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Target Practice: Tracking opportunities in Patriots passing game

12.10.13 at 6:15 am ET
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Targets have been compiled by the NFL since the start of the 2009 season, and while it remains a vaguely imperfect stat ‘€” a badly thrown ball from a quarterback can often go against the record of the receiver as opposed to the quarterback ‘€” it remains a good indication of the confidence level a passer might have in his pass catcher. Here’€™s a look at the target breakdown for the New England passing game after the first 13 games of the 2013 season:

WR Julian Edelman: 76 catches on 110 targets
WR Danny Amendola: 41 catches on 63 targets
RB Shane Vereen: 40 catches on 55 targets
TE Rob Gronkowski: 39 catches on 66 targets
WR Aaron Dobson: 35 catches on 72 targets
WR Kenbrell Thompkins: 32 catches on 69 targets
RB Brandon Bolden: 19 catches on 25 targets
TE Michael Hoomanawanui: 10 catches on 14 targets
RB Stevan Ridley: 10 catches on 11 targets
WR Josh Boyce: 5 catches on 12 targets
WR Austin Collie: 4 catches on 8 targets
FB James Develin: 4 catches on 4 targets
TE Matthew Mulligan: 2 catches on 3 targets
RB LeGarrette Blount: 1 catch on 4 targets
TE Zach Sudfeld: 0 catches on 3 targets
RB Leon Washington: 0 catches on 1 target
TE/OL Nate Solder: 0 catches on 1 target

By position
Wide receiver: 193 catches on 334 targets
Running back/fullback: 74 catches on 100 targets
Tight end: 51 catches on 86 targets
Other: 0 catches on 1 target

By way of comparison, here’s a look at the target breakdown through 13 games last season.

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Patriots put Rob Gronkowski on IR, add TE D.J. Williams

12.09.13 at 4:53 pm ET
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The Patriots placed tight end Rob Gronkowski on injured reserve Monday afternoon, officially ending his season.

Gronkowski sustained a right leg in the third quarter of Sunday’s win over the Browns, and reports later indicated he suffered a torn ACL and MCL in his right knee. It marks the second consecutive season that has come to a premature end for Gronkowski, who spent last offseason recovering from multiple surgeries on his forearm and back. (He missed the first six games of the 2013 season as a result.)

Gronkowski is the latest New England star to see his season come to a premature end because of injury — he joins defensive linemen Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly; linebacker Jerod Mayo; and offensive lineman Sebastian Vollmer, all of whom have been placed on season-ending injured reserve.

Gronkowski’s season ends with 39 catches for 592 yards and four touchdowns.

In his place, the Patriots have signed tight end D.J. Williams. Williams was signed by the Patriots on Nov. 27 and saw limited action in the win last Sunday at Houston. Williams, 25, played in seven games with one start for Jacksonville this season before being released by the Jaguars on Nov. 4. The 6-foot-2, 245-pounder originally entered the NFL as a fifth-round draft pick (101st overall) by Green Bay out of Arkansas in 2011. Williams was waived by Green Bay on Aug. 31, and claimed off waivers and awarded to Jacksonville on Sept. 1. He has played in 34 NFL games with three starts and has nine receptions for 70 yards.

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Snapshot of AFC playoff picture: Broncos on top, while Patriots hold on to No. 2 seed

12.09.13 at 4:19 pm ET
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With three games left in the regular season, here’€™s a quick snapshot of the AFC playoff picture:

1. Broncos (11-2). Clinched playoff spot. Combined record of remaining opponents: 12-27
With Denver’€™s win on Sunday, it appears to be pretty close to a done deal that the Broncos are going to walk away with the No. 1 seed in the AFC. Denver has one home game left (a date with the consistently inconsistent 6-7 Chargers), as well as road contests against the Texans and Raiders. If they’€™re able to get past San Diego, the Broncos should be a safe bet to run the table and finish 14-2.

2. Patriots (10-3). Combined record of remaining opponents: 18-21
New England pulled out another come-from-behind win Sunday against the Browns, adding another chapter in their season-long run of comebacks. (For some perspective, according to Scott Kacsmar of Football Outsiders, the Patriots have four wins after trailing by nine or more points in the second half since Week 8. By way of comparison, the Packers have one — Sunday — since 2005.) Whether or not they can keep everything moving in the right direction without Rob Gronkowski is a serious question mark — the Bengals lurk a game behind with three to play — but right now, they still have that second spot.

3. Bengals (9-4). Combined record of remaining opponents: 15-23-1
Cincinnati continues to put pressure on New England for that No. 2 spot — the Bengals came away with a 42-28 win over the Colts Sunday in Cincinnati to remain perfect at home. Quarterback Andy Dalton threw for three touchdowns and ran for another in the win, the third straight victory for the Bengals. At the very least, with a two-game lead with three to play, it appears Cincinnati now has the AFC North title within its grasp. The Bengals have two games against AFC North foes Pittsburgh (on the road) and Baltimore (at home), which could prove to be interesting, but right now, they’€™re a safe bet to at least come away with a division title.

4. Colts (8-5). Combined record of remaining opponents: 16-23
After Sunday’€™s loss in Cincinnati, it appears that the Colts will be locked into the four spot, as they’€™re a game back of the third-seeded Bengals with three to play, while the Chiefs are looking more and more secure as the lead wild-card team at the No. 5 spot. There was a lot to like about where this team was headed over the first half of the season, but the amazing inconsistency down the stretch has been troubling from an overall development standpoint — they’€™ve alternated wins and losses over their last six games. As we said last week, that sort of up-and-down play isn’€™t a sustainable formula for success, especially when it comes to the postseason.

5. Chiefs (10-3). Combined record of remaining opponents: 18-21
Kansas City was able to halt a three-game losing skid Sunday with a 45-10 win thumping of the Redskins on the road, and fundamentally locked up the lead wild card spot in the AFC playoff picture.

6. Ravens (7-6). Combined record of remaining opponents: 28-13
Boy, if Baltimore can close this out down the stretch, no one can accuse them of backing into the postseason. They’€™ve won four of their last five, and have three games left against teams that are a combined 15 games over .500, including a Sunday night date against the Patriots in less than two weeks. And while they’€™ll have to beat back a collection of teams that is just out of the running (including the 7-6 Dolphins, the 6-7 Chargers and the 6-7 Jets), they did get an infusion of talent this past Sunday when tight end Dennis Pitta returned to the lineup for the first time all year after suffering an injury in training camp.

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Knee injury reportedly will sideline Rob Gronkowski for rest of season

12.09.13 at 10:24 am ET
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Rob Gronkowski suffered a torn ACL and MCL in his right knee in Sunday’s win over the Browns, and will be lost for the rest of the 2013 season, according to multiple reports.

“Rob’s going to have more tests today, but that situation doesn’t look too good,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said in his Monday morning conference call with the media.

For the tight end, who sustained the injury in the third quarter against Cleveland after he was felled by T.J. Ward at the end of a 21-yard pass play, it has been a difficult year. After an offseason marked by multiple surgeries on his back and forearm, he missed the first six games of the regular season. He had just been starting to ramp back up — entering Sunday’€™s game against the Browns, he had 27 catches for 419 yards and four touchdowns over the previous four games.

Said Belichick on Monday: “Unfortunately we had to play without Rob in the beginning of the season. … We’ve dealt with that already.”

Going forward, expect the Patriots to lean heavily on Michael Hoomanwanui and Matthew Mulligan at tight end. In addition, early reports indicate New England is in the process of re-signing tight end D.J. Willams to add depth at the position.

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Adam Schefter on D&C: Patriots ‘not nearly as formidable’ without Rob Gronkowski

12.09.13 at 10:03 am ET
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ESPN’€™s Adam Schefter joined Dennis & Callahan on Monday to discuss the potential season-ending injury suffered by Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, and the team’€™s third straight come-from-behind victory on Sunday.

New England scored 13 points in the final 2:39 and overcame a late 12-point deficit to defeat the Browns 27-26 at Gillette Stadium. But the win came with a gigantic loss in the big picture. Schefter reported that the team fears Gronkowski tore his ACL, an injury that will sideline him for the rest of the season.

‘€œThere have been some reports that it’€™s an ACL and an MCL,’€ Schefter said, adding: ‘€œWhen he’€™s out there, they average 32 points, without him there they average 20. They’€™re just a more dynamic offense, a more dangerous offense.’€

The Patriots played the first six games of the season without Gronkowski, who was recovering from multiple offseason surgeries.

‘€œThey are not nearly as formidable without Gronk,’€ Schefter said. ‘€œThis team has been resilient, it has been crafty, it has been incredibly lucky, remarkable, talented, clutch to come back the way that it has. To think that it could go beat a Denver or a Seattle without Gronk, I’€™m not going to say it can’€™t happen because it certainly can, but it just becomes that much more challenging to be able do without a guy like that.’€

Gronkowski’€™s injury history in his young career is becoming extensive. He’€™s broken his arm multiple times, he’€™s had back issues in both college and the pros, and he just suffered perhaps the most serious injury of his football career.

‘€œOne of the knocks on Gronk, and the reason that he slipped to the second round to begin with, was a question of his health,’€ Schefter said, adding: ‘€œThat was why someone as freakish as him was there in the second round.’€

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Tom Brady on D&C: ‘People aren’t satisfied with anything less than our best every single game’

12.09.13 at 8:58 am ET
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After leading the Patriots to a 27-26 victory over the Browns on Sunday, quarterback Tom Brady made his weekly appearance with Dennis & Callahan on Monday morning to discuss the miraculous comeback.

The Patriots trailed by 12 points with just over a minute remaining but rallied with two touchdown passes from Brady to pull out the win.

“You can’t draw them up any better than that,” Brady said. “I know emotionally it’s draining for all of us, because you ride the highs and lows and the waves of the game. But however you can get a win, you get a win, especially in the NFL. There’s teams — Carolina got beat up pretty good yesterday, Seattle got beat; everyone said they’re the best team. You just never know in the NFL.”

The Patriots appeared headed to a disastrous loss against an unheralded Browns team before turning things around late.

“We got booed at halftime,” Brady noted. “We’ve just got such high expectations for our team, and people aren’t satisfied with anything less than our best every single game. It’s just the way it is around here. We’re just trying to go out there and give our best, and whoever’s out there we’re going to try to make the plays to win the game. But it’s a tough league. You sustain injuries. We’re trying to find ways to make different combinations work.

“We’re 10-3, for God’s sake. It hasn’t been all bad this year. There’s been a few decent things in there.”

Sunday marked another late-game comeback for a team that has made a habit out of such finishes this season.

“I think there’s a sense that we’re never out of it,” Brady said. “And we’re not trying to get down, by any means. We’re trying to play well and play from ahead. We got out of it, out of rhythm early, and then we found our rhythm. And when we get our momentum going, we’re pretty good.”

The enthusiasm about the win was tempered somewhat due to an injury to Rob Gronkowski that reportedly will end his season. Asked if the Patriots could still win the Super Bowl without the standout tight end, Brady wouldn’t speculate.

“That’s perfect for you guys to talk about all day, but that’s not something that we engage in or talk about those types of things,” Brady said. “However it ends up playing out — I don’t know anything about the injury or severity of it — but we’ve got a talented group of players that are playing. Every team has players that they wish were out there every down, and if they’re not out there every down you’ve still got to find a way to win.

“Our thoughts are with him, and I know how tough he is and how much he wants to be out there with us. We’ll see how it plays out.”

Added Brady: “If there’s one thing he has, it’s mental toughness. He’ll be back, regardless of what it is, better than ever.”

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What pundits were saying about Patriots on Sunday

12.09.13 at 8:51 am ET
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Here’€™s a quick rundown of what some NFL analysts were saying about the Patriots before and after Sunday’€™s game against the Browns.

Sterling Sharpe on NFL Network on the Patriots, before the game: ‘€œIf they stay healthy, nobody wants them to come to your place or certainly go to Foxborough in the playoffs’€¦This football team’€™s going be hard to deal with down the stretch.’€

Marshall Faulk on NFL Network on Patriots running back Shane Vereen, before the game: ‘€œ[Shane] Vereen, coupled with Tom Brady, could be the best back they’€™ve had come out of the backfield since Brady has been there because of his ability to stretch the field.’€

Michael Irvin on the Patriots on NFL Network before the game: “I say they are built for the long-haul’€¦Their three losses were all by one possession; they were all tough, [hard] fought games. They would blow everybody out for years and then get in the playoffs and go up against a tough team like Baltimore [who would say], ‘€˜We’€™ll just be physical with them.’€™ Now they have this, they have been physical.’€

Tony Dungy on NBC after the game: ‘€œI get so frustrated watching people not know how to play situational football. But good teams, like New England and Baltimore, know how to keep their poise in the final minute.’€

Deion Sanders on NFL Network on the pass interference call on Cleveland cornerback Leon McFadden in the end zone against the Patriots, after the game: “This is suspect. You can call it but it’€™s really not pass interference’€¦You could call it, but you have to let them play because that’€™s going to change the game.’€

Tony Dungy on NBC, who disagreed with crucial defensive pass interference call on Browns late in the game, on the officials in the Browns-Patriots game: ‘€œIn the last two minutes, everybody has to play under pressure, including the officials. In this play, everybody didn’€™t do their job.’€

Willie McGinest on NFL Network after the game, on the Patriots moving forward without tight end Rob Gronkowski: “It’€™s survival mode. They go right back into what they were at the beginning of the year before they had [Rob] Gronkowski when he was hurt; finding different ways to get different guys the football.’€

Rodney Harrison on NBC after the game, talking about Rob Gronkowski’€™s injury: ‘€œIt’€™s hard for me to think they can go very far in the playoffs without his production.’€

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