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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

Matthew Slater on M&M: Patriots receivers taught to run pick play, but ‘we’re always going to play within the rules of the game’

01.20.14 at 1:07 pm ET
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Patriots receiver and special teams Pro Bowler Matthew Slater checked in with Mut & Merloni on Monday to offer his take on Sunday’s loss to the Broncos in the AFC championship game and the controversy surrounding Wes Welker‘s off-the-ball hit on Aqib Talib. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick started off his Monday morning press conference by calling out Welker for what the coach called “one of the worst plays I’ve seen.”

Said Slater: “Obviously Aqib is so important to this football team, what he brings to the table. So for us to lose him in that type of situation was tough. Obviously coach saw something on the film that he didn’t deem fair, and I’m sure he had just reason to feel that way. I haven’t seen the play. If he felt that way, I’m sure that that’s what it was. But there’s nothing that we can do about it now.

“I hope Aqib is OK and on the mend and we can get him healthy and have a healthy offseason. That happens in football and there’s nothing that we can do about it now.”

With the Patriots losing so many key starters this season, Slater said Talib’s injury was just another challenge to overcome.

“We’ve been put in that position so many times this year that we didn’t give it a lot of thought,” he said of the team’s initial reaction. “We just thought we’ve got to continue to play on. But obviously, just like those other guys, looking back in hindsight, when you lose a guy like that it’s going to have an impact, especially in a game like that. But during the time, we didn’t think about it.”

The hit happened while Welker appeared to be running a pick play to free up a teammate, and he collided with Talib as the ball was arriving in Demaryius Thomas‘ hands (Thomas dropped the pass).

“With a lot of man coverage being played in the league, there’s certain things that you have to do to be creative to get your guys open. But you’ve got to do it within the rules and regulations,” Slater said. “When we’re taught to run those routes, we’re taught to still run to get open, not just go in there and set a basketball pick. You’ve got an attempt to get open and make it look like you’re getting open, because the rules state that you have to do that. So, we’re taught to do that, obviously, but within the rules of the game. We’re always going to play within the rules of the game.”

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Read More: Aqib Talib, Bill Belichick, Matthew Slater, Wes Welker

Tom Brady on D&C: ‘It’s a very abrupt end’ to season

01.20.14 at 11:15 am ET
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Patriots quarterback Tom Brady made his final appearance of the season on WEEI’s Patriots Monday with Dennis & Callahan and discussed the team’s disappointing performance in Sunday’s AFC championship game. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

Brady was not at his best as the Patriots’ season ended with a 26-16 loss to Peyton Manning and the Broncos in Denver.

“They played a lot better than we did yesterday,” Belichick said. “We certainly didn’t make enough plays to win. There’s a lot of plays that impact the outcome of the game. We didn’t make enough good plays to impact the outcome in a positive way for us. It’s unfortunate for our season to come to an end like this. But I would say Denver earned it. They played a lot better than we did yesterday.”

Added Brady: “It’s a very abrupt end,” Brady said. “And it’s that for 30 teams, really. It comes to really an abrupt end for all the guys that don’t make it to the playoffs. Then you have the wild card round and the divisional round and then the championship, and there’s only two teams left. Those two teams really earned it. They’ve played good over the course of the whole season.

“One or two breaks that we get, maybe we’re playing that championship game at home, and maybe that has a difference. That’s why Denver really kept the pedal to the metal all season. They scored a lot of points. They overcame some adversity, too. When you look at a team like that, they certainly earned it. I tip my cap to them, because I understand the challenge it is to do that. They have  a lot of mentally tough guys. That’s why they’re going to represent the AFC.”

Brady acknowledged that the game might have had a different feel had it been played in Foxboro rather than Denver.

“Yeah, of course it would have been different,” Brady said. “There’s a lot of things that play into these types of games. You’re right, you look at those games, you look back at the Cincy game and the Jet game, those games that we lost, and all of them mean something. It means something in September, they mean something in December. The good teams play well over the course of four months. And we played good, we played good enough to get the second seed. We didn’t play good enough to get the first seed. Then we would have needed to play a lot better than we played yesterday.

“It was more of how we played and not where we played yesterday. It’s a tough environment to play in when you go on the road. But look, we’ve won games on the road in tough environments. We got to a game yesterday where we needed to play really well, and we just didn’t play well enough. And Denver played a really good game. They were pretty flawless. They didn’t have any penalties, they didn’t turn the ball over. They played pretty good on third down on both sides of the ball. We just couldn’t force them into making many bad plays on either side of the ball.

“Special teams were really a nonfactor for both teams with the balls that were kicked into the end zone; there wasn’t much in the punt game. So it came down to offense and defense, and they got the best of us in both of those phases, and that’s why they advanced.”

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Read More: Bill Belichick, Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman, Richard Sherman

Bill Belichick moving on to next season: ‘We’re in 2014 now’

01.20.14 at 10:55 am ET
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FOXBORO — Like a being on a treadmill, the Patriots season was going and going but then came to a sudden stop Sunday afternoon in Denver with their 26-16 loss to the Broncos in the AFC championship game.

Coach Bill Belichick now shifts his focus to the 2014 season. Belichick spoke of what that entails at his season-ending press conference Monday at Gillette Stadium, noting decisions regarding the makeup of next year’€™s team will come in the next two months.

“I would say in the neighborhood of 6-8 weeks. Free agency starts a little less than two months from now so we definitely need to be ready by then,” Belichick said. “There will be some other transactions along the way before then relative to tenders and those types of things. There are a few situations that will precede that, but I would say somewhere in the 4-8 weeks category, some sooner than others. Trying to compile all the information on players and situations as well as things like responsibilities on our staff, looking at scheme and maybe a player could fit a little bit better into a scheme, or maybe not as well into a different scheme if we are planning on making some changes along those lines. That’€™s all part of it, too.

“Some decisions need to be made sooner than others, other decisions honestly may wait. We’ve re-signed players in April, May, June and we’ve also released players in that range. I don’€™t think there is a specific timetable, but I would say somewhere in that 6-8 week range is probably when most of the decisions need to be made or at least, even if they are delayed, you’ve made that decision to delay.”

Of those decisions to be made, some of them surround the team’s free agents: Aqib Talib, Julian Edelman, Brandon Spikes and LeGarrette Blount. Belichick said he will speak to each of them as well as other players on the roster in the coming days and weeks.

“We have a number of players whose contracts are going to expire that I am going to talk to one way or another,” Belichick said. “I’€™m not saying there’€s any decision to made, but there is certainly a conversation to be had. A lot of guys on the team that I have and will talk to personally about their situation and appreciation for what they’ve done, whatever it happens to be.”

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Read More: Bill Belichick, Patriots,

Bill Belichick on Wes Welker’s hit on Aqib Talib: ‘It’s one of the worst plays I’ve seen’

01.20.14 at 9:34 am ET
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FOXBORO — Less than 18 hours after the Patriots’€™ season-ending loss to the Broncos, Bill Belichick had a chance to re-watch some of the game, including the play in which Denver wide receiver Wes Welker hit Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib on an apparent pick play across the middle of the field. The hit knocked Talib out of the game early in the second quarter.

Belichick didn’t have much to say on the hit during his press conference after the game, but he did come Monday morning in the opening statement of his end of the year press conference at Gillette Stadium.

“I feel badly for Aqib, the way the play turned out,”€ Belichick said. “I went back and watched it, which I didn’t get a chance to do yesterday. It was a deliberate play to take out Aqib. No attempt to get open. I’€™ll let the league handle the discipline on that. It’€™s not for me to decide, but it’s one of the worst plays I’ve seen. And that’€™s all I am going to say about that.”

After the game, Welker said there was no intent to run into Talib.

“It was one of those plays where it’€™s kind of a rough play, and I was trying to get him to go over the top, and I think he was thinking the same thing and wanted to come underneath and we just kind of collided,”€ Welker said. “It wasn’t a deal where I was trying to hit him or anything like that.

“I hope he’€™s OK — he’€™s a great player and a big part of their defense.”

The Patriots announced Talib suffered a knee injury on the play and his return was questionable, but he never returned to the game.

Read More: AFC Championship, Aqib Talib, Bill Belichick, Wes Welker

Peyton Manning’s ‘Omaha’ calls raise $24,800 for charity

01.20.14 at 9:31 am ET
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A week after he said “Omaha” 44 times, Peyton Manning raised $24,800 for his charity when the Broncos faced the Patriots in the AFC championship game.

Eight Omaha-based businesses donated to Manning’€™s Peyback Foundation after it became clear that the quarterback’€™s call was free advertising for the city, according to The foundation’s mission is to promote success among disadvantaged youth.

“This has been terrific for us,” said Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce president and CEO David G. Brown. “Before Friday, we had calculated that news coverage of Omaha had generated the equivalent of about $10 million in advertising.”

The chamber made a video last week that combined the city’€™s attractions with Manning’€™s “Omaha” call in the background.

Omaha Steaks, Mutual of Omaha, FNB Omaha, CenturyLink, ConAgra Foods, Union Pacific, DJ’€™s Dugout and Cox Communications committed to donate a combined $800 every time the word was said at the line of scrimmage.

“This is really great for Omaha as a community and for the businesses that are embedded here,” said Omaha Steaks senior vice president Todd Simon. “Who knows whether any of this will translate to the bottom line, if ever, but it can’€™t hurt.”

Manning, who said “Omaha” 31 times during Sunday’€™s tilt with the Patriots, explained his use of the word Wednesday.

“I know a lot of people ask what Omaha means,” Manning said. “Omaha is a run play, but it could be a pass play or a play-action pass, depending on a couple of things: which way we’€™re going, the quarter, and the jerseys that we’€™re wearing. It varies, really, from play to play.”

According to Brown, the city assumed Manning and his foundation would accept the donation, but they did not have contact with the quarterback or his representatives. Front Row Analytics, a sponsorship evaluation firm, said the city made the equivalent of $150,000 in advertising for each verbal mention of the city.

Read More: Peyton Manning,
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