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Pats-Dolphins: Setting the scene in a fog

01.02.11 at 10:17 am ET
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FOXBORO — Temperatures are expected in the upper 40s with a chance of rain and a light breeze for the 1 p.m. kickoff between the Patriots and Dolphins in the season finale.

All eyes will be on Tom Brady each time the Patriots offense takes the field as fans wonder how much playing time the odds-on favorite for NFL MVP will get in a game that will have no impact on their playoff position when they start up again in two weeks.

Patriots fans will recall that Bill Belichick often has a different point of view in such circumstances as Brady played parts of both halves in a similar circumstance against the Texans last season.

After Wes Welker blew out the ACL and MCL in his left knee on the Patriots’ first drive, Brady remained in the game with the other starters before being lifted before halftime for Brian Hoyer. Brady then came out with the starters again to start the third quarter to get accustomed to playing without Welker, in the hope it would help the offense in the next week for the start of the playoffs.

It wasn’t until Brady was drilled by Mario Williams with four minutes left in the fourth quarter that Belichick decided to pull Brady for Hoyer. Brady was intercepted on that final pass by – of all people – Bernard Pollard. Brady has since thrown only four regular-season interceptions and has established a new NFL standard for accuracy with 319 attempts without an interception entering the 2010 season finale.

Other juicy morsels to consider while you tailgate or otherwise prepare for the final regular-season feast of 2010:

– Belichick is trying to set history of his own today when he sends his troops into battle against the Dolphins. He is attempting to become the first coach in NFL history to win at least 14 games in four seasons. He had back-to-back 14-2 campaigns in 2003 and 2004, with both ending in Super Bowl titles.

He, of course, coached the only 16-0 regular season in NFL history in 2007 but we won’t remind people of how that turned out. Oops, we just did.

– In addition to his remarkable accuracy streak, Brady is trying to extend his NFL record of consecutive wins in home-field starts. He has won his last 27 at Gillette, dating to a loss to the Jets in 2006.

– With a win, the Patriots will finish with their fifth perfect home record in franchise history, and third in their last four seasons. All five would have come in the last eight seasons and in three of them, they reached the Super Bowl.

– The Patriots are prepping for their 18th appearance in the NFL postseason, with the last eight appearances coming as AFC East division champions.

– Tom Brady is 11-6 all-time against the Dolphins, the most losses against any team in Brady’s 11 seasons. The six-loss total is one more than the five apiece to the Jets and Broncos. However, after going just 7-5 in his first 12 tries – including a 21-0 loss on Dec. 10, 2006 – Brady has won four-of-five, including a 41-14 laugher back on Oct. 4.

– The last time these two teams met, the Patriots became the first NFL team ever to score a touchdown five different ways when they reached  the end zone on a blocked field goal, a kickoff return, an interception, a pass and a run.

– One of the biggest milestones to watch is BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who needs just 72 yards to become the first 1,000-yard rusher for the Patriots since Corey Dillon in 2004. Green-Ellis is already the first Patriots rusher since Dillon in 2005 to have at least 200 carries in a season.

So, if you think these Patriots are playing with nothing on the line, history and the record books prove otherwise – and these Patriots would love to further cement their place as one of the great teams in franchise and NFL history.

Read More: BenJarvus Green Ellis, Bernard Pollard, Bill Belichick, Brian Hoyer

Ten Final Thoughts on Patriots-Dolphins

01.02.11 at 8:57 am ET
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With kickoff looming, here are 10 final thoughts on the final regular-season game of the year for the Patriots:

1. Gut feeling? Tom Brady plays between one half and three quarters. If the New England offense is crisp and efficient before halftime, Bill Belichick will likely yank the starters at the half. If they are sluggish ‘€” as was the case in the 2004 game we referenced earlier this week ‘€” then look for them to go a little longer.

2. That being said, I think a lot of people are legitimately interested in watching Brian Hoyer play, even if it’s just for a couple of series. The Michigan State product is further along in his development at this stage of his career than Matt Cassel.

3. Heard lots of people reference the 2005 regular-season finale as the last time the Patriots were in this situation ‘€” last week of the season, playoff spot wrapped up and lots of ‘€œstart ‘€˜em or sit ‘€˜em?’€ questions. I’€™d submit that was a far different type of day than the one the Patriots face today. In that one, New England was angling for a more favorable playoff seeding, and because of the defeat, ended up playing Jacksonville in the first round instead of a more powerful Pittsburgh team that would go on to win the Super Bowl. In addition, that Patriots team wasn’€™t looking at a bye week. And that New England team had far more veterans than the current one.

4. Wonder if weather is going to play a role today? Down here at the stadium, things are pretty mild, and with all the snow on the ground, there’€™s a little fog. Should be a decent day. Here’€™s the full report from weather.com.

5. One guy who deserves a shot to play today is Taylor Price. The rookie wide receiver out of Ohio has been inactive for all 15 games this season ‘€” ostensibly because of personnel ‘€” but hasn’€™t made a stink about the situation either on or off the record with reporters. If they do end up putting him on the game day roster, a good bet to trade places with him might be Deion Branch, who has been slowed by a knee injury over the last month or so and was listed on Friday’€™s injury report as ‘€œquestionable’€ because of it.
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Read More: BenJarvus Green Ellis, Bill Belichick, Brian Hoyer, Charlie Weis

Report: Patriots to place Ron Brace on injured reserve

01.01.11 at 1:05 pm ET
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According to the Boston Herald, Patriots defensive lineman Ron Brace “will almost certainly be placed on Injured Reserve” on Monday, thus ending his season. Brace, a 2009 second-round draft pick out of Boston College, has been a strong presence on the line this season, recording 23 tackles. By placing him on the IR on Monday, the Herald reports, the Patriots will clear a roster spot for the return of linebacker Brandon Spikes, whose four-game suspension concludes on Monday, one day after the regular season finale against the Miami Dolphins.

Brace missed practice this week due to an elbow injury suffered in last week’s 34-3 win over the Buffalo Bills. While his loss would negatively impact the Pats‘ depth on the defensive line, fellow lineman Myron Pryor does appear closer to returning. Pryor (back) was a limited participant in Pats practice this week, has 11 tackles in eight games this year, but has not played in a game since Week 9 against the Browns.

For more Patriots coverage, visit weei.com/patriots.

Read More: Brandon Spikes, Myron Pryor, Ron Brace,

Dolphins Friday injury report: 3 ruled out

12.31.10 at 4:36 pm ET
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The Dolphins ruled out three players on Friday after they missed practice for a third straight day. Linebacker Karlos Dansby and tight ends Anthony Fasano and tight end Lydon Murtha will miss Sunday’s game at Gillette Stadium. Here is the complete Dolphins report from Friday:

Did Not Participate
LB Karlos Dansby (toe) OUT
TE Anthony Fasano (knee) OUT
TE Lydon Murtha (head) OUT

Limited Participation
CB Nolan Carroll (head) Questionable

Read More: Anthony Fasano, Karlos Dansby, Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots

Pats Friday injury report: Aaron Hernandez, Deion Branch, TBC, 2 others questionable

12.31.10 at 4:10 pm ET
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FOXBORO — One day after returning to practice from a hip injury, Aaron Hernandez was not spotted at the open portion of Patriots practice Friday outside Gillette Stadium. Also missing were Dan Connolly, Mike Wright and Ron Brace. Meanwhile, Wes Welker was limited but it was not injury related.

Hernandez was limited on Thursday while Connolly and Wright have been out with concussions. Brace suffered an elbow injury against the Bills on Sunday and has missed practice all week. The team practice on the lower grass field outside Gillette in very mild, sunny conditions. The complete Patriots report from Friday is as follows:

Did Not Participate
DL Ron Brace (elbow) Doubtful
G Dan Connolly (concussion) Doubtful
DL Mike Wright (concussion) Doubtful
TE Aaron Hernandez (hip) Questionable

Limited Participation
LB Tully Banta-Cain (groin) Questionable
QB Tom Brady (right shoulder/foot) Probable
WR Deion Branch (knee) Questionable
LB Jermaine Cunningham (calf) Questionable
NT Myron Pryor (back) Questionable
WR Wes Welker (not injury related) Probable

Full Participation
CB Kyle Arrington (elbow) Probable
CB Devin McCourty (rib) Probable

Read More: Aaron Hernandez, Dan Connolly, Mike Wright, New England Patriots

Jerod Mayo hit with $10K fine for drilling the Bills

12.31.10 at 1:20 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Jerod Mayo acknowledged Thursday that he was informed by the NFL that he would be fined for a hit during the Patriots’ 34-3 rout of Buffalo last Sunday. On Friday, the NFL informed him how much but not why.

The NFL fined the Patriots Pro Bowl linebacker $10,000 for one of two – or both – second-quarter crushing hits of Bills wide receivers Steve Johnson and Dave Nelson.

Mayo nailed Johnson on a fourth-and-12 pass over the middle, breaking up the pass. He then drilled Nelson on a second-down pass attempt. Nelson stayed on the ground and left the field woozy. Both later returned to the game. Mayo leads the NFL with 169 tackles.

Read More: Buffalo Bills, Dave Nelson, Jerod Mayo, New England Patriots

Peter King on D&H: Pats should give Brian Hoyer a shot

12.31.10 at 12:31 pm ET
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Sports Illustrated and NBC Sports NFL analyst Peter King checked in for his weekly Patriots Friday appearance on the Dale & Holley show with guest hosts Chris Price and Eric Frede. To hear the interview, including King’s thoughts on Patriots defensive back Brandon Meriweather and the Pro Bowl, go to the Dale & Holley audio on demand page.

King lauded the Patriots for the turnaround in Foxboro this season, crediting Bill Belichick and director of player personnel Nick Caserio. Said King: “It’s an amazing job by this organization. ‘€¦ I think it’s a tremendous tribute to Belichick.”

Asked if Caserio will receive attention around the league for his contributions, King wasn’t so sure, due to the fact that the Patriots protect him so well. “Nobody knows who he is,” King said. “He’s under a rock. I’ve never met the guy.”

King said the Patriots would do well to give Tom Brady extra time on the bench Sunday vs. Miami, mainly to see what they have behind him. “I just think it’s smart if you have a good picture of what [Brian] Hoyer can do,” King said, noting that the Dolphins defense would be a good test.

Looking at the playoff picture, King said he foresees a Steelers-Patriots AFC championship game. As for which NFC team would have the best chance to knock off the Pats if they reach the Super Bowl, King went with the Saints and Packers, due to their quarterbacks.

Giants coach Tom Coughlin has come under fire for his team’s season-ending struggles, but King said he doesn’t expect Coughlin will lose his job. “I don’t think, unless there’s a disaster Sunday, that Coughlin will be fired,” he said.

The Brett Favre punishment was a topic of discussion as well. King said the NFL simply could not prove Favre sent the pornographic text messages to Jenn Sterger, and it did not appear to be a situation where Sterger was offended by Favre’s alleged pursuit.

“I think, at the end of the day, the NFL feels that she was not sexually harassed,” King said, adding that he supports that claim. “I don’t see this rising to the level of sexual harassment.”

However, King noted that Favre makes $1 million per game, and a larger fine would have sent a better message. “To me, a $50,000 fine is really a wrist slap,” he said, adding: “I don’t think $50,000 is enough at all. I think [$250,000] is much more palatable.”

Read More: Bill Belichick, Brett Favre, Nick Caserio, Peter King
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