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Target Practice: Tracking opportunities in Patriots passing game

12.24.13 at 7:00 am ET
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Targets have been compiled by the NFL since the start of the 2009 season, and while it remains a vaguely imperfect stat ‘€” a badly thrown ball from a quarterback can often go against the record of the receiver as opposed to the quarterback ‘€” it remains a good indication of the confidence level a passer might have in his pass catcher. Here’€™s a look at the target breakdown for the New England passing game after the first 15 games of the 2013 season:

WR Julian Edelman: 96 catches on 140 targets
WR Danny Amendola: 53 catches on 80 targets
RB Shane Vereen: 44 catches on 64 targets
TE Rob Gronkowski: 39 catches on 66 targets
WR Aaron Dobson: 36 catches on 76 targets
WR Kenbrell Thompkins: 32 catches on 69 targets
RB Brandon Bolden: 21 catches on 29 targets
TE Michael Hoomanawanui: 12 catches on 18 targets
RB Stevan Ridley: 10 catches on 12 targets
WR Josh Boyce: 9 catches on 19 targets
WR Austin Collie: 6 catches on 11 targets
FB James Develin: 4 catches on 4 targets
TE Matthew Mulligan: 2 catches on 3 targets
RB LeGarrette Blount: 2 catches on 5 targets
TE Zach Sudfeld: 0 catches on 3 targets
RB Leon Washington: 0 catches on 1 target
TE/OL Nate Solder: 0 catches on 1 target

By position
Wide receiver: 232 catches on 395 targets
Running back/fullback: 81 catches on 115 targets
Tight end: 53 catches on 90 targets
Other: 0 catches on 1 target

By way of comparison, here’s a look at the target breakdown through 15 games in 2012.

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Snapshot of AFC playoff picture: Top five seeds locked into postseason, but ultimate seeding still to be determined

12.23.13 at 5:10 pm ET
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With one week to go in the regular season, the top five seeds are locked into the playoffs, but there are still plenty of questions about who might end up where. In addition, there’s a race between four teams for the final playoff spot. Here’s a breakdown of what lies ahead, as well as the odds of who is mostly likely to finish where, per Playoff Status:

1. Broncos (12-3): Clinched first-round bye. Sunday at Raiders (4-11). Denver can clinch the No. 1 seed and home-fleld advantage throughout the playoffs with a win in Oakland or a Patriots’ loss or tie. Playoff Status says the Broncos have an 88 percent chance of taking the top seed, and 12 percent at No. 2.

2. Patriots. (11-4): Clinched AFC East. Sunday vs. Bills (6-9). New England can clinch a first-round bye with a win or a tie against Buffalo; or a Cincinnati loss or a tie or an Indianapolis loss or a tie. The Patriots can clinch the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs if they win and the Broncos lose. Playoff Status gives the Patriots a 12 percent chance at landing the top spot, a 73 percent chance at No. 2 and a 5 percent chance at the third seed.

3. Bengals (10-5): Clinched AFC North: Sunday vs. Ravens (8-7). Cincinnati can clinch a first-round bye with a win over the Ravens and a New England loss to Buffalo. Playoff Status has the Bengals at 11 percent for No. 2, 65 percent for No. 3 and 24 percent for No. 4.

4. Colts (10-5): Clinched AFC South: Sunday at Jaguars (4-11). Indy can clinch a first-round bye with a win over the Jaguars, combined with a Patriots loss to the Bills and a Bengals loss or tie against the Ravens. Playoff Status says it’s likely the Colts end up with the four spot (66 percent), while they still have a shot to either go up to No. 2 (4 percent) or No. 3 (31 percent).

5. Chiefs (11-4): Clinched playoff berth: Sunday at Chargers (8-7). Regardless of what happens around them, Kansas City is locked into the five spot as the lead wild card entry.

6. Dolphins (8-7): Currently sixth seed: Sunday vs. Jets (7-8). Miami can clinch a playoff spot with one of the following four scenarios: a win and Baltimore loss or a tie; a win and a San Diego win; a tie, a Baltimore loss and a San Diego loss or tie; or a tie, Baltimore tie and San Diego tie. Playoff Status likes the Dolphins as the best bet to land the final playoff spot, giving them a 58 percent chance at the No. 6 seed.

7. Ravens (8-7): Currently seventh seed: Sunday at Bengals (10-5). Baltimore can clinch a playoff spot with one of the following five scenarios: a win and a San Diego loss or tie; a win and a Miami loss or tie; a tie, Miami loss or San Diego loss or tie; a tie, Miami tie and San Diego loss; or a Miami loss, San Diego loss and Pittsburgh loss or tie. Playoff Status has them at 22 percent to reach the postseason.

8. Chargers (8-7): Currently eighth seed: Sunday vs. Chiefs (11-4). San Diego can clinch a playoff spot with one of the following two scenarios: a win, Miami loss or tie and Baltimore loss or tie; or a tie, Miami loss and Baltimore loss. A ten percent chance at the playoffs, per Playoff Status.

9. Steelers (7-8): Currently ninth seed: Sunday vs. Browns (4-11). Pittsburgh can clinch a playoff spot with the following scenario: a win, Miami loss, Baltimore loss and San Diego loss. Playoff Status has them at 9 percent.

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Poll: How far can Patriots go?

12.23.13 at 3:07 pm ET
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FOXBORO — With Sunday’s 41-7 blowout of the defending Super Bowl champion Ravens, the Patriots are 11-4 and positioned for a first-round playoff bye.

Does Sunday’s win make you feel these Patriots are more capable than ever of reaching another Super Bowl?

How much does Sunday's win over the Ravens change your expectations for Patriots?

View Results

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Bill Belichick: Sunday success in red zone came down to ‘better execution’

12.23.13 at 2:45 pm ET
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One of the keys to the Patriots’ 41-7 win over the Ravens on Sunday was an ability to convert in the red zone. New England — which has seen some of its red-zone numbers slip in recent weeks, including a 1-for-4 performance the week before against the Dolphins — was 3-for-3 on red zone touchdown chances. Running back LeGarrette Blount had two rushing touchdowns from inside the 20, while fellow running back Shane Vereen caught a touchdown pass from quarterback Tom Brady to help lead the way in the blowout.

Asked about what happened against the Ravens in the red zone on Sunday, Patriots coach Bill Belichick said it was simple.

“Better execution. It wasn’€™t a big new game plan or anything, like we put in a new offense down there. We just did things better,” Belichick said on a conference call with the media. “I think the way that [offensive coordinator] Josh [McDaniels] and the offensive coaches set some of the plays up to match up against the Ravens looks probably might have helped us a little bit too but we had some good blocking, good execution in the passing game, some very good running. Not anything revolutionary –€“ just good football from really all 11 guys that were out there on the field.

“That’€™s what it usually is when things go well, in any situation, whether it’€™s red area, third down, running game, passing game. If everybody is doing a good job, you’€™re going to have good results. If they’€™re not, it’€™s not going to look the way you want it to.”

Belichick also discussed the ability of rookie offensive lineman Josh Kline to step in as needed at the left guard spot — he took over late last week when Nate Solder went down at veteran Logan Mankins kicked out to the left tackle spot. He went wire-to-wire against the Ravens in his first start as a professional.

On Monday, Belichick gave credit to offensive assistant coach Brian Daboll for coming across Kline when Kline was a collegian.

“Josh was a good player in college,” Belichick said. “Brian Daboll worked him out in the spring, and I think that was part of the impetus of our interest in him. He wasn’€™t drafted, we were able to recruit him and sign him as a college free agent. He’€™s played guard in college but we also worked him some at center. He played both center and guard in the preseason. Versatile guy, he’€™s got good intelligence.

“He was kind of on and off the roster a little bit early in the year. He’€™s worked hard and steadily improved through the course of the season in every area: his versatility, run blocking, pass blocking, work in the weight room. He’€™s given us confidence in the way that he’€™s practiced. We just felt yesterday that was the best way to go with the lineup. Of course Logan is one of our most dependable players and he certainly came through big yesterday playing left tackle against some pretty good players over there and definitely holding his own, doing a good job.”

Following are more highlights from Beichick’s Q&A.

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Josh McDaniels says Pats want to dictate offensive style ‘regardless of who we’re playing’

12.23.13 at 2:25 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Kyle Arrington called it throwing the first punch. Julian Edelman and Matthew Slater said it was just matching Baltimore’s toughness.

On Monday, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said the Patriots simply wanted to dictate and not be dictated to.

That’s how McDaniels summed up the somewhat head-turning decision to take it to the Ravens on the ground Sunday, choosing to attack Baltimore’s apparent strength on defense.

The Patriots ran the ball 34 times for 142 yards, averaging 4.2 yards a pop against a defense that was yielding just 102 yards a game coming in, seventh-best in the NFL.

“We certainly want to try to do things that we feel like we can do well regardless of who we’€™re playing, and then we also want to try to factor in the different variables in terms of matchups, personnel, all of the different things that go into each player, each series in the game, you want to factor into those things too, because they can certainly give you the best chance to be successful,” McDaniels said. “You’€™re not going to trick the Ravens. You’€™re not going to beat them that way, and so you’€™re going to have to stand in there, but you know it’€™s going to be a tough, physical game, you know it’€™s going to be a situation where you’€™re going to have to fight it out for four quarters, and I thought our guys did a good job of staying in there and slugging it out with them.

“It wasn’€™t always pretty, but in the end it was effective enough for us. I thought the important things were we took advantage of the opportunities that we had in the red zone, we didn’€™t turn the ball over, and then the guys really stayed committed to making yards in the running game and giving us an opportunity to stay ahead on the sticks, and then did a good job of finishing the last drive.”

Logan Mankins said after Sunday’s game that the offensive line was very aware of the commitment to the run and wanted to give McDaniels every reason to keep grinding away on the ground.

The other area that had to make McDaniels and Bill Belichick happy was their execution in the red zone. The Patriots were a perfect 3-for-3, LeGarrette Blount running it in twice while Tom Brady found Shane Vereen in the flat for the third.

“Obviously it’€™s good to score touchdowns when you’€™re down there,” McDaniels said. “I think we only had four plays down in the red zone, maybe five, and we had three trips and only four or five plays I think total. We were fortunate to run it in twice, once on the goal line, and guys did a good job.

“That’€™s always a tough situation against a good defense. You’€™re trying to get a yard and you just bang it out, and guys did a good job of letting LeGarrette [Blount] get to the line of scrimmage, then he muscled his way in there. And then we were able to come up with a play in the passing game there with Shane [Vereen] where the guys executed well, and then we were running the ball effectively on that last drive and got it into the red zone and just stayed with that formula, and they got it in there too. Each week in the red area, it’€™s its own game. Statistics from the past, they don’€™t really determine what’€™s going to happen from one week to the next, they just kind of tell you what happened in the past. This is a week to week thing, and we’€™ve got to do a good job of preparing now for a very good Buffalo defense, and the challenge will be a little different in terms of maybe the scheme or the players this week, but again, if we do a good job then we’€™ll give ourselves a great chance, and if we don’€™t and Buffalo executes better than we do, then you could find some struggles. The guys did a good of executing, and they deserve the credit.”

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Kyle Arrington on M&M: ‘Definitely want to throw the first punch’ when playing physical Ravens

12.23.13 at 11:57 am ET
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Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich and cornerback Kyle Arrington checked in with the Mut & Merloni show on Monday to recap Sunday’s 41-7 victory over the Ravens. To hear the interviews, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.

Ninkovich said after the game that he was confident the Patriots would win after a solid week of practice.

“I think this week we really just emphasized the better we’re prepared for this game, the more execution we do on the practice field, the more confidence and the faster we’re going to play come game time,” he explained. “I think that it really started Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. I had a great feeling about practice week. We were running around, executing well. Everyone was doing their job. That’s what it comes down to.”

Arrington agreed that the team was especially locked in, for a number of reasons.

“Looking at guys’ faces, how focused everyone was, the week of preparation, I can definitely see where Rob was coming from,” Arrington said. “Definitely had a good feeling heading toward the game. A lot of implications on the line as well. Guys really didn’t need any extra motivation for this game. Plus a team who ended our season last year. Definitely one of those games where you mark it on the schedule.”

The Patriots were coming off a disappointing loss to the Dolphins and rebounded well.

“The Miami game, we let that one go, we didn’t finish that game on defense and had a bad taste in our mouth,” Ninkovich said. “We’ve played the Ravens a lot since I’ve been here. It’s a team that we know well. You know their concepts, we’ve played them a bunch in the past. You just throw on a tape of them and see the things that they do well. Just going out there and having a good game plan, and executing the game plan, that’s what it’s all about. So again, I think having the great week of preparation helped us execute in the game.

“Also, playing those guys is motivating in itself. Just ’cause it’s not like you’re playing your best friends out there.”

The Patriots responded to questions about their ability to match the Ravens’ toughness with a strong effort on both sides of the ball.

“Whenever you play Baltimore it’s always a physical game, hard-hitting game,” Arrington said. “You definitely want to throw the first punch. I think we came out, strike fast and then never look back.”

Said Ninkovich: “Every time we play them, it’s always a physical game. I’m very sore today. It’s just the way it is. When you look at the schedule to start the season, I just knew this was going to be a tough game. We always play each other tough.

“It’s always a good game, and I was happy that we were able to go out there and perform well for four quarters.”

For more Patriots news, visit the team page at

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Tom Brady on D&C: Win over Ravens ‘great test of character for us as a team’

12.23.13 at 10:55 am ET
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Patriots quarterback Tom Brady made his weekly appearance on Dennis & Callahan on Monday morning, following Sunday’s surprising 41-7 rout of the Ravens in Baltimore. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

“It was a great win,” Brady said. “To go on the road against a team that we’ve struggled with the last bunch of times we’ve played them, really a huge win for our season. Yeah, it was satisfying. We talked about it all week, we had a pretty tough loss in Miami, and I think fought back through a long week. We put a lot into the week. There was a lot of preparation. I don’t think there were many people that thought we could go in and beat those guys. That was really a great test of character for us as a team.”

Brady didn’t deny using the Patriots’ underdog status as a motivator for Sunday, but he insisted the players try to avoid getting caught up in what the media says about the team.

“This week everyone will be picking us,” Brady said. “Across the board, everyone’s going to think, oh, Patriots over the Bills, like it’s going to be some easy win, which is so far from the case in the NFL. I just think you have to ignore all the noise because it’s all a bunch of hot air, it’s all a bunch of B.S. You just don’t want to listen to it. You want to try to focus on what you need to focus on.

“Every team presents different challenges. We went into the game feeling like we could match up against these guys. We played great defensively, we played great on special teams against one of the best special teams units in the league. And offensively we got off to a decent start. It was a good win. Now this game that’s coming up is the one that’s the most important one of the year.”

The Patriots relied more on their running game Sunday than they have in a while, rushing the ball 34 times compared to 26 passes.

“Well, we wanted to stay balanced; we always want to stay balanced,” Brady said. “It just turned out that our execution in the run game was really good all day, and our execution in the pass game probably wasn’t as good as what it’s been. As the game evolved, we got out to a lead and then tried to just play smart and play aggressive — try to play aggressive but for the most part try to force them to defend our running game, and our running game really set the tone there the whole second half. In the first half, too, we were really efficient running the ball. Our backs did a great job finding the holes. The line did a great job against a really good defensive front.”

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