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Michael Lombardi on D&C: Albert Haynesworth needs to be ready for November, December

09.30.11 at 9:30 am ET
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NFL Network analyst Michael Lombardi joined the Dennis & Callahan show Friday morning to talk about the Patriots and other NFL news. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

The Patriots struggled defensively Sunday against the Bills, leading to their first loss of the season.

“I think they’re a work in progress on defense,” Lombardi said. “After the Miami game I thought they were really coming along and making some steps in terms of their ability to put pressure [on the quarterback]. And certainly there were plays [vs.] San Diego that they did. Last week it was disappointing. But you have to understand, last week the ball came out so quickly, that they’ve only given up one sack in Buffalo. If Buffalo ran a normal offense where they were straight drop-back, five- and seven-step drops, their offensive line would get exposed. But because of the system they run, it’s very difficult to hit the quarterback.”

Albert Haynesworth was supposed to provide a lift to the defense, but the oft-injured lineman missed the Bills game. Lombardi said Haynesworth’s true value won’t be known until the final month of the season.

“I think the jury’s still out on that,” he said. “If you watch Albert in the first game, if you watch him against Miami and if you watch him against San Diego, he was providing some of those things [in the pass rush]. Last week obviously he was hurt with his back injury.

“Look, this game’s about November, December. And I think the key component for Albert Haynesworth isn’t whether he plays tremendously in the month of September, it’s can he be a force in November and December when they have to win those games and win playoff games. And I think that’s really the goal for Albert Haynesworth. I’m not saying he should take time off now, but I think because of no offseason program, because of no real training camp, I think it’s most important to get him in shape, get him healthy, and then get him ready for November and December.”

The Patriots play in Oakland Sunday against the resurgent Raiders, who have taken advantage of their all-around speed. The line play could be a key factor. Said Lombardi: “The offensive line is another line, like Buffalo, that can become exposed with the pass rush, especially because they’re not that talented, but they get rid of the ball very quickly.”

Read More: Albert Haynesworth, Michael Lombardi,

Devin McCourty on D&C: ‘This week is going to be big’

09.30.11 at 8:32 am ET
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Patriots cornerback Devin McCourty made his weekly appearance on the Dennis & Callahan show Friday morning, as the Patriots prepare for Sunday’s game against the Raiders in Oakland. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

“This week is going to be big,” McCourty said. “We’re focused, we’re ready to go. Everybody’s going out there Sunday and competing.”

The Raiders are coming off a victory over the Jets, and they have shown signs that they could be a plus-.500 team for the first time in nine seasons. Their top attribute is their team speed.

“Their speed is all over the field, at every skill position. That team flies,” McCourty said. “They take the opportunity to make big plays by getting athletes the ball. You’ve got a quarterback, [Jason] Campbell, he’s an athlete, too. You have to be prepared all over the field because they have guys who can run, they’re very athletic. So, we have to be very disciplined.”

Running back Darren McFadden is off to a fast start in his fourth season in the NFL.

“He’s a tough guy to bring down,” McCourty said. “He runs hard, and then he’s the same way, he has that speed. When he does break out, he’s not a usual running back. You’re not going to catch him. So, you got to keep him contained.”

McCourty was under the microscope after being targeted repeatedly by the Bills in Sunday’s loss. Asked how he compares his game to last year, when he shined as a rookie, McCourty said: “I think it’s been the same. Even last year at this point, just trying to improve each week and trying to get better. A week from today I want to be better than I was last week.”

Read More: Darren McFadden, Devin McCourty, Jason Campbell,

In Focus: Charting the offensive opportunities for the Patriots’ skill position players through three weeks

09.29.11 at 6:36 pm ET
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Every week over the course of the 2011 NFL season, we’€™ll present a list of the Patriots’€™ ‘€œoffensive touches,’€ a running tally of which one of the offensive skill position players is getting the most looks. Like our weekly look at targets, it can occasionally be an inexact stat, but it remains a good barometer of how confident the coaches (and quarterback) are when it comes to the skill position players at their disposal. Three weeks into the season, here’€™s a breakdown of the New England offense for 2011, as well as a few more notes on the offense:

BenJarvus Green Ellis: 34 (33 carries, 1 reception) two touchdowns — three negative plays
Wes Welker: 32 (1 carry, 31 receptions) four touchdowns
Danny Woodhead: 30 (24 carries, 6 receptions) zero touchdowns
Rob Gronkowski: 17 (0 carries, 17 receptions), five touchdowns
Deion Branch: 15 (0 carries, 15 receptions), zero touchdowns
Aaron Hernandez: 14 (0 carries, 14 receptions), two touchdowns
Stevan Ridley: 10 (9 carries, 1 reception), zero touchdowns
Chad Ochocinco: 5 (0 carries, 5 receptions), zero touchdowns
Tom Brady: 4 (4 carries, 0 receptions) 11 passing touchdowns, zero rushing touchdowns — three negative plays (all sacks)
Julian Edelman: 4 (2 carries, 2 receptions) zero touchdowns — one negative play
Matthew Slater: 1 (0 carries, 1 reception) zero touchdowns
TOTAL: 166 touches (73 carries, 93 receptions) — seven negative plays

By position
Running back: 74 touches (66 carries, 8 receptions)
Tight end: 31 touches (0 carries, 31 receptions)
Wide receiver: 57 touches (3 carries, 54 receptions)
Other: 4 (4 carries, 0 receptions)

Some more offensive notes: For all the talk of Brady’s record start, it’s interesting to see the run/pass splits for the Patriots, who are closer to 50/50 through three games than many people probably realize. … When you consider his touches and his target percentage rate, it’s clear both Brady and the coaching staff have an extraordinary level of faith in Welker. … The Patriots have run 209 plays from scrimmage over the course of the first three games. According to official NFL gamebooks, New England has utilized the no-huddle for 54 snaps (27 plays in the no-huddle against the Dolphins, 15 against the Chargers and 12 against the Bills), or 26 percent. … All four of the negative plays (the non-sacks) have come in the running game — one of Edelman’s two runs when lined up as a running back was a negative play.

Read More: Aaron Hernandez, BenJarvus Green Ellis, Chad Ochocinco, Danny Woodhead

Jerod Mayo hopes Patriots can bounce back like they did after last year’s loss to Cleveland

09.29.11 at 2:23 pm ET
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FOXBORO ‘€” Jerod Mayo is hoping to feel a little déjà vu this week.

On Thursday, the Patriots linebacker talked about a nasty loss being used as a possible rallying cry going forward: The 2010 team suffered a hideous loss to the Browns in Cleveland on Nov. 7, but went on an eight-game win streak to end the season.

Could the Patriots use Sunday’s defeat at the hands of the Bills as similar fuel?

‘€œAnytime you come off a loss, it’€™s like ‘€˜Hey, we have to bounce back.’€™ Same thing happened with Cleveland last year,’€ Mayo said. ‘€œWe continued to get better after that and we ran off a good number of games in row. Hopefully that trend continues.’€

If that trend continues, the Patriots will have to find some way to slow down Oakland running back Darren McFadden this week. The fourth-year running back gained 171 yards on 19 carries and scored two touchdowns in Oakland’€™s 34-24 home win over the Jets, and is the league leader in rushing yards with 393.

‘€œMcFadden is a great guy with the ball in hands. Tackling him will be an issue,’€ Mayo said of the 6-foot-2, 210-pounder out of Arkansas. ‘€œHe’€™s a big guy and he’€™s fast. [He] has a great stiff arm and he can catch the ball out of the backfield ‘€“ a very explosive player.

‘€œIt’€™s all about rallying to the football when a guy like McFadden has the ball,’€ he added. ‘€œLike I said, he poses a great threat every time he touches the ball.’€

When it comes to defending McFadden, one of the biggest areas of concern for New England is his ability to break a big play. The running back has three runs of 20-plus yards this season, including a season-high 47-yarder against the Broncos. He’€™s also a threat in the passing game, leading the Raiders with 11 catches for 84 yards on the season.

Not good for a team that has yielded 30 catches for 271 yards and two touchdowns to running backs through three games.

‘€œBig plays have really been killing us. That’€™s one of the main priorities in practice this week — stopping the big play and getting off the field,’€ Mayo said.

Entering Sunday’€™s game against the Raiders, the Patriots are currently last in the league in total yards allowed (368.7 yards per game) and passing yards allowed (377), and are 27th overall in points per game allowed (26.3). While his coach once said that stats were for losers, Mayo looks at the bottom line and says that until they change things, ‘€œthe numbers don’€™t lie.’€

‘€œI think we have great players on our defense,’€ Mayo said. ‘€œAt the same time, we have to go out and prove it on Sundays. Up to this point, we really haven’€™t done that. The numbers are what they are. We have to go out and try to change those numbers. No matter how good you think you are, the numbers don’€™t lie.’€

Read More: Darren McFadden, Jerod Mayo,

Looking at Tom Brady’s history after four-interception games

09.28.11 at 9:45 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Sunday will mark a rare return to the Bay Area for Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. Brady, who grew up in San Mateo, still has plenty of family and friends in central California.

‘€œIt’€™s been a while since I’€™ve been there — the last time when we played there I think was in ‘€˜02,’€ he said Wednesday morning. ‘€œI think my parents are the most happy — they don’€™t have to come very far this week. So for us, it’€™s a road game — it’€™s an important one. We’€™ve got to go out there and try to win.’€

Brady has only played one game in the Bay Area in his professional career — Nov. 17, 2002 against the Raiders. In that game, Brady went 18-for-30 for 172 yards with no touchdowns and no picks in a 27-20 defeat to the Raiders. (The Patriots were on the West Coast in 2008 to face the 49ers and Raiders, but Brady missed both games because of the season-ending knee injury he suffered in the opener against the Chiefs.)

For Brady, it’€™s not only a rare chance to save his parents a plane flight, it’€™s also a chance to redeem himself after a four-interception afternoon against the Bills. Brady four-pick outings are Halley’€™s Comet rare — five times over the course of his 11-plus seasons in the NFL. Here’€™s a quick look back at those efforts, and how he’€™s responded the following week:
Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Tom Brady,

Brian Waters knows birds could be flying from every direction in ‘Black Hole’

09.28.11 at 3:50 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Brian Waters has seen a lot over the course of his long NFL career.

But there’s one thing he never thought he’d ever see. That was before stepping foot one day in the same stadium he’ll be playing in on Sunday as the Patriots battle the Raiders at the Coliseum in Oakland.

“It’s first time I ever saw an old lady in wheelchair shooting you the bird with both fingers,” Waters said of his experience once upon a time with the visiting Chiefs.

“It’s about as crazy as you can get.”

The “Black Hole” scene has mellowed somewhat as the NFL has tried to help the Raiders clean up the notorious tailgating conditions in the parking lots outside prior to games, leading to numerous incidents over the years, both inside and outside the stadium.

So, how different is it and what’s his message to the younger Patriots who haven’t played there since the team’s last visit in 2008?

“Everything, from the time you drive in till the end of the game, you’re going to probably see a lot of different things, some good, some bad,” Waters said. “But the biggest thing for a player going in there and one of the things you try to get across to the young guys as much as possible is don’t focus on those things. Try not to pay attention because they can be a distraction, a great distraction if you allow it to.”

Waters isn’t expecting any less of a nasty welcome just because he’s no longer on the hated Chiefs.

“I don’t care who it is,” he added. “When you walk in there, I don’t care who you are. They’re not going to like you. They’re not going to like you, your family, your friends. And they’re going to have no issues letting you know from the time the buses ride in.”

Then there’s the field itself. With baseball’s A’s wrapping up their season on Wednesday, the grounds crew is putting turf down in advance of Sunday’s game. Pats coach Bill Belichick said the Raiders have told him it should be in place in time for kickoff.

“It’s a little bit of a change,” Waters said. “You have to make sure you have the proper footing but for the most part, you just have to pay attention to it, especially if the weather is a little bit different, if it rains, it definitely can be something you have to pay attention to. It’s more difficult for the receivers and running backs than offensive linemen.

“It’s more of a pain for those guys doing a lot more breaking and running and cutting than it is for the big guys. We work with smaller spaces. It won’t be as difficult for us.”

Read More: Bill Belichick, Black Hole, Brian Waters, New England Patriots

Hue Jackson: You’ve got to let Chad Ochocinco be himself ‘to get the most out of him’

09.28.11 at 1:33 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Raiders coach Hue Jackson isn’t suggesting Chad Ochocinco start taking over camera duties like he occasionally did in Cincinnati on the sidelines, but he does have one bit of advice for Bill Belichick: “Let Chad be Chad.”

In a conference call with Patriots media Wednesday in Foxboro, Jackson reminded everyone of his close ties to the Patriots receiver. Well before joining the Raiders coaching staff in 2010, Jackson was the receivers coach with the Bengals from 2004-06, when the then-Chad Johnson became a rising star with Cincinnati.

Chad Johnson is [like] my son,” Jackson said of his relationship with the Patriots receiver. “I know you guys probably have a hard time with him. He’s kind of colorful. But he is a tremendous young man. I really adore him, but I won’t on Sunday.

“I helped raise that young man in Cincinnati. He played for me, did wonders for me. He is a tremendous competitor and a doggone good football player. On Sunday, I’ll look across [the field] and look at him but he knows that this is about winning and he understands that.”

It was with Jackson as his coach and Carson Palmer as the quarterback that Johnson became one of the premier receivers in the NFL, help leading the Bengals to AFC North titles in 2005, and again in 2009.

“I think we grew. When I came to Cincinnati, he was really early in his career. He was right on the cusp of becoming a great player. What I tried to do was push him, and take him to where he truly wanted to go. He wanted to be one of the best in the league and at that time, his time with me, there’s no question in my mind he was. He really worked at it, the way he studied videotape, the way he prepared. I let him have his own personality because that’s Chad. You have to allow him to be him to get the most out of him.

“That’s what we were able to do. We forged a bond that’s been the same since my time in Cincinnati. I always check on him. I haven’t checked on him too much this year since I’ve been so busy but I do have a lot of respect for the player.”

And what about the frustration Ocho has had in the first three weeks of the 2011 season, as he gets accustomed to the Patriots’ way?

“I think a lot of players are that way,” Jackson said. “When you’re used to having success and things have gone for you the way his career has gone up to this point, it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. But one thing I know about him, he will continue to work. He’ll do everything that’s asked of him. He’s a tremendous pro. I’m sure he’s working at it. And eventually, it will come off right for him. I just don’t want to happen this week.”

Read More: Chad Johnson, Chad Johnson NFL, Chad Ochocinco, Cincinnati Bengals
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