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What might have been: Bill Belichick, Oakland Raider?

09.27.11 at 7:50 pm ET
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Bill Belichick and Al Davis, together with the Raiders? The mind reels at the possibilities.

After being let go by the Browns following the 1995 season and prior to being named the head coach of the Patriots in January 2000, Belichick spent time working as an assistant with the Jets and Patriots. But it that same span, he also had interviews with the Cardinals and Raiders for their top jobs. And while he was one of six finalists for the Arizona job in 1990 that ended up going to Joe Bugel, the courtship from the Raiders appeared to run deeper.

Oakland actually took two runs at Belichick as a head coach in the 1990s. The first time came in early 1997 as the Patriots were in the midst of a Super Bowl run. Belichick was an assistant on that New England team — he was an assistant head coach and defensive backs coach — but was coveted by a handful of teams who were looking to fill coaching vacancies. Davis and the Raiders were forced to wait on Belichick — NFL rules at the time prohibited a team from even expressing interest in a coach still involved in the postseason. (That rule has since changed.) But Belichick finally get a chance to sit down with the legendary Oakland owner after New England’€™s season ended.

‘€œIt was a pretty interesting interview to be talking X’€™s and O’€™s with an owner,’€ Belichick told reporters in 2008 prior to the last regular meeting between the Patriots and Oakland. ‘€œAl’€™s had six decades in the NFL, so he has as much history and knowledge about the game, what he wants, and what’€™s going on in the game during that time as anybody. We talked a lot about strategic football, X’€™s and O’€™s, as well as overall organizational stuff, and personnel and philosophy.

‘€œIt was great to sit down and talk with him,’€ Belichick added. ‘€œWe shared some views and conversations on different aspects of technical football. It wasn’€™t a big social interview. It was much more detailed and specific to football.’€

The Raiders went with Bugel, but came calling again in 1998 after they fired him after just one season (this story says Belichick’€™s two-part interview concluded on Jan. 14, 1998). As the process continued, Belichick’€™s name was leaked one of three finalists, a group that included Jon Gruden and Art Shell. According to reports, Raiders CEO Amy Trask pushed for Oakland to hire Belichick, but Davis ended up going to Gruden, who spent four seasons in Oakland. Meanwhile, Belichick would spend three seasons as an assistant with the Jets before eventually taking the head coach job with the Patriots in January 2000.

It’€™s fun to speculate about what might have happened to the Raiders’€™ franchise if Belichick had landed by the Bay: Would Davis have yielded personnel decisions to Belichick? Could Belichick have delivered the same sort of dynasty with Oakland that he helped create in New England? And what would have happened to the Patriots?

Both sides made their decisions, but those conversations between Belichick and Davis may have paved the way for a working relationship that continues to this day — the Patriots and Raiders are frequent trade partners, including blockbuster deals over the years between the two teams that have seen stars like Randy Moss and Richard Seymour swap New England for Oakland and vice versa.

Read More: Al Davis, Amy Trask, Art Shell, Bill Belichick

Is Stevan Ridley ready for a break-out?

09.27.11 at 6:14 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Going into last weekend’s game in Western New York, there were those who figured the Patriots were due for a break-out game in their rushing attack. And those same prognosticators figured it would be BenJarvus Green-Ellis on the loose in the teeth of the Bills defense.

Well, 45 Tom Brady passes later, the Patriots passing game was still the clear choice of attack by coach Bill Belichick and offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien.

The rushing attack was on display on just 26 snaps and it wasn’t Green-Ellis leading the way but rather an LSU product by the name of Stevan Ridley. Green-Ellis looked sluggish at the goal line and in short yardage so the Pats tried Ridley. They liked what they saw.

The rookie, who scored three times in the preseason rout of the Jaguars, rushed the ball seven times and gained 44 yards for a very healthy clip of 6.3 yards per carry, including a 16-yard scamper right between the tackles in the fourth quarter. He even caught one pass for eight yards. How much did the Patriots trust him? Five of his seven carries came in fourth-quarter pressure situations.

It would appear by those eight touches, the Patriots and O’Brien feel the rookie is learning the system at a fairly healthy clip.

“Last week was basically the first game that he had played a decent amount [in],” O’Brien said Tuesday. “He’€™s got a long way to go, just like any rookie, as it relates to the overall scheme and knowing what to do and things like that. I think that whole position has been good for us this year and productive. He’€™ll be another guy that we add into the mix there. Again, he’€™s got to improve in a lot of areas and he is a hard working guy. He’€™s his own guy; I wouldn’€™t compare him to anybody.”

Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio liked what he saw from the moment he saw him play for Les Miles at LSU in Baton Rouge.

“He was a productive back against a good level of competition,” Caserio said of the back who faced SEC competition week-in and week-out. “He made the most of his opportunities on Sunday ‘€“ like a lot of players have. I think the most important thing is week-to-week try to improve on your performance from the previous week and develop a level of consistency ‘€“ whether it is Ridley or whether it is really any other player on this team. I think that’€™s really the most important thing ‘€“ to learn from last week and move forward and figure out how you can improve and how you can help the team in whatever capacity that may be.” Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: BenJarvus Green Ellis, Bill O'Brien, Buffalo Bills, Danny Woodhead

Patriots will rock the throwback uniforms on Oct. 9 against the Jets

09.27.11 at 4:41 pm ET
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The Patriots announced Tuesday afternoon that they will wear their old-school uniforms — complete with the “Pat Patriot” helmet — on Oct. 9 at home against the Jets. It will be the only appearance of the year for the throwbacks, the same uniforms they wore last season on Halloween against the Vikings and on Thanksgiving against the Lions.

Read More: Pat Patriot,

Checking in with Chad Ochocinco

09.27.11 at 4:20 pm ET
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Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien was asked Tuesday for his thoughts on Chad Ochocinco‘s performance against the Bills. The wide receiver dropped one ball that would have likely been a touchdown. In addition, Buffalo cornerback Leodis McKelvin cut in front of him for an interception.

“Chad, just like everybody else in that game — me included — would probably wish to have a couple of plays back,” O’Brien said on a conference call with reporters when asked about Ochocinco, who finished with two catches for 28 yards on the afternoon. “And at the same time, here is a guy and a bunch of guys — coaches included again — that are working hard to correct those mistakes and really focusing on Oakland and trying to get better at the things we all need to get better at, because every week is a challenge.”

It has been a rough start for Ochocinco in a New England uniform — he has five catches for 87 yards through three games, not the sort of production many envisioned for him when he was first acquired by the Patriots in July. But it doesn’t sound like anyone in the New England locker room has turned their backs on him.

“I think the last few weeks, he’€™s really been much more involved in the game and playmaking,” quarterback Tom Brady told WEEI on Monday. “And we’€™re going to need him. We’€™re going to need every single player on the roster. I have a lot of confidence in Chad. He works hard, he wants to do the right thing, he studies. He spends time after practice trying to get it right.

“Chad is definitely making more plays for us, and that’€™s important for our offense. They’€™re going to have to defend everybody.”

Read More: Bill O'Brien, Chad Ochocinco, Leodis McKelvin, Tom Brady

A fine stitch: Rob Gronkowski is making an art form of the seam route

09.27.11 at 1:25 pm ET
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FOXBORO — It has quickly become one of the trademarks of the highest-powered offense in the game. It’s bigger than a single receiver or running back. It even starred in the recent Bill Belichick biography on the NFL Network.

It is the seam route.

Anyone watching the Patriots decimate the Bills in the opening 20 minutes Sunday saw plenty of examples of just how proficient Tom Brady has become in isolating a receiver in the slot on a mismatched safety or linebacker. The receiver finds a gap between the outside cornerback and the closest defender on the inside of the defense and splits the seam almost evenly, allowing the quarterback to hit the receiver in stride.

It has already produced four touchdowns directly and been the key play in several other scoring drives in the opening three games, a three-game stretch that has seen Brady throw for an NFL-record 1,327 yards.

The most notable example of course was 1st-and-10 at the Patriots 1 on opening night in Miami. The Patriots had just stopped the Dolphins on 4th-and-goal at the 1, protecting a 14-point lead when Brady spotted Wes Welker on his left, isolated.

He wasted little team finding enough space in the seam to fire the ball to Welker. And 99 yards later, Brady, Welker and the Patriots made history with the longest play in franchise history, just the 13th 99-yard TD play in NFL history. Aaron Hernandez has become another favorite of Brady’s on the route. And as we all saw on Sunday, when Hernandez isn’t available due to his knee injury, Rob Gronkowski has no problem filling the void.

“Whatever it is, whatever the coaches want me to do. We just have one tight end, we just go in with our game plan. It is what it is, definitely whatever it is the coaches bring out, we definitely have to perform.”

It’s a simple enough route if you have a quarterback accurate enough to thread the needle consistently, and Sunday in Western New York aside, Brady certainly qualifies. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: A Football Life, Aaron Hernandez, Bill Belichick, Buffalo Bills

Target practice: Who has been Tom Brady’s favorite receiver through three games?

09.27.11 at 1:07 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 three weeks, here’s a look at the target breakdown in the New England passing game for the 2010 season.

Aaron Hernandez: 14 catches on 18 targets (78 percent)
Rob Gronkowski: 17 catches on 22 targets (77 percent)
Danny Woodhead: 6 catches on 8 targets (75 percent)
Deion Branch: 15 catches on 22 targets (68 percent)
Wes Welker: 31 catches on 43 targets (72 percent)
Chad Ochocinco: 5 catches on 9 targets (56 percent)
Matthew Slater: 1 catch on 2 targets (50 percent)
BenJarvus Green-Ellis: 1 catch on 2 targets (50 percent)
Julian Edelman: 2 catch on 5 targets (40 percent)
Dane Fletcher: 0 catches on 1 target (0 percent)
Stevan Ridley: 1 catch on 1 target (100 percent)
TOTAL: 93 catches on 133 targets (70 percent)

By position:
Running back: 8 catches on 11 targets (73 percent)
Tight end: 31 catches on 40 targets (78 percent)
Wide receiver: 54 catches on 81 targets (67 percent)
Other: 0 catches on 1 target (0 percent)

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

Fantasy Football 2011: Week 4 Waiver Wire

09.27.11 at 12:03 pm ET
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Here is a look at the best waiver wire additions for week four. If you play in a really deep format, check out our full waiver wire column at coming out later today where we have even more options.

Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, Bills

He’€™s looked very good obviously and it’€™s always encouraging when a player performs against a Bill Belichick defense. He’€™s been largely good since taking over as the starter last year, and he’€™s got a great array of weapons to work with. He’€™s a guy you can start in all formats right now. Of course, he is only available in about 10% of leagues.  Nevertheless, you should get him if you need help and he’€™s there.

Chad Henne, QB, Dolphins

Henne is proving to be a serviceable QB2 for fantasy GMs. Brandon Marshall gives him a top-flight weapon and Miami is playing more aggressively on offense this year. He’€™s a good pickup if you need QB depth.

Kendall Hunter, RB, 49ers

He’€™s a Rotobahn favorite, but the big reason for his inclusion here is the injury to Frank Gore. Hunter is clearly the next back up in the 49ers’€™ pecking order, and he showed why by finding the zone in week three. He won’€™t be flying under the radar much longer–if at all. Nevertheless, he is still available in 82% of CBS leagues and we’€™d snatch him up in most formats.

Jonathan Stewart, RB, Panthers

He’€™s largely taken, but he’€™s available in a few leagues that I am in, so he is worth mentioning. I wish I had a decent ‘€œcut’€ player so I could go get him, but I have Ben Tate and Arian Foster on my bench. He should be owned in all formats. Stewart is the Panthers back to own at this point as their offense becomes more and more diverse.  He is a superior player in the passing game in comparison to starter DeAngelo Williams, and he’€™s right there with him as a ball carrier.

Read the rest of this entry »

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