a team on the afternoon. ‘€œThat is something we know we have to handle going into this next game. If we do not handle that, then all of the rest of it is a moot point. We have to be able to keep them out of the end zone.

‘€œIt looks like their offense has hit their rhythm and they are all in sync now. It looks like they are running the ball better. It probably started with our game. They’€™re probably running the ball better now than they did coming into our ball game. I think they are just as good defensively and I think their offense has kind of hit a stride and that has allowed the whole team to play better.’€

Here are a few other highlights from the media’€™s Q&A with Gailey:
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Buffalo’s Stevie Johnson on Patriots secondary: ‘They make plays when they need to’

11.07.12 at 6:06 pm ET
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FOXBORO ‘€“ Bills wide receiver Stevie Johnson acknowledged Wednesday that the Patriots don’€™t have the best secondary in the league, but ‘€œthey make plays when they need to ‘€¦ for the most part.’€

‘€œThey win games,’€ Johnson said of the New England secondary. ‘€œWe all know about the offense, but it still takes the defense to make plays and hold opponents off. They have done that. I cannot say they are the greatest, but when it is time to play, they definitely step up when needed. They’€™re a good bunch.’€

In a conference call with the New England media, the Bills’€™ top wide receiver — who was held out of practice Wednesday with what he called ‘€œa thigh bruise’€ — said that if he had to choose between the Patriots and Texans for the top team in the AFC, he’€™d go with New England.

‘€œI’€™m just going to have to say the Patriots because the first quarter (against the Texans) I was feeling pretty good about it from my perspective,’€ said Johnson, who has 35 catches for 416 yards and four touchdowns this year. ‘€œI was feeling pretty good about it. and then I ended up getting the thigh injury and I really couldn’€™t do too much. I played the game against the Patriots with pretty much no injury and they still put a whooping on us. So I am going to give the nod to the New England Patriots.’€

The 6-foot-2, 207-pound Johnson has engaged in a couple of memorable touchdown celebrations at Gillette Stadium, including pretending to fire the musket of one of the end zone Minutemen. (He also revealed a unique fashion sense last season when he scored a touchdown against New England in a New Year’€™s Day game and pulled up a T-shirt that had ‘€œHappy New Year!’€ written on the front. The stunt earned him a flag for unsportsmanlike conduct and some time on the sidelines.)

This time around, he said he has no celebrations planned.

‘€œThat happened in the middle of the game,’€ he recalled with a laugh when he was asked about the musket celebration. ‘€œThe Patriots scored, the musket went off and scared me on the sideline. I was like ‘€˜OK, I got something for them.’€™ This year, no. I pretty much just want to get in the end zone and keep my team ahead. Whatever happens is going to happen. I do not have anything planned though.

‘€œAll those gun days are done with Stevie Johnson.’€

He did have some good things to say about Rob Gronkowski‘€™s recent celebration in the Patriots-Rams game in London that saw the big tight end act like one of the palace guards.

‘€œI like Gronkowski. He’s good,’€ he said. ‘€œAnd it was well worth doing, being in London.

‘€œI think it is we put in this work from Monday all of the way to Sunday. You know how hard it is to get in the end zone. Just to get there is like, ‘€˜Man, I did it.’€™ Just want to celebrate a little bit,’€ he added. ‘€œI think it should be legal to celebrate at least with your teammates. You put in a lot of work throughout the week to get in the end zone, and when you get there, you feel like you can’€™t even do anything. We understand there are certain things you cannot do. I know I have done some things that you should not be able to do, but for the most part if it is a simple celebration. I think that should be good with any team.’€

Here are a few other highlights from his Q&A with the media:

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Tom Brady: ‘We’ve got to play better than we’ve played’

11.07.12 at 4:01 pm ET
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FOXBORO — What did the bye week teach Tom Brady?

“We’€™ve got to play better than we’€™ve played and hopefully that starts this week,” Brady said Wednesday during his first press conference since the bye weekend. “[Tuesday] we had a good day of practice and we’€™ve got to go out there and have a few more good days, but there’€™re a lot of things we need to improve on.”

That might seem a big odd for a quarterback that is again right in the middle of the NFL MVP debate at midseason. Brady is completing 65.3 percent of his passes for just over 2,400 yards, just under his 5,000-yard pace of a season ago. He’s thrown 16 touchdown passes and just three interceptions.

The Patriots have scored at least 30 points in five of their eight games. He put up a near-perfect performance going into the bye, with four TDs, 304 yards and a 131.1 rating against the Rams. Does he feel that he’s close to where he wants to be?

“We’€™ll see,” was all Brady would commit to on Wednesday. One thing he would commit to a little stronger on Wednesday was his developing chemistry with Brandon Lloyd, who caught just two passes against the Rams, both for touchdowns.

“I hope it keeps getting better,” Brady said. “We just keep working at it, so we go out there in practice and we work on things and Coach [Bill Belichick] tells us things that we need to do better. We’€™re always trying to make those improvements. I don’€™t think you can ever stop improving. I just think you just have to keep going out there to work at it and see if it can be better each day.”

The other area Brady had praise for Wednesday was the offensive line, and in particular Nate Solder.

“Nate played a lot last year too and he’s been very reliable and dependable really since the day he got here,” Brady said of the man who replaced Matt Light. “He’s very mature and I think he’s really asserted himself as a very good player. That’s a tough position to play. You get the best of your opponent every single week, and he’s never really backed down to a challenge, so there’€™s a lot of comfort there.”

Brady reiterated Wednesday that he knew the offensive line would eventually gel. Evidence of that is growing with every win.

“I’€™ve never really thought much [or] concerned myself with their job and so forth,” Brady added. “They’re very well coached and they work really hard. That entire group, it’€™s kind of like their own little subculture within the team they have, the things they do to get ready and they’€™re coached very hard and Dante Scarnecchia is one of the best coaches I’€™ve ever been around. It’€™s just a matter of time. The more you play together, the better you’re going to do, and those guys have continued to work really hard and obviously it’€™s shown out there on the field.” Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: New England Patriots, nfl, Tom Brady,

Steve Gregory is ‘real anxious’ to return this week against the Bills

11.07.12 at 2:46 pm ET
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FOXBORO — There would be some real symmetry if safety Steve Gregory returned to game action this week against the Bills at Gillette Stadium.

It was against those same Bills he injured his hip on Sept. 30 at Ralph Wilson Stadium and hasn’t played since. Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung (also injured) and rookies Tavon Wilson and Nate Ebner have been among those to pick up the slack in his absence, with widely varying degrees of success.

Gregory returned to practice last Thursday before the bye when the team was in full pads and is again on the practice field this week, including Wednesday’s practice inside the field house.

Will he finally make it back this weekend?

“Yeah, I mean I’m out there practicing right now, trying to definitely get back in the swing of things,” Gregory said Wednesday before hedging his bets. “We’ll see how it goes.”

For Gregory, it’s been hard to watch as his secondary teammates have been attacked in the media and in the air by opposing quarterbacks. He knows he could provide some stability on the back end with a healthy return.

“[I’m] real anxious,” Gregory said. “It’s not fun to sit on the couch and watch the guys out there playing, so I’m real anxious to get out there and play.”

But the extended rest has been necessary. He’s said before that the biggest mistake he could make is to rush back before he’s 100-percent and experience some sort of setback.

“Anytime you have an injury, time heals,” Gregory added. “The more time you have to heal and the bye week coming in there, gives you an extra week or really two weeks, the healing process is helped out.”

In Gregory’s mind, New England’s week off couldn’t have come at a better time.

“Anytime you have any injury, time heals,” he said. “The more time you have to heal . . . bye week coming in there and giving an extra week, really two weeks. The healing process helped out.”

So with the bye out of the way, Gregory feels confident in tackling the second half of the season.

“It’s important,” Gregory said. “The season can be a grind. You go through camp, then you go through the preseason, and you’re kind of eight weeks into it now. It’s good for the guys to get away, get their minds off things a little bit, see it from an outside perspective.

“But now, definitely, put that behind you. You had your time off. Get back to work and get this thing going. Vacation’s over.”

Read More: New England Patriots, nfl, Steve Gregory,
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