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Aaron Rodgers sits out Thursday practice for Packers

12.16.10 at 4:11 pm ET
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FOXBORO ‘€” The Packers had two key players ‘€” quarterback Aaron Rodgers and linebacker Frank Zombo ‘€” miss Thursday practice. Here’s the complete injury report:

Out
DE Cullen Jenkins (calf)

Did Not Participate
QB Aaron Rodgers (concussion)
LB Frank Zombo (knee)

Limited Participation
G Darryn Colledge (knee)
LB Clay Mattews (shin)
DE Ryan Pickett (ankle)
S Anthony Smith (ankle)
CB Charles Woodson (toe/ankle)

Full Participation
S Atari Bigby (hamstring)
T Chad Clifton (knees)
FB Korey Hall (knee)
CB Pat Lee (ankle)
G Josh Sitton (knee)

Read More: injury report, Packers,

Four defensive linemen miss practice for Patriots

12.16.10 at 4:05 pm ET
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FOXBORO ‘€” The Patriots had four defensive linemen ‘€” Ron Brace, Myron Pryor, Gerard Warren and Mike Wright ‘€” all did not practice for the Patriots Thursday afternoon. Here’s the complete injury report from the Patriots:

Did Not Participate
DL Ron Brace (concussion)
NT Myron Pryor (back)
DL Gerard Warren (knee)
DL Mike Wright (concussion)

Limited Participation
QB Tom Brady (right shoulder/foot)
WR Deion Branch (knee)
CB Devin McCourty (rib)

Full Participation
CB Kyle Arrington (elbow)

Read More: injury report, Patriots,

Turnovers taste great this time of year to Vince Wilfork and the Pats’ D

12.16.10 at 2:38 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Forget the offensive comparisons to 2007. It’s the defense – and more specifically – the turnovers that are leading this Patriots team down a path that is looking more and more like a Texas trail with every game.

The Patriots lead the NFL in turnover ratio with a plus-18, led by an AFC-best 20 interceptions. The only team with more in the NFL is Philadelphia with a secondary that includes a cornerback by the name of Asante Samuel.

More to the point, the Patriots have had the ability to score off those turnovers, something Bill Belichick has preached to his team beginning with the Super Bowl run in 2001. Remember Super Bowl XXXVI? Ty Law picked off Kurt Warner and raced down the sideline with a momentum-turning pick-6 before halftime. Another unforgettable pick-6 was Tedy Bruschi‘s in the snow against Jay Fieldler and Miami in Dec. 2003 in a 12-0 Patriots win. That season also ended with a Lombardi trophy landing in Foxboro.

This year, Gary Guyton set the tone against Carson Palmer on Opening Day when he came off the edge and picked off the Bengals QB and ran it 59 yards back for six as the Patriots raced out to a 24-3 halftime lead. Those turnovers don’t happen by accident.

‘€œThat’€™s something we’€™re proud of,” defensive captain Vince Wilfork said. “We preach it every day in practice. Guys make plays all the time in practice and I’€™m telling you, it sounds like I’€™m saying this a lot, but I’€™m going to tell you that you can’€™t get enough practice. The more you do in practice, the more plays you make in practice, the more consistent you are in practice, you have a good chance of bringing that out on game day.

“And it’€™s been working for us. And I think that’€™s the best thing, because everybody is starting to see what we do in practice, we can carry that over into the games. And if we do carry it over into games, we’€™ll be OK. So we always talk about turnovers, getting ahead in the turnover game.’€

It was Guyton again last Sunday in the snow when he picked up a Johnny Knox fumble forced by Devin McCourty and returned it 35 yards for a TD. So the turnovers are tasty but taking them to the house are downright delicious.

‘€œThat’€™s even bigger,” Vince Wilfork said. “We’€™ll try to continue to do that, so ‘€¦ I love giving Tom Brady a short field to work with. The best quarterback in the game. Our job is to keep him in those situations. The more we do in practice and the more plays you make in practice, we just have to have confidence in the game that we’€™ll have the same success.’€

Ever since the Miami game on Oct. 4 at Dolphins Stadium, the Patriots have been a turnover machine. That night, during a 41-14 romp over the Dolphins, Rob Ninkovich had the first two interceptions of his career while safety Patrick Chung returned an interception 51 yards for a clinching touchdown late.

“In practice, we do certain drills to emphasize that stuff,” Ninkovich said. “That’s one of the things with our defense, we’ve had a lot of turnovers. Running to the ball has a lot to do with it and also having good awareness of where the ball is at all times.

“There’s always a high emphasis on it with every team because it’s such a big factor in the game. Turnovers, they’re a big deal.”

That night, the Patriots had four interceptions, the second of six games this season the defense has had multiple interceptions in a game. In fact the Patriots have had at least two picks in their last four games, contributing to a total of 12 turnovers forced over the span. The Patriots, meantime, have not committed a single turnover.

“As a defense you’re always looking to create turnovers,” said safety Jarrad Page, who is still waiting to collect his first. “We’re not doing anything special; we’re not going outside the defense when we’re supposed to be in a certain zone, running down there and trying to make plays. We’re just focused on when we get opportunities to intercept the ball, catch the ball, opportunities to strip the ball, strip the ball. Yeah, we’ve been very focused on things like that.

“But it seems like the reason why we’re getting all these [turnovers] we’re just being consistent and doing what we’re supposed to do, being where we’re supposed to be and the ball is coming to us.”

Read More: Chicago Bears, Cincinnati Bengals, Devin McCourty, Gary Guyton

The Big Nickel: Thursday with Vince Wilfork, an injury update and meet the two new guys

12.16.10 at 1:54 pm ET
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FOXBORO ‘€” The five most important things you need to know about the Patriots on Thursday:

1. The highlight of most Thursdays is the appearance of defensive lineman Vince Wilfork, and he certainly didn’€™t disappoint this week.
In an almost 10-minute Q&A with reporters he discussed a wide variety of topics, including the importance of playing with consistency, forcing takeaways and the play of both Gerard Warren and Jerod Mayo. Here are a few highlights:

On playing with consistency: ‘€œWhen your number is called, you have to be ready to perform, and perform pretty well, so I think as a team, it’€™s not just certain positions. You just can’€™t say it’€™s just the defensive line or the offensive line. I think as a team, you have to be consistent, day in and day out, and most of the time, that starts in practice. I think any football team will tell you that preparation is the key to everything. If you don’€™t prepare well, you won’€™t have a chance on game day. So we’€™ve been through those days. We came through a practice in a week where we say, ‘€˜You know what? I hope we have it on Sunday.’€™ And it wasn’€™t the case. But we’€™re more consistent. We’€™re starting to get more consistent. Everybody is starting to rally around each other and trust one another out there on the field. So I’€™m happy with the way things are going, but we just have to keep striving forward and keep our head down and keep fighting. It’€™s the only thing we can do right now.’€

On the Patriots’€™ defense and its’€™ ability to force takeaways: ‘€œThat’€™s something we’€™re proud of. We preach it every day in practice. Guys make plays all the time in practice and I’€™m telling you, it sounds like I’€™m saying this a lot, but I’€™m going to tell you that you can’€™t get enough practice. The more you do in practice, the more plays you make in practice, the more consistent you are in practice, you have a good chance of bringing that out on game day. And it’€™s been working for us. And I think that’€™s the best thing, because everybody is starting to see what we do in practice, we can carry that over into the games. And if we do carry it over into games, we’€™ll be OK. So we always talk about turnovers, getting ahead in the turnover game.’€

And the ability to turn those into points: ‘€œThat’€™s even bigger. We’€™ll try to continue to do that, so … I love giving Tom Brady a short field to work with. The best quarterback in the game. Our job is to keep him in those situations. The more we do in practice and the more plays you make in practice, we just have to have confidence in the game that we’€™ll have the same success.’€

On his relationship with Warren: ‘€œHe’€™s a helluva player, a helluva person. Smart, intelligent when it comes to football ‘€” and off the field. But it’€™s easy when you can have a veteran, a 10-year vet come in and adjust to a new system and catch on. And he’€™s done that. Everything we’€™ve asked of him, he’€™s done it. He’€™s taught people, the rookies. Even me. We sat down and watch film all the time. It’€™s very special when you sit back and hear him talk about the game itself. He’€™s very, very smart, so I’€™m happy to have him on this side with me, and he makes my job a little easier at times and probably vice-versa. We’€™re in it together, and he’€™s a heckuva player and I’€™m happy he’€™s here. He’€™s been doing a good job for us every week. I’€™m pretty sure he’€™s excited to be here, excited to be a part of something, a winning organization and a great group of guys.’€

And on Jerod Mayo ‘€” who he said could play at the U ‘€” and his tackle totals: ‘€œI’€™ll tell you, he’€™s an every down player. He’€™s every bit of a linebacker you’€™d want from a defensive person to a football player. And to be a middle linebacker in this game, you have to be able to tackle well. I know he’€™s taking it a little personal if he misses a tackle or whatever. I don’€™t think he misses many. I’€™m not sure, you’€™d have to ask him. I don’€™t think I’€™ve seen him miss one. But don’€™t quote me on that one. But he’€™s a very good tackler. He works his tail off. We see that guy working, his backers see him working, [and it] makes it easier for us to go out there and work, especially when you have somebody that’€™s giving 100 percent every play and playing every snap, that’€™s tough. The guy’€™s on special teams. He’€™s put together very, very well and he’€™s meant a lot to this organization and this team, especially for me to be a defensive lineman. He actually means a lot for me. Even though I’€™m taking up blocks for him I’€™m happy to have a man like Jerod with me. He’€™s probably one of the top guys at the position right now.’€
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Read More: aaron rodgers, Bill Belichick, Brandon Deaderick, Chevis Jackson

Pats practice Thursday: Tom Brady and Devin McCourty return

12.16.10 at 1:30 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Tom Brady and Devin McCourty returned to Patriots practice Thursday as the team practiced outside in slightly warmer conditions in preparation for Sunday night’s game against Green Bay.

Brady received another off day on Wednesday, as has been the case in practice the last several weeks while McCourty returned one day after missing practice with a rib injury, sustained in the win in Chicago on Sunday.

Four players – all along the defensive line – were still missing as Ron Brace, Mike Wright, Myron Pryor and Gerard Warren were not spotted during the open portion of practice. The team practiced in sweats and shells for the second straight day.

Wright is still dealing with the effects of a concussion while Pryor has a nagging back injury

Read More: Devin McCourty, Gerard Warren, Mike Wright, Myron Pryor

Vince Wilfork is hardly concerned about the Pro Bowl

12.16.10 at 12:46 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork said Thursday he isn’t worried about his current third-place standing in AFC Pro Bowl balloting among defensive tackles. Voting ends Monday night following the Bears-Vikings game.

The race among AFC tackles is a fierce one simply because of the level of competition as Wilfork is competing against the like of Baltimore’s Haloti Ngata and Pittsburgh’s Casey Hampton. The Pro Bowl voting process is split one third between fans, players and coaches.

“That’s something I’m not even worried about right now,” Wilfork said. “I’m all about Green Bay this week. Whatever happens with that, happens. We’ve got a bigger task at hand this week than worrying about the Pro Bowl. I’ll leave it where it’s at.”

One Patriots player who has overtaken the competition in the AFC is quarterback Tom Brady, who at last count had 947,194 fan votes while Peyton Manning fell to second with 806,025.

One of Wilfork’s biggest concerns and that of the defense is preparing for the possibility of facing one of two quarterbacks – either Aaron Rodgers or Matt Flynn – this Sunday night at Gillette Stadium.

“It’s tough, very tough,” Wilfork said of preparing for two quarterbacks. “But they run the offense very well. It’s a pretty good team. They’ve lost some close games and won some big games so we’re going to have our hands full dealing with these two guys, dealing with the offense in general. They have no excuses. They come to work every week.”

The Pro Bowl heads back to Hawaii this year and takes place on Jan. 30, one week before Super Bowl XLV in Arlington, TX.

Read More: Casey Hampton, Haloti Ngata, Hawaii, nfl

‘Sunday Night Football’ crew weighs in on Patriots-Packers

12.16.10 at 9:27 am ET
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In advance of this weekend’€™s Patriots-Packers game on NBC’€™s ‘€œSunday Night Football,’€ a handful of people who will work the game for NBC ‘€” including former Patriots safety Rodney Harrison, former Indianapolis coach Tony Dungy, play-by-play man Al Michaels and analyst Cris Collinsworth ‘€” talked a little about the matchup between New England and Green Bay.

MICHAELS ON PATRIOTS: ‘€œRight now, there is nobody that doesn’€™t think the New England Patriots are the best.’€

COLLINSWORTH ON PATRIOTS: ‘€œThey are a clear-cut Super Bowl favorite.’€

HARRISON ON PATRIOTS OFFENSE: ‘€œ Offensively they are playing at the top of their game right now.  Tom Brady is clearly the MVP and the Patriots are the best team in the league.’€

HARRISON ON PACKERS PLAYING ZONE DEFENSE: ‘€œWith Green Bay playing a zone defense, this sets up perfectly for Brady.  He loves to exploit the zone.  He finds himself a lot of holes and he throws to a lot of different receivers.  He will pick that zone apart.’€

HARRISON ON PACKERS: ‘€œGreen Bay was off just a little bit (against Detroit) and late in the season this is when you start seeing teams lose focus.  If you are Green Bay, you must win the division to get into the playoffs in the NFC.’€

DUNGY ON THE PATRIOTS DEFENSE: ‘€œTom is playing great, but a lot of people are overlooking their defense.  They’€™ve shut people down the last three or four weeks.  They blanketed the Jets and shut Chicago down.  This defense is playing better than people give them credit for.’€

HARRISON ON PATRIOTS DEFENSE: ‘€œThe strength of this defense used to be the defensive front, but you have to now look at the linebacker position and the secondary.  They’€™re creating turnovers and they’€™re scoring touchdowns.  That is why Bill Belichick brought these young guys in.’€

Read More: Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Rodney Harrison, Tony Dungy
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