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Halftime analysis: Patriots 24, Steelers 10

11.03.13 at 5:58 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Two quarters are in the books here at Gillette Stadium, and the Patriots hold a 24-10 lead on the Steelers. Here are a few quick notes:

‘€¢ The big connection for the Patriots has been Tom Brady to Rob Gronkowski. The big tight end accounted for 110 of Brady’s first 161 yards through the air, and the two hooked up on a second-quarter touchdown pass that gave New England a 14-0 lead. Gronkowski has eight catches for 119 yards and a touchdown. Danny Amendola (91 yards on two catches) also had a big first half for New England. On the other side of the ball, Ben Roethlisberger is 11-for-15 for 173 yards, and had his best throw of the first half at the end of the second quarter when he connected with Antonio Brown on a 27-yard touchdown pass.

‘€¢ The Patriots opened up in a 3-4 on defense, with newcomer Isaac Sopoaga over the nose and Chris Jones and Joe Vellano at defensive ends; Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich were at outside linebacker/edge-of-the-line players. (New England also flashed a look with Andre Carter in for Sopaga, a scheme that saw Chris Jones move to the nose.) Brandon Spikes and Dont’a Hightower were the two inside linebackers. In the secondary, it was Kyle Arrington and Alfonzo Dennard at corner (Logan Ryan rotated in as the nickel corner), and Devin McCourty and Steve Gregory at safety.

‘€¢ The two highlights of the first half defensively for New England came on takeaways. First, there was a third-down play at the end of Pittsburgh’s first drive. Ninkovich sacked Roethlisberger and knocked the ball loose. Vellano came away with the ball. New England couldn’t do anything with the takeaway, but it marked the 36th consecutive game where the Patriots registered a takeaway, the longest active streak in the league. And second, McCourty pulled down a wounded duck from Roethlisberger late in the first quarter and took it back to the Steelers 34.

‘€¢ Pittsburgh eventually got on the board midway through the second quarter when Roethlisberger put together a seven-play, 68-yard drive — highlighted by a 42-yard pass to Emmanuel Sanders — that ended with a 30-yard field goal from Shaun Suisham. They added to that with 1:55 left in the second quarter when Roethlsiberger hit Brown on a sweet 27-yarder over the top of Alfonzo Dennard to make it 17-10. It was the 200th touchdown pass of Roethlisberger’s career.

‘€¢ The Patriots put together their best and most complete offensive series late in the first quarter, but couldn’t punch it in for a touchdown. Brady and Co. engineered an 11-play sequence, with the two big connections coming on passes to Gronkowski — first, there was a 34-yard pickup that allowed New England to convert in a 3rd and long situation. That was followed up with a 27-yarder to Gronk that got the Patriots into the Pittsburgh red zone. The Patriots couldn’t convert when the Steelers stepped up on 4th and goal from the 1-yard line.

‘€¢ That inability to convert was rendered moot when the Patriots struck like a thunderbolt later in the first half. Following the McCourty pick, Brady hit Amendola for a 34-yard touchdown strike on a play where Amendola was so wide open, it appeared he might have materialized right out of thin air. Seriously: no one was within at least 10 yards of Amendola when he caught the ball and cruised into the end zone untouched to make it 7-0. They piled on shortly after that with their first touchdown of the second quarter — a six-play, 67-yard drive was capped off by a 19-yard touchdown pass from Brady to Gronkowski to make it 14-0 with 10:30 left in the second quarter. And they got more points at the end of the first half when Stevan Ridley banged one home from one yard out with 10 seconds left in the second quarter to make it 24-10.

‘€¢ Amendola had another Houdini moment on a 57-yard pass play toward the end of the first half, a connection that set up a 20-yard field goal with 3:51 left in the second quarter.

‘€¢ There were no injuries to report over the first half.

Patriots honor World Series champion Red Sox before game with Steelers

11.03.13 at 4:38 pm ET
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FOXBORO — The World Series champion Red Sox and their latest jewel – the World Series trophy – made an appearance at Gillette Stadium before the Patriots game against the Steelers.

Following the introduction of the Patriots through the tunnel, Red Sox owner John Henry led out his world champions. Among those coming out in blue No. 1 Patriots jerseys were third base coach and huge Patriots fan Brian Butterfield, Clay Buchholz, David Ross, Will Middlebrooks, John McDonald, Shane Victorino and Jon Lester, who was carrying the trophy.

Before Lester and the trophy, the highlight of the introductions was Jonny Gomes running onto the field in his bright red boots.

Lester and the trophy were designated the honorary captains and came out with Devin McCourty, Matthew Slater, Logan Mankins and Rob Ninkovich.

Read More: 2013 World Series, Boston Red Sox, John Henry, Jon Lester

Inactive analysis: Kenbrell Thompkins, Aqib Talib on shelf for Steelers game

11.03.13 at 3:20 pm ET
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FOXBORO — The Patriots have announced the following players as being out for Sunday’s game against the Steelers. Here’s the list of who will be sitting and what it means going forward:

Wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins: The biggest surprise of the group — it appears that the rookie has slipped down the depth chart over the last few weeks. Austin Collie has seen a dramatic uptick in snaps over the last two weeks — there’s likely a connection there.

Running back/returner Leon Washington: The veteran practiced all week, but has been dogged by ankle and thigh problems for the duration of the season. The belief is that apparently two more weeks — this week and the bye — should be enough to allow him to get back to action following the bye week.

Cornerback Aqib Talib: The veteran was limited all week and was listed as questionable (hip) on Friday’s injury report. Like Washington, the thinking is that extra two weeks of rest will do him some good — the Patriots face some elite offenses following the bye. Today will mark the third straight inactive game for Talib.

Linebacker Steve Beauharnais: The rookie seventh-rounder out of Rutgers has now been a healthy scratch for five games this season.

Wide receiver Josh Boyce: The rookie receiver appears to be on the way to a redshirt season — he’s played just 56 snaps over the course of the first eight games per Pro Football Focus, and has just one catch in that stretch.

Offensive lineman Chris Barker: The young offensive lineman is still in the developmental stages of his career, and like Boyce, apparently headed for a redshirt year.

Defensive end Jake Bequette: With the acquisition of veteran defensive end Andre Carter, Bequette is now the odd man out, at least at this point.

Setting the scene: Patriots host Steelers at chilly Gillette Stadium

11.03.13 at 1:15 pm ET
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FOXBORO — With the turning back of the clocks and the turning of the calendar to November comes the chilling weather that is customary with Patriots home football games in the second half of the season.

Clear skies and temperatures in the low 40s are expected for the 4:25 p.m. kickoff with the Steelers. A 10 MPH breeze out of the north will make it feel like freezing by halftime.

There will be a special pre-game ceremony to honor the World Series champion Red Sox, with several players, coaches and team staff and management expected to attend, with their third World Series trophy in nine years in tow.

The Patriots are attempting to head into their bye week with a 7-2 record by taking on a 2-5 Steelers team that is in the midst of their worst start to a season since the 1988 team opened 1-6 and 2-10.

The Patriots are entering the portion of the schedule they have mastered over the last 2010. They are a combined 23-1 in the second half of the regular season. In 2010 and 2011, they were 8-0 while they were 7-1 last season, with the only loss coming to 49ers on Sunday night football.

The Patriots are also an NFL-best 35-13 (.729) in the month of November since 2001.

New nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga is expected to make his debut at nose tackle. The 6-foot-2, 330-pound nose tackle was acquired in a deadline day trade on Tuesday from the Eagles, and with Tommy Kelly going on season-ending injured reserve on Saturday with a knee injury, Sopoaga’s presence is expected to be that much more important going forward.

Sopoaga’s addition is expected to be a boost to a run defense that is currently struggling to stop anyone. The Patriots enter the game ranked 31st in the NFL in stopping the run, allowing 130.8 yards per game while they are allowing just 215.5 yards per game through the air, good for fifth best in the NFL.

But the Patriots are having troubles of their own passing the ball. They are averaging just 209.4 yards through the air through the first half of the season, which ranks 23rd.

Tom Brady is having his least productive passing season since 2006. Brady is completing just 55.7 percent of his passes, has thrown nine touchdown passes and has been intercepted six times. His quarterback rating is 74.9, 21 points below his career average.

The Steelers lead the all-time series, 14-8 in the regular season, including a 25-17 win over New England on Oct. 30, 2011 at Heinz Field. The two teams haven’t met at Gillette Stadium since the Steelers beat Matt Cassel and the Patriots, 33-10, on Nov. 30, 2008.

Read More: Isaac Sopoaga, New England Patriots, nfl, Pittsburgh Steelers

Fantasy Football live chat: Helping set lineups for Week 9, 11 a.m.

11.03.13 at 9:37 am ET
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Join and fantasy football expert Pete Davidson for a live chat, helping you set your lineup for Week 9. All the fun starts at 11 a.m. Get your questions in now …


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Final Thoughts on Steelers-Patriots

11.03.13 at 6:00 am ET
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1. The loss of Tommy Kelly for the rest of the season is an unfortunate story on a few levels. One, Kelly is a veteran who has been in the NFL for an extended stretch — and considered one of the truly underrated defensive linemen in the game — but because he was stuck in Oakland, he never had the chance to really experience winning. (His two best years came in 2010 and 2011 when the Raiders were 8-8.) After arriving in New England this offseason, he talked a lot about being excited about the chance to play for a winner. Two, his loss will be felt on the field, where he played a major role in the fact that the New England run game started the season on an excellent note — through the first four games of the season, with Kelly and Vince Wilfork up front, New England was 13th in the league in rushing yards allowed per game, yielding an average of 105 yards per game. But over the last four weeks, they’€™ve given up 646 total rush yards to the Bengals, Saints, Jets and Dolphins ‘€” an average of 156.5 yards per game. Going into this weekend’€™s game against the Steelers, the Patriots are allowing 130.8 rushing yards per game, 31st in the league. And third, he remains a terrific quote. He’s a smart veteran with a great perspective on the game, and was always a straight shooter in his brief time in the New England locker room. Asked in the spring about how he could help transform the defense this year, he responded quickly: “You see how many people they get rid of around here? Make the team first, then worry about all that.” Kelly has a two-year deal, so it’s conceivable he could return in 2014 if his knee is healthy. I have to imagine that if he feels good, Bill Belichick would welcome him back.

2. The loss of Kelly means that four players who were thought to be absolutely indispensable to the success of the 2013 Patriots are now on season-ending injured reserve: Kelly, Wilfork, Jerod Mayo and Sebastian Vollmer. (A fifth, Shane Vereen, was placed on injured reserve after a Week 1 win over the Bills, but was given the designated for return classification. He’s eligible to return in Week 11.) It’s staggering to think of the losses the Patriots have suffered to this point in the season. If memory serves, a few other New England teams went through a similar stretch where they lost key players to IR: the 2005 team saw Rodney Harrison, Randall Gay, Matt Light and Dan Koppen all go on injured reserve before the end of the year. The following season, Harrison, Junior Seau, Eugene Wilson and Josh Miller all ended the year on IR. And in 2008, Tom Brady, Harrison, Laurence Maroney and Adalius Thomas all saw their seasons come to a halt because they landed on injured reserve.

3. One of the things an alert Tweeter pointed out was that despite the personnel losses suffered by the Patriots to this point in the season, they remain pretty mentally tough in that there doesn’t seem to be many cases where they’ve thrown in the towel on a bad situation. They’ve certainly had their chances — even in their two losses, there was some fight at the end of the game. Against the Bengals, they came within a missed connection on a 4th and goal attempt in the fourth quarter. And in the overtime loss to the Jets, they still managed to battle back from a woeful third quarter with a drive at the end of regulation that forced overtime. The losses could still be too much to bear going forward, but at least at this point, they remain a mentally tough bunch with some character. That approach will serve them well over the second half of the season.

4. A lot will likely depend on the state of the free agent market, as well as what the draft looks like, but you have to figure that New England would invest a relatively high draft pick in a defensive lineman in this year’s draft. Not to suggest they’d be able to pick up the likes of a Jadaveon Clowney, but when you consider the relative lack of depth up front — as well as the fact that two of their younger projects from the last two years in Kyle Love and Brandon Deaderick didn’t work out — it’s a safe bet they’ll be interested in diving back into that pool sooner rather than later.

5. Had a chance to speak one-on-one with rookie wide receiver Josh Boyce this week in the locker room, and talked with him about what it means to essentially take a redshirt year at the NFL level. Through the first eight games, he has taken 56 snaps (per Pro Football Focus) and has one catch to this point in the season. He’s been a healthy scratch the last three weeks while serving as a backup to veteran Austin Collie. It’s clear that with a competitor like Boyce, he wants to be on the field as much as possible, but he’s aware of the situation he faces. He’s in an odd spot — the franchise clearly sees something in him, and while he does have practice squad eligibility, there’s no way they would try and risk getting him through waivers to the practice squad, because he’d be picked up immediately. So he sits in sort of a roster limbo, working on the game plan through the week but well aware that work isn’t likely to pay off down the road. It’s worth mentioning that Vereen and Stephen Neal are two players who were part of similar situations when they were younger, and both ended up being key contributors later in their careers.
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Patriots place DL Tommy Kelly on injured reserve

11.02.13 at 5:01 pm ET
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The Patriots announced Saturday that they signed offensive lineman Josh Kline to the 53-man roster from the practice squad and placed defensive lineman Tommy Kelly on injured reserve with a knee injury.

Kelly, 32, is a veteran of 10 NFL seasons with the Oakland Raiders (2004-12) and (2013) after originally entering the NFL as a rookie free agent with the Raiders out of Mississippi State in 2004. He was released by Oakland on March 27, 2013. The 6-foot-6, 310-pounder has played in 134 NFL games with 122 starts and has registered 442 total tackles, 36½ sacks, one interception, 15 passes defensed, nine forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries in his career. This season with New England, he started all five games he appeared in and compiled 23 tackles, 2½ sacks and one fumble recovery. Kelly was injured during the Week 5 game at Cincinnati (10/6) and was inactive for the last three contests.

Kline, 23, originally joined the Patriots as a rookie free agent out of Kent State on May 3, and was released on Sept. 2, 2013, before being signed to the practice squad on Sept. 4. The 6-foot-3, 295-pounder was signed from the practice squad to the 53-man roster on Sept. 7, the day before the Patriots opener at Buffalo. He dressed but did not play against the Bills. He was released from the 53-man roster on Sept. 11 and re-signed to the practice squad on Sept. 13. Kline saw action at right guard, right tackle and on special teams during his college career at Kent State. He earned second-team All-MAC honors as a senior in 2012.

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