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Vince Wilfork says getting back to basics will help Patriots slow down Matt Forte, Bears offense

10.23.14 at 10:43 pm ET
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Matt Forte is one of the best multidimensional threats in the league. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Matt Forte is one of the best multidimensional threats in the league. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

FOXBORO — Vince Wilfork knows there are few offensive options around the league like Matt Forte.

The 29-year-old running back is the driving element of the Chicago offense — after seven games, he leads the Bears in rushing (111 carries, 448 yards, three TDs) and receiving (52 catches, 436 yards, two TDs). The 6-foot-1, 221-pounder, who was a second-round pick out of Tulane in 2008, is the only back in the league who has at least 50 catches and 50 carries through the first seven games of the season. He’s first in the league in catches, and second in the league in combined yards from scrimmage with 884.

“He’s a threat every time he steps on to the field in a number of different ways: passing game, running game,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said of Forte. “He’s tough, great vision, great balance. He definitely has the ability to turn nothing into something in a hurry and he can turn something into a lot in a hurry too.

“[He’s a] hard guy to tackle, does a good job of creating space for himself and finding openings, getting to places where there are fewer defenders and then taking advantage of it. But even when he’s boxed in or guys get a shot of him, he still makes yards. He’s a terrific player; couldn’t say enough good things about him. He’s a very, very complete player.”

With Forte, the idea isn’t so much stopping him, but slowing him down. Wilfork says there “aren’t a lot” of backs out there who are as much of a multidimensional threat as Forte.

“The way he catches the ball out of the backfield, you’d think he was a receiver,” Wilfork said Thursday after practice. “He can run the ball well. You saw it last week, the first drive of the second half what they did with him getting the ball in his hands and they want down and scored. He was the one who put them in the end zone on that drive.

“I can see them doing a lot more of that coming into this game,” he added. “Trying to get that running game started so it can open up the play-action pass and get the ball down vertical to those big receivers. But we have to do a real good job up front of trying to take away their run game.”

While Forte is a threat on multiple levels, for a defense that’s yielded 190 or more rushing yards in three of their seven games to open the season, his work on the ground is what stands as the most sizable threat to the Patriots. Wilfork, who said in the wake of the win over the Jets that the issues facing the run defense were fixable, noted that many of the issues come down to fundamentals — namely, being able to tackle properly.

“Sometimes, we miss tackles and overplay some things, and that costs us. It costs us big,” Wilfork said. “We have to be sure tacklers. We have good tacklers, but we just have to put it together on a regular basis. That’s what it comes down to, no matter how you slice it. We have to tackle.

“We have to be able to get off the field in third down and in the red area — just make them kick field goals. We have to continue to play good football in the red area. I think that was one of the things that helped us last week was in the red area, just allowing them to kick field goals instead of giving up seven points. That was probably the only thing we did well. But it was just another building block for us. We have to continue to get better an execute our game plan to the highest level, especially against [the Bears].”

Read More: Bill Belichick, Matt Forte, Vince Wilfork,

After sour finish in Tennessee, Akeem Ayers ‘happy’ to be with Patriots

10.23.14 at 5:11 pm ET
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Akeem Ayers has nine career sacks with the Titans. (Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

Akeem Ayers joined the Patriots this week. (Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

FOXBORO — Akeem Ayers sounds like a man excited for a fresh start.

The outside linebacker, who was acquired by the Patriots from Tennessee earlier this week for a draft pick in hopes of shoring up New England’€™s front seven, saw his Titans’ career end on a sour note when he clashed with first-year Tennessee coach Ken Whisenhunt on a few issues.

But on Thursday afternoon, he said that’s all behind him.

“I’m pretty much just happy to be here,” he said after practice. “Obviously, I wasn’t playing there, and I’m happy to be in a good situation here. So all in all, just pretty much just happy to be in a better position where I can get on the field to play possibly and move on from there.”

Ayers and Whisenhunt reportedly clashed on a few different things, including Ayers’ apparent lack of value on special teams, as well as Ayers’ rehab process after undergoing surgery on both knees over the course of the offseason. That could have been one of the reasons Ayers only played 10 snaps over the first seven games of the season.

“I think we had an opportunity, and I think it was good for both parties,” Whisenhunt told reporters who asked about the trade on Wednesday. “It gave Akeem a chance to get a fresh start, and it gave us a chance to get something in exchange for that.

“I think really a big part of it was special teams. When you’re in that role, you’ve got to be able to contribute special teams wise, and we needed that, and we just didn’t feel like we were getting enough in that area.”

On Thursday, Ayers indicated that his knees aren’t an issue. He also sounded like someone who wouldn’t be averse to the idea of playing special teams in New England, saying that he “definitely” has a special teams background.

“I worked hard all offseason to get back healthy — [I] had some good rehab and things like that,” he said when asked about his knees. “It paid off. I’€™m feeling great, not limited, I’m happy where I’m at.”

The 6-foot-3, 253-pound Ayers was a defensive end at UCLA, and had his best season in 2012 when he had a career-best six sacks and eight passes defensed to go along with 110 tackles for Tennessee. From 2011 through 2013, he started 44 of a possible 48 games in his first three years with the Titans.

In terms of how he fits in Foxboro, Patriots coach Bill Belichick had a couple of ideas.

“He’s played linebacker. He’€™s played defensive end in some sub situations,” Belichick said of Ayers on Wednesday. “We will see [what he is more suited to play]. I’d say he has some versatility, but we will see.”

“I believe I have a lot of versatility,” Ayers said. “I’m able to drop in coverage, a lot of things that people already know. I can drop in coverage [and] I can rush, so I think that can help me out.”

In terms of whether or not he’ll be able to go this weekend against the Bears, Ayers, who will wear No. 52, remains optimistic.

“We haven’t gotten to detail that much,” he said when asked about the potential for him to play this weekend. “I just got here, and I’ve got to meet with people, a lot of things like that, but I think the defense fits what I’m able to do well.

“We do a lot of different things, so it can be good, but at the same time I’m just trying to learn each day, we’re progressing as far as what I’m going to be doing, what I’m not going to be doing. I’ve only been here for a few days, so I’m trying to take it a day at a time.”

Read More: Akeem Ayers, Bill Belichick, Ken Whisenhunt,

Chandler Jones only player to miss Patriots practice; 6 limited

10.23.14 at 4:35 pm ET
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For a second straight day, Chandler Jones (hip) was the only Patriots player to miss practice. It’s been reported the injury is expected to keep him out of action for about a month.

The practice report was exactly the same as it was on Wednesday, which is a good sign for the Patriots’ offensive line as it hopes to get Dan Connolly (concussion), Bryan Stork (concussion) and Cameron Fleming (finger) back for Sunday’s game against the Bears — all three players were limited.

Here is the complete practice report:

Did not participate

DE Chandler Jones (hip)

Limited participation

OL Dan Connolly (concussion)
DL Dominique Easley (shoulder/knee)
DB Nate Ebner (finger)
OL Cameron Fleming (finger)
WR Matthew Slater (shoulder)
OL Bryan Stork (concussion)

Full participation

QB Tom Brady (ankle)
CB Brandon Browner (ankle)
LB Jamie Collins (thigh)
LB Dont’€™a Hightower (knee)
S Devin McCourty (rib)

Read More: Patriots practice report,

Whose line is it anyway? Week 8 NFL picks

10.23.14 at 3:57 pm ET
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Just two weeks ago, I labeled Russell Wilson as the most unlikeable player in the NFL. This week, Deadspin’s Drew Magary reaffirmed all my feelings about that constantly smiling, holier-than thou, smarmy jerk. And no, that is not coded language.  While I appreciate the support, for the sake of the public record, I need to play the ultimate hipster card and note that I hated Russell Wilson a full two weeks before Magary did. With that pettiness and childish behavior behind us, let’s move on to even greater triviality and immaturity, that’s right, my picks!

Lions -3.5 vs. Falcons (at London)

I love the fact that my Football Sunday will start at 9:30 a.m. I have always been jealous of people on the West Coast who get to wake up and immediately start watching games. I fully support a team moving to London if it means we get a longer day of football. Also, I would be justified in watching this clip every weekend.

Obligatory “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” clip:

Obligatory “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” note: Extremely underrated movie. I would argue that it is one of the top 1o comedies to be released in the last decade. I desperately want to watch the entire puppet “Dracula” musical

Shockingly, with Calvin Johnson and Joeseph Fauria on the sidelines, the Lions are 5-2. They could even be 6-1 if kicker Alex Henery didn’t hand the Bills a win in Week 5. The Lions obviously have a great defensive front seven, and Golden Tate III has done a great job filling the void at receiver left by Megatron. With a great deal of attention being paid to Nino Brown’s great season, Tate’s great year is flying under the radar. He has 48 receptions through seven games and has caught at least five in every game. My only problem with Golden Tate III is his name. He is the third Golden Tate. That means four sets of parents came to the decision to name their son Golden. Do you realize how much pressure that puts on a person? If he didn’t make it to the NFL, his entire life would be a sham. And think about the audacity of Golden Tate Sr. and Jr. They failed to live up to the name Golden yet had no qualms of passing that undue burden on to their son. Amazing.

The NFC South is atrocious and this line is patently absurd.

Pick: Lions -3.5

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Report: First-year official Brad Allen will work as lead official for Patriots-Bears

10.23.14 at 3:34 pm ET
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Brad Allen will work as the lead official for Patriots-Bears Sunday. (A. Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

Brad Allen will work as the lead official for Patriots-Bears Sunday. (A. Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

First-year referee Brad Allen will work as the lead official for Patriots-Bears Sunday at Gillette Stadium, according

Allen, who was one of three new hires this offseason, worked as a referee in the ACC for the past nine years, and has also worked as the head official for the 2012 Rose Bowl and the 2014 Sugar Bowl.

“€œOur first-year officials were all among the best in college football, including Brad Allen, one of our new referees,”€ said NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino in a statement when Allen was hired. “Brad was an outstanding referee for many years in the ACC and we are excited about having him on the field.”€

Here’€™s a look at who has worked as referees for New England’€™s games to this point in the season:

Sept. 7 at Miami: Walt Anderson
Sept. 14 at Minnesota: Tony Corrente
Sept. 21 vs. Oakland: Pete Morelli
Sept. 29 at Kansas City: John Parry
Oct. 5 vs. Cincinnati: Jerome Boger
Oct. 12 at Buffalo: Walt Coleman
Oct. 16 vs. Jets: Bill Leavy
Oct. 23 vs. Bears: Brad Allen

This will be Allen’s first New England. For more on his work as an official, check out his page at Pro Football Reference. And for a complete rundown of this week’s assignments, check out Football Zebras.

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Brian Urlacher: Jay Cutler elite in paycheck only

10.23.14 at 3:20 pm ET
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Jay Cutler and the Bears have a losing record entering Sunday's game against the Patriots. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Jay Cutler and the Bears have a losing record entering Sunday’s game against the Patriots. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Former Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher, now an NFL analyst for Fox Sports 1, disputed a claim by Chicago GM Phil Emery that Bears signal-caller Jay Cutler ranks among the league’s elite quarterbacks based on his record. In an interview with 87.7 FM The Game in Chicago, Urlacher said that the only thing about Cutler to place him among the game’s top quarterbacks was his paycheck. Cutler is reportedly making $22.5 million in base salary this year with a three-year, $54 million guarantee with potential earnings of $126.7 million over seven years.

“We say it every year, how talented Jay is. But the NFL isn’t a talent contest. It’s a winning contest. You want to win contests. That’s what it comes down to. If your quarterback can’t make plays in critical situations for you to win games, then he’s not getting the job done,” said Urlacher. “Financially, he is one of the elite guys in the NFL. If you look at his contract, he was paid like an elite contract. He just hasn’t produced like an elite quarterback. You look at the other guys — the [Tom] Bradys, the [Peyton] Mannings, the [Aaron] Rodgers, the [Drew] Brees — those guys win every year, even with no one around them. … Rodgers has no offensive line. He wins. Brady has no receivers. He wins. And you look at Jay. He’s got Brandon [Marshall], Alshon [Jeffery], Matt [Forte], this great offensive line, Martellus Bennett, and they can’t seem to put it together, for some reason. I’m not sure if that’s his fault, but for some reason, they just can’t figure it out.”

Cutler has completed 67.3 percent of passes this year (fifth in the NFL among QBs with 200 or more attempts) for 1,866 yards, 14 touchdowns, seven interceptions and a 94.4 quarterback rating. He and the Bears play the Patriots this coming Sunday.

Christian Fauria: ‘Inexcusable’ to be late for Patriots practice

10.23.14 at 1:27 pm ET
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Christian Fauria

Christian Fauria

During Thursday’€™s Middays with MFB show, Christian Fauria discussed how Bill Belichick-coached teams are run and how “inexcusable” it is to miss a practice. Fauria played for Belichick and the Patriots from 2002-05. This comes following a report of Darrelle Revis oversleeping on Tuesday and being told not to come to the facility. To hear the segment, go to the MFB audio on demand page.

“In general, as a rule, if you are late for a practice, which I have never heard of — listen, you only have 16 weeks of a regular season — I don’€™t know how many practices that is, and it’€™s not like they practice hard anyway,” Fauria said. “If you miss a practice, that is inexcusable. I can’t excuse that. You just know better, just leave.”

Fauria explained how much Belichick stresses to his teams that being late is something that will not be tolerated.

“€œHere is what Bill does: ‘If there is a snowstorm and Friday we have practice and tomorrow or there is going to be a lot of rain, there’€™s going to be flooding in your neighborhood, don’€™t call me Friday morning telling me you’€™re going to be late. I’€™m telling you now, Thursday, that I don’€™t expect you to be late — and I am telling you there is going to be flooding in your neighborhood. Sleep in a hotel the night before, sleep at a friends house, leave at 1 a.m., make sure you’€™re here on time. Being late will not be an excuse.’ It’€™s happened in the past, guys have been late, guys have been sent home,” Fauria explained.

The former Patriots tight end also noted the typical practice schedule, although he noted things may have been different with the Patriots playing last Thursday.

“Special teams meeting would start at 7, maybe 7:30, team meeting 8-8:30ish, but it’€™s a different week,” he said. “They played on Thursday, had that I guess, bridge version of a bye week and so I don’€™t know what their schedule was like because usually Tuesday is their day off. Since they had a bye week, maybe they had Monday off or maybe they decided to go in and work out on Monday and Tuesday was officially their Wednesday, I guess. So they get an extra day of practice since they had that bye week.”

Read More: Christian Fauria, Darrelle Revis,
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