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Four forgotten players who could have a sizable role in 2013 for Patriots

01.22.13 at 1:05 pm ET
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Like every team, the Patriots suffered their share of injuries over the course of the 2012 season. Here’€™s a look at four guys who went down relatively early, and who could play a sizable role in the fortunes of the 2013 team:

Linebacker Dane Fletcher: The 26-year-old inside linebacker was an undrafted free agent who made the 53-man roster out of Montana State in 2010. The 6-foot-2, 244-pounder, who was a defensive end in college was able to carve out on impressive career for himself in his first two seasons in the league, moving from core special teamer to backup linebacker in relatively short order. But a thumb injury slowed him in 2011, and he tore the ACL in his left knee in an August preseason game against the Saints. The knee injury left him on injured reserve for the season, but as long as he recovers, he should be expected to be in the mix as an inside linebacker and special teamer in 2013.

Kick returner/running back Jeff Demps: The former Olympic sprinter showed up relatively late this summer, and left the Patriots with an interesting personnel decision — place him on IR (with the possibility he could return, thanks to the new DFR roster loophole) or have him occupy a roster spot until he was ready to go. The Patriots chose the former, and ended up putting tight end Visanthe Shiancoe on IR (designated for return) while leaving the 23-year-old Demps on the sidelines for the year. That’€™s a decision the Patriots would probably like to have back, as the team used the DFR-IR designation on Shiancoe before cutting him loose late in the season. (In that same stretch, the Patriots continued to struggle to find consistency in the return game.) Meanwhile, the 5-foot-7. 175-pound Demps got time to get up to speed in the New England system, essentially taking a redshirt season while learning about life in the NFL. Look for him to play a major role on special teams next season, as well as a possible dynamic new wrinkle at running back.

Tight end Jake Ballard: Hey, another tight end. Why not? The 25-year-old Ballard, who suffered a torn ACL in his left knee in Super Bowl XLVI against the Patriots while playing for New York, was acquired this past summer by the Patriots (he was signed off waivers from the Giants, much to the consternation of New York coach Tom Coughlin). Undrafted out of Ohio State in 2010, he turned himself into a effective downfield threat in 2011 with the Giants (38 receptions for 604 yards and four touchdowns), and could provide the same sort of presence in 2013 with the Patriots. The 6-foot-6, 275-pound Ballard compares with Rob Gronkowski in his bulk and his overall playing style, and the idea of deploying a three-tight end set with Ballard, Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez would be an intriguing matchup problem for opposing defensive coordinators. Figures to weigh heavily in the Patriots’€™ plans for 2013.

Cornerback Ras-I Dowling: Dowling, who was the 33rd overall pick of the 2011 daft, has seen his two-year career with the Patriots has been marked by injury. After a strong opening to his rookie year in 2011 where he started his first two games as a professional, he landed on season-ending injured reserve on Oct. 29 because he needed hip surgery. And 2012 started poorly when he suffered a hamstring injury early in camp and missed nearly three weeks. As a result, he slipped down the depth chart, and began the season as a nickel back. This past season, he made it all the way to late October before suffering a thigh injury in an overtime win over the Jets, which sent him to IR again. When he’€™s been healthy, the 24-year-old has been an intriguing physical presence in the secondary — at 6-foot-1 and 210-pounds, he brings a size that New England had been lacking in the defensive backfield for several years, at least until Aqib Talib came along. But Dowling, who had struggled with injury in college, has to prove that he can stay healthy for an entire season before the Patriots start to lean on him seriously. This will be a key offseason for the youngster out of Virginia.

Read More: Dane Fletcher, Jake Ballard, Jeff Demps, Ras-I Dowling

Mike Florio on D&C: ‘Virtually impossible’ for Patriots to live up to dynasty expectations

01.22.13 at 12:25 pm ET
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Mike Florio of checked in with Dennis & Callahan on Tuesday to discuss the Patriots in the wake of their loss to the Ravens in Sunday’s AFC championship game.

The Patriots continue to be successful in the regular season, but they have not won a Super Bowl since 2005.

“Every NFL team is a challenge. There’s so much parity now that the gap between the best team and the worst team is narrower than ever before,” Florio said. “It’s just the reality that when you get to the postseason, it’s so intense and everybody is reaching for that brass ring. To be in the conversation every year — you think back over the last decade, there’s only one year where the Patriots haven’t qualified for the postseason, and they were 11-5 without Tom Brady that year.

“This is a team that is consistently knocking on the door, and you get spoiled by that run of success early on. Those three Super Bowls in four years set a standard for the franchise, a standard for Bill Belichick, a standard for Tom Brady that it’s just virtually impossible to continue that. Every other ‘dynasty’ we’ve seen fades at some point not long after winning their last Super Bowl. These guys haven’t faded. They continue to hang around. They continue to get to the final four. They continue to get to the Super Bowl. The only problem is they haven’t won one in eight years and counting.”

Wes Welker, who had eight receptions for 117 yards and the lone Patriots touchdown on Sunday, again enters the offseason with uncertainty, as his contract is up.

“He falls into the category of a veteran player who’s going to have to see what else is out there before he realizes whether or not he’ll take what the Patriots are offering,” Florio said. “The risk that you take as the Patriots is that there’ll be some team that has an owner who decides to make what could be a bad football decision but what definitely is a good business decision and jump on Wes Welker for the name recognition, to have the press conference in March where you hold up the new jersey and you get people excited and you get them to buy tickets, and maybe you can also hurt a division rival if you’re the Bills, the Jets or the Dolphins — not that any of those three teams are going to go after him. But that would be the kind of formula — a team willing to spend more than the Patriots will spend and a team willing to maybe make what would be a bad decision because maybe Welker isn’t the same guy in any other offense.”

Added Florio: “Those teams that would make good football sense also have good business sense. They’re not going to go out and overpay Wes Welker. Now, the question is, would he take less money to go somewhere else? If he got to the point where he doesn’t want to play for the Patriots — I haven’t sensed that. He got paid a heck of a lot of money in 2012. He still had a good season. He’s still got some gas in the tank, but does he want to stay with the Patriots, with Tom Brady, with Bill Belichick? Nationally, people just assume that everybody in that locker room has a Super Bowl ring. Wes Welker doesn’t have one. The vast majority of those guys don’t have one, they’re still pushing for their first one, so there’s still a sense of unfinished business I would assume that Wes Welker has after completing his six seasons with the Patriots.”

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Read More: Mike Florio, Ray Lewis, Tom Brady, Wes Welker

Report: NFL reviewing Tom Brady’s sliding kick

01.22.13 at 9:57 am ET
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According to a tweet from ESPN, the NFL is reviewing the play late in the first half of Sunday’s AFC championship game in which Tom Brady slid to avoid a tackle but lifted his foot and made contact with Ravens safety Ed Reed.

No penalty was called on the play, but Ravens defensive back Bernard Pollard has been outspoken in saying that Brady should be disciplined.

“You have to keep them legs down,” Pollard said after the game. “We all know and understand what’€™s going on. As a quarterback when you go to slide we’€™re taught we can’€™t do anything. We kind of run it off. But when you come sliding, with your leg up in the air trying to kick somebody, that’€™s bullcrap. We talked to the ref. They saw it. You can’€™t deny it.”

Added Pollard on Monday (via The Baltimore Sun): “When you slide, obviously quarterbacks know when they slide, everything is on the ground. He knew what he was doing. So, I’m the type of player it has to go both ways. It really does. It has to go both ways. Hopefully the NFL will do something about. If they don’t, that’s fine. If they do, that’s fine.”

Read More: Bernard Pollard, Ed Reed, Tom Brady,

Wes Welker’s wife apologizes for anti-Ray Lewis Facebook post

01.21.13 at 8:46 pm ET
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Anna Burns Welker, the wife of Patriots receiver Wes Welker, apologized Monday after putting up a Facebook post Sunday night that mocked Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis‘ questionable past.

In a post on her Facebook page (via The Big Lead) following Sunday’s AFC championship game, Anna Burns Welker wrote:

Proud of my husband and the Pats. By the way, if anyone is bored, please go to Ray Lewis‘ Wikipedia page. 6 kids 4 wives. Acquitted for murder. Paid a family off. Yay. What a hall of fame player! A true role model!

Burns Welker released a statement on Monday afternoon (via Larry Brown Sports:

I’m deeply sorry for my recent post on Facebook. I let the competitiveness of the game and the comments people were making about a team I dearly love get the best of me. My actions were emotional and irrational and I sincerely apologize to Ray Lewis and anyone affected by my comment after yesterday’s game.

It is such an accomplishment for any team to make it to the NFL playoffs, and the momentary frustration I felt should not overshadow the accomplishments of both of these amazing teams.

Read More: Ray Lewis, Wes Welker,

Bernard Pollard: Brady should be fined for cleats-up slide

01.21.13 at 8:43 pm ET
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Ravens safety Bernard Pollard told reporters Monday that he believes Tom Brady should be fined for his cleats-up slide in the first half of Sunday’s AFC title game.

In the final minute of the second quarter, the New England quarterback was scrambling for extra yardage when he slid, and it appeared his upraised leg hit Baltimore defensive back Ed Reed.

“If you want to keep this going in the right direction, everyone should be penalized for their actions,” Pollard said, and added that Brady “knew what he was doing. It has to go both ways. Hopefully the NFL will do something about it. If they don’t, that’s fine. If they do, then that’s fine.”

Pollard has gained a large measure of infamy in New England for his hits on Brady (when he caved in the quarterback’s knee in the regular-season opener in 2008, leaving him sidelined for the rest of the year) and Rob Gronkowski (in last year’s AFC title game, a shot that left the tight end hobbled for the Super Bowl).

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Read More: Bernard Pollard, Ed Reed, Tom Brady,

Andrew Luck replaces Tom Brady on AFC Pro Bowl squad, Logan Mankins, Wes Welker and Vince Wilfork also out

01.21.13 at 7:38 pm ET
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Tom Brady is again politely declining a trip to Hawaii to play in the NFL’s greatest exhibition game.

Andrew Luck had one of the best seasons any rookie quarterback has ever had in living up to his No. 1 overall draft billing coming into the 2012 season.

On Monday, the Indianapolis Colts rookie was rewarded with a trip to Hawaii to replace Brady in the in the Pro Bowl. Brady was excused from the Pro Bowl with an undisclosed injury.

Brady was selected to his eighth Pro Bowl game in late December but hasn’t played the last six times he’s been selected. He played in Feb. 2002 after winning the Super Bowl and he played in Feb. 2005 after the 2004 season but hasn’t played since, as he has been designated as injured and has been replaced.

It appears Brady won’t be alone in turning down the leis in paradise. Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald reports Wes Welker, Logan Mankins and Vince Wilfork have also taken their names out of the Pro Bowl due to various injuries. Linebacker Jerod Mayo and special teams captain Matthew Slater were also selected but remain on the Pro Bowl roster.

As for Luck, through Week 9, Luck had thrown for the same number of yards as his predecessor, Peyton Manning, did in his first season in Denver.

His legend began to truly grow in Week 13 against the Lions. Luck and the Colts were trailing 33-28 with 1:07 left. He was able to get to the Lions’ 14 yard line and faced a fourth down with three seconds left. Luck then threw a screen pass to Donnie Avery who got free and ran in for the winning score.

The win gave Luck his eighth on the season – the most wins by a rookie quarterback drafted first overall in NFL history, as well as his fifth game-winning drive on the season, tying Vince Young and Ben Roethlisberger for the most by a rookie quarterback. On Dec. 23, 2012, Luck broke the record for most passing yards by a rookie against the Kansas City Chiefs, throwing 205 to bring his season total to 4,183. Cam Newton held the previous record with 4,051 yards.

Luck advanced the Colts, one season removed from 2-14, to the the playoffs, where they lost to the Ravens in Baltimore.

Read More: Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts, Jerod Mayo, Logan Mankins

Rob Ninkovich: Super Bowl wins don’t affect current roster

01.21.13 at 7:20 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Rob Ninkovich didn’t mince any words when it came to discussing the Patriots’ legacy of Super Bowl titles and how it affects the current roster.

“That whole era is over with. It’s gone,” said Ninkovich of the team that won Super Bowls XXXVI, XXXVIII and XXXIX. “So this is a whole new team. It’s a different bunch of guys. We all have to experience it and learn for ourselves what it’s like. Getting in the Super Bowl last year and losing left a bad taste in my mouth.

“I would have liked to get back this year, but that wasn’t the way it happened. You take all the lessons in life and learn from them, and put your best foot forward the next year.”

Ninkovich and the Patriots suffered a 28-13 loss to the Ravens in Sunday’s AFC title game at Gillette Stadium. For more Patriots news, check out

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