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Tom Brady Confidence Index, Week 8: Passing game continues to be Gronk-centric

10.29.13 at 1:33 am ET
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This preseason, we debuted the Tom Brady Confidence Index, a by-the-numbers look at the comfort level the quarterback had with the rest of the skill-position players when it came to the passing game. Because of the reaction we got, we decided to make it a semi-regular feature and expand it to include overall offensive touches (receptions and carries, with more weight to carries in clutch situations) and how comfortable the quarterback might appear to be with some of his teammates when it came to trusting them in certain situations.

As always, we rate each of the skill-position players and their relationship/comfort level with Brady on a scale of 0 (Taylor Price) to 100 (Wes Welker) on their body of work to this point in the season.

(Disclaimer: While most aspects of this blog deal in mathematical specifics as it relates to football, this entry is more of a tongue-in-cheek approach to Brady and how he relates to the rest of the New England offense. Bottom line? Don’€™t take the rating system too seriously.)

TIGHT END ROB GRONKOWSKI: 93 (last week: 91)

Season stats: 10 catches, 22 targets, 141 yards

Despite the fact that the tight end only caught two passes on Sunday against the Dolphins, he remains the most trusted pass catcher on the roster. That much was clear when the quarterback forced it into him with his first pass attempt of the game, only to see the ball picked off for an interception. There were the two catches, yes, but there were two occasions where Brady threw in Gronk’€™s direction on third-down opportunities, balls that weren’€™t caught but ended up drawing penalties on Miami defenders trying to slow down Gronkowski: In the first half, Jimmy Wilson was hit with a defensive pass interference call on a pass play for Gronk that kept a Patriots drive alive that ended with a Stephen Gostkowski field goal. And in the second half, there was a defensive holding penalty on cornerback Dimitri Patterson on a third-down pass play that kept a New England drive alive, one that also ended with a Gostkowski field goal. Gronkowski also appeared to catch his first touchdown of the season late in the third quarter on maybe the sweetest pass of the year from the quarterback, but the play was nullified because of a holding call on Nate Solder.
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Report: Sebastian Vollmer to have surgery on right leg Monday

10.28.13 at 3:01 pm ET
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Sebastian Vollmer is scheduled to have surgery to repair a broken bone in his right leg on Monday, according to Karen Guregian of the Boston Herald. The right tackle, who has been a starter for the Patriots since he arrived as a rookie in 2009, went down in the first half of Sunday’s win over Miami. He was replaced by Marcus Cannon, who will likely play a sizable role down the stretch as a result of Vollmer’s injury.

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Rob Ninkovich on M&M: Second-half turnaround ‘exactly what we wanted to do’

10.28.13 at 1:18 pm ET
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Patriots defensive end Rob Ninkovich joined Mut & Merloni on Monday to discuss New England’€™s 27-17 comeback win over the Dolphins on Sunday.

The Patriots overcame a 17-3 first-half deficit and outscored Miami 24-0 in the second half. New England’€™s defense perplexed the Ryan Tannehill-led Dolphins attack, as the Patriots recorded six sacks, two interceptions, a fumble recovery and a blocked field goal all in the second half.

‘€œThe first half was not the type of football we wanted to come out and play. We had a certain game plan that we wanted to go out there and execute, and we didn’€™t do it,’€ said Ninkovich, who had one of the sacks and the fumble recovery. ‘€œAnd the second half, it was a little different game, and I think we did a good job of doing exactly what we wanted to do.’€

The youth portion of the defense excelled on Sunday. Second-year players Dont’€™a Hightower (10 tackles, one sack) and Alfonzo Dennard (nine tackles) were first and second on the team in tackles. Another second-year player, Logan Ryan, had a monster day, one week after recording a pick-six. Ryan made five tackles, sacked Tannehill twice and forced a fumble. Rookie defensive tackle Chris Jones made seven stops, with one sack, and a pair of tackles for loss.

Injuries to defensive mainstays Vince WilforkAqib Talib and Jerod Mayo have necessitated elevated play from a number of inexperienced defenders.

‘€œI think the young guys did a great job,’€ Ninkovich said. ‘€œChris Jones and Joe Vellano, I think they both played very well. ‘€¦ I’€™m happy how we’€™re playing, given that there’€™s been some ups and downs, and guys thrown into some positions that five, six weeks ago they weren’€™t in.’€

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Read More: Alfonzo Dennard, Aqib Talib, Chris Jones, Dont'a Hightower

Bill Belichick on his game plan: ‘You never leave fish to find fish’

10.28.13 at 12:25 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Things were hardly going swimmingly Sunday in the first half for Bill Belichick and his offense. Tom Brady didn’t look sharp. The running game was not effective. And the Dolphins managed a 17-3 halftime lead.

But Belichick, who has been on the open seas more than a few times in his life with his boat “Five Rings”, brought up a fishing analogy Monday in his conference call in describing what it’s like to stick with a game plan when the fish aren’t being caught on the hook.

“That’€™s part of the play calling and decision making in the game. If you have something that’€™s working, do you keep doing that knowing that eventually a good team on the other side of the field and good players are going to recognize it and put a stop to it? Or do you try to move away from it and anticipate that they’€™re going to adjust what you’€™re hurting them with? Then you move onto something else and you second guess yourself, ‘€˜Am I moving away from success too quickly?’€™ As any good fisherman knows, you never leave fish to find fish. But at some point in the football game against, like I said, good teams, good players, good coaches, they’€™re just not going to let you keep doing the same thing forever. They’€™re going to have an answer to it. When do you think they’€™re going to have that answer and when do you move to something else? When do you stay with what’€™s successful?

“Occasionally, you get a few situations where it’€™s easy and you can make that decision right away. You know you either need move on or maybe they just can’€™t match up every once in awhile you get into one of those situations but for the most part, it’€™s a little bit of a chess game. The shifting of matchups and shifting the strengths and weaknesses throughout the course of the game, you see it every week and I don’€™t want to say every game, but most games you see it. There’€™s an ebb and flow and that’€™s part of it. Part of it is execution and motivation and just flat out playing. Sometimes though it’€™s the matchups of plays and players that shift during the game and that affects it too. I don’€™t know if that answers your question but that’€™s always the dilemma is when do you move on from something that’€™s going fairly well before you get it shut down?”

What did Belichick do? Down 14, he decided to stick with the run game until Stevan Ridley broke one for 23 yards up the middle. That singular play seemed to jiggle the fishing rod just the right way and the Dolphins were on the hook. The Patriots scored 24 unanswered points after that run and they won, 27-17.

“I think that’€™s the National Football League,” Belichick said. “That’€™s the way it is in most every week in every game. Look, the Dolphins have a lot of great players, a lot of great coaches. They’€™re very good at what they do, too. They have tough guys to match up on and it’€™s very competitive, very challenge every single week, no matter who you play. Those guys are working just as hard as we are, have just as much talent, have the same opportunity and they do things that cause us problems, just like we’€™ve tried to do things that cause other people problems. There’€™s certainly a punching, counter-punching type of thing.”

The same could be said of the defensive scheme, which included a few more blitzes than normal from a Belichick team. Again, jiggling the fishing rod at just the right time at just the right angle produced results, like when Logan Ryan strip-sacked Ryan Tannehill, allowing Rob Ninkovich to recover and setting up the game-tying touchdown from Brandon Bolden.

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Bill Belichick recalls how Bill Parcells taught him how to manage the winds of change

10.28.13 at 12:11 pm ET
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FOXBORO — As the Patriots were facing a third-and-10 at Miami’s 30 yard line with 18 seconds left in the third quarter Sunday, Bill Belichick recalled the 1986 NFC championship game, and a valuable lesson he learned from Bill Parcells.

“I’€™d say one of the biggest decisions and most critical decisions that I’€™ve ever been a part of on that was in the 1986 NFC Championship Game against the Redskins,” Belichick recalled Monday in a conference call. “It was a windy day in Giants Stadium. We’€™ve had many of those and we won the toss and Coach [Bill] Parcells elected to take the wind which wasn’€™t very common. It wasn’€™t a very common decision because, let’€™s face it, you take it in the first quarter you’€™re not going to have it in the second quarter.

“That was what he decided to do and we were able to really take advantage of that situation against the Redskins. We got three stops and 17 points and we had a 17-0 lead at the end of the first quarter in part due to the wind, good defense and good offense helped of course. But the field position was huge and that ended up being the final score of the game. That decision, the initial points and the way that the game started really was a huge part of what was reflected in a huge degree to that decision that Bill made. That was a good lesson for me to learn in my career. It was a great decision by Coach Parcells.”

Sunday was another windy day for Belichick, this time with a 20 MPH breeze out of the north and behind the Patriots for 18 more seconds in a tie game. Belichick decided to call the first of his three second half timeouts after second down so he could be assured of holding the wind for the last two plays of the quarter and a potential go-ahead field goal.

Sure enough, third down was an incomplete pass and Stephen Gostkowski was brought on for the 48-yard field goal that would give the Patriots the lead for good. As it turned out, the incompletion probably saved Belichick another timeout. Gostkowski made it easily and Belichick talked about the decision to use the timeout in great detail Monday.

“We were at that point where we were in field goal range but it was a long field goal and it felt like if we changed ends of the field then that field goal range might not be there as evidenced by when we went for it on fourth down in the fourth quarter going into the wind in a similar field position situation,” Belichick said. “When the clock was running there, we wanted to try to give ourselves a chance. Of course in a close game like that, the game was tied at the time, you hate to waste timeouts because they can be valuable at the end, as we’€™ve seen many times this year, but I felt like it was worth it to be able to have a better opportunity on the kick. Not saying that Steve couldn’€™t have made it going the other way, I just think it would have been a harder kick based on the conditions that were out there yesterday. Then we threw the incomplete pass and that might have helped us there, because had we completed the pass and not gotten the first down, then that would have been another situation and decision whether to use another timeout to preserve that but fortunately we didn’€™t have to do that.

“If we had converted, then obviously we would have then gone into the fourth quarter but it would have been closer to the goal line, at least at the start, if we had picked up the first down and then been able to, even if we got stopped, it would have been a kick that I would have felt better about going that direction. It wasn’€™t just the direction of the wind, there was also significant crosswind that all the specialists had to deal with. Yeah, of course, back to the first days I remember watching football, playing, watching, being a part of it, the wind conditions are always a factor in the kicking game first and then in the passing game.”

Read More: Bill Belichick, Bill Parcells, Giants Stadium, Miami Dolphins

Tom Brady on D&C: Regarding reports of hand injury, ‘For this time of year, I feel exceptional’

10.28.13 at 8:28 am ET
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Tom Brady made his weekly appearance on the Dennis & Callahan show Monday morning, a day after the Patriots’ 27-17 comeback victory over the Dolphins.

Brady completed 13-of-22 passes for 116 yards and a touchdown as New England scored 24 consecutive points in rallying from a 17-3 halftime deficit to avoid losing consecutive AFC East games.

“Our execution was better,” Brady said of the second-half surge. “We made some plays. We took advantage of some field position and turnovers. That was the difference. Obviously, we got off to a really slow start. But we’re never out of the game when we’ve got plenty of guys that can make plays, offensively and defensively. We played great on special teams. Steve [Gostkowski] made a really big field goal there in the third quarter.

“Things just kind of came together, we caught a few breaks. That’s what it took yesterday.”

Brady said the team was able to regroup at halftime by relying on the experience from the first six games of the season.

“Yesterday I think there was really an inner confidence with our team with what’s gone on over the course of the first half of the season,” he said. “We’ve dealt with some adversity, we’ve been in some really tough situations and found a way to dig ourselves out of it.

“It’s not always going to be perfect. It’s not always going to be 40-point leads going into the third quarter. You have to deal with the situation, whatever it is, try to go out and put the bad plays behind you and move forward. Try to figure out a way to make more good plays and ultimately put points on the board.”

There are reports that Brady is playing with an injury to his right hand. While he said he’s “never going to get into how I feel,” he brushed off any insinuation that an injury is the reason for his poor numbers this season.

“I feel great. For this time of year, I feel exceptional,” he said. “I don’t have anything that affects anything I’m doing out on the field. Whatever it is, our lack of play on our offense is more of a lack of execution than anything else. We’ll focus on that this week and try to go out there and try to get to 7-2. I know it hasn’t been perfect, and there’s a lot of things that we need to do better. But at the same time, we’re in a pretty good position in our division. We’ve just got to go out there and be able to try to see if we can make a lot of improvements here in the second half of the year.”

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Checking in on Patriots rookies halfway through their first season

10.28.13 at 8:00 am ET
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Over the first eight games of the 2013 season, the Patriots rookies continue to become more important pieces of the puzzle on both sides of the ball. While the majority of the focus has been on receivers Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins and Josh Boyce, a solid grouping of rookies has emerged on defense, including defensive tackles Joe Vellano and Chris Jones and defensive back Logan Ryan.

According to veteran defensive back Devin McCourty, it’s easy to see why the group has improved over the last few games.

“They’re not thinking about it. They’re just saying, ‘I’m up. This is my opportunity,’ and they’re just going out there are playing,” said McCourty, who added that it hasn’t necessarily been a case of the rookies asking too many questions.

“We don’t go up to them and tell them. They just have to execute what their job is,” he said. “Go out there and make plays. ‘You wouldn’t be in this opportunity if we didn’t feel like you couldn’t be out there making plays,’ so guys like Chris and Joe up front, making pays like they’re doing, we expect that out of them. They’re here for a reason. They’re just doing their job, and it’s been great.”

And at this point, it’s clear they are rookies in name only.

“It’s getting close [at this point],” McCourty said. “At this point, they’ve played a full preseason, a full training camp, a good amount of games ‘€¦ they’re still rookies on paper, but they still can’t play like rookies and act like rookies, especially with things that have happened on our team. Those guys, I think they’re ready for that role.”

Here’s a quick thumbnail check on how the New England rookies have done to this point in the season.

Aaron Dobson: Dobson had one of the finest games of his rookie season Sunday against the Dolphins, coming away with four catches on five targets for 60 yards and a touchdown. (For Dobson, he now has a three-game stretch of 13 catches for 157 yards and a touchdown.) Overall, through seven games (four starts), the 6-foot-3, 200-pounder out of Marshall has 26 catches for 324 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

Kenbrell Thompkins: The undrafted free agent out of Cincinnati had a good start — including a six-catch, 127-yard performance against the Falcons, as well as the game-winning touchdown catch against the Saints — on the way to 23 catches for 334 yards and four touchdowns through eight games. He’s struggled as of late for a few reasons, not the least of which is the fact that his early success drew the attention of some opposing defensive coordinators. As a result, the 6-foot-1, 195-pounder has drawn tougher and tougher assignments over the last few weeks.

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Read More: Aaron Dobson, Chris Jones, Duron Harmon, Jamie Collins



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