|12.14.14 at 10:21 am ET|
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|12.14.14 at 9:52 am ET|
FOXBORO — Sunny skies and temperatures in the low 40s are expected for the 1 p.m. kickoff between the Patriots and Dolphins at Gillette Stadium.
There is no precipitation in the forecast but a breeze out of the northwest at 8 MPH will put a bite in air, making it feel like 33.
That will be roughly 50 degrees cooler than it was on Sept. 7 when the Patriots traveled to South Florida and lost the season opener, 33-20, to the Dolphins. Adding to the difficult conditions, relative humidity registered at 60 percent, making it feel like 95.
With a win or tie, the Patriots will clinch their sixth straight AFC East crown, joining the Steelers (6, 1974-79), Vikings (6, 1973-78) and Rams (7, 1973-79) as teams to win at least six straight divisions since the 1970 merger.
Tedy Bruschi famously termed the game, “a hat and t-shirt game” as each player would have a hat and t-shirt waiting for them at their locker after the division-clinching win.
The Patriots have another streak on the line. A win would ensure not being swept in the division for a 14th straight season. The Patriots haven’t been swept in the AFC East since 2000 when the Dolphins and Jets turned the trick. That season, the Patriots went just 1-5 in the division. Since then, the Patriots have won 11 division titles and would clinch their 12th with a win today.
The Patriots are also looking for their 14th division title in the Robert Kraft era that began in 1994. The Steelers and Packers are next with 10 division titles apiece.
Since 2001, the Patriots are 65-18 (.783) in the division, the best intra-division mark in the NFL. The Patriots have also won 16 straight home games against the AFC East and are 32-5 against the division since Gillette Stadium opened in 2002.
Bill Belichick enters the game with 228 career wins. One more would tie him with Green Bay legend Curly Lambeau for fourth place on the all-time list.
|12.13.14 at 8:47 pm ET|
Looks like it’s going to be a nice day for football on Sunday, according to Fred Campagna of Fox 25.
A great day for tailgating and football in Foxboro! Sunshine and seasonably cool with a northwest breeze. pic.twitter.com/H0T6T5yhFU
— Fred Campagna (@FredCampagna) December 14, 2014
|12.13.14 at 8:45 pm ET|
FOXBORO — LeGarrette Blount has plenty left to give the Patriots.
It’s funny how one turn of fortune on one team could wind up having a drastic impact on another. If it weren’t for Blount being frustrated with the way the Steelers were using him, he wouldn’t have left the Nov. 17 game in Tennessee early. He wouldn’t have been released and the Patriots wouldn’t have been given the chance to pick him up.
Now the Patriots have the power running back in their backfield that they wanted all along for the rough and tumble months of December and January. They also have Jonas Gray, Brandon Bolden and Shane Vereen behind him.
Blount is coming off his most active game of the season, with a season-high 20 carries and 66 yards. Forty-two of Blount’s 107 carries have come in the three games since joining the Patriots.
“I feel real good, I feel real good,” Blount told WEEI.com. “There’s not a lot of running backs that feel at their best at this point of this season but I feel close to it. I felt good all season. You could say that but at the same time, I’m a pretty durable running back.”
Indeed, he’s actually dressed in one more game (14) than the Patriots have played this season. He didn’t get a single carry on Nov.17 but he did suit up. He played in all 16 games for the Patriots in 2013. He’s missed just eight games in his five-year career.
There’s one other thing: he loves doling out the punishment at this time of year with his 6-foot, 250-pound frame.
“It gets cold outside,” Blount said. “Defenses are lot less willing to tackle big guys like me. These are the times where guys like me have fun.
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|12.13.14 at 8:12 pm ET|
“He’s something special but I’m something special, too. He’s probably the most, pound-for-pound, athletic guy we have. The things he can do, the way he can move, the way he can jump, it’s amazing. I’ll give him that nod,” Wilfork conceded Friday.
But what’s truly amazing and appreciated by Wilfork is the linebacker’s ability to pick up the system and leadership role in just his second season. Last week in San Diego, with Dont’a Hightower out with a shoulder injury and Jerod Mayo lost for the season with a knee injury, the leadership and communication role was turned over to Collins.
“From last year to now, it’s unbelievable what we ask him to do, and he steps up every week. Last week was a big week for him. With Hightower not playing and him stepping into the role, the quarterback of the defense, he did a great job. It just goes to show you the importance that work and just being focused and coming to work and getting the defense working the right way, it just goes to show you how committed he is to being a great football player.
“We love everything about him. That’s one of the things we do around here, move guys around and sometimes when you’re called upon, you have to be able to step up and play. It’s good to have a guy like that on our squad where we can move him around in different places and get a lot of production out of him.
“It’s tougher for opponents to game plan with guys like that. That’s been a staple of our defense, being able to move guys around a little bit here and there, make the offense figure it out on the run. Sometimes, that’s tough to do. We just have to continue to play at a high level, especially now in December. You want to win ball games later in the year. It starts now. It started last week with a great road win for us. Coming home, a chance to win a division. It doesn’t get any easier, I’ll tell you that.”
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|12.13.14 at 12:57 am ET|
Here’s what you have to know when it comes to Sunday’s Patriots-Dolphins game at Gillette Stadium:
WHEN THE PATRIOTS RUN THE BALL
One of the more overlooked storylines of the week is the fact that the Dolphins have been pretty bad against the run, at least as of late. Miami has yielded an average of 220 rushing yards per game in the last three contests, including a whopping 277 yards against the Jets. (That’s on the heels of a five-game stretch where the Dolphins allowed less than 65 yards on four of the five occasions.) Look for LeGarrette Blount to reap the benefits of a sluggish Miami run defense, as the recently re-acquired back has 42 carries for 202 yards (a 4.8 yards per carry average) and two touchdowns in his three games with the Patriots. Meanwhile, Shane Vereen will likely be mixed in as a third-down option, but shouldn’t carry the ball more than a handful of times. As for Jonas Gray, it’s likely he remains on double-secret probation, at least at this point.
WHEN THE PATRIOTS PASS THE BALL
Provided the New England offensive line can buy Brady enough time, this is a winnable matchup for the Patriots. Of course, that’s a big if — Miami is tied for 10th in the league in sacks with 34, with Cameron Wake (9.5 sacks) and Olivier Vernon (6 sacks) bringing most of the pressure off the edge. Statistically, the Dolphins have done really well limiting opposing passing games — Miami is third in the league, having allowed an average of 203.2 passing yards per game. That’s because of good pass defense on all three levels, from rushers like Wake and Vernon to coverage linebackers and defensive backs like Brent Grimes (five interceptions and 12 passes defensed) and Reshad Jones (three interceptions and seven passes defensed).
One potential area of weakness the Patriots could look to exploit is the Dolphins’ ineffectiveness against running backs in the passing game — per Football Outsiders, Miami’s DVOA in the passing game against backs is 28th in the league. That could mean opportunities for Vereen, one of only six backs in the league with at least 80 carries and 40 catches on the season. The one really interesting statistical wrinkle is that Miami has done really well defending Rob Gronkowski (more on that shortly) and the Dolphins also do really well when it comes to defending tight ends, so it wouldn’t be a complete surprise to see a relatively quiet(ish) afternoon for the big fella.
WHEN THE DOLPHINS RUN THE BALL
This is not the same team that ground the Patriots into a fine dust with a punishing ground attack the first time they met this season. In that opener, Knowshon Moreno rushed for 134 yards on 24 carries — the most rushing yards the Patriots have yielded to a single individual in a single game this season. But, Moreno was lost for the year when he went down with a knee injury in October, and while Lamar Miller has done a serviceable job stepping in as a replacement, he hasn’t matched Moreno’s productivity. Four of their last five games, the Dolphins have failed to top at least 100 yards — that includes last week against the Ravens, when Miami had just 63 rushing yards as a team. Miller has 162 carries for 782 yards and six touchdowns to lead the Dolphins on the ground. This will be a good test for the New England run defense, which has allowed less than 100 rushing yards in four of its last five games.
WHEN THE DOLPHINS PASS THE BALL
Miami has gotten a jolt from rookie receiver Jarvis Landry, who has performed very well in his first season in the NFL, and has evolved into one of the primary options for quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Landry leads the team with 63 catches, to go with 573 yards and five touchdowns. In addition, veteran receiver Mike Wallace (57 catches, 700 yards, 7 TDs) and tight end Charles Clay (41 catches, 387 yards, 2 TDs) have proven to be worthy targets in the passing game. While Landry has been moved around a lot — Darrelle Revis called him a bit of a “gadget” receiver on Thursday — he has seen the bulk of his time in the slot. As a result, if Kyle Arrington is healthy, he will mostly likely draw the assignment when New England is in man coverage. Piggybacking on that, there’s the likelihood we’ll see Revis work against Wallace in man coverage, while the bigger and more physical Browner could be matched up on Clay.
One thing worth looking out for here is the fact that the Dolphins struggle to go deep — Miami has just 29 plays of 20-plus yards (30th in the league, and ahead of only the Jets and Raiders) and one pass play of 40-plus yards (tied for last in the league with the Chiefs). Tannehill’s longest touchdown pass this season is for 21 yards, and his last seven touchdowns passes have been for 10 yards or fewer.
|12.12.14 at 5:19 pm ET|
It won’t bring back Devin McCourty‘s negated pick-6 but Patriots fans will be happy to know that Brandon Browner won’t be fined for his hit on Ladarius Green that laid out the Chargers tight end before a national audience.
When the league handed out its fines, this week, Browner’s name was not on the list of those violating NFL safety guidelines.
With Green out cold at midfield, two flags came in late, penalizing Browner for unnecessary roughness for the shoulder blow to the chest that made contact with Green’s chin. The 15-yard penalty wiped out McCourty’s interception that was returned for a touchdown. Green left the game with a concussion.
The decision by the NFL doesn’t come as a complete surprise as NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino weighed in on the play told the NFL Network that Bill Leavy’s officiating crew didn’t get the interpretation wholly correct.
“I think the first problem [was that] we announced helmet-to-helmet and this is not a helmet-to-helmet hit,” Blandino said. “That’s incorrect. When you watch the play, Browner actually does a good job trying to lead with the shoulder and get his head to the side. You can see his head is to the side and he does lead with the shoulder.
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