It Is What It Is
Follow football writer Christopher Price at In addition, get the latest updates at
A Patriots Blog Blog Network

Setting the AFC championship scene: Patriots-Ravens

01.20.13 at 2:01 pm ET
By   |   Comments

FOXBORO — High winds and falling temperatures are expected in Foxboro as the Patriots shoot for their sixth AFC championship in the the last 12 seasons under Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.

Game time temperatures are expected in the mid-30s and are expected to drop into the mid-20s throughout the game but the bigger factor will be winds between 15-20 miles an hour with gusts up to 35 MPH making it feel like 14 degrees in the second half.

The only significant injury for the Patriots is the loss of tight end Rob Gronkowski to a broken left arm, suffered last Sunday in the win over the Texans.

Chandler Jones (ankle) and Danny Woodhead (left thumb) should both be available to play and both were listed as probable for the game after fully participating in practice on Friday.

As for the Ravens, the most notable injury could be running back Bernard Pierce (knee). He did not practice on Thursday and was limited on Friday, and was officially listed as questionable on Friday.

This is the fourth rematch in AFC championship history since 1975. The Steelers beat the Raiders in 1974 and 1975 before losing the 1976 game in Oakland as the Raiders finally broke through and won Super Bowl XI. In 1978 and 79, the Steelers hosted the Houston Oilers, and beat them both times on the way to winning Super Bowl XII and Super Bowl XIII.

It happened again in 1986 and ’87. In Jan. 1987, the Broncos beat the Browns on “The Drive” in Cleveland. The next year, Ernest Byner fumbled in the closing seconds and the Broncos held on to beat the Browns at Mile High Stadium.

The Raiders are the only the team to win an AFC championship rematch.

As for the season history, the Patriots will be looking for revenge after losing a 30-21 fourth-quarter lead and falling 31-30 on a controversial Justin Tucker field goal as time expired at M&T Bank Stadium. The field goal appeared to go over the right upright but replacement officials ruled it good.

Ray Rice had 101 yards rushing on just 20 carries in that game while Joe Flacco was 28-of-39 for 382 yards and three touchdowns. Brady, who last week set the all-time NFL playoff record for quarterback wins with 17, was 28-of-41 for 335 yards and a touchdown in the Sept. 23 game in Baltimore. The high winds at Gillette Stadium today figure to drastically impact the deep passing game.

The press box at Gillette Stadium will be a busy place today as over 600 credentials have been issued to local and national media.

Some other nuggets for today:

  • The Patriots are 7-1 in the AFC championship, including 4-0 at home.
  • This is the Patriots ninth appearance in the AFC championship, only Pittsburgh (15), Dallas (14), San Francisco (14) and Oakland (11) have more.
  • The Patriots are looking for back-to-back AFC championships for the second time, having turned the trick in 2003-04.
  • The Patriots were first in the NFL in total offense per game at 427.9 yards and points (34.8).
  • The Patriots were first in the NFL in turnover margin at +25. Ravens were tied for eighth at +9.

    For more Patriots news, visit the team page at WEEI-FM 93.7 will broadcast the AFC Championship game between the Patriots and Ravens at 6:30 p.m.

  • Read More: AFC Championship, Baltimore Ravens, Bill Belichick, joe flacco

    Patriots add defensive lineman Marcus Forston to 53-man roster

    01.19.13 at 4:37 pm ET
    By   |   Comments

    The Patriots announced Saturday they have signed rookie defensive lineman Marcus Forston to the 53-man roster from the practice squad. Forston, 22, was originally signed by the Patriots as a rookie free agent on May 10, 2012 out of Miami. The 6-foot-3, 305-pounder, made the 53-man roster rout of training camp and was inactive for the first two games of the 2012 season before making his NFL debut at Baltimore on  Sept. 23. He was released on Sept. 26 and signed to the practice squad on Sept. 28.

    Read More: Marcus Forston,

    Ten things you have to know about Patriots-Ravens

    01.19.13 at 2:47 pm ET
    By   |   Comments

    Here’€™s everything you need to know about Sunday’€™s Patriots-Ravens game:

    Our three favorite matchups on the night:

    1. Linebacker Brandon Spikes and defensive lineman Vince Wilfork against running back Ray Rice: It’€™s No. 1 on our list almost every week for a reason — more often than not, the Patriots have won the battle up front, and when it comes to stopping the run, Spikes and Wilfork are key. Rice had a tremendous night against New England the first time they met this year — he was the only running back to break the century mark against the Patriots this season, as he had 20 carries for 101 yards and a touchdown on the ground (and tore it up through the air as well, finishing with five catches for 49 yards). Meanwhile, the Ravens are almost singularly focused on trying to stop Wilfork this week, and for good reason, as he is in the midst of one of the finest streaks of a thoroughly impressive career. Both he and Spikes will have the primary responsibilities of trying to slow down Rice.

    2. Defensive back Aqib Talib against wide receiver Torrey Smith: The premier matchup on the outside. The addition of Talib has allowed the Patriots to do some more things defensively, including more man coverage (as opposed to keeping cornerbacks on one side or another, as they have preferred to do in the past). It’€™s also allowed the Patriots to move some defenders around where they can play to their strengths, like Devin McCourty at safety and Kyle Arrington in the slot. As a result, Talib has found himself in one-on-one situations this season with the opposing teams’€™ best receiver — Andre Johnson, Reggie Wayne and the like. With Anquan Boldin more of a slot presence, look for Talib and Smith to be one-on-one outside. Smith has become one of the best deep threats in the league — he’€™s not necessarily an elite pass catcher in the mold of Wayne or Johnson (he had 49 receptions for 855 yards and eight touchdowns in the regular season), but his faster than Fios speed makes him exceptionally dangerous. (His 17.4 yards per catch in the regular season was fourth-best in the league.)

    3. The Patriots running backs against the Baltimore defense: The combination of Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, Danny Woodhead and Brandon Bolden have done am excellent job bringing true balance to the New England offense this season, but were stymied the first time around against the Ravens — the Patriots managed just 77 rushing yards as a team that September evening. They will obviously be terrifically important this time around when it comes to establishing a ground game, but the backs — particularly Vereen and Woodhead, the latter of whom is expected to play after suffering a thumb injury last week against the Texans — will also be important in the passing game. The Patriots were able to get Vereen matched up on a linebacker on a handful of occasions in the passing game, and made some nice gains as a result. Meanwhile, Woodhead’€™s presence as a pass catcher is well-detailed, as he remains the first New England running back since Kevin Faulk in 2008 to finish a season with at least 40 catches and 40 carries. With the Baltimore linebackers having major issues in coverage this season, that appears to be a winnable matchup for the New England offense.

    (One more matchup: linebacker/edge rusher Rob Ninkovich against right tackle Michael Oher: The Patriots have flipped their outside pass rushers on several occasions this year, and this might be one of those times where they can exploit probably the weakest overall link in Baltimore’€™s offensive line. Oher was flipped from left tackle to right late in the season to make room for Bryant McKinnie, but has allowed 10 sacks and 29 quarterback hurries on the season, tops on the team — that includes four quarterback hurries and a hit the first time these two teams played back in September. Ninkovich continues to make big plays on a consistent basis for the New England defense, including an interception last week against the Texans, and could find himself in another big spot this week against the Ravens.)

    4. Under the radar opponent who Patriots’€™ fans need to know: As under-the-radar as a Pro Bowler can be, Jacoby Jones is a guy who can mess things up in a real hurry for the Patriots. A peerless kick returner — he led the league in average kick returns during the regular season at 30.7 yards per return — he must have been salivating at the sight of the New England kick coverage unit last week against the Texans and Daniel Manning. In their divisional playoff win, the Patriots yielded three kick returns of 30-plus yards to Manning, including a 94-yarder. That needs to be fixed if New England is going to win this game. (The strange thing? The Patriots were one of the best teams in the league in the regular season when it came to kick coverage — New England was third-best in the NFL, allowing an average of 20.5 per kick return.)

    5. By the numbers (tie, both courtesy of Nuggetpalooza) One: From 2010-2012, the Patriots are a combined +70 in turnover margin in the regular season, by far the best in the league in that span (Packers +41, 49ers +36). But during that same span in the postseason (five games), New England has a minus-four turnover margin, tied with the Saints for the worst in the league in that span. Baltimore’€™s +10 is the best postseason turnover margin over the last three seasons. Two: While Joe Flacco and the Ravens never threw a pick on a long ball (a pass play of 20-plus yards) during the season, the Patriots’€™ pass defense picked off a league high eight such passes out of 78 opponent attempts (a league high).

    6. Quote from an opposing scout regarding this Sunday: ‘€œThis week against the Ravens, the Patriots should use the multiple attack that they used last week, for several reasons. They have several personnel matchup advantages against the Baltimore defense. As we saw last week, Shane Vereen, out of backfield as a receiver is a winnable matchup. In addition, Aaron Hernandez, Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd spread out the defense individually and as a group, and will also make things tougher for a Ravens’€™ secondary that has matchup problems. Adding Stevan Ridley and potential of the run makes it even harder for Baltimore to prepare for, especially when several of the pieces are in packages together and New England runs the hurry-up, no-huddle offense.’€ — For more of the scout’€™s breakdown CLICK HERE.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Read More: 2013 playoffs, AFC Championship,

    Nuggetpalooza: My stats nuggets on the Patriots vs. Ravens AFC Title Game

    01.19.13 at 10:35 am ET
    By   |   Comments

    Tomorrow at chilly Gillette, it’s a rematch of last year’s AFC Championship Game between the Patriots and Ravens for a berth in the Super Bowl. The Patriots are a solid favorite, but you can’t take anything for granted in a game like this. Here are some stats that struck me as interesting:

    * – The Patriots have recorded at least one takeaway in their last 27 regular season games, the longest current streak in the league. Only the Bengals (15) ended 2012 with a streak of 10 games or more. However, the Patriots have managed only three total takeaways in their last five postseason games, getting one each against Houston, Baltimore, and Denver, but none against the Giants last year and the Jets in January, 2011.

    Note this: From 2010-2012, the Patriots are a combined +70 in turnover margin in the regular season, by far the best in the league in that span (Packers +41, 49ers +36). But during that same span in the postseason (five games), New England has a minus-four turnover margin, tied with the Saints for the worst in the league in that span. Baltimore’s +10 is the best postseason turnover margin over the last three seasons.

    Note this: Baltimore’s defense has recorded at least one takeaway in all 19 postseason games in franchise history, the third longest postseason streak by any team since the merger in 1970:

    31 – Dolphins (1970-1995)
    25 – Redskins (1982-2012)
    19 – Ravens (2000-2012)
    17 – Patriots (2001-2009)

    * – During the regular season, Baltimore attempted 85 passes thrown more than 20 yards downfield, the third most in the league. Only the Colts (88) and the Lions (87) tried more. The Ravens were the only NFL team that never threw an interception on a long pass (21+ yards downfield). However, their 9.8 average yards per attempt on those passes ranked just 20th in the league. The 49ers (17.4), Saints (15.8), and the Redskins (15.2) made up the top three. New England’s long passes averaged 10.1 yards per attempt (19th) and suffered three picks.

    Note this: While Joe Flacco and the Ravens never threw a pick on a long ball during the season, the Patriots’ pass defense picked off a league high eight such passes out of 78 opponent attempts (also a league high). They had just eight such picks over the previous two seasons combined.

    * – Baltimore’s miraculous game-tying touchdown last Saturday came culminated a 77-yard drive in three plays. In the last two regular seasons combined, the Ravens had only two touchdown drives of 75 yards or more that took three plays or less, the fewest such touchdowns in the league in that span. The second fewest such touchdowns? The New England Patriots, with three. Only one of those came this season, the 83-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady to Shane Vereen early in the second quarter on Thanksgiving night against the Jets.

    Note this: Which team led the NFL in such “quick strike” touchdowns over the last two seasons? The Titans, with 10.

    * – The Patriots allowed 14 touchdowns of 20 yards or more this season, their most since allowing a league high 20 back in 1995. It was just the third time in the 18 seasons that they’ve tracked the stat that they’ve allowed 10 or more such touchdowns. They allowed only 13 such touchdowns in the 2010 and 2011 seasons combined.

    Note this: The Pats allowed a 25-yard touchdown pass last week against Houston (Schaub to Posey in the fourth quarter) and one in last year’s AFC Championship Game against the Ravens (29 yards, Flacco to Torrey Smith in the third quarter).

    Note this too: Baltimore had THREE touchdowns of 20 or more yards in last Saturday’s win at Denver. Since 2000, the Ravens have scored three such touchdowns in a game (regular season or playoffs) only one other time (2009 against the Vikings). Read the rest of this entry »

    Bill Belichick puts Matthew Slater in a very special class

    01.19.13 at 9:50 am ET
    By   |   Comments

    FOXBORO — Bill Belichick looks for leadership from his players in various ways. He looks for it on the practice field. He looks for it in the classroom and off the field.

    He also looks for it when things don’t go well.

    For the Patriots’ special teams unit, that would be last week. And Matthew Slater is the captain of that unit. Slater was seen yelling and getting after his team after allowing several big plays last week in the 41-28 win over the Texans. It was about the only area of the game that didn’t go as planned.

    They allowed a 94-yard kickoff return to Danieal Manning to open the game and another big return in the second quarter as the Texans scored a touchdown that gave them new life and momentum to cut the lead to 17-13 at the half.

    The way Slater has handled himself in the five years he’s been with the Patriots hasn’t gone unnoticed by Belichick. He was voted special teams captain last year and earned the honor again this year. Slater, says Belichick, is the perfect candidate to stabilize the unit on the field.

    “Matt has done a great job for us,” Belichick said on Friday. “He’€™s taken that role’€¦in my time here I’€™ve been very fortunate to have two outstanding, I mean exemplary, players at leadership positions on special teams with Larry Izzo and Matt Slater. I thought that really when we had Larry that that was, there’€™d never be another one like that, that that was so rare and Matt’€™s different than Larry but I think in his own way equally effective. Matt’€™s really, he’€™s tremendous. His attitude, his work ethic, the example that he sets, the way he interacts with his teammates in a really good way.

    “I don’€™t know that a player could do anymore than what he’€™s done for us in that role for the last several years, probably since after his second year. He’€™s embraced his role on the team, he’€™s been very good at it and he e makes other players around him better. I think that’€™s a great compliment to him and the job he does. He’€™s smart, he’€™s well prepared, he works hard, he has good skill, good talent, he’€™s tough, he’€™s a good playmaker for us. I could go on about him all day. We’€™re lucky to have him on this football team. He does a tremendous job for us.”

    Slater’s attitude about putting the past in the past and keeping it there, after a game like last week, is exactly what Belichick is looking for. Read the rest of this entry »

    Read More: AFC Championship, Baltimore Ravens, Bill Belichick, Jacoby Jones

    Tom Brady preparing ‘every minute’ to call ‘the best stuff’ for Sunday’s game

    01.18.13 at 5:58 pm ET
    By   |   Comments

    FOXBORO — The question to Tom Brady on Friday was met with a smile and a laugh.

    How was practice this week?

    “It was perfect; There was not one bad play,” Brady said tongue-in-cheek. “No, there are always mistakes made and you correct them and you try to learn from whatever mistakes you make. I wish they were perfect, but not often.”

    Seriously, how does Brady know he’s had a good week of practice and is ready for the game Sunday?

    “That is a good question, probably for coach Belichick; he is the one that always analyzes our practices,” Brady said. “We try and go out and be consistent and go out and execute the plays that are called. A lot of times, you put in your first and second down plays, your third down plays, your red area plays. It’€™s your first look at them on Wednesday. Like today [Friday] we put in the red area; it’€™s your first look at the red area plays.

    “You go out and you see how you practice them. You see how they look. If they don’€™t look good, you make changes and make adjustments. If they look good, maybe you build on them. Maybe you don’€™t do anything with them. You put plays in, you throw plays out. That is the whole preparation leading up to the game, trying to understand the game plan, add a few things, take a few things out so what you are calling is the best stuff and the stuff that you have the most confidence in.”

    It was 25 degrees at practice Friday inside Gillette with a brisk wind driving it down to a wind chill around 15, nearly ideal since that’s what it will likely feel like on Sunday evening at 6:30 as the sun sets and the game is played in the dark and cold.

    “Coach tries to always get us acclimated to the conditions,” Brady said. “We’€™ve practiced in the stadium every Friday so it was good to be out there and try to simulate what it will be like on Sunday. It was cold today though.”

    Then came the classic Brady answer to how much more preparation he puts in between the last practice on Friday and game time?

    “Every minute, I think every minute,” Brady said. “You just keep pushing through. You finish practice today and you go in and watch film on practice and see what we have to do better and that goes right through the night. Tomorrow morning we have meetings and that goes right through the afternoon and tomorrow night we have meetings and then Sunday mornings we have meetings. It goes right up until game time. It just doesn’€™t stop. You really can’€™t turn it off at this point.”

    Here is the remainder of Tom Brady’s rare Friday 14-minute session:

    Q: Can you give us a glimpse of where you are in your preparation on a weekly basis when you reach a Friday?

    TB: You use all the time you’€™ve got, so it goes right up to game time. I don’€™t think you ever really let down or stop thinking about the game. Certainly I don’€™t. So the preparation started as soon as our game ended last week and you just try and put as much as you can into it and hopefully it is enough. Read the rest of this entry »

    Read More: AFC Championship, Baltimore Ravens, New England Patriots, nfl

    Chandler Jones, Danny Woodhead ‘probable’ for Sunday

    01.18.13 at 4:14 pm ET
    By   |   Comments

    FOXBORO — In a sign they should be ready to go on Sunday, rookie defensive end Chandler Jones (ankle) and running back Danny Woodhead (left thumb) fully participated in practice Friday inside Gillette Stadium. Both are listed among five Patriots as “probable” for Sunday’s AFC championship against the Ravens. Trevor Scott, Marquice Cole and Nick McDonald also returned fully participated for a second straight day as the Patriots practiced outside in the bitter cold with 52 players. The team has not yet filled the roster spot vacated when Rob Gronkowski was placed on season-ending injured reserve on Thursday with a forearm injury.

    As for the Ravens, running back Bernard Pierce (knee) returned to practiced on Friday on a limited basis after missing Thursday. Pierce is among four Ravens listed as questionable for the game. LB Dannell Ellerbe (ankle/back), FB Vonta Leach (knee/ankle) and WR David Reed (thigh) are also questionable. CB Asa Jackson (thigh) did not participate for a third straight day and was ruled out.

    Here is Friday’s complete report:

    Full Participation

    DB Marquice Cole(finger) Probable

    DE Chandler Jones (ankle) Probable

    RB Danny Woodhead (thumb) Probable

    OL Nick McDonald (shoulder) Probable

    DE Trevor Scott (knee) Probable

    For more Patriots news, visit the team page at WEEI-FM 93.7 will broadcast the AFC championship game between the Patriots and Ravens on Sunday at 6:30 p.m.

    Read More: AFC Championship, Baltimore Ravens, Bernard Pierce, chandler jones
    Latest on Twitter
    Draft Kings
    Patriots Box Score
    Patriots Schedule
    Player News
    Patriots Headlines
    NFL Headlines
    Tips & Feedback