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Patriots players discuss pick plays, season coming to an end

01.20.14 at 3:48 pm ET
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FOXBORO — The day after the Patriots fell to the Broncos 26-16 in the AFC championship game it was a somber locker room at Gillette Stadium, where the players cleaned out their lockers and many said goodbye to teammates, some of whom likely will not be teammates again because of free agency and the general nature of the NFL.

A few players spoke with the media reflecting on both the season and Sunday’s game, with pick plays in the league being a main focus.

Here are a few quotes:

Devin McCourty

On the season coming to an end: “It’€™s always tough when your season ends in the playoffs, it just ends so fast.”

On the Broncos and their pick plays: “Each team is different, but they run that a lot and do a good job doing that.”

Steve Gregory

On what the the defense could have done better in the loss: “I wish we could’ve gotten off the field a little bit. Third downs we weren’t able to get off the field, they kind of pretty much moved the ball and chewed up a lot of clock. We would’ve liked to have gotten a turnover or two and given the ball back to our offense in good field position, even just forcing a punt. We weren’t able to, they were clicking. Peyton [Manning] was on his game. They are a good football team. It’€™s going to be a good game.”

Overall thoughts on the season: “At the end of the season there is only one team that is going to be happy. Every other team is going to go home and wonder what they could’ve done more of to accomplish their goals. I am proud of this group of guys. They played hard all year long. We had so much adversity that we overcame. By no means was it a bad season, we made it to the AFC championship and played a great team in the Denver Broncos and yesterday they were just a little bit better than we were. They made more plays than we did and they deserved it. At the end of the day we can hold our heads high. We played a heck of a year, the guys fought hard, you just have to learn from it, move on.”

On pick plays and what they’ve become: “The game has evolved to that with bunches and stacks with guys trying to create separation especially in man coverage and things like that. Receivers try and rub routes with picks like that, pick plays is what they are called — trying to create separation for guys so the quarterback can get the ball in there. It’€™s kind of become part of the game. To what extent it’€™s a flag or a penalty, I don’€™t know. It’€™s something you have to deal with and work through.”

Andre Carter

On pick plays in the NFL: “It’€™s football. It’€™s part of the offensive scheme, we understand that. Sometimes for defensive linemen like myself, the crack-toss play, it happens. You just have to prepare for it. Sometimes you get caught in the wrong place, but like I said it’s football. The league will review it and see what they can do to protect players.”

Read More: Andre Carter, Devin McCourty, Patriots, Steve Gregory

LeGarrette Blount on re-signing with Patriots: ‘I’d like to be here, but we’ll see how it goes’

01.20.14 at 2:10 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount slowly removed items from his locker and into a trash bag Monday afternoon, less than 24 hours after his team was eliminated from the playoffs following their 26-16 loss to the Broncos in the AFC championship game.

Monday could be the last time Blount sets foot in the Patriots locker room as the 27-year-old is now a free agent, but that doesn’€™t mean Blount isn’€™t open to a return with New England.

“I’€™d like to be here, but we’€™ll see how it goes,” Blount said.

His contract this past year was reportedly for the four-year league minimum of $630,000 with an added $50,000 workout bonus.

The 250-pound running back had a breakout season, particularly in the final two games of the regular season carrying over into the divisional round game against the Colts. He averaged 143 yards on the ground in those three games and recorded eight touchdowns, including four against the Colts.

For the season he finished with 772 rushing yards and seven touchdowns, but only ran the ball five times for six yards in Sunday’s loss to the Broncos.

“I’€™m proud of how far we went, obviously we didn’€™t reach our ultimate goal, but we’€™re proud of the strides we made,” said Blount.

He came to the Patriots from Tampa Bay this offseason in exchange for a seventh-round draft pick and sprinter Jeff Demps, who only played in two games for the Buccaneers this season.

Blount went undrafted out of Oregon coming into the league in 2010 where he rushed for 1,007 yards with Tampa. In 2011 he ran for 781 yards before a down year of just 151 in 2012. The Patriots took a chance on him and Blount joined a team where he fit right in.

“Hard, tough-nosed, the ability that this whole team has. A lot of guys here are underdogs and undrafted guys. There are a lot of not first-round guys coming in here stepping up doing things guys didn’€™t expect them to do,” Blount said of the Patriots as a team. ‘€œWe’€™ve come out here and proved them wrong a bunch of times.”

Although the team didn’€™t reach their ultimate goal, there was still a lot of take away from the season with just how many injuries the team was able to get past — something Blount took a lot of pride in.

“We did everything we could to overcome them,” he said. “We made it as far as we could’€™ve without getting to the big show.”

Whether Blount is apart of the Patriots team next year that hopes to get to “the big show” still remains to be seen.

Read More: LeGarrette Blount, Patriots,

Former NFL referee Jim Daopoulos on M&M: ‘It should have been a foul’

01.20.14 at 2:01 pm ET
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Former NFL referee Jim Daopoulos spoke with Mut & Merloni on Monday to discuss the Wes WelkerAqib Talib collision during Sunday’€™s AFC championship game. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.

“€œClearly in my opinion the contact was prior to the ball being touched by Demaryius Thomas,” Daopoulos said. “It should have been a foul.”

“The way I looked at it was when Welker went across the middle he made contact with Talib prior to the ball going to the receiver.”

According to Daopoulos, Welker initiated contact with Talib and restricted him from playing defense.

“He just basically committed an illegal act where he picked Talib off and actually committed a foul by restricting Talib’€™s opportunity to play defense,”€ Daopoulos said.

“You have to have contact. You can pick all you want in the NFL. Picks are not illegal. What makes them illegal is the contact. If you pick the guy, it’€™s OK, but you cannot initiate the contact.”

Daopoulos, who spent 12 years as an NFL supervisor of officials after 11 years on the field. noted that the referees called the Patriots for a pick later in the half.

“Clearly, Welker’€™s contact gave Denver an advantage, and that’€™s what you’ve got to rule,”€ Daopoulos said. “€œThe timing is so tremendous with these athletes, and it’€™s all timing out there.

“€œThe only issue I have, we saw one earlier right at the end of the first half with New England, No. 47, with [Michael Hoomanawanui]. Same exact situation. All I think the people want, whether it’€™s coach [Bill] Belichick or players, coaches, anyone, is they want consistency out there. If you’€™re going to call it one minute against one team, then be consistent and call it against the other team and do it consistently throughout the game. You can’€™t call it against one team and let it go against the other.”

Despite what Belichick expressed on Monday, Daopoulos does not think it was a dirty hit, nor should it warrant a fine from the NFL.

“€œI can almost assure you that it wasn’t a deliberate attempt to injure Talib,” Daopoulos said. “€œI think Welker was just running his pattern, he was doing exactly what he was trying to do, he was trying to get that hesitancy in Talib’s coverage so if he hesitates that just instance that let’€™s his man gets open.”

“I’ve looked at the play many many times and there’€™s nothing that will draw a fine. All it was was an illegal pick and it should have been a foul for offensive pass interference.”€

Daopolous concedes that the game was a hard one to call.

“€œYou can stop-frame this game, this game was so difficult to officiate,”€ Daopoulos said. “As an official, what you’€™re trying to do is you’€™re trying to determine is someone getting an advantage by doing something illegal. There’€™s a lot of illegal activities that go in a football game, but as officials what you’€™re looking for is someone gaining an advantage by committing a foul.”

Read More: AFC Championship, Aqib Talib, Denver Broncos, New England Patriots

Rob Ninkovich on M&M: Wes Welker pick on Aqib Talib ‘just wasn’t a good play’

01.20.14 at 1:55 pm ET
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Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich made his weekly appearance with Mut & Merloni on Monday, following Sunday’s loss to the Broncos in the AFC championship game. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.

“They’re a great offense,” Ninkovich said of the Broncos. “You’ve got to give them credit for the things that they’re able to do. They’ve got a lot of weapons that they’re able to spread around the field, run their pick routes, run the things they do best, get the ball out of their hands fast. They just played better and they deserve to move on. You’ve got to give them credit. You can’t take away anything from the fact that they were a better team on that day.”

Added Ninkovich: “We just didn’t do the things that we needed to do to win the game. I’m not one to make any excuses. Their team played better on that particular day.”

The Patriots weren’t able to mount any pressure on Peyton Manning, but Ninkovich said it has more to do with the quarterback’s quick release than anything else.

“When the ball comes out in a second, you could be unblocked and you’re still not going to get to him,” Ninkovich said. “There’s probably, I could count on my hand the number of times he threw the ball farther than 15 yards. Everything was to the flat, crossing routes, pick routes over the middle. So again, you’re not going to get pressure on him if he’s throwing the ball that quickly.”

Regarding the Wes WelkerAqib Talib collision, Ninkovich appeared to agree with Bill Belichick‘s analysis that the Broncos receiver crossed the line.

“I really don’t want to get into whatever happened on that play. I think Bill already spoke about it and said how he saw it,” Ninkovich said. “Obviously, you don’t want to see a guy get hurt, especially a key defender.

“It’s a big football field out there. It’s a big enough field where you can avoid somebody. It was a pick play. Obviously it was man coverage and they ran a cross very tightly, and Welker happened to just hit Aqib in the knee, which wasn’t good for him finishing the game, and obviously he got hurt. Anytime that happens it’s never a good thing.”

Ninkovich was hesitant to go as far as Belichick, who called it “one of the worst plays I’ve seen.”

Said Ninkovich: “Bill talked about it, and I don’t really want to weigh [in] on that. It just wasn’t a good play.”

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Read More: Aqib Talib, Bill Belichick, Rob Ninkovich, Wes Welker

Danny Amendola knows he could’ve done more to help Patriots ‘get the job done’

01.20.14 at 1:53 pm ET
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DENVER — Of all the Patriots who had a rough day Sunday, Danny Amendola is certainly at the top of the list. He was targeted just once in Sunday’s 26-16 loss to the Broncos in the AFC championship. The one time he was targeted, he dropped a Tom Brady pass right in his hands over the middle of the field in the third quarter.

“€œCredit to the Broncos,” Amendola said. “They played hard. I feel like we had to play better.”

For Amendola, this was his first taste of postseason after four injury-riddled seasons in St. Louis. As the Patriots were preparing for the eventual loss of Wes Welker in free agency, Amendola signed a five-year, $28.5 million contract last March to come to New England and chase his Super Bowl dreams. One drop on his only target of the day in the AFC championship is not what Amendola or Brady had in mind when the Patriots signed Amendola, who has battled through a torn groin and a concussion this season.

Sunday, he said, was the toughest loss of his career.

“It is, yeah,” Amendola conceded. “I felt like we fought hard for the whole season and it came down to a couple drives at the end and we couldn’€™t get the job done.”

After catching 10 passes for 131 yards in the Dec. 15 loss in Miami, Amendola finished with just six catches in his final four games, a point WEEI’s Chris Price expanded on after the game.

“It wasn’€™t our goal to lose at the end of the season but we have a bunch of fighters on this team,” Amendola said. “We fought through a bunch of adversity throughout the season. We just have to get better.

“We didn’€™t win the game so I’€™ll always think we could do better. Like I said, we have a bunch of fighters and we just couldn’€™t get it done today.”

Read More: AFC Championship, Danny Amendola, Denver Broncos, New England Patriots

5 thoughts on Wes Welker, Aqib Talib, pick plays, rub routes

01.20.14 at 1:49 pm ET
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1. The pick play (or rub route) is something that receivers have been using across the league for many years. A move designed to gain separation for a pass catcher (usually using another receiver to pick off the defender), it’€™s something that’€™s been a staple of the Patriots offensive playbook for a long time. When executed properly, it’€™s perfectly legal, and both New England and Denver are very good at executing it. Looking at the Nov. 24 game between the two teams, you could see several, including picks from Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski and Eric Decker, all of which helped teammates get open.

Three days after that game, Tom Brady was asked about pick plays, one of which resulted in an offensive pass interference penalty on wide receiver Danny Amendola.

“Certain teams do it a lot,”€ he said. “We don’€™t do it a ton because we tend to get penalties when we do it so it defeats the whole purpose. You kind of talk about it and you get excited to do it and you think it looks good and then the refs ‘€“ we got called last game on a pass interference on Danny which was … anyway.

“€Sometimes you get it, sometimes you don’€™t. Certain games don’€™t ever get called and we’€™ve gotten called. So you probably tend to do it less if you get called. It’€™s more of a body presence thing and making sure that you don’€™t get called for a penalty because it’€™s an illegal play. You’€™re not supposed to do it. You’€™re not supposed to set picks — it’€™s not basketball. But you can have body presence and make a guy bubble under or over, whatever you’€™re depending on, what you really want to do.”€

Now, there’€™s some gray area when talking about a legal pick vs. an illegal pick. When the receiver is within one yard of the line of scrimmage, the receiver can block a defender and there’€™s no cause for a penalty. However, once a receiver gets past that one-yard window, he can’€™t initiate contact with the defender. In addition, officials have to keep in mind the fact that if there’€™s a ball headed in the direction of a pass catcher and defender, ‘€œIf the contact occurs as ball is being touched, there is no offensive pass interference. When it happens all at the same time — the ball being touched and contact elsewhere — it is not a foul. The contact has to be clearly before the ball is touched for it to draw a flag.’€ Officials also have to judge intent, as well as what constitutes incidental contact and what constitutes a premeditated shot on a defender.

Brady was asked about being able to run the play within one yard of the line of scrimmage.

“€Well, yeah, if you’€™re on the line of scrimmage, you can do it, because technically, you’€™re a blocker at that point. We had a play in the AFC championship game, at the end of the game I threw to Kevin Faulk in 2007, where we did pick them. I think Jabar [Gaffney] came in and actually picked the guy. We threw it and they were complaining [for] a flag, but it was right on the line of scrimmage. It’€™s on the line of scrimmage you can get away with it. It would be like a tackle blocking a defensive end, they don’€™t know what to call. But if you’€™re down the field … Defenders hold and they get away it and they get away with that all game, you don’€™t get calls. It’€™s just the way the NFL is now. They hold, we do things; it’€™s just kind of you do business as business is being done.”€

Now, fast forward to Sunday, and the fateful collision involving Wes Welker and Aqib Talib that ended up sidelining Talib for the rest of the afternoon. At first glance, Welker and teammate Demaryius Thomas were running crossing routes over the middle of the field, and Talib was tailing Thomas while Kyle Arrington was in man coverage on Welker. The ball was intended for Thomas, who has a window for a few moments because Welker went crashing into Talib, sending both players to the ground. Thomas dropped the ball and the pass went incomplete. There was no flag on the play — former VP of Officiating Mike Pereira indicated that it was the right decision.

Was Welker trying to do everything in his power to create separation for another receiver? Yes. Is it an occasionally risky play that could end up hurting either the receiver or defender? Yes. Was he deliberately trying to injure Talib? While Welker didn’€™t necessarily do anything to get out of the way, from my standpoint I don’€™t think that was the case. I know that things got personal between Welker and the franchise last offseason. but for me it’€™s a stretch to think that Welker went out there with the intention of knocking an opposing player out of the game. This appears to be a case of two players at the wrong place and wrong time, and Talib getting the short end of the stick.

2. Some context: You can’€™t tell the story of Welker the receiver without acknowledging that a sizable portion of his success as a pass catcher is due to his ability to find creative ways to gain separation when going over the middle. In the relatively early days of his career, he was able to get that separation from the umpire, who (then) was stationed over the middle, roughly 5-7 yards off the line of scrimmage on the defensive side of the ball.

However, before the start of the 2010 season, the NFL decided the umpire was going to move from behind the defensive line to behind the offense. (The league decided to make the move after several umpires had been injured in recent years in collisions with players. There were more than 100 occasions in 2009 when umpires were knocked down by players.) The move also took away one of Welker’€™s greatest assets. One of the most well known secrets across the league was the fact that the receiver loved using the umpire as a pick to gain separation from a defender. (One official told the Worcester Telegram & Gazette that when it came to utilizing the umpire to their advantage, the Patriots “do it all the time with  Welker. … [New England] likes to use [the umpire] as a pick.”€)

In 2010, when the umpire was moved, Welker talked about the impact it could have on his game. “They’€™ve said it’€™s always going to be an advantage to me, but I always felt like he got in my way more than he got in the defender’€™s way, to me,”€ Welker said of the umpire. “I’€™m actually kind of excited to have him out of the way, and let me work that middle. I never really noticed him a lot of the time when he was there. Only when he was in the way. Like I said, I always felt like he was in my way more than the defenders. Every once and a while, I’€™d get a good pick from him and I was able to do something with it.”

3. The idea of legal picks could be revisited by the competition committee this offseason, but it could also serve as the spark for Bill Belichick to be more assertive when it comes to rules issues leaguewide. The coach has had several issues with the rulebook over the years (like here and here and here), and has — at least to this point — only been lobbing in suggestions from the sidelines on how to make the game better. Maybe this will serve as some sort of impetus for Belichick to step up and make the changes he occasionally hints at.
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Andre Carter on Wes Welker’s hit on Aqib Talib: ‘It was a nasty play’

01.20.14 at 1:21 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Much of the talk the day after the Patriots’€™ 26-16 loss to the Broncos in the AFC championship game has been surrounding the apparent pick play across the middle of the field early in the second quarter when Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker ran into Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib, forcing him from the game with a knee injury.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick gave his thoughts on the play, calling it “one of the worst plays I’ve seen” in his press conference Monday morning.

Defensive end Andre Carter, a 12-year veteran, echoed his coach’€™s comments, speaking as the Patriots cleaned out their lockers at Gillette Stadium.

“When I saw it, as a play in general, Wes, was he doing his job? He was to a certain degree,” Carter said. “Do I think the hit could’ve been cleaner? Yes. I’ve been around a lot of football to see that. At the end the end of the day it was a nasty play, but we’€™ll see what happens and what the league does.”

Talib was not spotted in the locker room during the media availability period.

Other members of the Patriots defense didn’t have much to say on the play as they haven’€™t had a chance to see it on film.

“I haven’t seen it yet. I just remember being on the field and the collision happening,”€ safety Steve Gregory said. “I haven’€™t seen the replay or anything like that.”

Defensive captain and safety Devin McCourty also didn’t see the hit, but noted he’€™d probably go along with what Belichick said.

“€œHe’€™s seen a lot of football, so I’€™d probably go with what he says, I don’€™t know,”€ McCourty said. “I haven’€™t gotten a chance to watch it and a chance to look at it.”

McCourty noted it’€™s hard to say a player would deliberately hit another player with the intent to injure, but winning the game is always the ultimate goal.

“That’€™s tough to say someone would do that, but I think all of us out there would do anything to try and win that game,” he said.

Read More: Andre Carter, Aqib Talib, Devin McCourty, Patriots
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