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Target Practice: Tracking opportunities in Patriots passing game

09.25.12 at 8:46 am 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. Here’€™s a look at the target breakdown for the New England passing game through the first three weeks of the 2012 regular season:

WR Brandon Lloyd: 22 catches on 31 targets
WR Wes Welker: 16 catches on 26 targets
TE Rob Gronkowski: 14 catches on 18 targets
WR Julian Edelman: 10 catches on 15 targets
TE Aaron Hernandez: Six catches on eight targets
RB Stevan Ridley: Five catches on eight targets
WR Deion Branch: Two catches on three targets
RB Danny Woodhead: Two catches on three targets
TE Kellen Winslow: One catch on two targets
TE Michael Hoomanawanui: One catch on one target

By position
Wide receiver: 50 catches on 75 targets
Tight end: 22 catches on 29 targets
Running back: 7 catches on 11 targets

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Wes Welker: ‘You’ve got to score touchdowns and we weren’t able to do that’

09.24.12 at 7:17 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Even though they lost the game, the positive signs in the Patriots passing game finally showed Sunday night in Baltimore. The signs fans had been expecting to show up once the team came together in training camp and put Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski on the field together.

Tom Brady was 28-of-41 for 335 yards and a touchdown and he had two receivers go over 100 yards, including the much-maligned Welker. All week leading up to the Ravens game there was speculation on why his role had diminished so much.

He played in just 63 of 80 offensive snaps in a 20-18 loss to the Cardinals. Sunday night at M&T Bank Stadium, he was in on 73 of 82 snaps (89 percent). Only Brady, the offensive line and Gronkowski played more, with all seven of those players playing every single snap.

And the increased time seemed to agree with Welker. He was targeted 10 times, caught eight passes, totaled 142 yards – including a 52-yarder down the left sideline in the first half that set the tempo for his night.

‘€œI felt like I was in the flow before. When my number is called I try to make plays and today and it just wasn’€™t enough,” Welker said. ‘€œI think just trying to create opportunities and win on my route and do all those things but they have a good secondary and they’€™ve got good players and a good defense and unfortunately, it just wasn’€™t enough today.’€

But to Welker, the pill that was hardest to swallow was the fact that the Patriots got the ball inside the red zone twice and had to settle for field goals. The Patriots had three field goals and three touchdowns, one of which was set up by a Steve Gregory interception return down to the Ravens 6.

‘€œWe were able to move the ball and really get it down there. But when you get it in the red zone, you’€™ve got to score touchdowns. We weren’€™t able to do that and it cost us.’€

The Patriots were leading 27-21 and driving deep in Ravens territory with a chance to go up two touchdowns early in the fourth quarter. Brady went to Welker, who was tackled out of bounds at the Ravens 2 by Ladarius Webb. The Patriots settled for Stephen Gostkowski‘s third field goal of the night instead of six. Those would be the final points the Patriots scored as they were forced to punt in their final two possessions.

‘€œOf course you’€™d like to end the game with the ball in your possession and we made some first downs but at the end of the day it just wasn’€™t enough,” Welker said. “We had different opportunities through the game. We have to learn from it and move on.’€

Read More: Baltimore Ravens, Brandon Lloyd, New England Patriots, nfl

Cooled-off Patriots less frustrated with replacement refs a day later

09.24.12 at 5:21 pm ET
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FOXBORO — If fans think they’re frustrated watching the replacement officials impact NFL games in not-so-glamorous ways, imagine what it’s like for those actually on the field. Players and coaches have made their frustrations known with body language, physical contact, comments in the media and social networking.

The Patriots put themselves in the middle of that Sunday night when Bill Belichick grabbed an official after New England’s 31-30 loss to the Ravens, and Brandon Spikes tweeted his feelings about the “[expletive] zebras” going back to Foot Locker.

On Monday, as the Patriots awaited word on a potential punishment for Belichick, the Patriots went about doing a bit of damage control. Following his opening statement and before taking questions at his press conference Monday, Belichick explained his actions that followed Justin Tucker‘s game-winning field goal.

“On the final kick, after we took the timeout and rushed the kick, from the sideline I saw the ball go pretty close to the upright,” Belichick said. “I couldn’t obviously tell from where I was at where exactly where it went, but I saw our players waving that it was no good and I saw the officials giving the signal that it was good. I just wasn’t sure from where I was standing whether the ball, when it went over the crossbar, was above the upright or in between or not in between the upright, so by rule if the ball isn’t over the crossbar and it’s either inside or outside of the upright, that’s reviewable. If it’s over the top of the upright, then it’s not reviewable, but I couldn’t tell from my angle when the ball crossed the crossbar where it was.

“I didn’t know whether or not that play was going to be under review or whether it wasn’t, so when the game was over I went out and was really looking for an explanation from the officials as to whether or not the play was under review, and I did try to get the official’s attention as he was coming off the field to ask that, but I really wasn’t able to do that.

“I’ve coached in this league a long time and have never been penalized, never had any incidents with officials or anything like that. I’ve never meant any disrespect or in any way tried to abuse or be disrespectful to the officials and the job that they do. I was trying to get an explanation for obviously an important call and play in that game. That’s the No. 1 thing between coaches and officials, that’s always at the forefront. It’s just communication of what’s going on, what’s happening.”

Belichick compared the situation to the last game of the 2000 season, when he sought clarification on a Drew Bledsoe fumble-turned-incomplete pass that would have left three seconds on the clock rather than end the game in a contest against the Dolphins. A review after the teams had left the field resulted in players needing to come back on the field for one final play.

“I’d been through a situation at the end of the game where it’s over, but it’s not over — that type of thing. That was really the situation last night. I was trying to get the official’s attention to get an explanation on it, and in no way was I trying to do anything other than that.”

Spikes, meanwhile, probably picked up a few more followers with a tweet that was likely the result of his frustration with a holding call that negated a fourth-quarter sack of Joe Flacco.

“Spikes is a passionate guy, and that one particular play that we did have the sack on, they did throw a flag and I’m sure he was upset about that, but that’s football,” Rob Ninkovich said. “You’ve just got to deal with it.”

Danny Woodhead was his usual tight-lipped self on Monday, and the veteran running back deflected questions about how the officiating has impacted the young season.

“That’s not something that I really think about,” Woodhead said of the officials. “I think about what I can do to help my teammates out, and to do my job. That’s really what I’m concerned with.”

Woodhead, who had a team-high 15 carries for 34 yards on Sunday with nine receiving yards on one catch, said that if the frustration with officiating is boiling over amongst the Patriots, he hasn’t heard it.

“I really haven’t heard much,” he said. “We’ve just got to focus on our jobs and what we can do to help the team out. That’s what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to control what I can control, and that’s my job.”

Read More: Bill Belichick, Brandon Spikes, Danny Woodhead, Rob Ninkovich

Devin McCourty: ‘It’s simple – I have to make those plays’

09.24.12 at 2:16 am ET
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BALTIMORE — Devin McCourty wasn’t about to blame the heart-wrenching 31-30 loss to the Ravens here Sunday night on the officials.

To him, it came down to letting the Ravens back in the game after not driving the stake through their hearts.

Twice, McCourty dropped potential interceptions, including one that would have stopped a Ravens touchdown drive. He was called for pass interference on Jacoby Jones that set the Ravens up at the Patriots’ 7 just moments before the controversial game-winning field goal squeezed through the uprights.

“You have to make plays, plain and simple,” McCourty said. “There were more plays, not just on the last drive, all throughout the game that I can make and my team can make. And it’s simple, I have to make those plays.

“If I knew, I would have made them. It’s just that I have to work at it. I have to get better because I was close on a lot of plays and I just have to get it done.”

One thing McCourty said is not bothering him on the field is his mental outlook.

“It’s not a confidence thing,” he said. “I just have to make plays. I had two balls in my hands. I have to make those plays. This is the National Football League, and if you go out there with no confidence, you’ll see a worse player than I played. You just have to make plays, and it’s simple.”

McCourty wasn’t arguing the pass interference call and said the number of penalties called in the game is something entirely out of the players’ control.

“It’s a football game and we can’t control that,” McCourty said. “If a flag is thrown, that’s something we can’t worry about. It’s a big game and we wanted to get this win. It’s simple — you have to go and execute, and practice and get better.”

McCourty also was burned on Dennis Pitta‘s 20-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter that put the Ravens up 14-13. He and Steve Gregory both whiffed on chances to make a tackle along the sidelines.

McCourty’s night ended on the field — on special teams — with a view of Justin Tucker‘s field goal.

“From my angle, it was tough to see,” McCourty said. “The ball was right by the goal post so I couldn’t really tell. It looked close. That’s all I have to say.”

Read More: Baltimore Ravens, Devin McCourty, Jacoby Jones, New England Patriots

Opinion: Blame Roger Goodell, owners for replacement disaster

09.24.12 at 1:46 am ET
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That’s the only reason you, me and 15 million others had to watch replacement officials do everything possible to screw up what should have been a terrific football game on Sunday night.

This is only about billionaire owners not wanting to lose a fight to referees, plain and simple. Follow the money and all that. We can knock Roger Goodell all day about this — and plenty of it is justified, to be sure — but if the owners told Goodell tomorrow to make a deal, Goodell would make a deal.

But that’s not going to happen. As hideous as the replacement officials were on Sunday night — players fighting after plays with no flags thrown, 24 accepted penalties for 215 yards and 13 first downs, botched holding and pass interference calls, utterly and completely overwhelmed refs who seemingly were intimidated by coaches and players, total amateur hour — it won’t change what really matters to Goodell and the owners.

Ratings aren’t going anywhere, which means money for the networks, which will eventually mean more money for the NFL. We know now that player safety and the integrity of the game don’t mean nearly as much as making every last dollar of profit. And no one is going to stop watching games and paying for Sunday Ticket and gambling on games and playing fantasy football. From a strictly financial perspective, where is the motivation to make a deal with the refs?

I get that it’s a business, I really do. No problem there. But don’t try, as Goodell as done over the last couple of years, to sell me on the idea that player safety is paramount. It’s not. Concussions only landed on Goodell’s radar because of lawsuits. Fear of losing money was the motivation. And now the chance to save some money is why you’ve got Division 3 officials looking like Division 3 officials every Sunday. Has “protecting the shield” ever seemed more disingenuous than it did on Sunday night?

Don’t blame the replacement officials, either. It’s not their fault that owners want to make the very best deal possible — quality of the product be damned — or that the regular officials want to continue their defined-benefit pension plan (the league wants to put a freeze on that plan and shift them over to a 401(k)).

Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: replacement officials, roger goodell,

Snap Judgments: Patriots let one slip away

09.24.12 at 12:37 am ET
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BALTIMORE — In a wild finish to a game that had its share of controversy, the Ravens pulled out a 31-30 victory over the Patriots on a last-second field goal by Justin Tucker as Baltimore rallied from a 30-21 deficit in the final four minutes.

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady finished with 335 passing yards, while Brandon Lloyd and Wes Welker both topped the century mark in receiving yards. On the other side of the ball, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco passed for 382 yards and the Ravens piled up over 500 yards of total offense.

The Patriots jumped to a 13-0 lead, and while the Ravens took brief leads of 14-13 and 21-20, New England was able to answer quickly with scores to regain control. The Patriots appeared to put the game out of reach with a 10-0 second-half run on scoring drives of 12 and 13 plays, but the Ravens rallied behind Flacco and Torrey Smith, who finished with 127 receiving yards and two touchdowns.


‘€¢ The Ravens put together their first scoring drive of the night in the second quarter, a 13-play, 82-yard sequence that ended with a 25-yard touchdown pass from Flacco to Smith that cut New England’€™s lead to 13-7 with 9:45 left in the first half. The Ravens followed that up with a 10-play, 92-yard drive that was the unquestioned lowlight for the New England defense, one that ended with a 20-yard connection from Flacco to Dennis Pitta that featured Pitta leaping over Steve Gregory and easily skirting past a weak attempt at a tackle by Devin McCourty. Both drives features defensive breakdowns by the New England defense, particularly when it came to tackling.

‘€¢ The replacement referees had a bad night from start to finish. There was confusion throughout the contest, and players on both sides took advantage of the inexperience to do a little pushing and shoving and try to get away with as much as possible.

‘€¢ The defense couldn’t hold on in the fourth quarter. A pair of defensive holding penalties on Brandon Spikes and McCourty proved costly, but Flacco was able to complete 5-of-6 passes on a drive that ended in a Smith touchdown to make it 30-28.


‘€¢ The Patriots offense looked solid most of the night, and while the Ravens would take the lead from time-to-time, it wasn’€™t for long, as Brady and the passing game were in control. (New England had first-half scoring drives of eight and nine plays to get control of the contest early.) One of the reasons the Patriots enjoyed offensive success was because they were able to keep Brady upright much of the evening. The quarterback was sacked twice and had excellent time in the pocket for much of the game.

‘€¢ The first sequence was highlighted by a 59-yard pass play to Welker (and punctuated by a 2-yard touchdown run from rookie Brandon Bolden), and the second came just before the end of the half on a surgical drive for Brady that ended when he hit Julian Edelman with a 7-yard scoring strike to give New England a 20-14 lead just before the half. The Patriots were grinders in the third and fourth quarter — they had second-half drives of 12 plays (that ended with a 3-yard touchdown run from Woodhead) and 13 plays (on a 20-yard field goal from Stephen Gostkowski) that made it 30-21 early in the fourth quarter.

‘€¢ Part of the reason for the early lead was the fact that the defense played well throughout the first quarter-plus — the Ravens ran one play in New England territory in the first quarter and went three-and-out on two of their first three drives. (The Ravens didn’€™t get their initial first down until the start of the second quarter.) The defensive highlight early came when Gregory stepped in front of a Flacco pass and took it back 36 yards to help set up the Patriots’ first touchdown of the night. (There would be defensive breakdowns, but those would come later in the evening.)

‘€¢ After a rough outing last week, the Patriots’€™ specialists had a better night, with Gostkowski connecting on three of his field goal attempts (including a 49-yarder) and all of his extra-point attempts. Meanwhile, punter Zoltan Mesko didn’€™t get a punt blocked.

Read More: Brandon Lloyd, joe flacco, Tom Brady, Wes Welker

Key Moment: Devin McCourty penalty sets up game-winning field goal

09.24.12 at 12:08 am ET
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For the Patriots, the key moment in Sunday’s 31-30 loss to the Ravens came on the game’s final play. For the second straight week for New England, a kicker faced a potential game-winning field goal. Last Sunday, Stephen Gostkowski missed a 47-yard kick in the loss to the Cardinals. Baltimore rookie kicker Justin Tucker was successful in his game-winning attempt, barely sneaking in a 27-yarder to give the Ravens the win and send the Patriots to 1-2 on the season and under .500 for the first time since losing the season opener to Buffalo in 2003.

(Vince Wilfork was adamant that Tucker missed the kick, yelling at officials in the end zone. Bill Belichick grabbed an official by the arm after the game, but the official ran by the New England coach and did not speak to Belichick.)

The Ravens started the game-winning drive at the New England 21, with Joe Flacco connecting with Jacoby Jones for a 24-yard gain. Dennis Pitta had a 17-yard catch on the drive, but it was Devin McCourty (who was beat by Jones on the 24-yard catch) with the key miscue of the game, flagged (correctly) for pass interference on Jones, setting up a first down at the New England 7-yard line. Two plays later Tucker kicked the winner, an attempt that very nearly missed to the right.

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