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Young and the Restless: Measuring the impact of 25-and-under players on Patriots offense through the years

09.11.13 at 2:28 pm ET
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The fact that the New England receiving corps became demonstrably younger over the course of this past offseason — the average age of the the Patriots receivers went from over 30 at the midway point of the 2012 season to 25 at the start of the 2013 season — led us to wonder about the overall success rate of young skill position players in the New England system under quarterback Tom Brady. (As well as what might be considered a reasonable level of expectations for each of this year’s rookies.) Since 2001, here’s a look at the track record of notable skill position players age 25 or under with the Patriots.

2001: The only 25-or-under player on offense who had any impact on that team was the 25-year-old Kevin Faulk, who had 30 catches for 189 yards and two touchdowns, to go along with 41 carries for 169 yards and a touchdown.

2002: At age 23, Deion Branch had 43 catches for 489 yards and two touchdowns for the 2002 Patriots. That same year, David Givens had nine catches for 92 yards and a touchdown in his rookie year with New England. The 24-year-old tight end Daniel Graham was also a rookie in 2002, and had 15 catches for 150 yards and a touchdown.

2003: Then 24, Branch had 57 catches for 803 yards and three touchdowns. That same season, rookie Bethel Johnson — who was also 24 that year — had 16 catches for 209 yards and two touchdowns. Graham was 25 that season, and had 38 catches for 409 yards and four touchdowns.

2004: This was the year where Givens — then 24 — really came into his own with 56 catches for 874 yards and three touchdowns. The 25-year-old Branch finished the season with 35 receptions for 454 yards and four touchdowns (as well as Super Bowl MVP honors). And the 25-year-old Johnson had 10 catches for 174 yards and a touchdown. (On the other end of the spectrum, 24-year-old first-round pick Ben Watson ended the year on IR after just one game and two catches.)

2005: Branch and Johnson transitioned out of the 25-and-under age group, but Givens had another stellar year (his last with the Patriots). At the age of 25, he had 59 catches for 738 yards and two touchdowns. Meanwhile, the 25-year-old Watson finished with 29 receptions for 441 yards and four touchdowns in what might have been his most impactful season with the Patriots.

2006: Running back Laurence Maroney had an relatively impressive season a 21-year-old rookie, ending the 2006 season with 199 carries for 812 yards and 13 touchdowns, as well as 15 catches for 147 yards. (His fellow rookie — 21-year-old Chad Jackson — wasn’t as lucky, struggling in the system with 13 catches in 12 games.) Rookie tight end David Thomas was the only other skill position player under the age of 25 who had any sort of impact, ending the year with 11 catches for 159 yards and a touchdown.
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Pressure Points: Which New England defenders have done best job of getting after QB this season?

09.11.13 at 1:19 pm ET
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Every week over the course of the 2013 season, we’ll provide a look at the Patriots pass rush numbers. 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 should provide a good picture as to which defenders are consistently able to get after the quarterback. On Sunday, the Patriots had four quarterback hits, five quarterback hurries and zero sacks. Based on the official NFL game books and PFF, here’s a quick look at some pass-rush numbers for the Patriots to this point in the 2013 season:

Quarterback hits (per NFL game books)
DL Tommy Kelly: 2
DE Rob Ninkovich: 1
DE Chandler Jones: 1

Quarterback hurries (per PFF)
DE Chandler Jones: 3
DL Vince Wilfork: 1
DE Rob Ninkovich: 1

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Mike Mayock on Patriots offense: ‘With youth comes growing pains’

09.11.13 at 12:59 pm ET
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Mike Mayock agrees with Tom Brady.

This isn’t necessarily because Mayock is a smart guy — there are few football analysts who spend more time watching tape than Mayock, a former Boston College defensive back who played for Bill Belichick with the Giants and now works for the NFL Network. (He’ll be part of the broadcast team for Thursday’s Patriots-Jets game.)

But after watching the Patriots in the regular-season opener against the Bills last week, he echoes the opinion of the New England quarterback: when it comes to the Patriots offense — and the passing game in particular — it’s a work in progress.

“With youth comes growing pains,” Mayock said when asked to dissect the New England offense and how it operated against the Bills. “That’s just the way of the world in anything. I think what they are betting on is that over time, these guys are younger, quicker, faster, and will develop into better playmakers down the road. You might lose a little bit early — and by the way, I thought there were several disconnects between Brady and his young receivers in the game [Sunday]. And I think that’s something you’re going to have to live with for a little time.”

One player who caught his eye over the course of the preseason was rookie wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins, who was targeted 14 times and had four catches against the Bills. Mayock said that Thompkins “has an ability to separate and get open,” but reiterated that it will take some time for Thompkins and the rest of the rookies to adjust to the pro game.

“Now, when [Rob] Gronkowski gets back, I think a lot of that gets better more quickly because he’ll draw so much coverage. But I think Thompkins has an ability to separate and get open. Dobson, who didn’t play, I think has big time ability in size,” Mayock said. “I think what you’re looking at, and the reason they did this is my guess, is that over time, they are going to get better. And Tom Brady is the kind of guy that can get them a win like yesterday when they had all they could handle and more, but they still got the win, and try to allow these guys time to develop.”

As for the rest of the receiving corps, Mayock praised Danny Amendola, but stopped sort of offering a full endorsement of the decision the Patriots made to go with him ahead of Wes Welker.

“I think that Amendola is a very similar a guy to Welker five years ago — he’s younger, fresh legs, etc., and both are very similar type of players. They both win very quickly,” Mayock said. “That’s what Tom Brady and Peyton Manning love about those kind of players, because when they bring heavy pressure, you trust that this guy is going to win quickly.

“Now the whole thing with Amendola is staying healthy; and [Sunday], watching the game, it looked like he had a groin problem but came back in and obviously made the key catches down the stretch,” he added. “I think when healthy, he’s very comparable to Welker and he’s younger than Welker, which is why I think they made the move. The only caveat I would give you on the kid is that he’s got to stay healthy with his history of injuries.”

Read More: Danny Amendola, Kenbrell Thompkins, Mike Mayock, Tom Brady

What they’re saying in New York: ‘Buttfumble’ in the past, Patriots appear vulnerable

09.11.13 at 12:26 pm ET
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When the Jets and Patriots take the field Thursday night at Gillette Stadium, the game will feature a complete overhaul from the teams that faced off on Thanksgiving last year. That meeting resulted in a 49-19 Patriots rout and produced arguably the most infamous play of the season: the ‘€œButtfumble.’€

Absent is the man at the center of it all, Mark Sanchez, who smacked into the backside of his own lineman, Brandon Moore, and dropped the ball that New England’s Steve Gregory returned for a touchdown. Sanchez is out with a shoulder injury to start the season.

Moore retired at the end of the season.

‘€œThere’€™s so many new guys in that locker room,’€ said Mark Cannizzaro of the New York Post during a Wednesday morning appearance on Dennis & Callahan. ‘€œI’€™m walking around there yesterday, as we do covering teams, and you look at these lockers where you’€™re going to go talk to a guy that you’€™ve spoken to for the last three or four years, and you’€™re like, ‘€˜Oh, jeez, that guy’€™s not on the team anymore.’€™ There are so many new guys now.’€™

“Most of the guys in that locker room weren’€™t even a part of the thing last year.”

The team on the positive side of the blowout also underwent a transformation this offseason. The Patriots lost both their tight ends — Rob Gronkowski for the interim, Aaron Hernandez permanently — along with wide receivers Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd, and running back Danny Woodhead.

New England signed wide receiver Danny Amendola to make up for the loss of Welker, and the Patriots looked to guys like Shane Vereen to pick up the slack offensively for the injured Gronkowski. However, Vereen (broken wrist) is out two months, while Amendola (strained hamstring) reportedly will not play Thursday night.

Cannizzaro wrote in his column Tuesday that these injuries mean New York has a great shot at beating New England for the first time in their last five meetings.

Here’€™s a look at what others in New York are saying about Thursday’€™s showdown:

‘€¢ The Bergen Record echoed Cannizzaro’€™s opinion that New England looks particularly vulnerable this season.

‘€¢ ESPN New York also took a look at the ‘€œButtfumble’€ and how it marked the start of a downward spiral for the Jets, and even a number of their players’€™ careers.

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Read More: Buttfumble, Geno Smith, Mark Sanchez, Tom Brady

Tom Brady believes in Julian Edelman, Stevan Ridley and the rest of his offense

09.10.13 at 9:52 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Tom Brady has thrown touchdown passes in 49 consecutive games.

Safe to say, that in that incredible run, he’s never had to deal with the type of injuries to his weapons that he’s dealing with this Thursday night against the Jets.

Shane Vereen is out after breaking his left wrist. Danny Amendola is likely out with a strained groin. Rob Gronkowski is still getting himself back into game shape. Zach Sudfeld and Aaron Dobson are limited with hamstring issues. Brandon Bolden is limited with a knee injury.

Depth always gets tested during the course of the season. Brady and the Patriots will find out early on this season how well they’ve stocked the roster at key offensive positions. Leading the list of likely available weapons is Julian Edelman. He caught seven passes for 79 yards, was targeted nine times and caught both of Brady’s touchdown passes on Sunday.

“We’€™ve got a lot of good players in the locker room,” Brady said. “When people are injured, that’€™s why you have a deep roster. Guys that you have confidence in, that you’€™ve gained trust in, and I certainly have that at the skill position. We have a lot of good running backs, we have a lot of good receivers, we’€™re trying to do the best we can this week to go out and win a very challenging game against a very good team.”

Brady will also have Stevan Ridley in his arsenal, a player who was benched in the second half Sunday. Brady realizes he will likely need a confident Ridley on Thursday night.

“We’€™re all pretty positive with one another,” Brady said. “I mean, we never like to see each other make mistakes, but they happen. We fumbled the snap on the goal line, I threw an interception. You’€™ve got to be able to bounce back from those things. Football’€™s not necessarily a game of perfect, it’€™s just you try to limit what your bad plays are so they’€™re just not really bad plays or really critical plays in the game. I think the mental toughness from all of us to try to bounce back, I know Stevan is a very mentally tough kid, and I love having him back there. I love giving the ball to him, watching him run. He’€™s done a great job with that since he’€™s got here.”

Brady was asked Tuesday if he was positive with Ridley during the game or whether he waits until after the game to talk to him.

“I think both. Hopefully you’€™re always pretty positive, I mean I think the mental mistakes are things that you always get frustrated with because those are really things that are totally in your control,” Brady said. “The physical mistakes are football. Yeah, you don’€™t want them to happen, but they’€™re going to happen. You’€™re not going to make every jump shot, you know? It’€™s just the way it is. You’€™ve got to be in the right spot, you’€™ve got to be doing the right thing, you’€™ve got to be doing it with the right amount of effort. You’€™ve got to be playing smart, you’€™ve got to be playing disciplined, and then try to limit your physical mistakes. That’€™s really what it comes down to. It’€™s no use just screaming at someone and saying, ‘€˜Well, you have to, you know’€¦’€™ They know, we know what we have to do. It’€™s just, we have to do a better job of it.”

How will Brady make do against the Jets on Thursday?

“I mean we’€™ll see how that all sorts itself out,” Brady said.

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Read More: Julian Edelman, New England Patriots, New York Jets, Stevan Ridley

LT: Rex once told us he was going to punch Bill Belichick in the face

09.10.13 at 8:31 pm ET
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Rex Ryan has toned down his act over the years, but the stories of his motivational techniques — especially when it comes to Patriots-Jets game — are the stuff of legend.

Former Jets running back LaDainian Tomlinson told NFL Network on Tuesday night that there was one occasion when he told his players he was going to punch New England coach Bill Belichick in the face.

“We were playing the Patriots one time,” said Tomlinson with a chuckle. “Rex is a master motivator, and it was going to be a big game, a heated rivalry game. Rex got in front of us and he said, ‘I’m going to set the tempo when I meet Bill Belichick in the center of the field, I’m going to punch him in the face.’ We loved that. I loved that from Rex.”

Tomlinson said it was simply one way Ryan used to motivate his team.

‘€œRex is a master motivator; that’€™s the way I like to describe Rex,” Tomlinson said. “An excellent defensive coach ‘€“ we know that from his Baltimore days ‘€“ but he’€™s a master motivator. Rex really knew how to pump up his teams and get them ready to play. That’€™s one of the things that I really enjoyed about Rex, is when I stepped in that meeting room the night before the game, I knew I was going to be ready to play.’€

For video of Tomlinson’s stories about Ryan, click here.

For more Patriots news, check out

Read More: Bill Belichick, LaDainian Tomlinson, Rex Ryan,

Report: Carl Cheffers set to work as referee for Patriots-Jets

09.10.13 at 5:54 pm ET
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Carl Cheffers is set to work Thursday’s Patriots-Jets game, according to our pals at

Cheffers, a native of Southern California who worked in the Pac-10 and WAC before becoming an NFL official, has been a fairly regular presence for New England games over the years — he’s worked 13 Patriots games since 2001, with six appearances as a referee and seven as a side judge. His first game in that stretch? He was the side judge for the Sept. 23, 2001 game in Foxboro between the Jets and Patriots — the contest where New York linebacker Mo Lewis knocked Drew Bledsoe sideways and opened the door for Tom Brady to take over as the starting quarterback.

He gained a small measure of infamy a few years ago for botching a call in a Texans-Cowboys game:

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