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A closer look at the decision to release James Sanders

08.29.11 at 5:00 pm ET
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The Patriots have never been shy about cutting ties with veterans, but Monday’€™s decision to release veteran safety James Sanders is one of the more surprising personnel moves New England has made over the last few years.

The 27-year-old Sanders, who was selected in the fourth round of the 2005 draft out of Fresno State, was one of the steadiest defensive backs in New England since he first arrived. At a position where the Patriots have sought stability since the retirement of Rodney Harrison, Sanders was a consistent and durable presence on the back line for New England: He played in 84 games with 49 starts over his first six NFL seasons (2005-10), totaling 300 tackles (217 solo), one sack and eight interceptions for 172 yards and two touchdowns.

‘€œ[A] tough release there with James Sanders,’€ Patriots coach Bill Belichick said on a Monday afternoon conference call. ‘€œJames has been a really good guy to have on this team, a hard-working kid. He developed form the time he came through to us as a draft choice out of Fresno. He was a solid team player for us. It’€™s just part of the moves. We needed to release some people and he was a tough one.’€

Going beyond the standard stats, Sanders was undeniably an important part of the Patriots’€™ defense. According to the analytical site Pro Football Focus, Sanders had great numbers in 2010 when compared to the rest of the New England safeties. Analyst Sam Monson writes that in the regular season, Brandon Meriweather had 897 snaps, Patrick Chung had 805 and Sanders had 790. (Including the playoffs, he dropped even further behind, with Meriweather at 952, Chung at 847 and Sanders at 819.)

However, according to PFF, Sanders had the best coverage numbers of the three last year: Playoffs included, quarterbacks had a rating of 100.7 when throwing at Meriweather, 97.8 when throwing at Chung and just 77.1 when throwing at Sanders. It wasn’€™t like that came on fewer targets either, as the 36 targets for Sanders was six more then Meriweather with Chung way out in front with 51 (skewed by snaps covering the slot at the ‘€œstar’€ position.) He was also beaten for a long of just 33 yards compared to Meriweather and Chung who both coughed up 50-plus yard passes. At just 61.1 percent of targets into his coverage complete, he also topped the three for completion percentage (Meriweather was 66.7 and Chung 70.6 percent).
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Report: Patriots plan to release veteran safety James Sanders

08.29.11 at 1:44 pm ET
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The Patriots have reportedly informed veteran safety James Sanders they plan to cut him Monday, according Adam Schefter of ESPN. (UPDATE, 2:11 p.m.: The move has been confirmed by Sanders via Twitter.)

The 27-year-old defensive back, who was taken in the fourth round (133rd overall) of the 2005 NFL Draft, has been a steady and consistent performer since he first arrived in Foxboro. He’s played in 84 games with 49 starts over his first six NFL seasons (2005-10), totaling 300 tackles (217 solo), one sack, eight interceptions for 172 yards and two touchdowns, 19 passes defensed and 30 special teams tackles.

Sanders was due $2.8 million in base salary the coming year, the final one of his current deal.

Earlier on Monday, the Patriots released defensive lineman Clay Nurse, as well as wide receivers Darnell Jenkins and Tyree Barnes. As mandated by the league, all teams must be down to 80 players by Tuesday at 4 p.m.

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Patriots release wide receivers Darnell Jenkins and Tyree Barnes

08.29.11 at 1:35 pm ET
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The Patriots have started the process of cutting down their roster to 80 people ‘€” moments after the news came down they had released defensive lineman Clay Nurse, league sources confirmed that New England has also cut wide receivers Darnell Jenkins and Tyree Barnes.

Jenkins is a 28-year-old out of Miami who stands 5-foot-10 and is 191 pounds who was signed to the Patriots practice squad last September. Meanwhile, Barnes is a 6-foot, 196-pounder out of Navy who was signed by the Patriots as an undrafted free agent in May 2009 and spent the last couple of years on the reserve/military list.

Read More: Clay Nurse, darnell jenkins, patriots cuts, Tyree Barnes

Clay Nurse starts the parade of cuts for the Patriots

08.29.11 at 1:18 pm ET
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It appears the cuts have started in Foxboro a day before the Tuesday deadline. Former Illinois defensive lineman Clay Nurse tweeted Monday afternoon: Welp, its been real New England. On to the next opportunity. Nurse, 6-foot-3 and 260 pounds, was one of several defensive linemen the Patriots picked up in the offseason, but never saw any serious time with New England through the first three weeks of the preseason.

The Patriots have to be down to 80 players by Tuesday at 4 p.m.

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Danny Woodhead on M&M: ‘I was ready to go’ after big hit vs. Bucs

08.29.11 at 11:43 am ET
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Running back Danny Woodhead joined the Mut & Merloni show Monday morning as part of WEEI’s Patriots Monday. Woodhead was drilled in Game 2 of the preseason but said there was never a question about being ready for Saturday’s game vs. the Lions.

“That was not even a little bit of a worry going into the game,” he said. “I was ready to go. I was obviously out there, so that wasn’t of any concern for me.”

Woodhead was hit while covering on special teams late in the Buccaneers game. Asked if he had any concerns about being in a vulnerable position so late in a preseason game, Woodhead said no.

“It’s a football game,” he said. “You’ve got to play every minute that you’re in. The biggest thing that we go by is we’ve got to play 60 minutes no matter what it is. I was out there and maybe I got hit. It’s football. That’s what we signed up to play.”

After the play, Woodhead appeared to be woozy as he was helped off by fellow Patriots, but Woodhead insists it looked worse than it was.

“I’ve got a lot of great teammates,” he said. “I think that’s probably what it was. They were probably just concerned because they saw me get hit. I’ve got a lot of great teammates that care about me. I think that’s probably the reason. They saw me get hit pretty big.”

Following are more highlights from the conversation. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.

On Saturday’s 34-10 loss to the Lions: “They came and they ended up beating us. That’s really all that you say is that they beat us. We’ve got to get back to work and try to get better every day.”

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Deion Branch on M&M: ‘Just a lot of negative plays’ against Lions

08.29.11 at 11:18 am ET
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Wide receiver Deion Branch spoke with Mut & Merloni Monday morning as part of WEEI’s Patriots Monday.

Branch attributed Saturday’€™s loss to the Lions to ‘€œjust a lot negative plays, a lot of flags.’€

‘€œWe had a game plan, we wanted to go out and execute our game plan,’€ Branch said. ‘€œUnfortunately, there were some mishaps, a bunch of negative plays on the football field that didn’€™t allow us to out and execute our game plan completely.’€

Added Branch: ‘€œAs an offense, you can’€™t be successful in long-yardage situations.’€

Following are more highlights from the conversation. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.

On where the team goes after the loss: ‘€œThere are going to be a lot of good things coming out this once we watch the film.’€

On his lack of preseason receptions: ‘€œI don’€™t have any issues with what’€™s going on right now. I understand exactly what we’€™re doing, and hey, I’€™m going to roll with it.’€

On wanting to play Thursday against the Giants: ‘€œThe way we played [against the Lions], we didn’€™t display our type of football. The only way you can do that is to actually get on the practice field, and gear up and get to the next game.’€

On the lockout making the preseason more important: “We only have one more week together before we kick this thing off for real. … Back in the past, you’€™d have two practices and an extra week or so, and also the minicamps and the offseason programs’€“ all the things that we didn’€™t have this year.’€

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Transcript of Tom Brady on D&C: Patriots ‘don’t make excuses for losing games’

08.29.11 at 10:20 am ET
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Patriots quarterback Tom Brady had his weekly phone conversation with Dennis & Callahan Monday morning, on the heels of Saturday’s 34-10 preseason loss to the Lions. Brady said the Patriots would not downplay the disappointing performance.

“You don’€™t make excuses for losing games,” Brady said. “We’€™ve never done that around here. Look, when you lose, you get outplayed. We had a bad night, we had a bad day, and I think in some ways we all create expectations through winning: ‘Man, we had one bad play in the game. Man, why did I make a bad play?’ Ultimately, we have to do a better job overcoming bad plays so that we can make better plays moving forward.”

Brady also said his goal as a quarterback is to always make the best play available, even if that doesn’t always lead to success.

“There’€™s no excuse for not going out there and playing well in the game, because no matter what play is called, you can still do what’€™s best for the play,” Brady said. “It may not be a successful play, but maybe the best thing is to throw the ball away, or take a sack of the quarterback, or throw the ball only where your offensive player can catch it. … That’€™s more what you’€™re evaluated on, that’€™s how we evaluate ourselves more-so than the points on the scoreboard.”

Following is a transcript of the conversation. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

Can a loss like Detroit’€™s have the same kind of effect that the Cleveland loss did last year?

Who knows at this point? You hate losing any time you take the field in competition. I’€™m sure there’€™s a lot to be learned, a lot to be understood by our entire team of the things that we need to do on a consistent basis so we can win games. We’€™re getting back to work today, we had yesterday off, and I think everyone’€™s excited to go in there and see what the issues were and see the positives that we can take from the game so we can move on and hopefully play better this week.

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Read More: Bill Belichick, Chad Ochocinco, New England Patriots, Tom Brady
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