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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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Bill Belichick: Vince Wilfork was ‘outstanding’ against Packers

12.21.10 at 12:21 am ET
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These are tough times for the Patriots’€™ defensive line. Mike Wright, Myron Pryor and Ron Brace were all sidelined on Sunday. In addition, Brandon Deaderick was shaken up during the game, suffering a shoulder injury, while Gerard Warren was slowed by a knee problem last week.

In the midst of it all against the Packers, Vince Wilfork stood tall. Forced to play virtually wire-to-wire against an offense that held the ball for 41 minutes, the veteran defensive lineman moved from the nose to end and back again and finished with six tackles and a fumble recovery in New England’€™s 31-27 win over Green Bay.

In a conference call with reporters on Monday afternoon, Patriots coach Bill Belichick ran down a laundry list of problems he had with his teams’€™ performance against the Packers, but Wilfork wasn’€™t among them. In fact, Belichick went out of his way to praise the work of Wilfork, saying his performance was ‘€œprobably one of the best games he’€™s played. He’€™s played a lot of good ones, but I’€™d say that’€™s one of the best ones he’€™s played around here.’€

‘€œI thought Vince did a terrific job for us [Sunday] night,’€ Belichick said. ‘€œHe was out there for a lot of plays ‘€” 74 plays or whatever it was ‘€” I forget the exact number, but it was a lot. I thought he played hard. He really had an outstanding game.

‘€œThey had a lot of attention directed at him, which is understandable, but he had a bunch of double teams and slides on the protection coming his way and those types of things. He really played hard, played well and did a lot of things to help us win. I thought he was outstanding.’€

Other than the fact that he was flagged for his first two penalties of the season ‘€” an offsides and a facemask that left him ‘€œpissed’€ at himself ‘€” for his part on Monday, Wilfork sounded satisfied with how things went against the Packers. He acknowledged that while it wasn’€™t the most aesthetically pleasing win for the Patriots, at this time of the season, there’€™s no room for style points

‘€œYou will not take the victory from us,’€ he told WEEI. ‘€œYou will not make us feel bad like it’€™s the end of the road because we gave up 27 points or whatever it is, or we were inconsistent at times.

‘€œYou look at this game and say, ‘€˜Oh, the Patriots didn’€™t play like they played the last couple of weeks.’€™ The last couple of weeks we only gave up 10 points. We can’€™t blow everybody out every week,’€ he added. ‘€œI think sometimes as players, coaches or fans, you look at teams we played the last couple of weeks, we handled them pretty well. It’€™s not going to be like that all the time. We expect to win. I don’€™t care what the margin of the win is, we expect to win every week we take the field.’€

Read More: Bill Belichick, Brandon Deaderick, Gerard Warren, Mike Wright

Bill Belichick on The Big Show: ‘It’s good to be 12-2′

12.20.10 at 5:00 pm ET
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Patriots coach Bill Belichick joined The Big Show for his regular Monday visit and while he feels there were a number of things the Patriots could have done better in their 31-27 win over the Packers, he’s obviously happy with the overall result. “It’s good to be 12-2,” Belichick said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do and we know that, but it’s good to be 12-2.”

The coach was asked if his team had lost its edge after five straight wins that had many pundits declaring them the favorites for the Super Bowl. “It’s hard to tell what’s in 53 players’ minds,” he said. “All I know is, we’ve just got to do a better job. We’ve got to play better than what we played last night. I know we’re capable of that. It was good enough to win and that’s great and we’re happy to be 12-2, but I know we can do better than that.”

To hear the whole interview, visit The Big Show audio on demand page.

Here are more highlights from the interview:

On Packers quarterback Matt Flynn, subbing for Aaron Rodgers:

We were confident that Flynn would run the offense pretty much the way Rodgers ran it. I would say for the most part that was true. Our practice week was probably a little up and down, probably about like the way we played.  We had plenty of film on him. I don’t think that was really an issue. It was more about our execution, things we feel like have done all year, have done in practice and then things came up in the game that should have been done one way and for whatever reason weren’t. We need to correct those things.

On Green Bay’s running game:

They were hitting us with some four, five yarders and when you’re getting that kind of production running the ball, you can expect to see more of that. We made a couple of plays. [Pat] Chung made a big play on a toss, so we had a couple of negative plays that seemed to slow them down after that. Maybe we should have gotten those a little bit sooner. If we had played some of those runs a little better, a little more consistently up front my guess is we probably would have seen fewer of them.

On Sebastian Vollmer’s play against Clay Matthews:

Sebastian did an excellent job on Clay. It was an outstanding job by Sebastian. That was a game-ball type of performance.

On Vince Wilfork:

Vince is a very explosive player. He can certainly change the line of scrimmage. He plays with excellent technique, uses his hands, and is a strong tackler, a good pass rusher. He played a lot of plays last night, thought he played really well. I thought it was a really outstanding performance.

On Devin McCourty:

He played very well. That was a big sack for us that contributed to a three-and-out. He played well on the goal-line tackle. He had a couple of deep balls that were thrown his way that he defended well, so once again, he did a good job for us.

On whether the onside kick Green Bay used to open the game was a surprise:

We talked about it, sure. It wasn’t unusual for them to do that. We’ve seen them do those things before. It was a good kick. He kicked it right down the line, kicked it hard, and the ball got outside. They made a good play on it. Obviously, we’ve got to defend it better, but it was well-executed on their part. Not a total surprise, but again we’ve got to be prepared for that. We’ve got to be prepared for it this week against Buffalo. Buffalo’s done it two years in a row.

On Dane Fletcher:

Dane’s a kid that’s really come on over the course of the year both in the kicking game and defensively. It seems like each week he gets a little bit better with more experience and being able to do things, not in games, but practices. For a guy who played down his whole career in college, to be able to play on his feet and play in college and do all those things, it’s kind of reminiscent of [Tedy] Bruschi’s conversion from being a down player to an inside linebacker.

On next week’s opponent, the Buffalo Bills:

They’re a good football team. They’re good in the kicking game. [C.J.] Spiller has given them big plays in the return game. He had another one against Miami. They’re fast, they’re aggressive on defense. Offensively, they have very good skill players. [Ryan] Fitzpatrick is playing well, they have good receivers. Spiller, [Fred] Jackson, they’re tough.

Read More: Bill Belichick, Dane Fletcher, Devin McCourty, Sebastian Vollmer

Tully Banta-Cain on D&H: Key penalty wasn’t a concern

12.20.10 at 2:23 pm ET
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Patriots linebacker Tully Banta-Cain stopped by for a visit with the Dale & Holley show Monday afternoon at Gillette Stadium as part of WEEI’s Patriots Monday. To hear the interview, including Banta-Cain talking about his fledgling music and clothing careers, go to the Dale & Holley audio on demand page.

Banta-Cain was called for having his hands on the facemask of Packers offensive lineman Bryan Bulaga while rushing the passer with 3:30 remaining in Sunday night’s game. While the 15-yard penalty nullified a Patriots interception, Banta-Cain said he didn’t let it bother him. “I kept a positive attitude and I really wasn’t thinking of what the outcome would be had we lost and that had been the reason why,” he said.

Banta-Cain ended up clinching the win by sacking quarterback Matt Flynn and forcing a fumble on the game’s final play. “We did what we had to do,” he said.

Another huge play was Dan Connolly‘s 71-yard interception return in the second quarter. Said Banta-Cain: “What a play, man. That’s the play of the game definitely.”

Added Banta-Cain: “We were sitting on the bench, they had just scored, and we were thinking like, ‘Wow, two scores now we’re down, we’re going into the half.’ As soon as I saw him break in the open field, I got up off the bench and was rooting him all the way down the sideline. So, that was definitely a huge emotional shift for us.”

Read More: Bryan Bulaga, Dan Connolly, Tully Banta-Cain,

Kyle Arrington goes to school and earns a ‘TD’ grade

12.20.10 at 1:39 pm ET
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FOXBORO — In the NFL, the biggest plays usually occur when players are able to learn from their mistakes and make adjustments. And if they’re lucky, both happen in the same game.

Such was the case for Patriots corner Kyle Arrington Sunday night after he was beaten several times in the first half on short pass patterns, including a one-yard slant by Greg Jennings that resulted in a touchdown, just moments before Dan Connolly‘s return for the ages.

“A lot of inside routes, I got beat on a few of them, slants and inside routes, so I said when I get an opportunity, I’m going to try and take advantage of it,” Arrington explained.

So, when the Patriots applied pressure to Packers quarterback Matt Flynn early in the third quarter on Green Bay’s first drive, Arrington made the adjustment. He played the inside of James Jones and read Flynn’s eyes. His reward – an interception and 36-yard return for a touchdown that gave the Patriots a 21-17 lead with 12:04 left in the third.

As he told WEEI’s Dale & Holley, the interception return was also “a blessing.”

“We got great pressure on the play, first off,” Arrington said. “I wouldn’t have had the pick without that. Just tried to seize the opportunity.”

Still, overall neither the coach nor the players on defense were particularly happy that a rookie QB making his first NFL start threw three touchdowns, engineered an offense that held the ball for 40 minutes and came within one play of pulling an unbelievable upset.

The Patriots certainly didn’t melt like butter like the Giants did in the final eight minutes against the Eagles but there were still plenty of breakdowns that made everyone a bit unhappy.

“He’s not, we’re not,” Arrington said of the team’s lack of satisfaction with the performance. “We’re definitely capable of playing a lot better than we showed. We’ll get right back on it on Wednesday to get ready for Buffalo.”

Then there was Tully Banta-Canta coming up with the sack of Flynn at the Patriots’ 16-yard-line as time expired to preserve the win.

‘€œOh, man, it was surreal,” Arrington said. “It was crazy, the stadium was loud, they were rocking and we knew it was going to come down to us. We were kind of struggling all day and then we knew it was going to come down to us and we had to bail the offense out. The d-line just made a terrific play. We definitely have to play a lot better though next week.’€

Arrington, known for one of the most engaging personalities in the Patriots locker room, could at least laugh about his first career interception and touchdown.

He also is never afraid to offer some helpful advice – even to Bill Belichick. So after he broke four tackles on the way to his first career touchdown on his first career interception, he was only too happy to remind everyone that his pick-6 proved a point to the Patriots head coach.

‘€œI tried to tell [Bill Belichick] in the offseason to put me at kick returner,” Arrington said laughing and smiling all the way, making sure not to offend the boss. “But no, just kidding, Brandon [Tate] is a hell of a kick returner. But, first career pick and that close to the end zone, so I just said I’€™m going to let my feet do the rest. I just tried to keep them alive and keep them moving and fortunately, I got in there.’€

Read More: Green Bay Packers, Kyle Arrington, Matt Flynn, New England Patriots

Kyle Arrington on D&H: ‘I’m 1-for-1′ after pick-six

12.20.10 at 12:56 pm ET
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Defensive back Kyle Arrington checked in with the Dale & Holley show Monday from Gillette Stadium to talk about his interception in Sunday night’s 31-27 victory over the Packers. To hear the interview, go to the Dale & Holley audio on demand page.

Arrington grabbed a pass from Matt Flynn that was intended for receiver James Jones early in the second half. The cornerback broke four tackles during an impressive 33-yard return for a touchdown that put the Pats ahead 21-17. “It’s one of those things where I don’t get a lot of time to showcase my terrific running back skills,” he said with a laugh. “I just said, you know what, as soon as I get the ball in my hands, I get an opportunity, I just try to maximize on it. I just tried to keep the legs moving, and it worked out in my favor.”

It was the first career interception for Arrington, who is in his second season as a Patriot after spending time on the Eagles and Buccaneers practice squads, and his first career touchdown. “What more could you ask for?” he said. “It’s definitely a blessing. I’m extremely grateful. I’m 1-for-1. Hopefully, I’ll keep it going.”

Asked about teammate Dan Connolly‘s 71-yard kickoff return, Arrington said he was impressed with the offensive lineman’s moves. “A guy that size, for him to be running away from people my size, you don’t see that every day,” he said. “You’ve got to take your hat off to him.”

Read More: Dan Connolly, Kyle Arrington,
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