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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.

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Dan Koppen joins Mike Wright and Jonathan Wilhite on sidelines

12.08.10 at 1:29 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Starting center Dan Koppen leads the list of names not present at Patriots practice inside the Dana Farber Field House on Wednesday as they began preparations for the Chicago Bears on Sunday afternoon.

Koppen joined cornerback Jonathan Wilhite and Mike Wright as players to miss the open portion of the walkthru in Field House. Wilhite has missed the last three games with a hip injury while Wright has missed two straight games with a neck injury and concussion.

Read More: Chicago Bears, Dan Koppen, Jonathan Wilhite, Mike Wright

Tom Brady: ‘Don’t think we have it all figured out’

12.08.10 at 12:14 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Sounding a tone of humility, Tom Brady said the Patriots return to practice completely focused on the Chicago Bears and not basking in the afterglow of Monday’s 45-3 thrashing of the New York Jets.

“I don’t think we have it all figured out,” said Brady, who was honored with his second straight AFC Offensive Player of the Week award. “We certainly don’t. It was a good win on Monday night but it doesn’t do anything for us.”

The Patriots have scored 45 points in each of their last two wins. Before that the Patriots scored 31 in a win against the Colts and 39 against the Steelers, prompting questions and comparisons to the 2007 Patriots, which set the NFL all-time record for points scored. Brady shot down the comparison immediately.

“I wouldn’t say so,” Brady said. “We’re not even close to that. Entirely different team in style than what we’re trying to accomplish here.”

In other words, this offense can be just as productive as the machine of ’07 without having to go deep to Randy Moss. Then again, when you don’t have Randy Moss, that doesn’t leave you much of an option. Still, the Patriots haven’t missed a single beat without him in the last month.

And it shows by how Brady has spread the wealth among his receivers. Since the loss in Cleveland, Rob Gronkowski has three TDs (all vs. Pittsburgh); Deion Branch has three; Aaron Hernandez two; and Wes Welker four.

“Anyway you can gain them,” Brady said of the yards and scoring production in the offense. “I think that’€™s really a strength of what our guys are able to do. There’€™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.’€™’€

Brady, who kept his presser a bit briefer than normal, seemed focused on maintaining the rhythm the offense has found since the 34-14 pounding to the Browns on Nov. 7.

“We’€™re just trying to get the ball in the end zone,” Brady said. “That’€™s what our job is. We don’€™t go out there to punt. I always said that he doesn’€™t send us out there and say, ‘€˜Run three plays. We’€™ll send the punt team out.’€™ We’€™re trying to go out there to score and sometimes we do it and other times we haven’€™t. I think we’€™ve been the beneficiaries of a lot of turnovers by our defense, which has really helped us. Situationally, we’€™ve got to continue to do a better job as well like before the half last week, before the end of the game not really being productive there.”

Read More: Chicago Bears, Deion Branch, New England Patriots, nfl

WEEI NFL Power Rankings: Week 14

12.08.10 at 10:01 am ET
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For the fourth straight week, the Patriots rule in the WEEI NFL Power Rankings. The Pats‘ 45-3 clobbering of the Jets makes Bill Belichick‘s team the clear-cut favorite for the No. 1 spot. Soaring not far behind are the Falcons at No. 2. The Patriots will defend their top spot against the Bears (7) in Chicago this Sunday while the Falcons have the pleasure of traveling to North Carolina to take on the Panthers (32).

Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers (3)  jump back into the top five after their huge road win against the Ravens (5).  Marching in at No. 4 are the defending champion Saints.

The Colts have lost four of their last five games and continue to take a nose-dive in the rankings. Their only win in that stretch came against the 2-10 Bengals (31). Peyton Manning and the defending AFC champions drop to 14.

The bottom seven teams remain the same as all of them suffered another loss in Week 13.

1. (1) 10-2 The Patriots are in first place because they continue to win the turnover battle. Tom Brady hasn’t thrown an interception in his last seven games. The Pats are also atop their conference with a plus-14 in the giveaway/takeaway differential category. If the Pats can lock up home-field advantage and a first-round bye, it’s tough not to like their chances of reaching yet another Super Bowl. The Brady-Belichick combination is just too difficult to beat when playing in Foxboro during the playoffs.

2. (3) 10-2 Matt Ryan has led the Falcons to six fourth-quarter comeback drives. The Falcons have one of the most balanced offensive game plans in football. They can run and pass the ball effectively. Two of their remaining four games are against the 1-11 Panthers. That makes the Falcons’ chances of winning the NFC and gaining home-field advantage throughout the playoffs very good.

3. (6) 9-3 The offensive line is in shambles. The latest injury for the Steelers comes to starting right tackle Flozell Adams. He suffered a high ankle sprain in Sunday night’s slugfest against the Ravens. Roethlisberger needs better protection if the Steelers want to go deep into the playoffs.

4. (5) 9-3 The defending champs have won five straight games and are in a race for the NFC South division. They’ll also be adding more firepower to their offense. Pierre Thomas is set to return after suffering an injury in the first month of the season.

5. (4) 8-4 The Ravens crumpled in the fourth quarter and gave up 10 unanswered points to the Steelers. The loss to Pittsburgh puts them in a tough position going forward as they will likely have to settle for a wild card playoff spot.

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Read More: NFL Power Rankings, Tom Brady,

Ex-Patriots kicker John Smith recalls night John Lennon was killed

12.08.10 at 9:29 am ET
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Wednesday marks the 30th anniversary of the death of former Beatle John Lennon. Older Patriots fans remember that night well, as the Pats were playing the Dolphins in Miami on ABC’s “Monday Night Football.” When legendary announcer Howard Cosell informed the nation that Lennon had died, Patriots kicker John Smith was preparing to attempt a field goal with three seconds remaining in a tie game. The field goal was blocked, and the Patriots went on to lose in overtime, 16-13.

Smith got the second dose of bad news after the game when reporters let the players know that Lennon had been shot and killed outside his New York City apartment.

Smith, who now coaches area youth soccer teams and runs an indoor soccer facility in Milford, noted the irony of the fact that he was the only Englishman in the NFL and he happened to be the one on camera when the nation was told of the death of one of England’s most famous sons.

“I was a teenager in England when the Beatles became popular. We were all big Beatles fans,” he told Tuesday night. “It meant more to me than the other players. It was very sad to hear what happened to John Lennon.”

Smith, who is active with the Patriots alumni group, was in popular demand this week. ESPN called him twice to make appearances and talk about that fateful night. The second time the network called was Monday, and the contact wanted Smith to drive to Connecticut to appear at the ESPN studios. Said Smith: “I told them, ‘No way. I’m going to the Patriots-Jets game. I want to see them beat the Jets. I hate the Jets.’ ”

Click here for the video of Smith getting ready to kick while Cosell makes the announcement of Lennon’s death.

Here’s ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” piece, which includes an appearance by Smith.

Read More: Howard Cosell, John Lennon, John Smith,

Bill Belichick on The Big Show: ‘A good game all the way around’

12.07.10 at 5:34 pm ET
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Patriots coach Bill Belichick appeared Tuesday on The Big Show to discuss the Patriots’ 45-3 victory Monday night over the Jets and preview Sunday’s matchup with the 9-3 Bears.

“The players really did a good job,” Belichick said. “We had a good week of practice and preparation, and it certainly came together for the most part last night. I just think the players did a really good job; captains Jerod [Mayo] and Vince [Wilfork] on defense and Tom [Brady] and Alge [Crumpler] on offense.”

Following are highlights from the conversation. To hear the entire interview, visit The Big Show audio on demand page.

It was a good night of football last night, wasn’t it?

It was, Glenn. The players really did a good job. We had a good week of practice and preparation, and it certainly came together for the most part last night. I just think the players did a really good job; captains Jerod and Vince on defense and Tom and Alge on offense.

Kevin Faulk was around a lot this week; I think he had a lot of good things to help our football team prepare for the game and being in the right frame of mind and all that. I think those guys, along with a lot of the veteran players, really did a good job of really getting the team to a good point and we were out there able to execute well last night, and we really played a good game all the way around ‘€” got off to a fast start and we were able to sustain it for 60 minutes.

What is Kevin Faulk doing with these players since he’s not out there? How does he help or impact the team since he can’t be out on the field with them?

Well, he’s around. He’s in getting treatment and doing rehab. But he’s around and certainly brings a great well of experience and confidence, and the participation he’s had in the games and what they’re like and how to approach them and how to prepare for them and what to expect. I think it’s invaluable the insight who’s been in those situations can give the players who either haven’t played or haven’t been in very many of them. I mean, pretty much everybody on the team played the Jets in September, but it’s a little bit different this time of year, and the second time around. Kevin gives a great perspective on what’s important and how to win the game, and no player is more unselfish than Kevin is, and I think he can impart some of that wisdom and experience toward other members of the team.

You also had [Tedy] Bruschi out there, too.

Yeah, it was great to see Tedy. It’s great to see him recognized, he certainly embodies everything that the New England Patriots stand for, and his performance is excellent; his teamwork, his energy, his unselfish play, his success on the field, captainship and leadership that he’s given us throughout the years is just awesome. To have this kind of game on his night is really a great combining of forces, so it was awesome.

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Read More: Bill Belichick, New England Patriots, Tom Brady,
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