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Matthew Slater follows the lead of Julian Edelman as Patriots ‘get away with a win’

12.04.11 at 8:44 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Matthew Slater and Julian Edelman are very different people but they share a lot on a football field. They are both two-way players who have cut their teeth on special teams. They have now played safety for the Patriots in the secondary.

And they happen to be roommates in their Foxboro home when not at Gillette Stadium.

So, naturally the two talk about playing defense after working in the offense as receivers and on special teams. And when Slater got the call this week from the coaching staff that he would be starting the game at safety, he knew right where to turn.

“Julian and I are roommates so we’ve talked a lot about that. It was kind of fun for the two of us to be doing the flip-flop thing together,” Slater said. “[We] are close friends and he’s supported me and I’ve supported him and hopefully, we can keep this thing going.”

Edelman and Slater are just the latest examples of just how much Bill Belichick expects from everyone on the roster.

“Around here we like football players who can do things to help this team win, and the coaches preach that, ‘the more you can do.’ and I’ve always just tried to take the mentality, ‘whatever they ask me do’ even if they ask me to play right tackle, I’m going to go out there and do it,” Slater said. “That’s the mentality I’m going to continue to to have.”

While Edelman has been painted in a controversial light with his arrest on Halloween for indecent assault at a Boston nightclub, Slater is regarded as one of the most religiously dedicated players to his faith in the locker room. That was apparent after the 31-24 win over the Colts on Sunday.

“I’m very thankful for the opportunity and thank God and thank the coaches and teammates for having the faith in me to put me out there. I’m just thankful we got away with a win and we have a lot of things to work on and get better at.” Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Bill Belichick, Delone Carter, Indianapolis Colts, Julian Edelman

On a team loaded with questions, Rob Gronkowski a sure thing

12.04.11 at 6:36 pm ET
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FOXBORO — There is still plenty to figure out when it comes to the 2011 New England Patriots.

Listen, we still know nothing about this defense. Sorry, but if you want to make a case for progress over the last three weeks — which I guess is fair — there has to then be pause when Dan Orlovsky leads an 0-12 team on drives of 86, 93 and 90 yards over the last quarter and half. I know the game was over and I understand that when it really mattered the score was 31-3, but come on. There is no way anyone with a shred of credibility can convince me that this defense is ready to step up and stop a top-10 quarterback in the postseason. I’m still buying that it could maybe happen, but we’re all watching the games, right? Zero proof that this team is going to slow down Big Ben or Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees. None. They are on pace to allow 4,980 yards passing this season, which would shatter the exisiting NFL record.

But this isn’t the place for questions. Nope, this piece of the real estate is today reserved for an appreciation of Rob Gronkowski, who catches touchdowns with a frequency never before seen at his position.

Gronkowski caught a pair of touchdown passes in Sunday’s 31-24 Not As Close As The Score Might Tell You But Still Plenty Troubling 31-24 win over the soon to be 0-16 Colts, and is now tied with Antonio Gates (2004) and Vernon Davis (2009) for most touchdowns by a tight end in NFL history.

Yup, 13 TDs on the season for Gronkowski, and understand this: When it comes to catching touchdowns, no tight end in history — not Kellen Winslow, not John Mackey, not Ben Coates, not Gates, not Mike Ditka, no one — has been as productive over a two-year stretch as Gronkowski has been in his first 28 games (24 TDs) with the Patriots.

Gronkowski caught his first TD in the second quarter, an 11-yarder that saw Brady spilt the middle of a confused Indianapolis defense (I’m no Rod Rust, but here’s a nickel’s worth of defensive advice: When in the red zone, always make sure someone is covering the guy with the most touchdowns in the league). He tied the record in the third quarter, beating Antoine Bethea (the President of the Suck for Luck campaign, just awful on Sunday) and hauling in a 21-yarder from Brady.

“It’s whatever,” said Gronkowski (never to be confused with Bill Bradley) at his locker after the game. “Numbers aren’t really important, records aren’t really important, what’s important is getting the victory, which we did.”

And for a couple of minutes, it was believed Gronkowski actually broke the record with what was first thought to be a two-yard TD catch in the third quarter (the new record was announced to a largely apathetic — fat and happy central — crowd at Gillette, Gronkowski elected to keep the ball instead of spiking it), but the play was later (correctly, it seemed after watching it a couple of times, though very close) ruled a lateral and a rushing score for the tight end.

“That’s what I heard but I’m cool with it,” said Gronkowski after the game. “It’s the first rush of my whole life and I got a touchdown off it. That’s cool.”

Look, if Rob Gronkowski had been drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Miami Dolphins or Buffalo Bills (the three teams that picked before the Patriots tabbed Gronkowski with the 42nd pick in 2010) he’d probably be a promising but still mostly unknown tight end. Of course it helps him to be in this system with this quarterback. Fair enough.

But there have been plenty of tight ends during the Brady Era, and no one comes close to matching the numbers put up by Gronkowski during his still young career.

The best tight end in football? Maybe, but if not there is no way he’s outside the top three.

And when it comes to catching touchdown passes, there is no competition. Not just among active players, but all at the position (think about this: Gronkowski has 17 touchdown catches in his last 16 games). You are watching the greatest stretch of TD receiving by tight end, ever.

Plenty of questions remain for the 2011 Patriots, but Gronkowski is a sure thing.

Read More: New Engalnd Patriots, Rob Gronkowski, Tom Brady,

Peyton Manning: ‘Very classy’ Patriots fans ‘couldn’t have been nicer’ to me

12.04.11 at 5:36 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Peyton Manning, who has missed the entire season following neck surgery, did make the trip to Gillette Stadium for Sunday’s 31-24 Patriots win over his Colts.

While he didn’t take a snap, he did have quite a bit of interaction with Patriots fans, signing autographs for fans two hours before kickoff at the visitors’ tunnel entrance to the field.

“I’ll say this,” Manning said after the game outside the Patriots locker room, “I signed a lot of autographs before the game for Patriots fans before the game for a ton of Patriots fans, and they couldn’t have been nicer, all wishing me a healthy recovery, saying they miss seeing me out there playing. I appreciate that, I really do. I’ve had unbelievable support from my Colts fans and get a lot of mail, people saying they’re praying for me, I really do appreciate that.

“But coming from the fans of your biggest rival, and I’m sure some of these same fans have said some things maybe not so nice to me though years. But when they say some things very nice, I do appreciate it. It was very classy.”

While Manning was showed with love, Adam Vinatieri was booed each time he was on the field, including his 31-yard field goal in the second quarter and his three extra points in the fourth quarter.

Manning also spoke with Tom Brady before and after the game, and greeted Bill Belichick before the game.

“I saw Tom before the game and I just got to visit with him [after the game]. It was good to see him. I saw coach Belichick.”

As for the game, Manning provided emotional support to Dan Orlovsky as the Colts scored 21 points in the fourth quarter to make it a one-score game, as the Patriots had to recover an onside kick to seal the game with 30 seconds remaining.

“I’m always there if I have a thought or idea,” Manning said. “You just can’t help quite as much. It’s been a new role for me. I don’t think I’ve been doing very good because we haven’t won any games. I just try to be a resource for the guys.”

In the end, the Colts dropped to 0-12, and with Manning on the sidelines, are four games away from joining the 2008 Lions as the only 0-16 teams in NFL history.

“It’s a learning experience,” Manning said. “Being 0-12 is frustrating for everyone in our building. I hate everything about it. As you could see today, our team continues to fight. I have nothing to complain about. I’ve had 20 years, since I was 15 years old, of incredible health. The fact I’ve had to miss all these games this year, there’s tons of players with tons of injuries that have missed more games.

“I’m thankful to the Lord for the years of health I’ve had. I hope my recovery heals and continues to make some type of progress. There’s no guarantees. I really have it in good perspective. I have two kids that kept great balance for me on what is important. So, it’s been a learning experience. I’ve really had a good attitude. I think everyone assumed I’d be miserable, I’d be that. But I’ve had a good attitude about trying to get healthier and help the team. But is it frustrating in our building every day? Sure it is.”

Read More: Adam Vinatieri, Bill Belichick, Dan Orlovsky, Indianapolis Colts

Key Moment: Rob Gronkowski gives Patriots a commanding lead

12.04.11 at 5:33 pm ET
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FOXBORO — The key moment in Sunday’s win for the Patriots came on New England’s first series of the second half. With the Patriots holding a 17-3 lead, New England quarterback Tom Brady steered the Patriots to the Indy 21-yard line (thanks in large part to a no-huddle offense that chewed up an average of roughly nine yards a play on the drive).

With a second and 5, Brady dropped back and found tight end Rob Gronkowski down the seam, hitting the big tight end just as he hit the goal line. (He eschewed the usual thunderous spike in favor of whipping the ball at the wall and slapping five with the fans in the first row.)

“He’s a great player and he does a great job for us, just like everybody else out there,” said wide receiver Wes Welker. “He understands where he needs to be and makes plays in key situations, so he’s been a big help for us, especially in the red area with his touchdowns. He’s such a big target.”

“He is definitely one of the best young tight ends in the NFL,” said Indianapolis linebacker Kavell Connor when asked about Gronkowski, who finished with five catches for 64 yards and two touchdowns.

Read More: Kavell Connor, Rob Gronkowski, Tom Brady, Wes Welker

Tom Brady: ‘Middle part of the game was awesome’

12.04.11 at 5:27 pm ET
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When the news broke to Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in the postgame press conference that his third touchdown to tight end Rob Gronkowski was ruled a run, Brady (who threw for 289 yards and two touchdowns) was surprised by the scoring change, but he said that ultimately the damage was done — the offense put the ball in the end zone.

‘€œThat was a good play, good blocking. They blocked well for him on that play, so that was great,’€ Brady said after the Patriots’ 31-24 victory over the Colts. ‘€œThey reviewed it? It must have been close. I thought it was a forward pass.’€

Brady and the Patriots held on for their fourth win in a row after the Colts made a comeback run the fourth quarter. Brady had success running the hurry-up offense, especially as time wound down at the end of the first half. With 1:34 left in the half to start the possession, Brady orchestrated a scoring drive capped by a BenJarvus Green-Ellis touchdown run that ate 1:21 off the clock.

After the game, Brady said that it’€™s a matter of the offense coming together that makes the no-huddle a valuable option.

‘€œOffensive football is all 11 guys being on the same page,’€ he said. ‘€œI thought we definitely did that at times today, and the middle part of the game was awesome.’€

The quarterback took snaps Sunday from Nick McDonald, who was promoted from the practice squad earlier this week. While the Patriots are dealing with several injuries at the center position, Brady said that McDonald handled the jump to starting center very well.

‘€œPractice really prepared us for the game, and [McDonald] stepped in there, his first game as a Patriot and did a real good job,’€ Brady said. ‘€œIt started with this week of practice.’€

The Patriots hit the road for the next two weeks — next Sunday in Washington against the Redskins, and a battle with the Broncos in two weeks.

Read More: BenJarvus Green Ellis, Colts, Patriots, Tom Brady

Snap Judgments: Patriots 31, Colts 24

12.04.11 at 3:53 pm ET
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FOXBORO –In a game that will do absolutely nothing to end the “Is this a Super Bowl team?” debate, the Patriots predictably beat the historically inept Colts by a final of 31-24 (not as close as the ol’ score revealed, but it got kind of dicey at the end) on Sunday at Gillette Stadium. After a sloppy start, the Patriots settled in and toyed with the 0-16 (maybe not yet, but come on) Colts.

The Patriots (9-3) clinch a winning record for the 11th straight season. They travel to Washington next week to take on the Redskins, a game that would (depending on what happens with Jets-Redskins) mean an AFC East title with a New England win.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Tom Brady struggled early, but settled down and did exactly what he’s supposed to against a team that hasn’t had a lead in game since October 9, carving up the league’s 32nd-ranked defense to the tune of 293 passing yards, two TDs and zero interceptions. Brady moved ahead of Johnny Unitas and is now tied with Warren Moon for sixth on the career list with 291 TD passes. This was Brady’s ninth game in 2011 with a passer rating over 100.0 (and fourth in five games).

Rob Gronkowski caught both Brady TD passes, tying the NFL mark held by Antonio Gates (2004) and Vernon Davis (2009) for most TD catches in a season for a tight end. Gronkowski’s 13 TD receptions is already tied for second on the Patriots’ single-season chart. It was believed that Gronkowski actually broke the record with what was first thought to be a two-yard TD catch in the third quarter, but the play was later (correctly, it seemed) ruled a lateral and a rushing score for the tight end.

Wes Welker caught 11 passes for 114 yards (Rule No. 144 of Sucking for Luck — never double the league’s most productive receiver). Welker now leads the NFL with 93 catches and 1,257 yards. This was, somewhat surprisingly, only the second time Welker has reached the double-digit total in catches (he does have two games with eight and two with nine).

Vince Wilfork was a force early in the game (when it was a game), blowing (no, really) past Ryan Diem for a sack of Dan Orlovsky, tacking Donald Brown for a loss, pressuring Orlovsky twice more and later stopping Brown for no gain on a 1st-and-goal rush at the NE 1, all in the first half. Again, tough to measure against the Colts, but it’s hard to remember Wilfork playing a more dominant stretch this season.

— El Garbage Time, sure, but let’s be fair: Jerod Mayo had a tremendous diving interception over the middle in the fourth quarter. It was the first interception of Mayo’s career and the 17th of the season for the Patriots.

WHAT WENT WRONG

— Not much from the running game, as the Patriots averaged just 3.3 yards per rush on 19 carries. BenJarvus Green-Ellis had a one-yard TD rush in the second quarter, but totaled just 14 yards on six carries. Danny Woodhead was also quiet, picking up only 12 yards on three carries.

— The Patriots defense was largely effective against Dan Orlovsky and the Colts, with the lone exception (when it mattered, anyway) being a 19-play, 67-yard drive in the first quarter. The Colts converted four third downs on the drive, which ended with a 31-yard (yup, a 31-yard FG after 1st-and-goal at the 1) Adam Vinatieri field goal. This is picking nits, I guess, and we will truly have no idea about this defense until they face an A-list QB, but allowing a 19-play drive to Orlovsky raises an eyebrow.

Pierre Garcon had a pair of fourth-quarter TD catches, and the Colts had an onside kick with 36 seconds left that would have, if converted, given the Colts a chance to tie the game. The Colts scored 21 straight points to end the game, posting TD drives of 86, 93 and 90 in the fourth quarter.

Halftime analysis: Patriots 17, Colts 3

12.04.11 at 2:25 pm ET
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FOXBORO — There are two quarters in the books here at Gillette Stadium, and the Patriots hold a 17-3 lead on the Colts. Here are a few quick notes.

Defensively, the Patriots utilized a 3-3-5 set for much of the first half, with Vince Wilfork, Kyle Love and Andre Carter up front, Niko Koutouvides, Jerod Mayo and Rob Ninkovich at linebacker and a secondary with Matthew Slater, Nate Jones and James Ihedigbo at safety and Kyle Arrington and Devin McCourty at corners. (Love was relieved at times by veteran Gerard “Big Money” Warren, while Mark Anderson spelled Carter). Up front, the Patriots were able to get good penetration into the Indianapolis backfield (Wilfork looked extremely active in the early going).

The Colts got nothing on their first drive, but Indianapolis was ale to cash in on their second drive when Dan Orlovsky put together a 19-play 67-yard drive. Indy had a first and goal from the New England one, but the Patriots were able to hold them to a 31-yard field goal from Adam Vinatieri tied the game at three early in the second quarter. Offensively, that was pretty much it for Indy. Orlovsky finished the first half 7-for-10 for 73 yards, while Jacob Tamme had one catch for 20 yards for Indy.

Meanwhile, the Patriots were uneven on offense through the first two quarters. New England’s offense stalled out on its first drive and had to settle for a 39-yard field goal from Stephen Gostkowski midway through the first quarter. The Patriots didn’t get anything on their second series, but on their third series, New England was able to put together its most impressive first half sequence of the last month, as Brady assembled a 16-play, 86-yard drive (that included a 12-yard catch from Chad Ochocinco) that ended with an 11-yard pass from Brady to Rob Gronkowski.

The Patriots followed that up at the end of the half as Brady led another solid drive. Taking over at their own 36-yard line with 1:34 left, the quarterback marched New England down the field on a six-play, 64-yard drive (that was heavy on the no-huddle) that ended with a one-yard touchdown run from BenJarvus Green-Ellis that made it 17-3 with 13 seconds left in the half. Brady ended the first half 16-for-21 for 158 yards and one touchdown. Wes Welker had five catches for 67 yards for New England.

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