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Bill Belichick flashes just a little chip on the shoulder for the critics

12.02.11 at 2:02 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Sometimes Bill Belichick offers a glimpse of what he tells his players behind the closed doors at Gillette Stadium.

On Friday, in the midst of a question about how the lockout has impacted his team four months later, he offered just that glimpse.

The trick is you have to look for it.

“We’€™re better now than we were in September, there’€™s no question about that,” Belichick said. “Even though maybe you don’€™t want to believe that, but I know we are.”

There it is. The nugget that gets you through an otherwise quiet, mundane, typically-businesslike Friday.

Belichick has heard all the criticism about his secondary, the 32nd-ranked defense in the NFL, the secondary that gave up two bombs to Vince Young before recovering, the finesse offense that wouldn’t survive in December and the playoffs. The team that has faced a cupcake row of quarterbacks in the last month.

You can bet that’s exactly what he’s telling his team about their naysayers.

That little morsel came in the middle of a 2-minute, 55-second answer, an answer that began:

“I think you go through it every year, I think you go through it every year,” Belichick opened. “You get to the end of the season, you get to December, January and you’€™ve been doing things now for 22, 20, however many weeks it is. The same plays, you continue to build on your situation plays so you get third and goal on the three, you start the year with one play or two plays, now you maybe have four or five plays, maybe a couple that you’€™ve used before but it’€™s been so long ago that it’€™s really not showing up on the breakdown so you can go back to them but in the meantime you have to keep adding to that. So you get to the end of the year and then you start the next year and you think, ‘€˜OK, where are we?’€™ Well we’€™re nowhere close to where we were in December or January ‘€“ we’€™re just not.

“We’€™re starting training camp, we have new people, nobody has run these plays in six months. It takes you a period of time, even if you have some spring practices, still you’€™re just nowhere near the execution level. Now, they’€™re executing better at this time of the year too, I’€™m not saying that we’€™re great in December. We’€™re better in December, well so is everybody else. I think where your team is in September from an execution standpoint, what we can do now and what we can do in September are two different things. A big part of it is just the newness and the getting back to the timing and the execution of your basic plays and then adjustments and situations and all those kind of things”

And he continued, without missing a beat.

“That’€™s the way I see it,” Belichick said. “Now, you can look at the stats, like I’€™m sure everybody does and say ‘€˜Look at how great the Patriots were in September.’€™ That’€™s only relative to where anybody else was in September, it’€™s not relative to where you are. But where is everybody else? And if they’€™ve improved more than we have, then the results are a little different. Or if we have improved more than they have, the results could be a little bit different. It’€™s a constant race for 16 weeks to get your football team better and better and better and better but they’€™re doing that on the other side too. I really think when the season starts, as much as anybody wants to say, ‘€˜Well, we’€™ll start off where we were last year,’€™ there’€™s no way. There’€™s no way. It takes so long to build to that point that you have to be realistic. You just can’€™t do the things that you did a year ago in December, in September. Maybe some of them, you pick out a few but overall as team, there’€™s no way.”

Read More: Bill Belichick, New England Patriots, nfl,

Michael Lombardi on D&C: Tim Tebow ‘going to be a problem’ for Patriots in two weeks

12.02.11 at 10:03 am ET
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NFL Network analyst Michael Lombardi spent some time with the Dennis & Callahan show Friday to talk about news from around the league.

The Patriots welcome the 0-11 Colts to Foxboro Sunday.

“What’s interesting about it is the Colts actually run the ball better than any time since 2001 with their football team without [Peyton] Manning this year, because they’ve been forced to have to do it,” Lombardi said. “When you watch them play, the quarterbacking has been so bad, it’s really hard to evaluate the other players. Reggie Wayne is still a good player. And I think Pierre Garcon could still run vertically. But nobody seems to be able to do anything because their offensive line has been poor and their quarterback’s been even worse.”

The Eagles continued their free fall Thursday night with a 31-14 loss to the Seahawks, only days after getting blown out by the Patriots. Philadelphia dropped to 4-8 after entering the season with high expectations.

“I think ultimately, the team concept has to work.” Lombardi said. “The team has to be coordinated from the personnel to the integration of everybody liking each other in the locker room. You get the sense from Philadelphia it was a collection of players; it was never a team. And I think that’s been a problem.”

Eagles fans have been calling for coach Andy Reid to be fired, but Lombardi said that isn’t necessarily the move the team needs to make.

Said Lombardi: “I think what Andy needs to do is take a step back. And I think fear does the work of reason here. You take a step back and you say look, we’ve got to get tougher, we’ve got to become more versatile on offense, and we’ve got to become a better defense. And I think if he’s willing to make those changes, then that’s the change that should be made, not with Reid.”

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Read More: Andy Reid, Asante Samuel, DeSean Jackson, donovan mcnabb

Devin McCourty on D&C: Don’t give anything away to the media

12.02.11 at 9:10 am ET
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Patriots cornerback Devin McCourty resumed his weekly appearance on the Dennis & Callahan show Friday morning after taking a couple of weeks off with a shoulder injury. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

McCourty has practiced all week, but he was noncommittal about his status for Sunday’s game vs. the Colts.

“Just practicing right now, trying to get better, get a better feel,” he said. “It’s getting better each day. Just going out there and seeing how it looks, seeing how it feels, going from there. ‘€¦ I’ll go out to practice again today and see how it feels. I’m hoping it gets better today and it feels better than it did yesterday.”

Talking about the Patriots’ approach to Sunday’s game, McCourty echoed Bill Belichick‘s comments when he refused to underestimate the winless Colts, saying, “Don’t believe all the hype of the record and all that. When you look at that roster, it’s not many different guys that are lining up. Especially on offense, they have a bunch of guys that have been there from the beginning of this season until now. You take away definitely a very good player, one of the best players at his position in [Peyton] Manning. But other than that, they have a bunch of guys that have been there and have been playing all season.”

McCourty rarely is forthcoming in his interviews. He said he had the same approach in college, and it isn’t so much that the Patriots instruct their players to stonewall the media.

“Its not like we come in as rookies and it’s, all right, everybody get here at 7 a.m. the first day of camp, and it’s a Media 101,” he said. “It’s just, tell them what you feel they need to know and always keep in mind that we’re trying to win a game that week. We’re trying to keep our advantage and use any resource or anything that we have, and don’t give that away to the media.”

Read More: Bill Belichick, Devin McCourty,

Patriots’ running game should get plenty of chances this week against Indy

12.02.11 at 1:01 am ET
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FOXBORO — It would appear to be a good week to be a Patriots’€™ running back.

When it comes to stopping the run, Indianapolis has struggled all year — the Colts are worst in the AFC in total rushing yards allowed (1,657) and rushing yards allowed per game (150.6). In addition, the Colts have yielded a league-high 102 carries for a first down, and have had four opposing running backs rush for 100-plus yards against them, with LeGarrette Blount topping out at 127 in an October win for Tampa Bay.

Meanwhile, the New England running game is starting to emerge again. BenJarvus Green-Ellis appears to be over whatever toe injury has bothered him, as he’€™s put together two games with a combined 125 yards on the ground, and now has 150 carries for 585 yards and seven touchdowns on the season. It’€™s off of last seasons’€™ pace (when he became the 11th player in team history to reach 1,000 rushing yards), but he’€™s still the closest thing the Patriots have to a lead back.

And while the Patriots remain predominantly a pass-first offense, when the Patriots run the ball consistently, they usually have a good afternoon. In the last three games — all wins — the Patriots have averaged 33 carries and 107 yards rushing. In losses to the Steelers and the Giants the previous two weeks, the team averaged 18 carries for 75 yards. And when Green-Ellis is the one carrying the ball, more often than not, good things happen for the Patriots. As Kevin Fishbain of Pro Football Weekly notes, in New England’€™s three losses, Green-Ellis averaged 26.3 yards rushing. In the Patriots’€™ eight wins, he’€™s averaging 63.3 yards.

But it’€™s not just Green-Ellis that’€™s helping move the chains. The Patriots have gotten plenty of contributions from the rest of their backfield. Danny Woodhead isn’€™t having the out-of-nowhere season he had in his first year with New England, but has shaken off injury to post 233 rushing yards and a 4.4 yards per carry average. Woodhead has also done the best at making something out of nothing, as he has just two negative plays on his 53 rushing attempts.
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Read More: BenJarvus Green Ellis, Bill O'Brien, Danny Woodhead, Kevin Faulk

Wilfork: Colts and Patriots remains a rivalry game, regardless of the records and who is playing

12.01.11 at 6:14 pm ET
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FOXBORO — According to Vince Wilfork, it doesn’t matter that Peyton Manning isn’t under center for Indianapolis and the Colts are 0-11 coming into the game. He says the rivalry between the Patriots and Colts is always there — just like it was in 2008 when it was Matt Cassel at quarterback for New England.

“Oh yeah, absolutely, absolutely,” he said. “You can go back and just see the games we played. Even though, like I said, there’€™s an injury factor, but we’€™ve had that too with Cassel. That’€™s something you have to deal with. I’€™m pretty sure it’€™s tough but hey, it won’€™t stop us. We won’€™t allow that to be an excuse for us.

“It’€™s a rivalry game,” he added. “We’€™re not looking at the record; we’€™re looking at a Colts team that, over the years, always played us tough. Guys get injured all the time, you play with injuries all the time, you play with key players sometimes that aren’€™t out [there], so we’€™re not looking at that as an issue for us. We’€™re looking at how well we can play as a football team, the New England Patriots, how well we can play on Sunday. That’€™s what it’€™s going to be all about: who can play the best football on Sunday.”

Defensively, the Patriots have shown improvement over the last four weeks, but Wilfork says that as a group, they are not content with where they are.

“I think you can ask any football team or any professional team, ‘€˜Are you satisfied with where you are?’€™ and you’€™re never satisfied, but you have to keep striving. You definitely have to, to be the best you can be ‘€“ individually and as a team,” Wilfork said. “If you just look at film on yourself and critique yourself, it makes the team better. The last thing you want to do is go out there and put the team in a situation where they can’€™t trust you. That’€™s one thing we preach around here is, ‘€˜Make sure you’€™re doing your job because the guy next to you is depending on you.’€™ When we do that, things work out great, but when we don’€™t, we have problems; it’€™s a breakdown.

“Each day, find something you can get better at and it starts with yourself. Don’€™t look at the big picture; take care of the little things, the little technique stuff, the little conditioning, whatever it may be. That’€™s small because the small stuff always takes care of the big things and that’€™s one thing we’€™ve been doing.”

Read More: Matt Cassel, Peyton Manning, Vince Wilfork,

Missing out on the Gronk Browl

12.01.11 at 1:37 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Last week, Baltimore and San Francisco gave us the Harbowl. This week, we were one pectoral injury from the Gronk Bowl.

If Colts’€™ fullback Chris Gronkowski hadn’€™t suffered a pectoral injury earlier this season — which landed him on injured reserve in October — it would have been brother against brother this weekend when the Patriots meet Indy at Gillette Stadium.

‘€œI was definitely looking forward to that,’€ said his brother Rob. ‘€œBut he’€™s on the IR now with surgery. He’€™s doing well — maybe next year I’€™ll get him.’€

Even with Chris on injured reserve (and brother Dan as an occasional member of the Patriots this season), Rob has done more than enough to carry the family name this season. Through 11 games, he has 60 catches for 864 yards and 11 touchdowns, and will have a chance to add to those numbers this weekend against Indianapolis. Like coach Bill Belichick on Wednesday, Gronkowski said that no matter the 0-11 record, when you turn on the Colts’€™ film, you see a quality team.

‘€œWe see a lot of good players,’€ Gronkowski said. ‘€œThey have good D-ends. They’€™re a really fast team. They have fast linebackers, fast defensive line, fast corners. Fast everything. We just have to go out there and execute. We have to play hard. It doesn’€™t matter what the records are. This is the NFL. Every team has good players.’€

While Gronkowski has made a name as a pass catcher since he arrived prior to the start of last season (earlier this season, he reached 20 touchdowns faster than any tight end in NFL history, breaking the mark set by Mike Ditka), he will also likely be called upon to try and help out as a blocker against Indy’€™s defensive ends Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney, two of the fastest ends in the league.

‘€œYou have to be aware of when they’€™re going to make a move at all times,’€ Gronkowski said of the duo, which have a combined 11 sacks on the season. ‘€œIf they’€™ll go inside, if they’€™ll go outside. If they’€™ll put the spin move on you. You just have to be aware of where those D-ends are going to go because they have so much speed.’€

The Patriots put up 24 points in the first half last week against the Eagles, but for much of the season, they’€™ve struggled with slow starts. (In the previous six-game stretch before last week against Philadelphia, they averaged nine points in the first half.) Gronkowski said a large part of getting off to a fast start involves getting the running game in gear.

‘€œ(Just) making plays. Getting the ball down the field and getting the run game going,’€ he said. ‘€œOnce we get the run game going, we can do some play action and stuff. Get the ball downfield and get some guys open. Basically going out right from the start and executing well.

‘€œThat’€™s what you want to do,’€ he added. ‘€œYou want to find their weaknesses. You want to find the areas where you can get the ball down the field. You want to find the areas where you can get the ball down the field where there are gaps and everything.’€

Read More: Bill Belichick, Chris Gronkowski, Dan Gronkowski, dwight freeney

In Focus: Charting the offensive opportunities for the Patriots’ skill position players through 11 games

12.01.11 at 9:17 am ET
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Every week over the course of the 2011 NFL season, we’€™ll present a list of the Patriots’€™ ‘€œoffensive touches,’€ a running tally of which one of the offensive skill position players is getting the most looks. Like our weekly look at targets, it can occasionally be an inexact stat, but it remains a good barometer of how confident the coaches (and quarterback) are when it comes to the skill position players at their disposal. Eleven games into the season, here’€™s a breakdown of the New England offense for 2011:

BenJarvus Green Ellis: 156 (150 carries, six receptions) seven touchdowns ‘€” 10 negative plays
Wes Welker: 85 (3 carries, 82 receptions) eight touchdowns ‘€” two negative plays
Danny Woodhead: 67 (53 carries, 14 receptions) zero touchdowns ‘€” two negative plays
Rob Gronkowski: 60 (0 carries, 60 receptions), 11 touchdowns
Aaron Hernandez: 48 (1 carry, 47 receptions), five touchdowns ‘€” one negative play
Deion Branch: 45 (0 carries, 45 receptions), four touchdowns
Stevan Ridley: 43 (40 carries, 3 reception), one touchdown ‘€” five negative plays
Tom Brady: 21 (21 carries, 0 receptions) 28 passing touchdowns, zero rushing touchdowns ‘€” 20 negative plays (all sacks)
Kevin Faulk: 16 (11 carries, 5 receptions) zero touchdowns ‘€” two negative plays
Shane Vereen: 15 (15 carries, 0 receptions) ‘€” two negative plays
Chad Ochocinco: 11 (0 carries, 11 receptions), zero touchdowns
Julian Edelman: 6 (3 carries, 3 receptions) zero touchdowns ‘€” two negative plays, both runs
Matthew Slater: 1 (0 carries, 1 reception) zero touchdowns
TOTAL: 574 touches (297 carries, 277 receptions) ‘€” 46 negative plays (excluding kneeldowns).

Read More: Aaron Hernandez, BenJarvus Green Ellis, Chad Ochocinco, Danny Woodhead



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