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Stephen Neal on D&H: ‘I don’t even know who Justin Bieber is’

10.15.10 at 1:17 pm ET
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Offensive lineman Stephen Neal made his weekly Patriots Friday appearance on the Dale & Holley show Friday afternoon, as the Pats prepare to host the Ravens on Sunday.

Neal was asked how he felt about watching game film from last season’s playoff game in which the Ravens routed the Patriots, 33-14. “I really don’t like to think back about how it felt that day and the next couple of months that followed, but it’s important to go back and watch to see what could have been a lot better and what was pretty good,” he said. “It definitely gives you a little bit of extra motivation. It was not something I wanted to do, but it’s something that’s necessary.”

Neal spent some talking talking about the strategy of the dominating Baltimore defense. “On early downs, they line up with you and they’ll slug it out with you,” he said. “Then you get into their sub personnel, the smaller groupings, and they’ve got a little flavor there to their blitzes, a little bit of tricky stuff. For the most part, they just like to line up and bang, and hopefully that will be a good matchup for us.”

Asked what newly reacquired receiver Deion Branch brings to the Patriots locker room, Neal said: “A lot of smiles. It’s good to see an old friend come back here. He’s a great guy in the locker room and a great guy off the field and on the field. It’s good to have a guy like back in the locker room.”

Commenting on the Tom Brady-Justin Bieber haircut controversy Neal said, “I’ve got to be honest with you. I don’t even know who Justin Bieber is.” Added Neal, “I know who Hannah Montana is. I know that one. But I don’t know this other guy.”

Read More: Deion Branch, Justin Bieber, Stephen Neal, Tom Brady

Pats practice report for Friday

10.15.10 at 11:18 am ET
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FOXBORO — Running back Fred Taylor was again the only player not spotted at Patriots practice on Friday as the team worked out in a brisk wind on the stadium field at Gillette.

Taylor has been nursing a toe injury since a Week 3 win over the Bills and was inactive for the Patriots’ 41-14 win over the Dolphins on Oct. 4.

The team practiced in sweats and shells as they continued preparations for the Baltimore Ravens this Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m. ET in Foxboro.

Read More: Baltimore Ravens, Fred Taylor, New England Patriots, nfl

Deion Branch on D&H: Unfinished business with Pats

10.15.10 at 10:56 am ET
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Patriots receiver Deion Branch checked in with the Dale & Holley show Friday morning to talk about his return to New England. To hear the interview, go to the Dale & Holley audio on demand page.

Branch said it was easy to return because no bridges were burned when he held out and was traded to the Seahawks in September 2006.

“No bitterness and no resentment,” Branch said. “At that time, I just really wish that we really could have gotten it done. But at the same time, I understand the business side of it. Sometimes it can work out. Sometimes you just can’t get it right. And I just think it was no hatred amongst me or the New England organization. We just couldn’t get the numbers and stuff lined up. And that stuff happens.

“And I think that’s the best part about me returning is that I think we both know and feel like, ‘Hey, we have some unfinished business, and we really want you in it,’ and I really want to be here. That makes the process a whole lot more easier to return, knowing that we didn’t leave on a sour note. When I left, everything was good. Coach [Bill] Belichick and myself continued to talk, Tom [Brady] and I continued to talk, along with the rest of the players on the team that I still keep in contact with. There were no hard feelings. I just wish at the time that we could have gotten it done and we wouldn’t have lost those four years that were lost in between.”

Branch was asked when he heard the news that he was headed back to New England. “Once the Randy Moss trade went through, that’s when the rumors kept on picking up,” he said. “You just hear the rumors, and stuff started going from there. I think the rumors turned into reality.”

Branch renegotiated his contract this week that lessened his salary for 2011. “It’s all about two organizations communicating to try to make ends meet,” he said. “And I think we both took a little to give a little ‘€” you know what I’m saying? ‘€” on both parts. I just wasn’t going to sit back and say, ‘I want this, I want that.’ I think we both sat down and we got everything done and it worked out for both us us. I think both parties are happy. It’s a win-win for both parties.”

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Read More: Bill Belichick, Deion Branch, Tom Brady,

Nuggetpalooza’s Patriots-Ravens preview!

10.15.10 at 10:05 am ET
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Hoo, boy! A nice matchup this Sunday in Foxboro!

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* – The Pats have converted 55 percent of their third downs this season, the highest percentage in the league. The Ravens rank first in stopping third downs (27 percent) so far. New England has been successful on third-and-long (6 or more yards to go) 39 percent of the time (third) while the Ravens have allowed opponents to go just 6-for-40 (15 percent) in those spots (first).

Baltimore’s OFFENSE ranks No. 1 at converting those third-and-long situations (44 percent) while New England’s defense is second worst in the league at stopping those (also 44 percent).

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* – The Patriots have allowed 77 percent completions when they have blitzed this season, the highest completion percentage in the league. That’s reason number one for them to limit their blitzes this Sunday. Reason number two? The Ravens have averaged just 4.9 yards per pass play when their opponents don’t blitz, third lowest.

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* – 56.2 percent of New England’s pass yards have come after the catch (YAC), the fourth highest percentage in the league. But just 35.4 percent of yards against Baltimore have been YAC, the second lowest percentage allowed. Last week, that figure was just 21.3 percent as the Ravens allowed 10 or more YAC yards on just three of 21 completions.

On offense, the Ravens rank 31st in YAC percentage (36.6 percent).

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* – Baltimore opponents have been hit with 52 penalties already in 2010, most in the league. New England’s opponents have been penalized just 20 times, the fourth fewest.

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* – The Ravens have allowed only five drives of 10 or more plays this season, but they are one of only three teams that have allowed scores on all of them. They allowed no such drives in last Sunday’s game.

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Read More: Brandon Tate, joe flacco, Tom Brady,

Adam Schefter on D&C: No trade fit for Logan Mankins

10.15.10 at 9:51 am ET
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ESPN’s Adam Schefter joined the Dennis & Callahan show for his weekly visit and talked to the guys about picking the Patriots to beat the Ravens, why there are so few trades in the NFL at the trading deadline and whether there will be a deal for Logan Mankins. To hear the whole interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

Schefter, who said that he uses a contrarian approach in his weekly picks, took the Pats despite his belief that the Ravens might be the best team in the league.”They have been tremendous all year long,” Schefter said of the Ravens. “I think they’re a better football team than the Patriots, I really do. New England’s been waiting for this game. New England lost to them in the postseason. New England’s coming off the bye. New England’s won 22 straight at home in the regular season. Everybody’s on Baltimore. Everybody’s singing their praises, I just think New England comes through on Sunday.”

Schefter does think that the loss of Randy Moss will be a motivating factor for the Patriots this week. “There’s no question that in their heart, like anybody, if you’re a human being and you hear, ‘This team’s not going to be as good without Randy Moss,’ they take that personally. They hear that. They’re aware of it. They want to go out and prove them wrong.”

With the trade deadline approaching Tuesday at 4 p.m., Schefter outlined his reasons why there are so few deals in the NFL.

“Teams don’t make trades for a few reasons,” Schefter said. “Number One, football front offices are by and large more shy about making deals and sticking their necks on the line than some of their brethren in other sports. You have the playbook issue. You can’t trade for a quarterback and except him to know their offense. it doesn’t work like that. It’s still early in the season. Even a team like the 49ers that’s 0-5 still believes they’re going to win the division. The owner sent me a text this week saying, ‘We’re still going to win the division.’”

As for Mankins, Schefter doesn’t see a trade happening, but hasn’t ruled it out either. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: adam schefter, Brett Favre, Logan Mankins, Randy Moss

Jerod Mayo on D&C: Pats ‘refocused on the goal’

10.15.10 at 7:10 am ET
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Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo made his weekly appearance on the Dennis & Callahan show as part of Patriots Friday on WEEI as the Pats prepare to host the Ravens on Sunday. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

Mayo talked about the playoff game last season in which the Ravens ran roughshod over the Patriots from beginning to end in a 33-14 rout. “I just remember going out there and just having a terrible game from the first play to the last play,” he said. “Those guys came out and put a pretty good beating on us. This year, I think the guys are refocused on the goal and taking it one game at a time. Hopefully, we can go out there and get it done.”

Added Mayo: “Last year we came out and we kind of put our toe in the water to see if it was too hot or too cold. Those guys dove in head-first. That’s what we have to do this year. We have to dive in head-first, and from the first play to the last play, go out there and play well. I don’t think it had anything to do with X’s and O’s. I think it had more to do with us.”

This game will be a big test for a Patriots defense that has shown improvement through the first few weeks of the season. “It’s definitely a work in progress,” Mayo said. “We’re a young defense and we’re taking it one day at a time. Coach [Bill] Belichick has been very patient with us, trying to teach us not only about the X’s and O’s, but about the overall awareness of the game. I think we’re taking it one day at a time, I think we’re getting better each and every week.”

The Patriots special teams unit keyed the 41-14 victory over the Dolphins in the team’s last outing with a performance that included a blocked punt, a blocked field goal returned for a touchdown, and a kickoff return for a touchdown. Mayo was asked if the players on special teams had a little extra swagger in the days after the game. “Those guys went out there and had a great game,” Mayo said. “I think actually at first, they had a big head for a little bit. But coach Belichick is good at popping those bubbles. Everybody’s back down at the ground level right now.”

Read More: Bill Belichick, Jerod Mayo,

With help from Brady, Branch settling back in with Patriots

10.15.10 at 12:22 am ET
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FOXBORO ‘€” The pure emotion of the cross-country move has worn off. The new equipment has been broken in, the meet-and-greet with the new teammates has been completed and the contract has been re-done.

Now, the real work begins. As of Thursday night, Deion Branch now has three practice sessions with his new/old team under his belt. He said Thursday that, so far, everything has gone well.

Well enough to play on Sunday?

‘€œThat’€™s my job. I think physically, I am,’€ Branch said after practice on Thursday. ‘€œMentally, as far as the preparation without the plays and stuff, that varies. But as far as me being healthy and being able to run around, to run for 60 minutes, I can do that. But I’€™m still going through the motions with a couple of plays here and there.’€

One of the things that’€™s made the transition easier is the fact that there are some similarities between the offense now and what it was back before he left in 2006. Branch has been able to double-check the current playbook against the one the Patriots used before Super Bowl XXXIX against the Eagles.

His daughter found that game plan this past offseason.

‘€œMy daughter was like, rambling through the cabinets, down looking for little kids stuff and she was like, ‘€˜Daddy, what is this book?’€™’€ Branch said. ‘€œIt was all torn on the sides, I said, ‘€˜Let me see this.’€™ And it was the game plan for the Super Bowl when we played in Jacksonville. And so, some of the stuff is in there. Everything is not the same, though. So, even if all the plays are in there, they changed the words, they changed a lot of it, so that’€™s what I’€™m learning now.

‘€œBut that was under [ex-offensive coordinator] Charlie [Weis] and some of the stuff is still the same. And some of the stuff I do remember looking at is still here. Some of it.’€

And then, there’€™s the relationship with quarterback Tom Brady, which transcends the usual quarterback/receiver kinship. (Check out this video for proof of that.) The two spent a portion of media availability on Thursday deep in conversation at their adjoining lockers, and when Branch met the media, Brady spent a bulk of his time heckling the receiver about his dancing abilities.

‘€œI didn’€™t think I’€™d be right next to him. But he was saving it for me,’€ Branch said with a laugh. ‘€œIt’€™s a blessing just to be here. I’€™m honored.’€

‘€œ[The chemistry] will always be there. I’€™ve thrown to him thousands and thousands of footballs,’€ Brady said. ‘€œI think you could pull Troy Brown out of the announcer booth, or whatever he’€™s doing these days in the media, and he could come in here, put some pads on and I’€™d be able to throw him the ball pretty consistently. The relationship I have with Deion on the field has always been a great one. There’€™s always been a natural chemistry. I hope that we’€™ll be able to rely back on that a little bit.’€

It all adds up to one comfortable wide receiver.

‘€œI’€™m comfortable. I think the emotions will kick in on Sunday,’€ Branch said. ‘€œI had my early emotions once the trade went through. I was excited to be back with the guys. I didn’€™t want it to turn into a big reunion-fest, like me and coach Belichick talked about. We still have to go to work, and I think that’€™s the biggest thing the guys are focused on ‘€” coming in and getting prepared for the Ravens.

‘€œWe’€™re not going to be sitting around hugging each other all day, about me being back. It’€™s time to go to work. And Sunday, once we get that first game under our belt, everything will be back to normal.’€

Read More: Bill Belichick, Charlie Weis, Deion Branch, Tom Brady
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