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Key Moment: Branch’s big gain helps Patriots gain momentum

11.27.11 at 8:07 pm ET
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For the Patriots, the key moment in Sunday’s win over the Eagles came on the fourth play from scrimmage in the second quarter.

With the Patriots down 10-7 early in the second, New England had the ball, and was facing a third and 13 at its own 36-yard-line. Quarterback Tom Brady evaded the rush, and after catching the eye of veteran Deion Branch, found the receiver streaking down the sideline.

Branch made it all the way down to the Philadelphia one-yard line — running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis plunged over on the next play from scrimmage to give the Patriots a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. After a first quarter that was dominated in many ways by the Eagles, it was also a chance for the Patriots to seize control of the contest, and they were in command the rest of the way.

Branch’s 63-yard reception was his longest since he recorded a 66-yarder at Detroit on Thanksgiving Day last year. In addition, it was was his fifth career reception of 60 yards or more. Branch ended up with six catches for a game-high 125 receiving yards.

Read More: BenJarvus Green Ellis, Danny Woodhead, Deion Branch, Tom Brady

Snap judgments: Patriots 38, Eagles 20

11.27.11 at 7:28 pm ET
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The Patriots moved to 8-3 on the season and put an end to any postseason hopes for “The Dream Team” with a 38-20 annihilation of the Eagles on Sunday, a win for New England that had the fans at Lincoln Financial Field either A) leaving with six minutes left in the third quarter or B) chanting “Fire Andy!” at the head coach. But the good news for the Eagles? DeSean Jackson will still have an awesome Madden rating next year.

Tom Brady passed for 361 yards and three touchdowns, both Deion Branch and Wes Welker went over 100 yards receiving and BenJarvus Green-Ellis found the end zone twice for the Patriots, who own a two-game lead (really three, a sweep over the Jets, remember) in the AFC East. They host the winless Colts next Sunday at Gillette Stadium.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

— Tom Brady did whatever he wanted against a depleted Eagles’ defense, completing 24-of-34 passes for 361 yards and three TDs. Brady found Wes Welker on two of the touchdown passes, the first a 41-yard score in the second quarter that found Welker wide open after a terrific play-action fake by Brady froze Joselio Hanson and Nate Allen. The second TD pass to Welker (which was reviewed but correctly NOT overturned) capped a sensational eight-play, 69-yard drive to open the second half. Brady was 5-for-5 for 60 yards on the drive and in complete control on Sunday. Maybe his best effort since his Week 1 masterpiece in Miami.

— Welker (eight catches, 115 yards, two TDs) had three catches for 31 yards and the TD in the opening drive of the second half. He now leads the NFL with 82 receptions and 1,143 receiving yards.

— Deion Branch had a season-high 63 yard reception on 3rd-and-13 play in the second quarter, catching a Brady pass (after Brady motioned for Branch to run a different route mid-play), making Nate Allen miss, and running over Kurt Coleman before going down at the Philadelphia 1. His speed isn’t what is was in his prime years, of course, but contrast the heart Branch showed on the play with the alligator arms special offered by DeSean Jackson in the end zone at the end of the second quarter. Talent matters, sure, but so does heart. Branch had his most productive game of the season, finishing with six catches for 125 yards.

— BenJarvus Green-Ellis hadn’t scored a touchdown since Week 5 (Jets), but had a pair of rushing scores on Sunday. Green-Ellis finished the game with just 44 yards on 14 carries, but looked very sharp in the first quarter, maybe the strongest he has looked since injuring his toe a month ago.

— After a very shaky start (more on that later), the defense settled down and did what they should do against a pass-skipping addicted Vince Young (a man once picked THIRD in an NFL Draft). Young finished the game with 400 yards passing, but plenty of those came in El Garbage time. I’ve been all over this defense this season, but I will not use 400 yards from Young as evidence. When it mattered, the Patriots made stops, and none bigger than the 4th-and-1 stop at the NE 2 in the third quarter. The Eagles tried play-action and rolled Young out to his right, but the Patriots did not bite on it. Kyle Arrington stayed with Brent Celek the whole way, and Young’s attempt wasn’t even close. A TD there makes it 31-20 and who knows what could happen? But the game was over (6:27 left in third) when the Eagles failed to convert and turned the ball over on downs.

Rob Ninkovich had a sack of Young (with plenty of facemask, no call), a tackle of LeSean McCoy for a loss and two other hits on Young.

Rob Gronkowski caught his 11th TD of the season in the fourth quarter, beating Nate Allen (who had a brutal game) over the middle. Gronkowski has 11 touchdowns this season and 21 in his career. Only three tight ends in history have put together back-to-back seasons with 10+ touchdowns, and Gronkowski is the only one to do so in Seasons One and Two.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Logan Mankins continued his 2011 struggles, getting beat twice by Cullen Jenkins in the opening drive of the game and whiffing on Jenkins on a Stevan Ridley rush. The offensive line settled down but Brady was lit up early on, taking five hits in the first quarter.

— Young came out throwing and that seemed to surprise the Patriots. Riley Cooper easily beat Kyle Arrington for a 58-yard catch on the opening drive of the game. Two plays later LeSean McCoy (very quiet all game) found the end zone (Gary Guyton was lost on the play) and it was 7-0 Eagles. On the next Philadelphia possession, DeSean Jackson was open on a deep ball from Young, and it appeared that Antwaun Molden was at fault. But the secondary was significantly better after that, with Arrington and Molden making key third-down plays (the Eagles finished just 4-of-13 on third down).

Stephen Gostkowski missed a 35-yard field goal (to the right) in the second quarter. He would later convert on a 45-yard attempt with 52 seconds left in that same quarter.

Halftime analysis: Patriots 24, Eagles 13

11.27.11 at 5:48 pm ET
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Two quarters are in the books, and the Patriots hold a 24-13 lead on the Eagles. Here are a few quick notes:

‘€¢ Tom Brady went 13-for-20 for 213 yards and a touchdown while BenJarvus Green-Ellis had 43 rushing yards and two touchdowns. On the other side of the ball, Vince Young was 9-for-18 for 190 yards and an interception.

‘€¢ The Eagles got things started early with a five-play, 84-yard drive that took 2:17 and ended with a two-yard plunge from LeSean McCoy to make it 7-0. Philadelphia added to its lead on the next series when Alex Henery hit a 43-yarder to make it 10-0 with 8:19 left in the first quarter. Early on, the Philadelphia offensive line was able to give Young lots of time to throw, and the Eagles’ wide receivers were able to get good separation. That led to an early 58-yard connection from Young to Riley Cooper, and a 44-yarder from Young to DeSean Jackson.

‘€¢ Things turned late in the first and early in the second quarter when the Patriots were able to put together back to back scoring drives, followed by an interception by Antuwan Molden. (By way of comparison, the Eagles’ first two drives netted 139 yards. The three following drives netted 32 yards.)

‘€¢ Meanwhile, the Patriots picked it up on both sides of the ball. Even though Brady was hit steadily throughout the first half, the New England offense got on the board with a steady, physical drive on their second sequence, a 12-play, 80-yard sequence (with two first downs coming via penalty). The drive took 6:52 and ended with a four-yard run from Green-Ellis, who now appears to be completely over any sort of toe problems that dogged him earlier this season. New England followed that up with a quick-strike drive highlighted by a 63-yarder down the sidelines from Brady to Deion Branch (followed up by a one yard scoring plunge from Green-Ellis) to make it 14-10.

‘€¢ Following that, Molden picked off Young, but the Patriots missed out on a big scoring opportunity when Wes Welker dropped a third-down pass attempt and Stephen Gostkowski followed that up with a missed 39-yard field goal attempt that left Brady raging on the sidelines. They found some redemption on their next series when Brady out together another quick scoring drive, finding Welker on a sweet 41-yard touchdown pass that came about after an impressive play-action fake to Danny Woodhead to make it 21-10.

‘€¢ The Eagles put together a long drive of their own, but it stalled out in the red zone when Jackson developed alligator arms on a short, third-down passing play in the end zone, forcing Philly to settle for a field goal. New England then ended the first half in impressive fashion with a drive that ended with a 45-yard field goal from Gostkowski to make it 24-13 with 51 seconds left in the half.

  • The 24 points by the Patriots are the most this year in one half. They scored 21 in Week 3 against the Bills and led 21-10, before dropping the game, 34-31, at the final gun. They also scored 20 in the first half against the Chargers in Week 2 and won, 35-21.
  • Live Blog: Patriots head to Philly to take on Michael Vick-less Eagles

    11.27.11 at 3:07 pm ET
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    Patriots/Eagles Live Blog

    Setting the scene: Patriots-Eagles

    11.27.11 at 11:45 am ET
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    PHILADELPHIA — Clear skies and unseasonably warm temperatures in the low-to-mid 60s are expected for kickoff at 4:15 p.m. ET (WBZ-TV, Ch. 4) today at Lincoln Financial Field as the 7-3 Patriots look for their third straight win against the 4-6 Eagles. With a breeze of 10-15 MPH expected out of the south-southwest, it will feel more like the preseason game these two play every August than a game on the Sunday after Thanksgiving.

    The Patriots will do everything in their power to get out to a quick lead and try to take the heart and desire out of the desperate Eagles.

    The fan base in Philadelphia is notoriously quick to turn, especially in games like this.

    Two weeks ago, with a chance to make a move in the NFC East, the Eagles dropped a game to the lowly Cardinals on this very field and the fans called for coach Andy Reid‘€™s job immediately.

    But there will almost certainly be a different quarterback at the helm today as Michael Vick broke two ribs in that loss to the Cards.

    In came Vince Young last week on the road against the Giants. All he did was lead the Eagles on an epic 18-play, 80-yard drive, taking up more than half of the fourth quarter and helping the Eagles to a 17-10 win that kept a pulse in the Eagles’€™ season.

    Various reports have Vick still laboring in practice this week after testing his ribs with several throwing sessions. As a result, Young is expected to get the start for the Patriots with a decision on whether to deactivate Vick not expected until closer to game time.

    Though far less dramatic and ‘€“ to this point ‘€“ significant, the Patriots made their own injury news 24 hours before the game by deciding to leave receiver Chad Ochocinco out of today’€™s game with a hamstring injury.

    Ochocinco showed up on the Patriots injury report on Friday with a hamstring issue and did not practice on the day after Thanksgiving.

    Taylor Price is expected to see significant playing time, filling in for Ochocinco as the third receiver in New England‘€™s three-receiver sets.

    Additionally, the Patriots have already ruled out linebacker Dane Fletcher (thumb), Patrick Chung (ankle), Dan Connolly (groin), Devin McCourty (shoulder) and Brandon Spikes (knee). Jeff Tarpinian was placed on injured reserve this week with an undisclosed illness. Read the rest of this entry »

    Read More: Brandon Spikes, Chad Ochocinco, Dane Fletcher, Dream Team

    In Focus: Charting the offensive opportunities for the Patriots’ skill position players through 10 games

    11.26.11 at 11:21 pm ET
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    Every week over the course of the 2011 NFL season, we’€™ll present a list of the Patriots’€™ ‘€œoffensive touches,’€ a running tally of which one of the offensive skill position players is getting the most looks. Like our weekly look at targets, it can occasionally be an inexact stat, but it remains a good barometer of how confident the coaches (and quarterback) are when it comes to the skill position players at their disposal. Ten games into the season, here’€™s a breakdown of the New England offense for 2011:

    BenJarvus Green Ellis: 142 (136 carries, six receptions) five touchdowns ‘€” nine negative plays
    Wes Welker: 76 (2 carries, 74 receptions) six touchdowns ‘€” one negative play
    Danny Woodhead: 63 (49 carries, 14 receptions) zero touchdowns ‘€” two negative plays
    Rob Gronkowski: 52 (0 carries, 56 receptions), 10 touchdowns
    Aaron Hernandez: 42 (1 carry, 41 receptions), five touchdowns
    Stevan Ridley: 39 (36 carries, 3 reception), one touchdown ‘€” three negative plays
    Deion Branch: 39 (0 carries, 39 receptions), four touchdowns
    Kevin Faulk: 16 (11 carries, 5 receptions) zero touchdowns ‘€” two negative plays
    Tom Brady: 14 (16 carries, 0 receptions) 25 passing touchdowns, zero rushing touchdowns ‘€” 19 negative plays (all sacks)
    Chad Ochocinco: 11 (0 carries, 11 receptions), zero touchdowns
    Shane Vereen: 8 (8 carries, 0 receptions), one negative play
    Julian Edelman: 6 (3 carries, 3 receptions) zero touchdowns ‘€” two negative plays, both runs
    Matthew Slater: 1 (0 carries, 1 reception) zero touchdowns
    TOTAL: 510 touches (257 carries, 253 receptions) ‘€” 39 negative plays (excluding kneeldowns).

    Read More: Aaron Hernandez, BenJarvus Green Ellis, Chad Ochocinco, Danny Woodhead

    A closer look at what the early inactives mean for the Patriots

    11.26.11 at 8:51 pm ET
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    The Patriots announced Saturday night that safety Patrick Chung, center Dan Connolly, cornerback Devin McCourty and wide receiver Chad Ochocinco have all been downgraded to out for Sunday’€™s game against the Eagles. The foursome joins linebackers Dane Fletcher (thumb) and Brandon Spikes (knee), who were already announced as out on Friday and already have missed the last couple of weeks.

    Chung has been struggling with a foot injury he suffered in the waning moments of the Nov. 6 loss to the Giants, and had missed the last two games as a result. Connolly was on the injury list this week with a groin injury, while McCourty suffered a shoulder injury on Nov. 13 against the Jets when he collided with teammate Sterling Moore and has been out since then. And Ochocinco made his first appearance of the season on the injury list this week with a hamstring problem.

    As for what this means for the rest of the roster, let’€™s start in the secondary: First, look for more responsibilities to be placed on the shoulders of James Ihedigbo at safety, while fellow safeties Sergio Brown and Moore will see plenty of snaps. (In an interesting twist, safety Ross Ventrone, who has bounced on and off the roster several times this season because of various personnel moves, will not be part of the active roster for Sunday’€™s game.)

    And no McCourty this week likely means another busy week for Antuwan Molden, who went wire-to-wire at left corner last week for New England on its win over the Chiefs. The Patriots could also give more snaps to Julian Edelman on the defensive side of the football — the former college quarterback has seen some quality snaps on defense the last two games, and could be in line for more on Sunday in hopes of providing depth at the position.

    Up front, Connolly’€™s absence means one thing — Ryan Wendell will see the bulk of the reps in his place. Wendell has stepped in occasionally as the No. 1 interior offensive lineman, and played well last week when Connolly went down. However, without Dan Koppen and Connolly, the Patriots are now very thin at the center spot.

    At wide receiver, Ochocinco’€™s absence should provide an opportunity for second-year receiver Taylor Price to at least more snaps — however, even when healthy, Price has struggled to see the field in his relatively short time in Foxboro, and so this could instead mean more targets for other pass catchers like Edelman and Matthew Slater. (At the same time, it’€™s important to remember that it’€™s not like Ochocinco was an integral part of the offense to this point in the season, so the change on the final scoresheet should be relatively negligible.)

    Read More: Antuwan Molden, Brandon Spikes, Chad Ochocinco, Dan Connolly

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