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Patriots will be on a new surface this Sunday in Chicago

12.08.10 at 10:38 pm ET
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FOXBORO ‘€” Before the Patriots installed FieldTurf at Gillette Stadium in 2006, the natural-grass surface was chewed up and re-sodded on a fairly regular basis. Even with the work, by the end of the season, it was often a mess.

The Patriots no longer have that problem ‘€” the field received a new synthetic surface this past offseason ‘€” but they have experience with some pretty poor surfaces this season. They reportedly lodged a complaint with the league about the state of the turf in Pittsburgh, and are heading into a game this weekend at Chicago’€™s Soldier Field, a place that Bears’€™ quarterback Jay Cutler describes as having ‘€œone of the worst fields in the league.’€

‘€œThe turf is what it is,’€ Cutler told reporters who asked about the natural-grass surface at a Wednesday news conference. ‘€œWith our speed, we would like to get something a little bit tighter, but we probably have one of the worst fields in the league at this point. We did last year, as well. We’€™ve got to deal with it, and our guys know it. They are aware of how to cut and how to move on it. So we’€™ve just got to go out there and play.’€

Cutler added that he hears ‘€œa lot of stuff [from opposing players] after the game and during pre-game about what cleats to wear … exactly how torn up [the surface] is. There’€™s usually a [high school] game the day before. It’€™s a shame.’€

The Chicago Park District resodded the playing surface late last month, and Sunday’€™s game will be the first time the Bears have played at home since the turf was replaced. New England coach Bill Belichick is well-aware of the fact that the Patriots will be playing on a new surface.

‘€œWe’€™ve been through that before here. We know what it’€™s like to sod a field in December,’€ Belichick said. ‘€œYou can imagine how well that’€™s going to take. But, it is what it is. Both teams are playing on the same field. You just have to play with your feet under you, play with good body balance and bend your knees, make sure you’€™re using proper technique and cutting off your inside, outside foot and play with good balance. That’€™s what it comes down to. If you’€™re out of control, then chances are the field isn’€™t going to be able to support those cuts.

‘€œWe practice on grass all the time. I don’€™t think it’€™s that big of a thing. Whatever the conditions are out there, they are. It’€™s the middle of December and we’€™re in Chicago. I don’€™t think anyone is thinking of suntan lotion.’€

In an ironic twist, when the Patriots made the switch from natural grass to FieldTurf in 2006, their first opponent was the Bears.

Read More: Bill Belichick, Jay Cutler,

Three miss practice for the Bears

12.08.10 at 4:26 pm ET
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The Bears had three players out of practice on Wednesday. Here’s the complete report from Chicago.

Did Not Participate
LB Nick Roach (back)
RB Chester Taylor (knee)
LB Piso Tinoisamoa (knee)

Read More: Bears, injury report,

Jonathan Wilhite and Mike Wright miss practice, while Dan Koppen not listed

12.08.10 at 4:20 pm ET
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FOXBORO ‘€” The Patriots had two players miss Wednesday’s walkthrough ‘€” cornerback Jonathan Wilhite and defensive lineman Mike Wright. In addition, center Dan Koppen, who wasn’t seen during media portion of practice, not listed on injury report. (UPDATE: A Patriots spokesman indicated that Koppen did join the team at practice.) Here’s the complete report:

Did Not Participate
CB Jonathan Wilhite (hip)
DL Mike Wright (concussion)

Limited Participation
QB Tom Brady (right shoulder/foot)
NT Myron Pryor (back)

Read More: injury report, Patriots,

Bill Belichick takes on Mike Martz… again

12.08.10 at 3:30 pm ET
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FOXBORO — We’ve seen it before. Bill Belichick scheming against an offense designed by Mike Martz.

Martz has been well-traveled since their most famous encounter in Super Bowl XXXVI, when Belichick shut down the “Greatest Show on Turf” for the first of three Patriots Super Bowl titles. Martz has been the offensive coordinator of the Lions (2006-07) and the 49ers (2008) before winding up in the Windy City this year.

Belichick beat Martz’s Rams, 40-22, in the much-anticipated Super Bowl rematch in 2004. Then Belichick beat the Lions in 2006, 28-21, with Martz as the offensive coordinator. The last time they met was in 2008 when Matt Cassell came into town and put 30 points on the board to beat the 49ers, 30-21.

Even though Belichick has won all three, Martz’s teams did score a collective 64 points in those three games. Martz was NOT the defensive coordinator as the Patriots scored a combined 98 in those three contests.

So, Bill, how has Martz put his imprint on this Bears offense led by Jay Cutler.

“Everywhere,” Belichick said with no hesitation. “The way they break the huddle. From there on, it’€™s Mike Martz. They shift. They motion. They use a lot of different formations. They run the concepts that he’€™s always coached ‘€“ the passing concepts, the running-game concepts they have. Mike has a great set of complementary plays so if you stop one thing, then he’€™s got the complementary play. If you’€™re stopping one, then you’€™re really not going to be able to stop the other. It’€™s always a bit of a guessing game with that. He’€™s got a scheme that’€™s very challenging to everybody on the defense: the coaching staff, the front, the linebackers, the secondary.”

Martz has something he didn’t have in Detroit or San Francisco – a classic, strong-armed quarterback who can get the ball down the field.

“It all goes to the quarterback and Jay’€™s done a great job of executing it, making the reads, seeing the receivers, seeing the things that you need to see in his offense to make it run, and Cutler’€™s done a great job of that,” Belichick said. “And at times when things haven’€™t been there, he’€™s been able to get away from the rush, extend the play or make yards and run for first downs, positive yardage and things like that.

“So, the offense itself is tough and they have a great quarterback running it and a group of explosive players ‘€“ backs, tight ends, receivers ‘€“ that give them a lot of weapons to choose from. And they use all of them. Everybody gets the ball; everybody’€™s been productive. It’€™s not the receivers or the tight ends or the backs, it’€™s all of them, and it’€™s the quarterback ‘€“ he’€™s their leading rusher. You’€™ve got to watch out for everybody all the time. That’€™s hard to defend.”

Read More: Bill Belichick, Chicago Bears, Greatest Show on Turf, Jay Cutler

The Big Nickel: Tom Brady preaches the value of YAC and the future of Dan Koppen

12.08.10 at 3:13 pm ET
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FOXBORO ‘€” The five most important things you need to know about the Patriots today:

1. On the heels of his performance against the Jets ‘€” 21-for-29, 326 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions ‘€” Tom Brady took home another AFC Offensive Player of the Week award on Wednesday, the second straight time and 17th time occasion in his career he’€™s won the award. Over his last four games, Brady is 91-for-124 for 1,203 yards, 14 touchdowns (13 passing, one rushing) and zero interceptions, a four-game passer rating of 138.6.

‘€œRegardless of how I play, it’€™s how our offense plays. That’€™s what I’€™m concerned most about,’€ Brady said during his mid-week session with the media Wednesday morning. ‘€œI think we’€™ve been playing better as of late, and we’€™re going to need to continue to play better. The weather is getting colder. The conditions are getting tougher. Everyone has to be able to execute at a high level, and I think that the guys that are on the field that are playing play-in-play-out we’€™re doing a good job of that. We’€™re still searching for more consistency for all us, myself, Wes [Welker], Deion [Branch], the veteran guys, the younger players. The games only get bigger from here. That’€™s really what we’€™re preparing for.’€

One of the keys to the success of the offense has been an ability of the wide receiver to pick up big yards after the catch. Through 12 games, New England is seventh in the league in YAC with 1,576 yards. Three Patriots’€™ receivers are in the Top 20 league wide ‘€” Welker is 11th with 338 yards, running back Danny Woodhead is 17th with 289 and Aaron Hernandez is 20th with 283.

‘€œAnyway you can gain them. I think that’€™s really a strength of what our guys are able to do,’€ Brady said. ‘€œThere’€™s very good quickness by our team, by Wes, by Brandon [Tate], Aaron, Deion. All those guys can run after the catch. If you get it in their hands they’€™re very dangerous with it. We’€™ve got to continue to get the ball in their hands so they can do that. That was really something that we went into last week saying, ‘€˜Alright guys, this is what we got to do. After we catch it we got to make some yards.’€™’€

2. The Patriots went through a walkthrough in the Dana Farber Field House, and cornerback Jonathan Wilhite, defensive lineman Mike Wright and center Dan Koppen were not present for the media portion of practice. The absence of Koppen ‘€” and the report from Adam Caplan of Fox Sports that the Patriots worked out veteran center Jake Grove ‘€” is enough to cause speculation that New England could be concerned about the long-term health of Koppen, especially given the fact that it was a walkthrough and not a full-pad practice.

Two points to keep in mind here: One, Koppen appeared to go wire-to-wire on Monday night, and he was pleasant and chatty with the media in the wake of Monday night’€™s win, usually a sign that there are no injury issues with a player. Two, teams will often work out available players at this time of the season to gauge their ability in case they do need to pick them up somewhere down the line. Regardless, more about the state of Koppen’€™s health should be revealed when the injury report is released at 4 p.m. on Wednesday.
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Read More: Aaron Hernandez, Adam Caplan, Bill Belichick, Brandon Tate

The Patriots, John Lennon and the ‘unspeakable tragedy’

12.08.10 at 2:05 pm ET
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Sports is often the ultimate backdrop for drama. Thirty years ago tonight, it was the stark reminder of how fragile life can be.

As the Patriots played the Dolphins in the Orange Bowl on Monday night football, the world was about to be stunned and incredibly saddened by the words of Howard Cosell with three seconds left in a 13-13 game by an ‘unspeakable tragedy’ – the death of John Lennon.

The announcement by Cosell, along with the perspective provided by colleague Frank Gifford, is considered by many as one of the most powerful moments in live television history, along with 9/11, the first man on the moon in 1969, Walter Cronkite announcing the death of JFK in 1963 and the Munich tragedy at the 1972 Olympics.

Lennon, along with Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, played in many sports venues over their years with the Beatles.

In another ironic footnote, the man running onto the field to attempt the game-winning field goal – as Cosell was making his announcement – was John Smith, the Patriots kicker from Leafield, England. Smith’s kick was blocked and the Dolphins won in overtime, 16-13.

Read More: Frank Gifford, George Harrison, Howard Cosell, John Lennon

Report: Patriots work out veteran Jake Grove

12.08.10 at 1:41 pm ET
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FOXBORO ‘€” The Patriots worked out veteran center Jake Grove, according to Adam Caplan of Fox Sports. The 30-year-old Grove was originally selected in the second round of the 2004 NFL Draft by the Raiders, and spent five years in Oakland before spending the 2009 season with the Dolphins. He was cut before the start of the 2010 season.

Read More: Jake Grove,
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