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Nuggetpalooza: Patriots vs. Steelers!

10.29.11 at 9:41 am ET
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The Patriots emerge from the bye week with another big one in Pittsburgh. This could be one of the best NFL matchups of the season and looks like it could easily be a preview of a second playoff weekend rematch. Get ready with some stats on the Patriots, Steelers, and the rest of the NFL that you may not have seen anywhere else:

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* – Did you know?: One or both teams has scored 30 or more points in six of the last seven matchups (including playoffs) between Pittsburgh and New England… Over the last 30 years, this will be the 18th regular season meeting between the Patriots and Steelers and 15 of those will have been played in Pittsburgh… Including playoffs, the Patriots have won seven of their last nine against the Steelers… New England has won their last seven games coming off their bye week and are 8-2 in those games under Belichick. Pittsburgh has won the last three times they’ve faced an opponent who was fresh off a bye and they’ve scored 30+ points each time (including last week against Arizona)… Since the start of the 1999 season, the Steelers are just 5-23 at home when they’ve trailed at halftime.

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* – This is not like Pittsburgh: The Steelers and Colts have each allowed seven touchdowns following drives of 10 or more plays this season, tied for the most in the NFL:

7 – Steelers
7 – Colts
6 – Four teams tied

How different is that for the Steelers? They allowed just six such touchdown drives during all of 2010 and just eight in 2009.

NFL note: The Vikings and 49ers are the only teams that have yet to allow a TD drive of 10+ plays.

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* – New England has scored 31 points on their first possession of games this season, a league high 5.2 average:

5.2 – Patriots
4.0 – Cowboys
3.5 – Ravens

Note this: Pittsburgh has allowed 17 points on their opponents’ first possessions, tied for third most in the league.

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* – First Down Battle: The Patriots enter the weekend averaging an NFL best 7.2 yards on their first down plays. The Steelers defense has allowed an NFL best 4.7 yards on first down. On the other side of the coin, while the Steelers’ first down offense has been rather pedestrian, averaging 5.5 yards (20th), the Patriots’ first down defense has given up a league worst 7.8 yard average.

Note this: The Patriots allowed an average of 7.7 yards or more on first down in each of their first four games, but allowed just 4.2 against the Jets and 6.1 against the Cowboys, so that’s progress.

————————————————————————————————————- Read the rest of this entry »

Marcus Cannon on his comeback: ‘If I listen to coach [Bill Belichick], I’ll be all right’

10.28.11 at 5:41 pm ET
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FOXBORO — On Friday morning, as he faced the group of reporters stacked three-deep around his locker, Marcus Cannon sounded genuinely grateful to be back on a football field.

Just six months ago, he found out through pre-NFL Draft medical checks that he had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He began chemotherapy immediately for the cancer.

Several weeks ago, he got the good news that it worked and the lymphoma was in remission.

In between, the massive offensive lineman was one of two fifth-round picks by the Patriots out of TCU, where he protected the blind side of Bengals rookie quarterback Andy Dalton. This week, after spending time conditioning while on the PUP list, he was cleared for full-scale practice, including full pads.

“It was awesome, finally getting to play with the team,’€ said Cannon, who was limited to off-the-field work with his new teammates. ‘€I’€™ve been interacting with the guys. It was nice to actually get on and move around a little bit, and have fun a little bit.’€

‘€Everybody in here is awesome. I was blessed not to have such a bad chemo outcome. It really wasn’€™t a big deal because they didn’€™t see it on my face. Everyone in here has been real supportive. The offensive line has been helping me get into it. I love this team. Everyone’€™s great. Everybody was real supportive.’€

So, when the 348-pound guard – who played left and right tackle at 370 pounds at TCU – talks about being “grateful’ and “blessed,” you can clearly get a sense of where he’s coming from.

‘€You know, I was really blessed,” Cannon said. “Not much was really tough. Probably the toughest thing was having to leave the team and get on a plane every three weeks,’€ he said. ‘€That was probably the toughest thing, but I’€™m back now. And I’€™m happy to be here.’€ Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals, Fort Worth, Marcus Cannon

A preview of Friday’s ‘Patriots All-Access’

10.28.11 at 4:57 pm ET
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Patriots All Access airs Friday on WBZ-TV at 7 p.m. and immediately following on Patriots.com. Some of the highlights include:

‘€¢Bill Belichick discusses getting his team ready to play after a Bye Week and looks at the overall speed of the Steelers on the Belestrator.

·Scott Zolak visits with Belichick and one of the coach’€™s boyhood idols, Heisman Trophy winner and Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach.

·Vince Wilfork was mic’€™d up in the win over the Jets.

Here’s a preview:

Read More: Bill Belichick, Roger Staubach, Scott Zolak, Vince Wilfork

Franco Harris on M&M: ‘I’m feeling good about the Steelers’ Sunday

10.28.11 at 2:24 pm ET
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Pro football Hall of Famer Franco Harris joined Mut & Merloni on Friday afternoon, as the Patriots and Steelers prepare for their Sunday matchup. The running back for Pittsburgh during the 1970s and early 1980s, Harris is a nine-time Pro Bowl selection, four-time Super Bowl champion and Super Bowl IX MVP.

Harris gave his thoughts on the makeup of the AFC and how hard it is to decide which team is best.

“Most of the time, I tell people I really look at the second half of the season and see what happens over the second half of the season,” Harris said. “I really don’t put too much into the first half, but records count in the end, for having home-field advantage. So all these games are very, very important, especially the games against some top AFC teams.”

Harris also talked about how the game has changed, from the ground-it-out, rush-oriented offenses of his time to the the quarterback-dominated league of today.

“I think it was two games ago, when Ben [Roethlisberger] had one of his best games, he had five touchdowns passes and then with that we had a great running game, and I said, you know what, this is what it’s all about,” Harris said. “The running game game gives you so many options that it really sets up the pass in the big way. … I’m a big advocate of the running game, as I’m sure you know. But there’s no doubt that the game is now a passing game.”

Following are more highlights from the conversation. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.

On if Bill Belichick should be in the conversation for best coach of all-time: “Absolutely. I have so much respect for him and what he does and the moves that he makes to always be on top. Myself, I like winners. When I hear around the league they want parity, I don’t want parity. … I’d like to have four to six other teams as powerhouses and then you look forward to battling those guys. This weekend, everybody’s waiting for that, for this game. If it was all parity you wouldn’t even look forward to it. And then the following week, we play Baltimore. Everybody’s looking forward to that game because they love these type of games when the best play the best. When you look at Belichick, he always has a great team out there.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Ben Roethlisberger, Bill Belichick, Franco Harris,

Bill Belichick has one message for Tony La Russa: ‘Go Cards!’

10.28.11 at 1:52 pm ET
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FOXBORO — It has to be a pretty big deal to keep Bill Belichick up past midnight watching a baseball game in the midst of getting ready for the Steelers this Sunday in Pittsburgh.

Apparently, cheering on one of his best friends in sports qualifies as big enough.

Belichick has developed a long and trustworthy friendship with St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa. So, as the Game 6 of the 2011 World Series flew well past midnight, he kept an eye on the TV. –

Then, David Freese belted a solo homer to center to end it in the bottom of the 11th, giving the Cardinals a 10-9 win and the sports world a Game 7 in the World Series.

“No, I fell asleep,” joked Belichick, who wore an authentic La Russa Cardinals home jersey in the locker room for all to see Friday. “Yeah, I did watch it. What a game, what a game. It’€™s just behind five times, whatever it was, scored in the last however many, seventh, eighth, ninth, tenth, eleventh? Happy for Tony and wishing him well tonight. That team has shown a lot of resiliency and physical toughness, mental toughness from being way behind in September and in the Series in various games. They’€™ve lost a couple games I’€™m sure they feel like they should have won. They’€™ve been able to bounce back from those and now it’€™s a one game season. It’€™s two good teams. The Rangers are a good team too. It’€™s two good teams. Great series.”

Funny Belichick would mention resiliency and physical toughness. Those are certainly two traits he looks for in his own team.

“We have a couple mutual friends, one in particular,” Belichick said. “It’€™s good to talk to sometimes people in other sports. Coaching is coaching ‘€“ dealing with players, dealing with coaches, dealing with other situations. There is certainly a lot of common ground there. I’€™m fortunate to have a great relationship with a person like Tony or [University of Florida basketball coach] Billy Donovan or [Johns Hopkins lacrosse coach] Dave Pietramala, guys like that that are real good coaches, different sports but again I think we share some common philosophies. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Bill Belichick, Billy Donovan, Chris Carpenter, Dave Pietramala

Danny Woodhead on M&M: Steelers defense great as usual

10.28.11 at 12:53 pm ET
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Patriots running back Danny Woodhead joined Mut & Merloni on Friday morning for his weekly appearance. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.

Woodhead missed New England’s win over the Jets two weeks ago with a left ankle injury, but the running back could play this week against the Steelers.

“I’m just going out there, just working hard, whenever I have an opportunity, I want to be ready,” Woodhead said. “I’m just working hard every single day.”

When the Pats take on Pittsburgh Sunday, it will be a clash of two opposing forces, as the NFL’s top offense will be going up against the Steelers’ typically stout defense, which is third in the NFL in total defense.

“They’re just a great defense like they have been in the past years,” Woodhead said. “Really at every position, they have really good players and we just have to be ready to execute our plays against their plays.”

Over the last decade, Pittsburgh and New England have developed a rivalry, as they have been two of the most successful teams in the AFC during that time. But Woodhead said that the team does not treat the Steelers differently than any other team.

“Week by week, we take the week that we’re on as the most important because it really is,” Woodhead said. “I don’t know if there’s a difference. Every game counts and it’s obviously a big game and we’re excited to play.”

With Kevin Faulk coming off the PUP list this week, Woodhead could stand to lose some snaps in the upcoming weeks. The third-year back said that he is not concerned about his playing time.

“That’s something that I’ve never really thought about,” Woodhead said. “My thinking is to go out there and work as hard as I can for my teammates and that’s the biggest deal and that’s something that I’m not going to change.

Read More: Danny Woodhead, Kevin Faulk,

In Focus: Closer look at Patriots’ decision to cut Leigh Bodden

10.28.11 at 11:52 am ET
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The Leigh Bodden era in New England started strong but ultimately fizzled as the cornerback struggled to reclaim the form that made him one of the league’€™s most sought-after defensive backs in free agency 20 months ago.

Signed as an undrafted free agent out of Duquesne by the Browns in 2003, Bodden bounced around the league before signing a one-year deal with New England prior to the 2009 season. That year, he was a pleasant surprise, starting 14 of 15 games, leading the team with 19 passes defensed and tying for the team lead with five interceptions. On the strength of that performance, he entered free agency as one of the most desirable corners on the market. After a brief look at some other options (including the Texans), he re-signed with the Patriots, inking a four-year, $22.03 million extension.

However, he injured his shoulder the following summer and spent all of 2010 on injured reserve. This season, even after the Patriots decided to move on from Darius Butler, the 30-year-old Bodden spent a lot of time in the slot and struggled to stay on the field because of injury — officially, he was limited in practice on Thursday because of a recurring thumb injury. According to Pro Football Focus, in five games as the team’s primary nickel corner, Bodden had been thrown at 22 times this year and allowed 12 receptions and one touchdown. He has four passes defensed and has played 222 snaps for the Patriots.

Overall, the 6-foot-1, 193-pound cornerback has 362 tackles and 18 interceptions during his 95-game career with the Browns (2003-07), Lions (2008) and Patriots.

The Patriots now have five corners on their roster: Devin McCourty, Kyle Arrington, Ras-I Dowling, Antuwan Molden and Phillip Adams. While the move won’€™t affect McCourty and Arrington (the two likely will continue to serve as the primary starters at corner), at first glance the move means an increased workload for Dowling, a youngster who has struggled to see the field over the course of his first season in the league. Through six weeks he’€™s played just 93 snaps, none of them since a Week 2 win over the Chargers. Molden also is expected to benefit from the move and get more opportunities.

In addition, New England has three players eligible to come off the physically unable to perform list in Kevin Faulk, Ron Brace and Brandon Deaderick. The release of Bodden could free up a roster spot for one of them.

As for Bodden (who is making a base salary of $3.9 million each of the next two seasons), he will be exposed to waivers. Any team that claims his contract will be on the hook for just over $2 million in base salary that remains for this season.

Read More: Antuwan Molden, Brandon Deaderick, Darius Butler, Devin McCourty

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