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Shane Vereen: ‘I was ecstatic’ to be back on field against Panthers

11.20.13 at 3:31 pm ET
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FOXBORO — A transformative offensive presence, Shane Vereen provided a spark for the Patriots offense when he returned to the field Monday night against the Panthers. The running back, who had been sidelined since Week 1 because of a wrist injury he suffered in a win over the Bills, had eight catches for 65 yards and one carry for seven yards in the loss in Carolina.

Vereen, who said he didn’t feel limited in what he could do, was on the field for 34 of a possible 72 snaps, according to numbers compiled by Pro Football Focus.

“I was ecstatic,” he said following practice on Wednesday. “I’ve been away a long time, and just to be out there with the guys and the team and feel like a part of the team again and feel that I could contribute, it was awesome.

“I just concentrated on what I needed to do, personally — my assignment on each play,” he added. “I had to kind of calm myself down and take it slow. I really took the game at a slower rate mentally so I didn’t overwhelm myself with the excitement and everything going on.”

This season has been a difficult one for Vereen, who has struggled with injury in the past. He spent a large portion of his rookie season on the shelf because of a hamstring problem.

“It’s tough. Real tough,” he said when asked about his time on the sideline. “Nobody likes being injured, and especially, someone who has been injured as much as I have. It was tough, seeing my team out there and I couldn’t participate, but I’m back now. Hopefully, we’ll be able to get better every week.

“[But] mentally, I think I was able to stay very close to the game. Able to stay very close within our scheme — our offense. That way, when I did come back, I was still up to date with everything.”

Against Carolina, Vereen seemed to slide back into the role of third-down presence, a role that he appeared well on his way to filling when the Patriots allowed Danny Woodhead to walk as a free agent this past offseason. It’s an important part of the New England offense — without Vereen for much of the first half of the season, the Patriots had struggled on third down. So it wasn’t much of a surprise to see Vereen play a sizable part in helping move the chains against the Panthers, as seven of his touches went for first downs, with three of those coming in third-down situations.

“He has really emerged and developed into that role,” said quarterback Tom Brady when asked about Vereen’s emergence as the third-down back. “He got to learn from Kevin [Faulk] for a little bit and you know Danny Woodhead was here to help last year, but he has really taken it on this year. I think the best part is he really understands the importance and magnitude of that role and takes a lot of pride in it.

“You’€™ve seen what he’€™s capable of in the first week of the year and last week. He gets single coverage, he gets out. It’€™s a difficult position because there’€™s blocking, you have to run the ball, you’€™ve got to get your blitz pickup, you’€™ve got to get out into the route, you’€™ve got to get open, you’€™ve got to catch the ball, and you’€™ve got to do something with it. He can do all those things, so he is a very, very good football player.”

While Vereen acknowledges that third down is his primary job, it doesn’t mean that’s how he should ultimately be defined.

“I think each week your role changes based on the defense you’re playing, based on the offensive game plan,” he said. “I wouldn’t say any role is harder than any other role. I would say that whatever they ask you to do, you rep it and you’re accountable for that responsibility.”

Ultimately, Vereen is excited about being part of a New England offense that suddenly has a ton of its elite-level options — including Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola — nearing full strength as the stretch run looms.

“It’s exciting. It’s exciting to get everybody back on the field at the same time,” he said. “We still have a lot of work to do and moving forward, hopefully, we’ll be able to put a better product on the field.

Read More: Shane Vereen, Tom Brady,

Mike Petraglia, Chris Price preview Patriots-Broncos

11.20.13 at 3:31 pm ET
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Read More: Chris Price, Denver Broncos, Mike Petraglia, New England Patriots

Aqib Talib: No grudges with Steve Smith; hip is ‘all right’

11.20.13 at 2:41 pm ET
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FOXBORO — As far as Aqib Talib is concerned, there are no grudges with Steve Smith.

The Patriots corner and Panthers receiver engaged in a few dustups on Monday night when the two teams met in Carolina. After the game, Smith got in a verbal jab on Talib, who didn’t finish the game because of a hip injury, telling the New England defensive back to “Ice up, son. Ice up.”

Talib said he didn’t have anything to add.

“Course not, man. I’m done with Steve for the year, man,” he said with a grin. “Great game — great competitor, man. I always enjoy going against Steve.

“It’s never personal man,. It’s never personal,” added Talib when pressed about how things went down. “I’m sure, if I see Steve, it’ll be, ‘Hey, what’s up? How you doing?’ It’s never personal. Him and the other guy from St. Louis? That was personal. I mean, he didn’t say he was going to punch me in my face after the game. He just told me to go get in the tub. Kinda thoughtful.”

Talib indicated that the hip was OK.

“It’s all right. It’s all right. It tightened up on me a little bit toward the end of the game. It’s fine though,” he said. “We’ll see, man. I’m day to day. I’m out there working like everybody else. Just taking it one day at a time.”

Talib is part of a banged up secondary, a group that includes safety Steve Gregory (thumb) and Alfonzo Dennard (knee).

“It’s football. It’s football,” he said. “Everybody out there is banged up.”

Talib and the rest of the Patriots’ pass defense have a sizable challenge this week against Peyton Manning and a Broncos offense that is first in the league in total offense, passing offense and points per game.

“Ah, man — we thought we had some weapons to go up against last week. It’s to the next level this week,” he said. “They have weapons at almost every position. We have to put in the work — put the time in.

“[Manning is] great at reading them defenses, so, you have to do a great job at trying to disguise or whatever your plan is. You have to have a great plan with Peyton, as opposed to other quarterbacks.”

For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.

Read More: Aqib Talib, steve smith,

Bill Belichick on Broncos: ‘You can’t just shut down one guy’

11.20.13 at 2:35 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Bill Belichick has developed a reputation over the years of taking away one weapon from the opposing offense.

Well, with Peyton Manning and the Broncos, Belichick says it isn’t that simple.

Belichick knows full well that the Broncos personnel unit is the most skilled and deepest unit he will likely face all season. With Wes Welker, Julius Thomas, Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker catching the ball and Ronnie Hillman and Knowshon Moreno running and catching the ball, the Patriots defense will be extended to its limits.

“You have to play good team defense, that’€™s all there is to it,” Belichick said Wednesday. “It’€™s not just, ‘€˜Take one guy away in their offense.’€™ They have a lot of weapons, they execute very well. Peyton does a tremendous job of getting in good plays and making good decisions, taking what’€™s there, what the defense allows you to have and he’€™s very, very accurate with the ball. Everybody is just going to have to do their job. You can’€™t just shut down one guy. I don’€™t think that will even come anywhere close to stopping them, they have way too many people that will kill you.

“We saw them last year, we saw them in the bye week last year in preparation for the playoffs, we saw them in the offseason, we saw them this year. There’€™s plenty of information on them, I don’€™t think that’€™s really the issue.”

While the Broncos have four receivers with over 40 receptions, Hillman and Moreno are both averaging over four yards a carry.

“Well, backs are a key part of the offense period,” Belichick said. “They’€™re important in the running game, they’€™re important in the passing game. They use them on screens, routes out of the backfield, flat routes, wheel routes. They catch the ball, they run with it. I’€™d say pretty much wherever the defense looks vulnerable, they’€™ll attack you with whichever players they want to attack with and they have a lot of them. Those guys have done a good job. They’€™re both explosive players, running game and passing game. You have to do a good job on them. You have to do a good job on the receivers, have to do a good job the tight ends. They’€™re all a factor.”

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Read More: Bill Belichick, Denver Broncos, New England Patriots, nfl

Patriots practice Wednesday: Michael Hoomanawanui missing, Steve Gregory returns, Aqib Talib, Alfonzo Dennard present

11.20.13 at 12:22 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Despite continuing injuries on the defensive side, the Patriots had only one absence Wednesday as they began on-field preparations for Sunday night’s game against Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos at Gillette Stadium.

Tight end Michael Hoomanawanui was the only player not spotted during the media portion of practice as the team worked out in sweats and shells on the upper grass fields outside Gillette.

Safety Steve Gregory returned to practice after missing the last two weeks with an injury that required a procedure to stabilize the thumb. Gregory was injured in the second half of the game against the Steelers and did not return.

Aqib Talib was at practice after missing the last several defensive snaps Monday with an aggravation of his hip injury that forced him to miss the previous three games.

Alfonzo Dennard was on the field despite a reported knee procedure that is expected to keep him out a couple of weeks. Dennard was moving very cautiously and is not expected to be ready to play this Sunday night.

The team will practice again on Thursday and Friday.

Read More: Alfonzo Dennard, Aqib Talib, Denver Broncos, Michael Hoomanawanui

WEEI NFL Power Rankings, Week 12: Pats drop out of top 5

11.20.13 at 11:58 am ET
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The Seahawks are showing no signs of wanting to fly south as winter nears. Seattle continues its reign at No. 1 as it heads into its bye week and prepares for a tough stretch against the Saints (3) and 49ers (8).

The Panthers (4) claw their way into the top five after a statement win in the Monday night game. The Patriots drop three spots to No. 7 and have no time to focus on a controversial call in Week 11 because the Broncos (2) are set to roll into Foxboro. Tom Brady will prepare for his 14th showdown vs. Peyton Manning. Brady has had the upper hand in nine of the 13 meetings between the two stars.

The bottom five welcomes its latest playoff team of 2012. The Falcons plummet to No. 30 and join the Vikings (28) and Texans (31) as teams to have hit rock bottom after reaching the postseason last year.

Many teams still are in the thick of the playoff race as the final quarter of the season approaches. Check back next week to see who’s on the way up and who’s on the way down.

1. (1) Seahawks (10-1) — The Seahawks look to be getting stronger and stronger as they inch closer to capturing the No. 1 seed in the NFC. They go into their bye week with six straight wins.

 2. (2) Broncos (9-1) — Manning has been the story all year, but the Broncos offensive line deserves the credit after Sunday night’s performance. The O-line came up huge on the biggest stage by not allowing a sack to the team that led the league in that category going into the game.

3. (5) Saints (8-2) — The Saints are a scary team when the offense is firing on all cylinders. Drew Brees is quietly putting up monster numbers once again as Peyton Manning gets all the attention.

4. (7) Panthers (7-3) — Cam Newton and the Panthers finally got the league’s attention.  Newton needed to prove he could lead his team late in the fourth quarter against a playoff-caliber team, and he accomplished just that.

5. (3) Chiefs (9-1) —  That ferocious Chiefs defense was non-existent Sunday night. Kansas City had a tremendous opportunity to rough up Peyton Manning but was unable to even knock him down. Despite the loss, many of the mistakes are fixable and the Chiefs should be able to rush Manning better when they face him again at Arrowhead.

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Read More: aaron rodgers, Broncos, Cam Newton, Drew Brees

Bill Belichick on whether he’s heard from NFL on flag-gate: ‘We’re on to Denver’

11.20.13 at 11:57 am ET
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FOXBORO — Bill Belichick said his piece about what he felt about the non-call at the end of Monday night’s game immediately afterward. He has no plans of publicly addressing it any further.

The Patriots coach was asked several times by NFL Network reporter Albert Breer if he’s contacted the league for an official explanation on the decision of referee Clete Blakeman to pick up the flag after video showed Luke Kuechly holding Rob Gronkowski in the back of the end zone. Belichick would only say he and his staff are preparing for Denver.

Here was Wednesday’s exchange:

Breer: Have you contacted the league about the call at the end of the Carolina game?

“We’re on to Denver.”

Breer: Have you?

“We’re on to Denver.”

Breer: You were looking for an explanation. Did you get one?

“We working on Denver.”

Read More: Bill Belichick, Carolina Panthers, Clete Blakeman, Denver Broncos

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