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Nick McDonald happy to get his first NFL start under his belt

12.05.11 at 4:35 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Nick McDonald was sore when he woke up Monday morning, but that was a good thing.

‘€œIt feels great though — I haven’€™t felt like this in a while,’€ he said Monday afternoon during a break in the Patriots’€™ locker room. ‘€œIt feels good.’€

In his first NFL start, the center went wire-to-wire in New England‘€™s 31-24 win over Indianapolis. The fourth center the Patriots rolled out there this season, McDonald was signed off the practice squad on Friday to replace Ryan Wendell (calf) and Dan Connolly (groin), both of whom were too hobbled to play on Sunday. (Starter Dan Koppen was placed on injured reserve shortly after the regular-season opener against the Dolphins.)

‘€œNick did really well. He really did. He stepped up big time this week,’€ said fellow offensive lineman Brian Waters. ‘€œHe didn’€™t fully know what would happen, but he stepped up big time.

‘€œHe’€™s done a great job all season of making sure he knows what’€™s going on, and today was just to show that you never know when your time is coming and you have to be prepared. All of young guys … I feel confident in all our young guys being ready to go when their number is called.’€

The 6-foot-4, 316-pounder had been on the practice squad for the bulk of the 2011 season, but was signed to the active roster on Saturday when the Patriots released wide receiver Taylor Price. A 24-year-old undrafted free agent out of Saginaw Valley State, McDonald was signed by the Packers after the 2010 draft, and picked up a ring because he was on the Green Bay roster last season.

Sunday marked his first start with the Patriots.

‘€œIt was nice to see myself out there and see what I have to do to get better,’€ McDonald said after getting a chance to watch film with his teammates. ‘€œI need a lot of improvement, obviously, but I think I stepped up and played well. Obviously, I have two awesome players next to me in (Logan) Mankins and Waters, so that helps.

‘€œIf there’€™s a check, they’€™ll help make some calls. But as a center, you have to know everything. You have to be right on it. If it’€™s not the right call, those guys will definitely tell you,’€ McDonald added. ‘€œThat was key with me. I had to communicate. We worked on that all week to make sure I made the right calls.’€

Quarterback Tom Brady had nothing but positive things to say about the work that McDonald did in the week leading up to the game, and what he was able to accomplish on Sunday against the Colts.

‘€œIt’€™s really a credit to Nick and the work that he put in last week,’€ Brady told WEEI on Monday morning. ‘€œTaking care of the football starts with the center-quarterback exchange. You’€™ve got to execute the most basic play in football, getting the ball from the center to the quarterback. We spent a lot of time last week trying to be able to do that. To be forced into that situation, where basically Nick’€™s been on the practice squad and then to elevate him the roster and have him step in was really a great job by him.’€

Going forward, McDonald faces an uncertain future, as the injury status of both Wendell and Connolly could have a sizable impact on his playing time. For his part, he said Monday he’€™s going to control what he can control.

‘€œI just have to keep working. (Do) what I’€™ve been doing since I got here. I just have to keep working hard in the weight room and film study and know what I’€™m doing and just be prepared,’€ he said. ‘€œIt’€™s great. I’€™m glad that I’€™ve gotten the opportunity. Now, I just have to keep doing it every single week and keep improving.’€

Read More: Brian Waters, Dan Connolly, Dan Koppen, Logan Mankins

Andre Carter on M&M: Patriots’ fourth-quarter performance ‘unacceptable’

12.05.11 at 1:01 pm ET
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Patriots defensive lineman Andre Carter stopped by for a visit with the Mut & Merloni show Monday at Gillette Stadium. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.

The Patriots took a big lead against the Colts Sunday before settling for a 31-24 decision.

“Granted, it was a win, but overall we just didn’t finish strong,” Carter said. “Having 21 unanswered points defensively is just unacceptable.”

The Patriots have turned heads by turning receivers into part-time defensive backs. The latest is Matthew Slater, who helped out on defense Sunday.

“I never experienced anything like this throughout my career,” Carter said. “This is actually a first for me, seeing guys that probably weren’t even on an NFL team end up getting signed and starting, to having guys on special teams, guys on the offensive side of the ball trying to help out or contribute. That’s just something that the coaches have faith in each individual and we just know that whoever’s back there, the front four or the seven-man in general, we’ve got to get there to help the guys out.”

Added Carter: “[Slater] was a professional about it. I’m sure he was out of his comfort zone.”

Next up for the Patriots is Carter’s former team, the Redskins. Carter spent the past five seasons in Washington before signing with the Patriots as a free agent.

“It will be a little bit weird,” he acknowledged. “But like I tell everybody, this is a business. ‘€¦ There’s no revenge or get-back or nothing like that. When I left Washington, we parted on good terms. We shook hands and parted ways. They were headed in a different direction and I knew I was headed in a different direction.”

Added Carter: “I had great years. The chapter is closed. A new chapter begins. I’m a Patriot now. So, you’ve just got to prepare and find a way to put out the best performance.”

Read More: Andre Carter, Matthew Slater,

Transcript of Tom Brady on D&C: Bill Belichick ‘just the way he is’ in dealing with media

12.05.11 at 10:46 am ET
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Patriots quarterback Tom Brady made his weekly appearance on the Dennis & Callahan show Monday morning, following Sunday’s 31-24 victory over the Colts.

Bill Belichick was his typical curt self when speaking at his press conference after the game. Brady, who always is more talkative, was asked about the different approaches in dealing with the media.

“Well, there’s only one Bill Belichick,” Brady said with a laugh. “There’s no one that can be like him. It’s really his personality. He’s not trying to act a certain way. It’s just the way he is. Everybody is the way they are. What you hear from myself when I speak or Billy O’Brien when he speaks or Nick Caserio when he speaks, that’s everybody’s own personality. If you got me in some other situation, I’d probably speak the same way. And so would coach Belichick. It’s just a matter of your level of comfort and answering questions. But we do it so often. After a while your personality comes out.

“Coach Belichick has to talk to the media six days a week. I don’t have it that bad, where I have to talk six days a week. Three days a week for me. The only thing I really like doing during the week is getting ready to play the game.”

Following is a transcript of the conversation. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

Up 31-3 in the fourth quarter, was that just human nature kicking in on all fronts for the New England Patriots, or was it something a little more nefarious at work here?

I don’t even know what nefarious means.

Evil, bad, something malignant.

OK. I just think we didn’t execute very well. Offensively, we didn’t get a first down in the fourth quarter. You can’t do that. You’re not going to do much in terms of helping your defense out, either. We were up 31-3 and I think everyone was obviously happy with that, but we’d like to close the game out a lot better than we did yesterday.

Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Bill Belichick, Peyton Manning, Rob Gronkowski, Taylor Price

Boomer Esiason on D&C: Patriots on track to meet Packers in Super Bowl

12.05.11 at 8:49 am ET
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CBS Sports NFL analyst Boomer Esiason made his weekly appearance on the Dennis & Callahan show Monday morning to discuss the Patriots and other NFL news.

The Patriots captured a 31-24 victory over the Colts Sunday, but coach Bill Belichick was not pleased after they let Indianapolis climb back in the game in the fourth quarter.

“Anytime you give up 21 points in the fourth quarter, you can understand how they feel — especially to a team that hasn’t won a game and to a quarterback who really a lot of people don’t have much respect for on the field,” Esiason said, although he added: “Five weeks from now, nobody’s going to look back at this and saw that they gave up 24 points to Indianapolis and give a crap about it.”

The Patriots visit the Redskins next Sunday, but the anticipation already is building for the game in two weeks against the Broncos and Tim Tebow.

“I’m not a big fan of his ‘€¦ but I will say this: What’s happening in their games is fascinating,” Esiason said. “Other teams are imploding offensively, so their defense is scoring touchdowns for them. Guys drop coverage, Tebow runs around and makes big plays in the fourth quarter. I’ve never seen anything like it. I give the young man a ton of credit. I give John Fox a ton of credit for sticking with it and riding the wave.

“When the Patriots get there it’s really going to be interesting, because watching the Patriot defense we saw yesterday in the fourth quarter go against Tim Tebow in his building should lead to some very interesting football.”

Esiason predicted that Chargers coach Norv Turner, Giants coach Tom Coughlin, Dolphins coach Tony Sparano and Colts coach Jim Caldwell will be fired after the season, and that Eagles coach Andy Reid “wants out of there,” speculating that San Diego would be his ideal landing spot.

Following are more highlights from the conversation.

On if he would prefer Tebow or Mark Sanchez as his quarterback: “I would want Mark Sanchez. Tim Tebow’s got a nice, short resume of winning here. It’s unexplainable, other than the fact that the kid is earning it and doing it in the big spots much like Mark Sanchez has. I’ll take Mark over Tim, but I’ll tell you one thing: Both of them are showing they can win games in the fourth quarter after not playing that well for 3 1/2 quarters.”

On Tom Brady vs. Aaron Rodgers: “Tom Brady’s done it a lot longer than Aaron Rodgers has. If you just look at the body of work, I will tell you that Tom’s three Super Bowls still weigh heavily on his side. I’ll always look at those Super Bowls as saying that this will be one of the greatest quarterbacks to have ever played, especially if he can get to a fourth one. I still say it’s going to be New England and the Packers meeting up in Indianapolis. Obviously, only time will tell. Neither team has a great defense, by the way.”

On the Packers’ quest for an undefeated season: “Everybody there wants it. I did their game a couple of weeks ago against Minnesota on Monday night, and everybody there, to a man, even thought they’re not really supposed to be talking about, they’re talking about it. And they’re talking about it because they want it. Just like the Patriots wanted it back in 2007.”

On Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski: “He’s fantastic, he really is. That size, and the ability that he has, and he’s a full tight end — he can block, he can run pass routes. He obviously is a smart player, intuitive, understand where to get himself open and how to get himself open. And much like Tom has the relationship with Wes Welker, this relationship has now developed into that type of thing on the field. If you have it with one guy, it’s great. If you have it with two guys, it’s fantastic. There’s not enough good things to say about him.”

On the Colts’ decision about what to do with the top draft pick and Peyton Manning: “The big question for the Colts will be is [Manning] going to be ready to play next year. And I don’t think it matters. I think they’re going to take Andrew Luck regardless. And they should take Andrew Luck and be like the Green Bay Packers, who have been stocked at the quarterback position since 1992.”

Read More: aaron rodgers, Bill Belichick, boomer esiason, Mark Sanchez

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

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