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‘Sexy’ Rob Gronkowski purrs like a kitten for ESPN The Mag

12.10.14 at 10:30 am ET
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Rob Gronkowski poses for a cover shoot of the latest edition of ESPN The Magazine. (ESPN Magazine/Twitter)

Rob Gronkowski poses for a cover shoot of the latest edition of ESPN The Magazine. (ESPN Magazine/Twitter)

FOXBORO — Not that he needed to but Rob Gronkowski is once again proving he is the most fun-loving football star in the NFL.

Good thing he’s 6-foot-6 and 265 pounds of pure rock or he would be laughed out of the locker room for his latest photo shoot and feature for ESPN The Magazine.

In it, Gronkowski poses with a cute little kitten on his right shoulder in one photo, while wearing a smile and chomping down on a bracelet that reads “Sexy” in another. ESPN tweeted out 10 pictures from the recent photo shoot that will accompany a feature story on the superstar who, on Sunday night in San Diego, became the first tight end in NFL history with four seasons of double-digit touchdown receptions.

Gronk has 73 catches for 997 yards and 10 touchdowns this season. He has not missed a single regular season game after tearing his ACL in Nov. 2013 when Cleveland’s T.J. Ward took him out at the knees.

The Patriots tight end will be on the cover of the latest issue of the magazine, due out this Friday.

This is not the first time Gronk has graced the cover of The Mag. Back in July 2012, he bared it all for “The Body” issue, ESPN’s equivalent of the “SI Swimsuit” edition.

No doubt, some of his teammates will be tempted to tease him in the locker room this week.

Read More: ESPN The Magazine, Gronk, Rob Gronkowski,

Ryan Allen named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week

12.10.14 at 10:09 am ET
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Ryan Allen

Ryan Allen

Lost in the shuffle in Sunday’s win over the Chargers was punter Ryan Allen, as he punted five times for 247 yards, an average of 49.4 yards, and was able to swing field position on a number of occasions in the Patriots’ 23-14 win in San Diego.

For his efforts, Allen was named the AFC Special Teams Player of the Week for Week 14.

It was the third time this season a Patriots player has taken home the AFC Special Teams Player of the Week with Julian Edelman winning it in Week 9 for his 84-yard punt return for a touchdown against the Broncos, and Chris Jones for his blocked field goal in the closing seconds against the Jets in Week 7.

Overall, it was the fifth AFC Player of the Week honor this season for the team with Chandler Jones earning AFC Defensive Player of the Week for his performance in the win at Minnesota on Sept. 14, and Jonas Gray being named AFC Offensive Player of the Week for his performance in the win at Indianapolis on Nov. 16.

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Miami’s Mike Wallace expects to go head-to-head with Darrelle Revis on Sunday

12.10.14 at 7:30 am ET
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Mike Wallace expects to go against Darrelle Revis on Sunday. (Getty Images)

Mike Wallace expects to go against Darrelle Revis on Sunday. (Getty Images)

Get ready for Mike Wallace vs. Darrelle Revis, Round 2.

The Miami receiver, who enters this weekend with 57 catches on 102 targets for 700 yards and seven touchdowns, is expected to renew acquaintances with the New England cornerback when the Dolphins meet the Patriots this weekend in Foxboro.

“It’s always going to be a challenge,” said Wallace. “He’s a great player, probably the best cornerback in the league, definitely top two or three no matter whose list you have. It’s always going to be a tough challenge, he’s a great player, no way around it.

“He’s a real smart, patient player. He has every intangible that’s needed to play cornerback. Good focus, good hips, hands. [And] he’s not afraid to tackle — he’ll get in your face. He has every single aspect you need to be a great cornerback, and that’s what makes him one of the best.”

Wallace estimated Tuesday they he saw Revis “maybe half of the game” when the two teams met in the regular season opener in September. He anticipates seeing him again this time around.

“I know I’ll see him. How much? I’m not sure,” said Wallace, who had seven catches on 11 targets for 81 yards and a touchdown in the opener against New England. “We’re playing the Patriots, [and] you never know what those guys are thinking. You just have to go about your business, prepare like you’re going to play against [Revis] or whoever. However the game comes and unfolds, we’ll be ready.”

Wallace has played a sizable role in the fact that Miami has won the last two games between the two teams dating back to last year (both of which took place in South Florida), including the 2014 season opener when the Dolphins captured a 33-20 win over the Patriots.

“When you hear so much about beating the Patriots, beating the Patriots, beating the Patriots, I think you get tired of hearing it during the week that you have no choice but to go out and beat the Patriots,” Wallace said.

“I think it’s just, when you play them, you’re mindset is just different,” he explained. “You just know, who you’re playing against and you know the challenge that they’ve presented for so many years for the entire league. It’s just normal. I don’t think it’s just us, I think it’s every single team in the league, when you play the Patriots it’s going to be like that.”

Ultimately, Wallace said he has nothing but “respect” for a New England team that can clinch another division title with a win over Miami on Sunday.

“I respect them,” he said. “I saw something that said they’ve won 10-plus games for [12 straight years] — you can’t hate a team like that. You have to respect them, respect their grind, respect what they’re doing. Hopefully, you can mimic some of that and go about your business the same way.”

Read More: Darrelle Revis, Mike Wallace,

Dolphins look to break late-season cold snap against Patriots in Foxboro

12.09.14 at 6:05 pm ET
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Miami coach Joe Philbin has managed to get the Dolphins to 7-6 this season. (Marc Serota/Getty Images)

Miami coach Joe Philbin has managed to get the Dolphins to 7-6 this season. (Marc Serota/Getty Images)

No visiting team is more aware of the temperatures in New England this time of the year than the Dolphins. Eight of the last 10 times the Patriots have hosted Miami in a December or January contest, New England has beaten the Dolphins. And one of those losses came in a contest — Jan. 1, 2006 — where the Patriots fundamentally gift-wrapped the game in an attempt to land a better playoff seeding.

This time around, the forecast for Sunday’s game at Gillette (according to has temperatures between 40 and 29 degrees, with a 10 percent chance of precipitation. Being a Bay State native — he was born in Springfield — Miami coach Joe Philbin knows that conditions can change dramatically between now and Sunday, but he knows that weather is always a factor in Foxboro at this time of the season.

“I looked [at the forecast], but it’s a little bit early,” Philbin said Tuesday. “Having grown up there, I know things can change quickly. Again, that’s something we can’t control, so we’ll adjust to whatever the climate is. But it doesn’t look like it’s going to be terrible, but who knows.”

Despite the fact that Miami has made tremendous gains over the course of the last year-plus — they’re technically still in the hunt for the AFC East title — Philbin knows it’s a tall order for the Dolphins to try and slow down a New England team that’s won eight of its last nine games, regardless of the weather.

“They are awful good there — they’re a good football team wherever you play them,” Philbin said. “It doesn’t really matter where. Every time I’ve ever competed against them, they’re an excellent football team, they’re well coached. It’s not easy certainly to win there.”

Philbin said they’re a much different team than the one Miami beat in South Florida in the first week of the regular season.

“I think they’re playing with more confidence — sometimes, it takes a while,” he said. “Different teams get out of the gate at different paces and a different speed. They’re certainly playing well on defense. Certainly, they played well the other night, out in San Diego.

“It’s a well-coached team. They don’t give you a lot of easy plays. They’re going to crowd the line of scrimmage and they’re going to be a lot of guys near the ball. It’s a good defensive team and I think they’ve got better, certainly since we opened the season with them.”

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In Focus: Charting offensive opportunities for Patriots skill position players

12.09.14 at 5:04 pm ET
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Every week, we list the Patriots’ “offensive 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. Here’s a breakdown of the 2014 New England offense after 13 games:

RB Shane Vereen: 129 (82 carries, 47 catches) 3 negative catch, 6 negative runs
RB Stevan Ridley: 98 (94 carries, 4 catches), 8 negative runs
WR Julian Edelman: 94 (9 carries, 85 catches)
TE Rob Gronkowski: 73 (73 catches), 1 negative catch
RB Jonas Gray: 73 (73 carries)
WR Brandon LaFell: 57 (57 catches)
RB LeGarrette Blount: 44 (42 carries, 2 catches), 6 negative runs
TE Tim Wright: 25 (1 carry, 24 catches), 6 negative rush
QB Tom Brady: 24 (24 carries), 16 sacks, 10 kneeldowns
RB Brandon Bolden: 20 (19 carries, 1 catch), 3 negative runs
WR Danny Amendola: 14 (14 catches), 1 negative pass
RB James White: 12 (9 carries, 3 catches)
FB James Develin: 7 (1 carry, 6 catches)
WR Kenbrell Thompkins: 6 (6 catches)
QB Jimmy Garoppolo: 6 (6 carries) 2 sacks, 6 kneeldowns
WR Aaron Dobson: 3 (3 catches)
TE Michael Hoomanawanui: 3 (3 catches)
WR Brian Tyms: 1 (1 catch)

Notes: Not including two kneeldowns at the end of the game, the Patriots had a season-high eight negative plays from scrimmage on Sunday against the Chargers — five negative runs from Blount, one sack of Brady, and passes to Gronkowski and Amendola that ended up going for negative yardage. … On the season, New England has run 885 plays from scrimmage, and 48 of them have gone for negative yardage (5 percent), not including kneeldowns. … Against the Chargers, the Patriots ran 73 plays, with 41 of them coming in shotgun (56 percent). In addition, the game-book lists them as having run zero no-huddle plays. (That ties a season-low.) … On the season, the Patriots have run 67 of their 885 plays out of no-huddle (8 percent) and 327 snaps in shotgun (37 percent). … By way of comparison, over the course of the 2013 regular season, the Patriots were in shotgun for 42 percent of their offensive snaps and they ran no-huddle on 11 percent of their snaps. … While it’s always tough to measure the success or failure of an offensive line in pass protection with sacks alone, it is interesting to see the dramatic dip in the number of sacks Brady has taken this season. Through 13 games last year, Brady had been sacked 36 times. This year, through 13 games, the quarterback has been sacked 16 times.

Read More: offensive opportunities,

A look inside Patriots’ goal-to-go situations this season

12.09.14 at 3:45 pm ET
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The Patriots had two goal-to-go situations in Sunday's game against the Chargers and failed to score touchdowns on both. (Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

The Patriots had two goal-to-go situations in Sunday’s game against the Chargers and failed to score touchdowns on both. (Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

Over the last two games, Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels has received a fair share of criticism for his play calling, particularly for not running the ball in the red zone, especially in Sunday’s game when the Patriots had 1st-and-goal on two occasions and were forced to kick field goals both times, calling only one running play out of the six total plays.

Not scoring a touchdown in two goal-to-go situations is reason to be critiqued when New England has scored touchdowns on 63 percent of its red zone trips this season, seventh in the NFL, but obviously once you get inside the 10-yard line those percentages should increase. Sunday’s game was similar to Week 3 against the Raiders in goal-to-go situations when the Patriots also failed to score a touchdowns on two occasions with goal-to-go.

Contrary to what some may think, this has not been a season-long trend, as the Patriots have maintained balance in goal-to-go situations with success. For the season, the Patriots have had 34 goal-to-go situations and have scored touchdowns on 26 of them (76 percent), and scoring points on all but one (a Brady interception vs. Lions). Of the 26 touchdowns scored, 16 have been through the air and 10 on the ground. Of the 66 total plays ran in goal-to-go situations, McDaniels and the offense have ran 37 passing plays and 29 running plays — pretty balanced all things considered.

“We always go into the game with an idea of what we want to do on the goal line first — short-yardage first, our first third down call, third-and-two-to-five, third-and-whatever the distances are — and we had discussed that prior to the game,” McDaniels said on Tuesday’s conference call when asked about last Sunday’s sequence. “We made our call, and unfortunately it got tipped there at the line of scrimmage. In hindsight, you always do that as a play-caller.

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Read More: Josh McDaniels, LeGarrette Blount,

Vince Wilfork leads NFL ‘brothers’ sending out thoughts, prayers to Cam Newton following car crash

12.09.14 at 3:29 pm ET
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Cam Newton is treated after being pulled from his vehicle after an accident Tuesday. (Charlotte Observer via  Twitter)

Cam Newton is treated after being pulled from his vehicle after an accident Tuesday. (Charlotte Observer via Twitter)

Cam Newton suffered two transverse process fractures in his lower back and is in “fair condition” following a two-car accident on Tuesday, according to a statement released by the Carolina Panthers. The team said Newton suffered no further serious internal injuries.

According to Charlotte-Mecklenburg police, the accident took place around 12:30 p.m. ET just outside the team’s stadium. Both Newton and the driver of the other vehicle were taken to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.

The Panthers released a statement saying the 25-year-old Newton will be held overnight for observation but that the franchise quarterback “is in fair condition and undergoing tests at Carolinas Medical Center.”

Team owner Jerry Richardson told the Charlotte Observer that Newton is “in good shape,” after speaking with Carolinas Medical Center doctors.

“At this point, it looks like he’s just got scrapes and bruises, but he should be OK,” a source told ESPN’s Ed Werder. “He’s going to be sore and beat up, but he should be relatively OK.”

A witness told the Charlotte Observer that Newton was “alert” but “in pain” at the scene of the accident.

Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork led the players around the NFL wishing Newton well.

Read More: Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers, New England Patriots, Vince Wilfork
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