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Target Practice: Who has been Tom Brady’s favorite receiver through 15 games?

12.28.11 at 1:57 pm ET
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Targets have been compiled by the NFL since the start of the 2009 season, and while it remains an imperfect stat ‘€” a badly thrown ball from a quarterback can often go against the record of the receiver as opposed to the quarterback ‘€” it remains a good indication of the confidence level a passer might have in his pass catcher. After 15 games, here’€™s a look at the target breakdown in the New England passing game for the 2011 season:

Kevin Faulk: 7 catches on 9 targets (78 percent)
Wes Welker: 116 catches on 161 targets (72 percent)
Rob Gronkowski: 82 catches on 114 targets (72 percent)
Aaron Hernandez: 72 catches on 102 targets (71 percent)
BenJarvus Green-Ellis: 8 catches on 12 targets (67 percent)
Stevan Ridley: 3 catches on 5 targets (60 percent)
Deion Branch: 51 catches on 90 targets (57 percent)
Danny Woodhead: 16 catches on 29 targets (55 percent)
Tiquan Underwood: 3 catches on 6 targets (50 percent)
Julian Edelman: 4 catches on 8 targets (50 percent)
Chad Ochocinco: 15 catches on 31 targets (48 percent)
Matthew Slater: 1 catch on 3 targets (33 percent)
Taylor Price: 0 catches on 1 target (0 percent)
Dane Fletcher: 0 catches on 1 target (0 percent)

By position:
Tight end: 154 catches on 216 targets (71 percent)
Wide receiver: 190 catches on 297 targets (64 percent)
Running back: 34 catches on 55 targets (62 percent)
Other: 0 catches on 1 target (0 percent)

Read More: Aaron Hernandez, BenJarvus Green Ellis, Chad Ochocinco, Dane Fletcher

No passing fancy for Bill Belichick: Pats coach wants no talk of Dan Marino or passing records

12.28.11 at 1:24 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Bill Belichick was not in the mood to wax poetic about Dan Marino and the fall of the NFL passing yards mark on Wednesday. But it wasn’t without several attempts on parts of several media members in attendance for his weekly Wednesday look ahead to the coming opponent.

Reminded that not only did Drew Brees pass the mark on Monday night in the win over the Falcons, but his own quarterback Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers of the Packers could all pass the previous mark of 5,084 yards set by Miami’s Marino in 1984.

The exchange began with the following question: With quarterbacks around the league throwing for so many yards this year, what really changed this year as opposed to several years ago?

“Well I think we’ve seen production in the passing game,” Belichick said. “I mean, look at Marino’s, that was 20 years ago, or whatever it was, and we’re talking about that record now standing for quite a while. I think it’s all a function of execution. There have been great passers in this league for a long time, great receivers, great tight ends, great runners, great defenders. So sometimes each year falls a little bit different. I don’t have a great explanation for it.”

Shalise Young of the Boston Globe offered this follow-up: As a defensive coach, though, with all the rules that have been made the last few years, would Marino have thrown for far more yards [under the current rules]? If Marino was playing now, do you think he’d have thrown for 5,500 yards?

“Yeah, I don’t know. If if’s and buts were candy and nuts, everyday would be Christmas,” Belichick said in a wry and droll reference to Dandy Don Meredith. “I don’t know. I have no idea.”

Young: Do those rules help though?

Belichick: Which rules are you talking about?

Young: The rules of not being able to hit quarterbacks, and how receivers you can’t touch them further downfield.

Belichick: Those rules have been in place for 15 years.

Young: But there’s a bigger emphasis on them in recent years. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: aaron rodgers, Bill Belichick, Chris Berman, Dan Marino

Ross Ventrone returns, so does Aaron Lavarias

12.28.11 at 12:56 pm ET
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FOXBORO — The Ross Ventrone era has yet another new beginning as the oft-released and oft-resigned defensive back was brought back to the practice squad Wednesday, as was defensive end Aaron Lavarias.

Ventrone, 25, has spent time on both the practice squad and 53-man roster this season, playing in eight games. Ventrone, 5-8, 190 pounds, was originally signed by the Patriots as a rookie free agent out of Villanova on April 29, 2010. He spent the majority of his rookie season in 2010 on the New England practice squad.

If Ventrone plays in one more game, he will be ineligible for the practice squad in the 2012 season.

Meanwhile, the 23-year-old Lavarias was originally signed by the Patriots as a rookie free agent out of Idaho on July 27, 2011. After being released on Sept. 3, he was signed to the New England practice squad on Sept. 5 before being released on Sept. 14. Lavarias, 6-2, 255 pounds, has also spent time in 2011 on the Detroit practice squad.

Read More: Aaron Lavarias, Idaho, New England Patriots, nfl

Meet the new guy … No. 36, Lousaka Polite

12.28.11 at 12:49 pm ET
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FOXBORO — The Patriots have steered clear from employing a traditional fullback the last few seasons — Heath Evans was the last full-time fullback on the roster. After he departed in free agency following the 2008 season, they would occasionally lean on Sammy Morris in that role, but they never had that traditional thick-necked, straight-ahead blocking back on the roster.

While the additional of Lousaka Polite may not dramatically change the look of the New England offense, it will also presumably give them some more versatility on the offensive side of the ball. The 30-year-old Polite is a veteran of seven NFL seasons with Dallas (2004-06), Chicago (2007) and Miami (2008-10).

At 6 feet and 245 pounds, Polite fits into that traditional fullback skill set — lots of snaps, but few carries. He has played in 75 NFL games with 27 starts and has 95 rushing attempts for 296 yards with one touchdown and 41 receptions for 233 yards and one touchdown. Polite has also played in two postseasons games, one with Dallas in 2006 and one with Miami in 2008.

Polite went to training camp with the Dolphins this past summer but was released on Sept. 3. Since then, he’s been waiting by the phone, working out and being a full-time father to his nine-year-old daughter, Anya.

“I was full-time with being a father,” he said. “Normally, during the season, I don’t have that time to spend with her, taking her to dance class and doing things like that was something that was new for me during the season. I was happy to have that opportunity.”

It’s been a long year for Polite, who was nearly out of the game for a full season after getting cut loose by Miami.

“You just never know,” he said. “As the weeks go by, you don’t know what’s going to happen. There’s always a little, tiny bit of doubt because you don’t know what to expect. You just need to stay ready and stay in shape. And luckily, I just got the call.”

Polite has been able to lean on a few former teammates who he has reunited with in New England, including Nate Jones (who he played with in Miami and Dallas), Mark Anderson (in Chicago) and Donald Thomas (in Miami). He’s still not sure what his role will be going forward — he does have special teams experience in addition to his work on offense — but said before practice on Wednesday that he’s “willing to do anything” to get on the field.

“I’m just learning, learning as much as I can. Everything is new to me, so I’m just trying to learn and we’ll just go from there,” he said. “I’m willing to do anything. I’ve played special teams, and I’m just willing to do whatever it takes to contribute to the team.

“I’m in pretty good shape, but you can never duplicate that game experience. But I’ll be fine. I’ll push through it. That’s part of football … staying ready and adjusting to the changes.”

Read More: Anya Polite, Donald Thomas, Heath Evans, Lousaka Polite

Analysis: Some thoughts on the Patriots and the Pro Bowl

12.28.11 at 12:54 am ET
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Five thoughts on the news that the Patriots had eight players named to the AFC Pro Bowl roster on Tuesday:

‘€¢The Patriots led the AFC with eight players on the roster, a number that feels about right. However, in my mind, there were four guys who might feel like they’ve gotten hosed: left tackle Matt Light, punter Zoltan Mesko, cornerback Kyle Arrington and tight end Aaron Hernandez. Light is having one of the finest seasons of his lengthy career, while Miami’s Jake Long and New York’s D’Brickashaw Ferguson made it on rep. (We’ll concede the other spot to Cleveland’s Joe Thomas.) Ferguson in particular was a curious choice. As for Mesko, he probably doesn’t have the same case as Light, but if Oakland’s Shane Lechler (who is having a very good year) comes down with an “injury,” expect Mesko to get a call. While Arrington leads the conference in interceptions, it’s hard to argue with the trio of New York’s Darrelle Revis, Denver’s Champ Bailey and Houston’s Johnathan Joseph. Hernandez has a beef as well, as he lost out to San Diego’s Antonio Gates, who is having a subpar season with the Chargers.

‘€¢Three no-brainers for New England? Tom Brady, Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski. Brady was named to the Pro Bowl for the seventh time in his career, and has 4,897 passing yards and 36 touchdowns in one of the best seasons of his career. Welker, the NFL’s leading receiver with 116 catches 1,518 yards and nine touchdowns, makes it for the fourth time. Meanwhile, Gronkowski, who has 82 catches for 1,219 yards and 15 receiving touchdowns, will be making his first appearance on the AFC roster. ‘€œIt was a great surprise, an honor,’€ Gronkowski said on the NFL Network. ‘€œThe teammates around me have helped me get to this level. With the veteran receivers, Aaron [Hernandez] at the other tight end, we have so many weapons, I’€™m just the one who happens to get (the ball).’€

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Read More: Aaron Hernandez, Albert Haynesworth, Andre Carter, Antonio Gates

Patriots Potential Playoff Opponents: Houston Texans

12.27.11 at 9:17 pm ET
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With the Patriots securely in the postseason, it’€™s time to start sizing up their possible postseason opponents. This is part of a weeklong series of features on the rest of the AFC playoff teams. We’€™ve already profiled the Baltimore Ravens. Today, we’€™ve got a look at the Houston Texans:

The skinny: If the Texans were ever going to win the AFC South, this was the year: without Peyton Manning, the Colts were down, Tennessee was rebuilding and Jacksonville started slowly and made a coaching change. Houston took advantage, and now, they enter the final week of the regular season at 10-5, having already clinched the AFC South championship. (They’€™re currently locked in as the No. 3 playoff seed in the AFC.) They have some impressive wins on their resume, including victories over the Steelers (17-10), Atlanta (17-10) and Cincinnati (20-19). However, they also have more than enough stinkers, including defeats to Oakland, Carolina and Indianapolis. From a distance, the Texans appear to be a competitive young team that has had some occasional struggles with success.

Offense: Houston is down to its third-string quarterback, and while T.J. Yates (78-for-130 for 902 yards with three TDs and three INTs) has played relatively well down the stretch, there are plenty of holes in his game. Offensively, the Texans are powered by running back Arian Foster, who has 1,224 yards on 278 carries for 10 touchdowns and a 4.4 yards per carry average. Houston is anticipating the return of wide receiver Andre Johnson (six games, 31 catches, 471 yards, two touchdowns) for the postseason, and if he is at full strength (he’€™s been slowed by a hamstring problem), he gives the Texans a pair of dynamic skill position players who are among the best at their position.

Defense: Thanks to linebackers Connor Barwin (11.5 sacks) and Brooks Reed (six sacks) and defensive end J.J. Watt (5.5 sacks), the Texans do a good job getting after the quarterback. They’€™re one of the best teams in the league when it comes to the rest of their defense: second in average total yards allowed (280.7), tied for second in the league against the pass (184 yards per game), fourth in the league against the run (96.7 yards per game) and fourth in the league in points per game allowed (17).

Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Andre Johnson, Arian Foster, Brooks Reed, Connor Barwin

Matt Light and the Patriots remind Robert Kraft what Myra Kraft meant to them

12.27.11 at 6:33 pm ET
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FOXBORO — A sincerely grateful Matt Light spoke for the team Tuesday when he explained what it meant to present Patriots owner Robert Kraft with a custom, commissioned painting on Saturday after the 27-24 win over the Dolphins.

“Every guy in this organization, whether you’ve been in here for eight months, six months or 11 years, you realize the importance of this organization, not just football and everything that brings to it. You realize off the field, how much it means to the Kraft family and this organization to represent yourself in a certain way and live your life in a certain way and keep family at the top of the list. I think a lot of times you kind of forget about it in the day-to-day, hustle-and-bustle.

“I think each guy in this locker room, we wanted to tell Mr. Kraft, his family, we understand this has been a tough year. We wanted to commemorate that with something that was one-of-a-kind, that was special, that really talked to what we dedicated the season to, and that’s Myra.”

Myra Kraft passed away on July 20, just five days before Robert Kraft helped end the four-and-a-half month NFL lockout.

“It was just a fun way, a neat way for us to all come together and do something for him,” Light said. “You kind of forget to tell your boss that you appreciate working somewhere and this was just a thing we could do, each coach, each player, we could tell that him that we’re behind him and how much she meant to all of us and the impact that she’s left on all of us. It was a cool moment. It was really nice to be able to get a win and be able to present that to him.

“I think all the guys, we sat around and we talked about what are some ways we could do something special for him. We threw some things out there but I think having a custom painting, something that’s really one-of-a-kind that really spoke to that dedication and what this organization is all about, I think that was something we all agreed on would be a neat thing to do. It was nice to get it done and the timing all worked out.”

Read More: Matt Light, Myra Kraft, New England Patriots, nfl
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