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Ten things you have to know about Broncos-Patriots

11.23.13 at 1:40 pm ET
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Here’€™s everything you need to know about Sunday’€™s Patriots-Broncos game:

Our three favorite matchups on the evening:

1. Quarterback Tom Brady against the Denver secondary: The Broncos secondary bears the bulk of responsibility for Denver’€™s woeful pass defense. The Broncos are allowing an average of 279.1 passing yards per game, 28th in the league. Three different quarterbacks have thrown for more than 300 yards against the Broncos this season, including Tony Romo‘€™s 506 yards in an October loss to the Broncos. (Those numbers are partially skewed because of injuries, and also a reflection of the fact that teams are throwing against them in an attempt to play catch-up.) Don’€™t expect the Patriots to take too many deep shots downfield — New England is likely more interested in playing a ball control offense to try and keep Manning off the field for as long as possible. In addition, at least from a statistical perspective it makes more sense to go for short and underneath stuff against Denver — the Broncos have yielded 46 pass plays of 20 or more yards with 46, the highest total in the league. At the same time, they’€™ve only allowed four pass plays of 40 yards or more, tied for fourth in the league with a handful of teams, including the Patriots. With Von Miller rounding back into form for Denver and the Broncos struggles when it comes to short and intermediate routes, it wouldn’€™t be a surprise to see Brady and the Patriots place a priority on getting the ball out as fast as possible with three-step drops, quick outs and maybe a screen here or there to negate the Denver pass rush.

2. The Patriots secondary against Denver quarterback Peyton Manning: It’€™s truly all-hands on deck for the New England secondary, which is suffering from bumps and bruises of varying severity at this time of the season. With the most prolific passing game in the league coming to town, it’€™s the worst possible time to be suffering from injuries. There’€™s some question as to just how healthy Aqib Talib, Alfonzo Dennard, Kyle Arrington and Steve Gregory really are, but just about all of them were at practice this week, and (to my knowledge) three of them spoke with the media, which usually means positive things when it comes to their availability for the game.

3. Cornerback Aqib Talib against wide receiver Demaryius Thomas: It’€™s debatable just how healthy Talib is — he said he’€™s OK this week, but it was interesting that he wasn’€™t able to finish the game against the Panthers because of his hip. Providing he’€™s ready to roll, he should see a lot of Thomas, who is a more suitable matchup for him — Talib is at his best when he’€™s going against taller, faster guys, and the 6-foot-3, 229-pound Thomas certainly falls into that camp. Talib nailed it this week when he called Thomas a complete receiver who can find the end zone a number of ways — the Georgia Tech product has big-play capability (his 15.2 yards per catch is best on the team), but is also has terrific catch-and-run capabilities (his 509 yards after the catch is best in the league). ‘€œHe finds the end zone all kinds of ways — screens, deep balls, slants,’€ Talib said of Thomas, who has 60 catches on 93 targets for 914 yards and nine touchdowns. ‘€œAnyway you can name, he will have found the end zone that kind of way.’€

4. Under the radar opponent who Patriots’€™ fans need to know: There’€™s a question as to whether or not he’€™s going to be able to play — he’€™s been bothered by a knee injury — but if he’€™s good to go, ‘€œOrange’€ Julius Thomas is the pick. After catching one pass in his two years with the Broncos prior to 2013, the Portland State product has suddenly become one of Manning’€™s go-to guys with 45 catches on 62 targets for 590 yards and 10 touchdowns this year. The 6-foot-5, 250-pound Thomas doesn’€™t have the star power of Welker, Decker or Demaryius Thomas, but he’€™s a steady, consistent blocker and dependable pass catcher who has developed into a key part of the Denver offense.

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NFL fines Marcus Cannon $15,750 for leg whip of Charles Johnson

11.22.13 at 4:51 pm ET
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FOXBORO — The leg-whip that injured star defensive end Charles Johnson has – as expected – hit Marcus Cannon in the wallet.

The NFL announced Friday they have hit the Patriots starting right tackle with a fine of $15,750 for his play on Johnson in the second half of Monday’s game against Carolina.

The Cannon move came on the second snap of the third quarter as he was trying to compensate for getting beat by Johnson on a running play. The play, shown repeatedly on ESPN during the game, resulted in Johnson being carted off the field, only to return later in the second half. Johnson suffered a sprained MCL in the knee and will miss this weekend’s game against the Dolphins.

Cannon apologized to Johnson in person after the game.

Tom Brady, who dropped an F-bomb tirade on referee Clete Blakeman that was picked up by ESPN microphones, was not fined for confronting the official after Blakeman picked up the flag in the end zone which ended the game. Ryan Mallett was also seen confronting Blakeman for his call.

Read More: Carolina Panthers, Charles Johnson, Clete Blakeman, Marcus Cannon

Patriots Friday injury report: Michael Hoomanawanui out, Steve Gregory, Alfonzo Dennard, Aqib Talib all questionable

11.22.13 at 4:25 pm ET
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FOXBORO ‘€” For the third day in a row, the Patriots had the same series of players on the injury report, as tight end Michael Hoomanawanui was absent. Hoomanawanui was the only player ruled out for Sunday night after suffering a knee injury on Monday night.

Four defensive backs were limited and all four – Aqib Talib (hip), Alfonzo Dennard (knee), Kyle Arrington (groin) and safety Steve Gregory (finger) – are listed as questionable, indicating a 50-50 chance of playing.

The Dennard news comes as a mild surprise since it was reported by the NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport that he would miss Sunday’s game after a minor procedure last weekend on his knee.

Here is Friday’s complete report:

Did Not Practice
TE Michael Hoomanawanui (knee) OUT

Limited Participation
WR Danny Amendola (groin) PROBABLE
CB Kyle Arrington (groin) QUESTIONABLE
CB Alfonzo Dennard (knee) QUESTIONABLE
S Steve Gregory (finger) QUESTIONABLE
TE Rob Gronkowski (back/forearm/hamstring) PROBABLE
LB Brandon Spikes (knee) PROBABLE
CB Aqib Talib (hip) QUESTIONABLE
RB Leon Washington (ankle) QUESTIONABLE

Full Participation
QB Tom Brady (right shoulder) PROBABLE
WR Matthew Slater (wrist) PROBABLE
RB Shane Vereen (wrist) PROBABLE

For more on the Patriots and Broncos, visit weei.com/patriots.

Read More: Aqib Talib, Denver Broncos, Michael Hoomanawanui, New England Patriots

Wes Welker ‘probable’ for return to New England Sunday night

11.22.13 at 3:49 pm ET
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Wes Welker is on track to make his return to Foxboro Sunday night.

There had been serious doubt at the beginning of the week as to whether Welker would be able to play Sunday night against the Patriots when he suffered a head/neck injury while catching a pass in the fourth quarter last Sunday night against Kansas City.

Welker missed practice on Wednesday but returned Thursday and was again at practice on Friday. After attending practice Friday, Welker was officially listed as probable on the final injury report of the week.

Broncos interim coach Jack Del Rio said that Welker has passed all the concussion baseline tests from independent neurologists necessary for him to be listed as probable.

Meanwhile, tight end Julius Thomas was listed as questionable after a second straight limited practice with a knee injury. Even if Thomas is able to play, Joel Dreessen and Jacob Tamme figure to see more playing time at tight end in multiple packages.

Cornerback Champ Bailey is also questionable with a foot injury but is expected to play.

Read More: Champ Bailey, Denver Broncos, Jack Del Rio, Julius Thomas

Video: ‘4th & Goal’ previews Patriots-Broncos

11.22.13 at 3:15 pm ET
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WEEI’€™s Chris Price previews this week’s matchup between the Patriots and Broncos. Find out the keys to the game for New England, as well as Chris’€™ prediction for a final score.

Bill Belichick won’t be selling Trindon Holliday short in Broncos return game

11.22.13 at 1:56 pm ET
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FOXBORO — There is no returner in the game that instills fear in opposing special teams coaches more than Trindon Holliday. To say the 5-foot-5, 169-pound returner is a game-changer is selling him short.

In just two full-time seasons with the Texans and Broncos, Holliday has taken six kicks to the house, including two in one playoff game against the Ravens last January. This season, Holliday returned a punt 81 yards for a touchdown in Week 2 against the Giants. He also returned a kick-off 105 yards for a touchdown in Week 4 against the Eagles.

Holliday, the shortest player in the NFL, had a difficult time getting started in football. His mother held him out of football until seventh grade, because she was afraid he would be injured. After several years of performing at a high level, his high school coaches finally let him start as a running back during his junior year. In his senior year he accumulated over 2,000 yards and over 30 touchdowns, leading his high school Northeast High [Louisiana] to back-to-back State Semi-Final appearances.

Holliday was drafted in the 6th round of the 2010 draft by the Texans. But his blazing speed didn’t help him initially. Trindon struggled on kickoff returns in the preseason. He was placed on IR because of a fracture in his thumb. September 3, 2011 he was cut then placed on the practice squad. On October 5, his practice squad contract was terminated. He was later added to the active roster, but was waived on October 25.

In the 2012 preseason week 1 against Carolina, he returned a kickoff return for a touchdown. The next week, he returned a punt for a touchdown against San Francisco. In the final preseason game against the Vikings, Holliday recorded his third touchdown in four games; this touchdown was a 76-yard punt return. Following the 2012 preseason, Holliday made the Houston Texans 53-man roster and was the starting punt and kick returner.

Holliday was waived from the Texans on Oct. 10, 2012 in a move to bolster their defense. In step the Broncos. A day later, Holliday was claimed off of waivers by the Broncos. Four days later, in his first game with Denver, Holliday fumbled and lost the ball on a punt return in the first quarter of the game. He returned a kickoff 105 yards for a touchdown against the Bengals on Nov. 4, 2012, breaking the Broncos record for the longest play.

A week later, he returned a punt for 76 yards against Carolina. The play was ruled a touchdown despite his fumble on the 1 yard line. Remarkably, Holliday’s teams went undefeated during the regular season in 2012. He started the season with the Texans who were 5-0 when they cut him. He was the acquired by the Broncos who finished the regular season 13-3 with an 11 game win streak.

He didn’t stop there.

Holliday returned a punt in the first quarter of the AFC divisional game against Baltimore for a 90 yard touchdown, the longest punt return in postseason history. During the third quarter of that game, he returned a kickoff for a 104 yard touchdown. He became the first player in NFL history with a punt return touchdown and a kick return touchdown in the same postseason game. He had 256 total punt and kick return yards but the Broncos lost, 38-35 in double overtime.

Has Belichick ever seen a returner like him?

“I think he’€™s got a real good combination of skills. He’€™s tough, that’€™s I’€™d say the big thing. He’€™s tough, he doesn’€™t mind running up inside or taking a hit, that kind of thing. It’€™s not all just run to the sideline. Kind of like Ted Ginn is a speed guy and he tried to get a lot of his speed outside.

“Holliday can definitely get outside and he’€™s got a lot of speed, but he gets a lot of plays up inside too, where people overplay him. He’€™s quick and he’€™s tough and he’€™s fast and he’€™s got good vision. Those things are all good. He’€™s obviously not a very big guy and there are some other issues but he’€™s an explosive player that can really score on any type of return: inside return, outside return. He’€™ll run right up the middle and split the coverage as well as try to out-run them down the sideline.”

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Read More: Bill Belichick, Denver Broncos, New England Patriots, nfl

Peter King on M&M: ‘Denver this weekend has a few too many answers for what New England can do defensively’

11.22.13 at 12:54 pm ET
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Sports Illustrated’s Peter King made his weekly appearance with Mut & Merloni on Friday to talk about Sunday night’s Patriots-Broncos showdown and the controversial ending to Monday night’s Patriots loss to the Panthers.

King said Sunday’s game is more important to the Patriots, who are in danger of finishing out of the top two seeds in the AFC.

“The most important thing at stake the rest of the year is that bye week at the start of the playoffs,” King said. “If you’re the third seed or the fourth seed, that becomes a pretty big deal, in my opinion. It makes you play that first week and everything. Obviously if you’re one of the first two seeds you get that week off.”

The Broncos are coming off a victory over the previously undefeated Chiefs this past Sunday, and they play Kansas City again a week after meeting the Patriots. King said that presents a major challenge, but he’s still going with Denver on Sunday.

“Kansas City, sandwiching this game for Denver, playing them two out of three weeks, I think that makes this a really troublesome game for Denver,” King said. “Even though I like Denver in the game, if I’m looking at this game, the thing that’s the biggest disadvantage is you’re having to face a really good team twice in 15 days, sandwiched around this game. So, I think Denver’s road is tougher. I just think Denver this weekend has a few too many answers for what New England can do defensively.”

The big story in the NFL this week was the controversial finishing to Monday’s game, when the officials picked up a flag thrown for interference on Carolina linebacker Luke Kuechly on the game’s final play, giving the Panthers a 24-20 victory.

“Let’s make three points about this,” King said. “No. 1, I think that Clete Blakeman did a very bad job after the play in not explaining what happened. You owe it to the coaches in the game, you owe it to the teams in the game, and you owe it to millions of people watching on TV. All we could do was guess what the crew ruled. That was absurd to not have any idea why they ruled what it is they ruled, but to be less guessing. That’s No. 1.

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Read More: Bill Belichick, Dean Blandino, Gerry Austin, John Gruden

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