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Sterling Moore: This one’s for mom

01.02.12 at 1:16 pm ET
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FOXBORO — There has been no part of the Patriots team that has taken more heat than the defense in 2011. And there’s no part of the defense that has been under attack – verbal and otherwise – than the secondary.

That’s why Sterling Moore and the rest of his secondary teammates were able to smile a little after the game Sunday. After falling behind 21-0 in the first quarter, the Patriots secondary held the Bills scoreless in the final three quarters, while collecting four interceptions, including the first two in Moore’s career. Moore said Bill Belichick acknowledged it afterward.

“He just said ‘congratulations,’ way to bounce back and helluva game,” Moore said.

Moore kept both footballs from the two interceptions he recorded on Sunday. One he plans to keep while the other is going to his mother.

So, which is which? The key pick in the third quarter that set up the go-ahead TD in Sunday’s 49-21 win over the Bills, or his second career interception, a pick-6 that netted him his first career touchdown and capped off New England’s 49-point explosion after a 21-point deficit.

Moore and Ross Ventrone have symbolized what it means to be up and down this year on the Patriots roster. He was signed to the practice squad on Oct. 5. He was signed to active squad on Oct. 15 and made his debut the next day against the Cowboys. He was released the next day, signed back to the practice squad two days later and signed to the active roster again on Nov. 9.

He made his first career start in place of Patrick Chung on Nov. 13 against the Jets. He started the next two games before subbing the next two games, heading back to the practice squad for the game against Denver. He was an active DNP against Miami.

After all that, the 21-year-old Patriots defensive back hinted after Sunday’s game he’ll probably keep his first career pick and send the second one to his mom.

“The first one just because that’s my first career interception,” Moore said. “That one means a lot.”

The second one – the TD – is probably going in the mail.

“Probably send it home,” Moore said. “I might keep one here and send the other one home.”

As for his play on Sunday, the bigger story is how much playing time he got in key situations as he, Devin McCourty and Chung all took turns playing safety in New England’s various pass defense packages.

“It felt amazing,” Moore said. “Just the kind of season I’ve had, going up and down. Just thankful I got another opportunity. It’s not really saying, by any means, ‘I told you so,’ I’m just thankful I had another opportunity to go out and make the plays.

“I knew I was capable of that. When they brought me in here, the first thing they said when they moved me to safety was, ‘we kind of like the way you play the ball so, we’re going to put you back there.’ [Sunday] was the first real opportunity I had to get my hands on a ball and play the ball. It was deep down in there because I haven’t had to do it in a while but I’m glad it came back out.”

Moore led the Patriots secondary with two picks, McCourty and Antwaun Molden each had one.

‘€œIt’€™s huge,” Moore said. “Turnovers matter more than you know, so if we can keep getting turnovers I think we’€™ll have success and keep getting wins.’€

Read More: Antwaun Molden, Bill Belichick, Buffalo Bills, Devin McCourty

Aaron Hernandez: ‘I definitely wasn’t worried’

01.01.12 at 8:05 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Last week, it was Vince Wilfork who said he had no doubt the Patriots were going to come back and wipe out a 17-0 deficit.

This week, it was Aaron Hernandez who said he wasn’t worried about a 21-0 first-quarter hole against the Bills.

“How could you panic?” Hernandez asked rhetorically after New England’s 49-21 win. “You have Tom Brady, Deion Branch, Ochocinco [Chad Ochocinco] Gronkowski – best tight in the game, me, Wes Welker. You’ve got a whole bunch of people who can make plays. How can you get nervous. Tom Brady is going to put you in the right place, make a great pass and we have a lot of people who can get open.

“I definitely wasn’t worried.”

Hernandez went over 100 yards receiving for a third time this season, catching seven balls for a team-leading 138 yards, including a 39-yard high-stepping job that ended with New England’s second touchdown of the day.

“I think we’re very hard to stop,” Hernandez said. “I wouldn’t say unstoppable because we’ve been stopped but I feel like when we’re clicking and all our receivers and tight ends are playing how they can play, yeah, I feel like no one can stop us.”

But like Wilfork earlier in the week, Hernandez realizes the slow starts can’t continue or it’s a fast finish in the playoffs.

‘€œOnce we get our offense going, its tough to stop and I feel like [the Bills] are one of the toughest teams to stop in this league,” Hernandez said. “We just have to get off to a quicker start and if we do that, we will be a lot more dangerous [in the playoffs].

‘€œWe started off slow and lackadaisical with a lack of detail but once we get the detail down and our playmakers start making plays, we can get it going. We just start slow. It has been like that all season but it has to change now coming into the playoffs. If we change the pace up and start going faster it will be hard to stop since we have so many weapons.’€

Read More: Aaron Hernandez, Buffalo Bills, New England Patriots, nfl

Rob Gronkowski: ‘We just turned the switch’

01.01.12 at 7:38 pm ET
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FOXBORO — While the Patriots looked hungover defensively to start the game, the New England offense looked just as sluggish.

While the Bills were putting up 21 first-quarter points, the New England offense was in the dark.

Then, the flip got switched.

Rob Gronkowski found the end zone twice on passes from Tom Brady, including a 17-yarder on a corner route that put the Patriots ahead to stay with 1:32 left in the third quarter. The Patriots scored 49 unanswered points on their way to their 13th straight win.

It was the second straight game the Patriots dug out of an early hole. Against the Dolphins, it was 17-0 down at halftime.

‘€œMan, well last game it was the second half and this one was the second quarter, so hopefully the switch starts in the first quarter in the next game,” Gronkowski said. “I mean, I don’€™t know what it was. We just turned the switch and hit it off and put up 49 points and the defense turned the switch, too. They put up 21 points on us in the first quarter and then they shut them out the rest of the game, so that was unbelievable. We were playing complementary football at the end of the game and the second quarter and throughout. We go to [keep] playing like that [in] the playoffs.’€

Gronkowski finished the single greatest season ever by an NFL tight end with 90 catches, an NFL-record 17 receiving touchdowns and an NFL-record 1,327 yards.

He can thank Bill Belichick for the final one.

With backup Brian Hoyer in at quarterback and the Patriots leading, 49-21, Belichick called a play for Gronkowski with under a minute remaining. The 22-yard reception along the left sideline gave Gronkowski the new NFL receiving record for tight ends, as Gronkowski finished with 1,327 yards for the season, 17 more than Jimmy Graham of the Saints, who finished their game with the Panthers several minutes earlier. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Aaron Hernandez, Buffalo Bills, New England Patriots, nfl

Key Moment: Two big takeaways fuel second-half comeback for Patriots

01.01.12 at 5:51 pm ET
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FOXBORO — For the fourth consecutive week, the Patriots were able to turn well-timed turnovers into points, providing the key moment in their 49-21 win over the Bills in the regular-season finale for both teams.

On Sunday against the Bills, there were two big ones: The first one came with just over four minutes left in the third quarter and the Bills clinging to a 21-20 lead. With Buffalo facing a second and 2 at their own 28, Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick dropped back to pass and looked left. He flung a short pass out there, meant for wide receiver Ruvell Martin. The ball was picked off by Sterling Moore, who took it back to the Buffalo 25. New England then followed that up with a five-play, 25-yard drive that ended when Tom Brady hit Rob Gronkowski on a perfectly run route from 17 yards out. A two-point conversion made it 28-21, Patriots.

‘€œI just wanted to be physical at the line of scrimmage, and I knew the ball was going to have to come out quick,’€ Moore said of the first of his two interceptions. ‘€œSo after about five yards, I went to head back around and the ball was coming, so I just tried to dive in front and get my hands on it.’€

On Buffalo’€™s next drive, Fitzpatrick managed to guide the Bills to the New England 32-yard line, and with a first and 10, Fitzpatrick went deep down the field for C.J. Spiller. This one was picked off by Devin McCourty, the second straight game where the Rutgers product was able to come away with a pick. McCourty took it back all the way to the Buffalo 47-yard line. After a 44-yard pass from Brady to Aaron Hernandez, BenJarvus Green-Ellis rumbled in from three yards out to give New England a 35-21 lead with 11:20 remaining in the game.

‘€œThe ball got tipped, and I just remember in college, my defensive backs coach always used to say, ‘€˜When you’€™re in the middle of the field, you can make a lot of interceptions on tipped balls,’€™’€œ McCourty said. ‘€œOnce it was in the air, I was just trying to track it down and get to it.’€

Read More: Aaron Hernandez, BenJarvus Green Ellis, C.J. Spiller, Devin McCourty

Snap Judgments: Patriots 49, Bills 21

01.01.12 at 4:03 pm ET
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FOXBORO - Stop me if this sounds familiar: On Sunday the Patriots looked pathetic in the first quarter, were booed by the fans at Gillette Stadium, fell behind 21-0 and then woke up and rallied behind Tom Brady to a victory over an AFC East opponent.

The Patriots gave the doubters plenty of early ammunition against the Bills (Ryan Fitzpatrick shredded them for the first 30 minutes) but were dominant after trailing by three touchdowns and collected win No. 13 of the season on Sunday, a 49-21 triumph that means this: The AFC road to the Super Bowl goes through Foxboro.

As the No. 1 seed in the AFC, the Patriots will have a bye and then host a Team To Be Named Later (could be the Jets, Titans, Broncos, Raiders, Bengals, Steelers or Ravens) in two weeks.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

- Tom Brady (23-of-35, 338 yards) passed the 5,000-yard mark (and later moved past Dan Marino’s 5,084 total) in the win, and now stands behind Drew Brees on the single-season chart. Brady wasn’t as sharp as we’ve seen in recent weeks (couple of passes that skipped in front of Rob Gronkowski and an interception from Nick Barnett that was thrown well behind Wes Welker), but made plays when he had to, including the three TD passes, one to Hernandez and two to Gronkowski.

– Sterling Moore jumped in front of Ruvell Martin and picked off Ryan Fitzpatrick in what was a game-changing turnover in the third quarter. Nice hustle play from Moore, and the Patriots converted the turnover into eight points, with Danny Woodhead punching in the two-point conversion following the Gronkowski TD. Devin McCourty – playing much of the game at safety – intercepted Fitzpatrick in the fourth quarter (thanks to a Spiller drop) and returned it 38 yards. Moore had his second interception of the game with just under three minutes left, picking off Fitzpatrick and returning it 21 yards for his first career touchdown.

– Stevan Ridley started at running back and received the bulk of the carries, finishing with 81 yards on 15 carries. Ridley’s biggest gainer of the game was a 21-yard rush on the first New England TD drive. There is no doubt — none — that Ridley is clearly the most explosive back on this team, and it would be a surprise if he isn’t given a significant role in the postseason. Look, this things are fluid with the Patriots, but BenJarvus Green-Ellis has just a single carry (a one-yard TD) in the first half and six total (for just 20 yards, though he added a second TD). A storyline to watch over the next couple weeks: Has Ridley assumed the lead spot?

Aaron Hernandez (Pro Bowl snub?) was terrific again, catching seven passes for 138 yards, including a 39-yard TD pass in the second quarter (set up by play-action from Brady to Ridley). He also had a 44-yard reception in the fourth quarter, a catch-and-run special that set up the second TD rush by Green-Ellis. Rob Gronkowski (eight catches, 108 yards) also had two TD’s (17 TD catches on the season and 18 total) and now holds the NFL record for receiving yards in a season by a tight end with 1,327.

Mark Anderson pulled off the ol’ swim move on Chris Hairston and sacked Ryan Fitzpatrick in the second quarter, his 10th sack of the season. Anderson and Andre Carter are the first New England teammates with 10 or more sacks in a season since 1985 (Andre Tippett and Garin Varis).

– Green-Ellis wasn’t much of  a factor in the running game, but had a key 53-yard reception on a screen in the third quarter. Superb work by the offensive line – particularly Brian Waters – on the play. It was the longest catch of Green-Ellis’ career.

WHAT WENT WRONG

– The defense was again hideous early in the game, allowing three first-quarter touchdowns. Ryan Fitzpatrick was 13-of-16 for 156 yards and a pair of touchdown passes in the quarter, finding Stevie Johnson for an 18-yard score (Johnson- who beat Kyle Arrington to the corner of the end zone -was flagged and benched for taunting after the score) and C.J. Spiller for a 15-yarder that gave the Bills a 21-0 lead. Spiller beat Dane Fletcher on the TD, one of several times Fletcher failed in pass coverage. Heaps of ineptitude from the secondary in the first half, with both Arrington and Antwaun Molden unable to stop Derek Hagan. No defense has allowed more passing yards in a season in NFL history It’s swell that this defense has played better as games have gone on the last couple of weeks, but isn’t fair to at least ask what will happen if this team falls behind 21-0 to the Steelers or Ravens?

– The Patriots were flat-out fooled by a fake punt by Buffalo in the first quarter, a George Wilson seven-yard rush on 4th-and-1 at midfield on the first drive.. The Bills also converted a 4th-and-4 on the next drive, as Nate Jones was easily beat by Johnson in the open field. Impressive grapefruit showing by Chan Gailey in defeat, right down to the Johnson benching.

Who would be next in line if Bill O’Brien leaves the Patriots for Penn State?

01.01.12 at 2:26 pm ET
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If Patriots’€™ offensive coordinator Bill O’€™Brien does depart to take over the job as head coach at Penn State, it would leave a void on the coaching staff, but would create some intriguing possibilities for New England going forward.

Much of the talk would likely center on the possible return of former offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. McDaniels, who is the offensive coordinator in St. Louis, cut his teeth with the Patriots as an assistant from 2001 until 2005 before becoming the Patriots offensive coordinator in 2006. He was OC in New England for three seasons before taking the head coaching job in Denver and then moving on to become the OC in St. Louis. However, it’€™s expected that the entire Rams’€™ coaching staff will be shown the door at the end of the season, making his return a possibility if the job opens up.

There are some possibilities on the current staff, including tight ends coach Brian Ferentz, a younger assistant who has been part of the New England staff since 2008. The son of Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz (who was a former assistant under Belichick) he started with the Patriots as a coaching assistant in 2008, moved to offensive coaching assistant the following year and became an offensive assistant in 2010. He was officially promoted to tight ends coach at the start of this season, and has helped youngsters Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez become two of the best young tight ends in the game.

Another interesting possibility would be Pat Hill, who worked with Belichick in Cleveland and was recently let go by Fresno State. Hill was part of Belichick’€™s staff from 1992 through 1995, serving as Cleveland’€™s tight end and offensive line coach.

There’€™s always the chance that the Patriots would go without a coordinator — they’€™ve done it on several occasions, including this year, when they did not name a defensive coordinator. On the offensive side of the ball, it wouldn’€™t be out of the realm of possibility to not name an offensive coordinator, but give more responsibility to someone like Ferentz, let him learn on the job, and if he flowers, officially name him the OC in a year or two. One other possible wrinkle worth mentioning — O’€™Brien is also the team’€™s quarterbacks coach, and the Patriots could split the jobs again going forward.

Read More: Aaron Hernandez, Bill O'Brien, Brian Ferentz, Josh McDaniels

Patriots have an 11-year streak on the line

01.01.12 at 12:32 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Aside from the obvious motivation of playing for the No. 1 seed in the AFC East, there’s something else the Patriots are playing for – history.

The Patriots haven’€™t been swept in a season series since 2000, his first year in New England, when the Patriots went 5-11. The Jets and Dolphins turned the trick in that season but the Bills have a chance to sweep the series with the Patriots for the first time since 1999.

The Bills, of course, had the chance in 2003, when they won the infamous ‘€œLawyer Milloy‘€ game, 31-0 in the season opener. The Patriots exacted revenge by the identical score in the season finale that year at Gillette. The Bills have lost all nine lifetime meetings at Gillette and haven’€™t won in New England since sweeping the season series in ‘€™99.

Is there anything about the staff’s preparation that motivates them the second time around?

“I think it’€™s really just more about the players,” Bill Belichick said on Friday. “The payers go out there. They’€™re the ones that block and tackle and catch and kick and make the plays. If you have good players and they go out there and do those things then you win. If you don’€™t and if you don’€™t coach them well, even if you have them and you don’€™t do a good job of coaching them then things don’€™t turn out so well.

“I think when you talk about those kind of historical things, the things to point to is the performance of the players. That encompasses a lot of players and a lot of games, but they’€™re the ones that are out there winning them. Talk to Mike Vrabel or [Tedy Bruschi] Bruschi or Troy Brown. Those guys have won a lot of games. Honestly, they’€™re better qualified to answer that than I am because they’€™re the ones that won them.”

Read More: Bill Belichick, Buffalo Bills, Lawyer Milloy, Mike Vrabel
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