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What will Patriots do if Aqib Talib is sidelined?

10.17.13 at 6:55 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Less than 24 hours after he tossed his helmet aside disgustedly on the sideline after an injury forced him from last Sunday’€™s game against the Saints, Aqib Talib strolled through the Patriots locker room on Monday afternoon. Asked by a reporter if he was available to speak, he said he would catch up with the media later in the week.

That was the last we’€™ve seen Talib, and it could be another week or so until anyone outside the New England locker room sees him again. The cornerback, who has been so dominant over the course of the first six games of the season, suffered a hip injury in the second half of Sunday’€™s win over the Saints. He didn’€™t return to play down the stretch, and hasn’€™t been seen at practice on Wednesday or Thursday. His absence at practice — and in the locker room — these last two days is a pretty good sign that he won’€™t be able to go Sunday when the Patriots meet the Jets Sunday afternoon at MetLife Stadium.

Initial reports indicate that he’€™ll be out for at least a week, but even for a limited time, the loss of Talib would be a difficult one to bear for a New England defense that will be without linebacker Jerod Mayo and lineman Vince Wilfork for the duration of the season. The Patriots have played very good team defense through the first six games of the season — New England has allowed 16.2 points per game, good for fourth in the league, and its in the top half of the league in pass defense and average defensive yards allowed — and a sizable reason for their success is Talib. The corner has picked off four passes through the first six games, and won almost all of the one-on-one battles he’€™s had with the opposing teams’€™ best pass catcher. Whether it’€™s been Julio Jones, Jimmy Graham or Vincent Jackson, Talib has worked (with some safety help) to render them ineffective.

Going forward, the Patriots do have some flexibility at the cornerback position, as Devin McCourty made his bones at the spot for the first two-plus years of his career before making the move to safety. He could move back to corner, and New England could pair strong safety Steve Gregory with one of the young safeties like Tavon Wilson (who has been dogged by a hamstring as of late), Nate Ebner (more of a special teamer) or rookie Duron Harmon.

New England could also keep McCourty at safety while shuffling their existing group of corners. Alfonzo Dennard could make a move up the depth chart from No. 2 corner to lead corner, while Kyle Arrington — who has performed so well as the slot corner over the last year — could kick out to the outside. That would also likely mean a promotion for rookie Logan Ryan, who played well in the slot when given the chance over the course of the preseason, as well as some snaps for veteran Marquice Cole.

(For what it’€™s worth, after Talib left the game Sunday against the Saints, as long as Graham was on the field, McCourty appeared to be working as a corner, while the Patriots went with Harmon at safety. Once Graham left because of a foot injury, it looked like McCourty went back to safety, Harmon went to the sidelines and Ryan came in as the third cornerback.)

The move could also signal a move from more of a man-based system to more zone coverage. To this point in the year, Talib’€™s strengths have been utilized mostly in man coverage, but without an elite corner, the Patriots could try and paper any coverage deficiencies that might arise with a switch to more zone schemes.

Ultimately, as Patriots coach Bill Belichick said when Wilfork went down — and later, hinted when Mayo was placed on season-ending injured reserve — you cannot simply hope to replace either Wilfork or Mayo with just one player. Instead, it would on a collection of players to replace that level of production. The same is true when it comes to Talib. The Patriots have always stressed team defense; now, with Wilfork and Mayo out for the season and Talib likely sidelined for (at least) one week, that belief in team before of individual takes on a whole new importance for a defensive unit that will have to operate without some of its most valuable players for the foreseeable future.

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Report: Aqib Talib ‘unlikely’ to play Sunday vs. Jets

10.17.13 at 5:55 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Aqib Talib will be missing his first game of the season Sunday, according to a report from Pro Football Talk.

A hip flexor strain will likely keep the most valuable player in the secondary to this point of the season out of Sunday’s game at MetLife Stadium. Quoting a league source, PFT says the cornerback is unlikely to play due to the injury against the Saints.

This news comes on top of major injuries the defense has already sustained in Vince Wilfork (Achilles) and Jerod Mayo (pectoral muscle). Both of those players have already been placed on season-ending injured reserve.

Talib has been key in the team’s ability to shut down Julio Jones and Roddy White of the Falcons, and against New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham.

How will the Patriots compensate? Chris Price takes an in-depth look at the options.

Talib has not practiced this week.

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Report: Jerome Boger will work as referee for Patriots-Jets

10.17.13 at 5:52 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Jerome Boger has been selected to serve as the referee for Sunday’s Patriots-Jets game, according to our pals to Football Zebras.

It marks the first Patriots game of the season for Boger, who last worked a New England contest when he served as the referee for the Patriots-Dolphins game on Dec. 30, 2012 in Foxboro. He worked a pair of New England games in 2011, including the Patriots-Jets game on Oct. 9, 2011, a 30-21 win for New England.

Boger served as the referee for Super Bowl XLVII, a decision that caused a minor uproar in the officiating community.

For more on Boger’s work as a referee, check out his page at Pro Football Reference, and for the complete list of referee assignments, check out Football Zebras.

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Patriots Thursday injury report: Dan Connolly returns limited, Marcus Cannon limited with shoulder

10.17.13 at 5:03 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Dan Connolly returned to practice Thursday and was limited with a concussion while another offensive lineman, Marcus Cannon, showed up limited for the first time this week with a shoulder issue. In all, four players missed Thursday’s practice while nine were limited in sweats and shells outside Gillette Stadium as the Patriots continued on-field preparations for the Jets Sunday at MetLife Stadium.

Aqib Talib suffered a hip injury Sunday and missed his second straight practice while Danny Amendola missed with a concussion. Both were injured in Sunday’s win over the Saints. Tommy Kelly and Leon Washington were unavailable again after missing last week with knee and ankle injuries, respectively. Kelly and Washington have missed the last five practices.

For the Jets, receiver Santonio Holmes missed his second straight practice with foot and hamstring injuries.

Here is Thursday’s complete report:

Did Not Practice
DT Tommy Kelly (knee)
RB Leon Washington (ankle)
CB Aqib Talib (hip)
WR Danny Amendola (concussion/groin)

Limited Participation
RB Brandon Bolden (knee)
WR Julian Edelman (thigh)
OL Dan Connolly (concussion)
OL Marcus Cannon (shoulder)
TE Michael Hoomanawanui (knee)
DB Devin McCourty (shoulder)
TE Rob Gronkowski (back/forearm)
ST Matthew Slater (wrist)
DB Tavon Wilson (hamstring)

Full Participation
CB Kyle Arrington (groin)
DL Rob Ninkovich (groin)

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Read More: Dan Connolly, Marcus Cannon, New England Patriots, New York Jets

‘Jets Killer’ Rob Ninkovich primed for another shot at Geno Smith and Gang Green

10.17.13 at 2:12 pm ET
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FOXBORO — It’s Jets Week, so it only makes sense to spend time talking to Rob Ninkovich.

The Patriots defensive end has made life fairly miserable for New York over the course of the last few years, earning the nickname “Jets Killer” from coach Bill Belichick: Last season, in a 29-26 win over New York on Oct. 21,, he came through in the clutch, helping life New England past the Jets with an overtime sack and forced fumble against New York quarterback Mark Sanchez.

It was more of the same in 2011 — on Oct. 9, he finished with six tackles and half a sack in a 30-21 win over New York. He followed that up with a masterful performance on Nov. 13 in Jersey, when he picked off Sanchez twice, returning one of his interceptions for a touchdown, in a 37-16 road triumph.

To this point in the season, Ninkovich has been impressed by the Jets and their progression since the two teams met in Week 2, particularly when it comes to rookie quarterback Geno Smith and his ability to work in the New York offense.

“I think as the season has progressed, they’ve become more comfortable with the things that they’re doing,” Ninkovich said of the Jets. “That seems to happen with a team that likes to run that type of offense with the option and the reading of the quarterback, reading the defenses. The more reps you get at it, the better you kind of get at the whole operation.

“For us, it comes down to everyone doing their job and just knowing what your responsibility is before the ball is snapped. Just playing fast. The read option is to make them read what is going on, and the faster you can read it and make that hard decision, that’s when things go your way as far as a defensive player. So it’s our job to just know what your responsibility is every time you’re on the field.”

As a quarterback who can make things happen with his feet, Smith has shown an ability to scramble for yards when defenders overrun plays. For Ninkovich and fellow defensive end Chandler Jones, containment is a big point of emphasis this week — keeping Smith in the pocket and making sure he doesn’t have the chance to pick up the sort of chunk yards that can kill a defense. For the most part, they were able to do that in the Week 2 meeting: in that game, Smith had three carries for 17 yards.

“You just have to make sure that a guy like that doesn’t hurt you with his legs as far as extending a play,” Ninkovich said of Smith, who has 22 carries for 114 yards on the season. “Whenever a receiver can look back and see that the quarterback is out of the pocket, they just all scramble and try and get open. The defensive end position, it’s your job to keep them in the pocket and not let them get out of the pocket and run for a first down or throw it for a deep pass.”

For a pass rushing defensive end, a quarterback like Smith is a challenge for several reasons, not the least of which is that you have to occasionally fight that natural urge to pin your ears back and get after the quarterback. Instead, it’s more about containment, gap discipline and maintaining your rush lanes. If it all works, Ninkovich — who will be coming at Smith from the left defensive end spot, or the quarterback’s front side — and Jones (on the blind side) will be able to keep Smith bottled up like they did in Week 2. In that one, the Patriots were able to come away with four sacks and three picks of Smith in the 13-10 win.

“For me, it’s a little different, because I’m in his vision where he can see if I’m too far up the field and he can step up and run, so I just have to make sure that he doesn’t have a big open area to step up into and run,” Ninkovich said. “I’m just a little more conscious in my pass rush lanes and just being tighter in everything that I do.”

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Rob Gronkowski: ‘I’m not going to just make a decision [to return] by myself’

10.17.13 at 1:30 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Rob Gronkowski made one thing perfectly clear Thursday. Whenever he returns, it will be a group decision.

Gronkowski said when he does return it will be a decision made in conjunction with the team’s medical staff and coach Bill Belichick.

“It’s basically myself, the doctors and just talking with the coaches, especially coach Belichick to see how everything is going. We talk all the time on how everything is going. Me and him have been on the same page the whole time, ever since the beginning and the decision will be made eventually.”

Gronkowski was wearing a black jersey in practice, handed out to players who stand out for their work during the week of preparation. His locker mate Matthew Mulligan was also wearing one.

Gronkowski was asked if he would be back on the field if the decision to return was his alone.

“I wouldn’t say that because you have to go through the process of asking the doctors and everything,” Gronkowski said. “So, I’m not just going to make a decision by myself. That’s why you have a whole organization to work together.”

As for his agent – Drew Rosenhaus – going on WQAM Radio in Miami and saying that the tight end has yet to be cleared, Gronkowski referred all questions to his coach.

“Gotta ask coach, coach Belichick on that one. He’ll know,” Gronkowski said.

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Read More: Drew Rosenhaus, Gronk, New England Patriots, New York Jets

Drew Rosenhaus: Rob Gronkowski hasn’t gotten clearance to play

10.17.13 at 12:18 pm ET
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Rob Gronkowski‘s agent Drew Rosenhaus said Thursday that his client hasn’t received medical clearance to play, and expressed surprise that the tight end’s situation has gotten as much attention as it has.

‘€œI don’€™t understand why this story has gotten so much traction. There are dozens of players around the NFL who aren’€™t playing because they are injured and coming back from surgery,’€ Rosenhaus said while appearing with Joe Rose on WQAM-AM 560.

‘€œIn Rob’€™s case, this is really straightforward. Up to this point he hasn’€™t been cleared to play in a game. He has not been cleared by Dr. [James] Andrews, who is the supervising doctor.’€

Rosenhaus added that until Gronkowski is cleared, he cannot play in a game.

‘€œThere’€™s a huge difference between being cleared to practice and being cleared to play in a game,’€ Rosenhaus said. ‘€œI’€™ve had great dialogue with coach [Bill] Belichick and the Patriots’€™ medical staff, and Rob and his family. Everybody’€™s on the same page, except it’€™s gotten a lot of play in the media and all these unsubstantiated sources.’€

Gronkowski, who underwent multiple surgeries on his back and forearm in the offseason, has practiced with the team since the start of the season, but has yet to play. He was listed as “limited” in Wednesday’s practice session.

‘€œIt’€™s really straightforward — when Rob is cleared, he’€™ll play,’€ Rosenhaus said. ‘€œIt shouldn’€™t be a big surprise to people that the guy has a very cautious approach right now, because he had four operations on that forearm and he had a back operation.

‘€œQuite frankly, it’€™s not a huge upset that up to this point he hasn’€™t been cleared to play in a game. We anticipated this. Hopefully he’€™ll be back soon — maybe even this weekend. But there’€™s no way to know until the end of the week when his doctors make that determination.’€

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