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Nuggetpalooza: Patriots-Cardinals statistical breakdown

09.14.12 at 9:22 am ET
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Following a successful trip to Nashville, the Patriots return to Foxboro for their home opener Sunday against the Cardinals, who eked out a win last weekend against the Seahawks. Let’s see if we can find any interesting numbers in this matchup.

* – HOME COOKING: The Patriots enter the game having won the last 64 home games in which they’ve led at the half (including playoffs). Their last loss in such a game was a 27-24 defeat to the Dolphins on Christmas Eve 2000. If you count regular season only, their streak is at 56 straight home wins when leading at halftime, which appears to be the longest such streak in the NFL since 1960.

56 – Patriots (2000-2011)
40 – Cowboys (1968-1977)
38 – Steelers (1992-2001)
27 – Packers (1993-1996)

Note this: The Cardinals have won just five of their last 55 road games when they’ve gone to the locker room on the short end of the score.

Note this, too: In their 16 road games since the start of the 2010 season, the Cardinals have just one first quarter touchdown and have gone to halftime with 10 or more points on the board just four times. They’ve lost 13 of those 16 games.

* – STOUT RUSHING DEFENSE: Last Sunday, the Patriots allowed the Titans only 20 rushing yards, their fewest since allowing 14 to the Bills in 2005. Tennessee attempted 16 rushing plays and managed to gain four-plus yards on just three of them (19 percent). It was their lowest such percentage in 88 games, since Nov. 5, 2006, when the Colts gained four-plus yards on just four of 25 carries.

Note this: The Cardinals gained four-plus yards on just three of 20 rushes (15 percent), their lowest such percentage in their last 57 games.

Note this, too: The Patriots outgained Tennessee on the ground by 142 yards (162-20) and since 1993 are 22-1 when they outrush their opponent by 100 or more yards. One caveat regarding this Sunday’s game: Arizona has been outrushed in eight of its last 10 games, but the Cardinals have won six of those eight, so beware.

* – LAST TIME: New England lost the last time it played an NFC team at home, losing to the Giants, 24-20, last Nov. 6. Prior to that, the Patriots had won their last 18 such games in a row, dating back to the 2002 season. The Cardinals have lost five straight (since 2009) and 17 of their last 20 road games against AFC foes.

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Donald Thomas on Cardinals pass rush: Their ‘speed will kill you’

09.13.12 at 10:46 pm ET
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FOXBORO — For a 14-point favorite, the Patriots are giving a lot of respect to the Arizona Cardinals this week.

And for good reason.

Between defensive tackle Darnell Dockett, nose tackle Dan Williams and defensive end Calais Campbell, the Cardinals have plenty to be concerned with.

“Across the board, all of them have some talent, very good actually,” Thomas said Thursday. “We just have to do a great job with our technique and being able to handle their pass rush. They get after the running backs too in the run game. They move very well. We have to be able to control them and let the rest of the guys make some plays.”

Last week, the Cardinals held Russell Wilson to 18-of-34 passing for 139 yards while sacking the rookie three times.

“If your technique isn’t right and your hands aren’t right, speed will kill you,” Thomas said. “That’s the hardest thing for us. You can have those real quick, fast guys and you can try to cover them up but if you don’t use good footwork and hand placement, you’ll never get them.”

Then there’s his own situation. Thomas said he hasn’t been told anything about where he might be playing this week, or even if he might be starting. Last week, he was forced into duty when Dan Connolly came out with a head injury. On Thursday, Connolly returned to full pads practice, a good indication he’ll be ready to go – barring any late setbacks – for Sunday at right guard. So, all Thomas can do is be prepared for whatever.

“They haven’t told me anything yet, just be ready and be able to fill in when I can and when my number’s called be ready to go,” Thomas said. “With my situation, I can play center and get used to that and be able to fill in where I can on the interior line. You never know what can happen week to week and you have to be ready to go. I think we all understand that and we all know we can play multiple positions so we have to be ready to go.”

Thomas did admit one thing on Thursday. He enjoyed watching and blocking for Stevan Ridley, who finished with 125 yards on 21 carries.

“You always like to get after guys in the run game,” he said. “It felt good to get some rushing yards on the ground. You’re happy with any performance, whether it’s protecting the quarterback or running the ball.”

Read More: Arizona Cardinals, Calais Campbell, Dan Williams, Darnell Dockett

Vince Wilfork on Patriots run D: ‘It’s a work in progress’

09.13.12 at 3:02 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Last Sunday, Vince Wilfork was the anchor of a defensive that shutdown one of the most explosive running backs in the game. Chris Johnson had just four yards on 11 carries.

This week, it’s Beanie Wells who will be in the sights of Wilfork and the Patriots defensive line. Wells, who is nursing a sore hamstring, only gained 14 yards on seven carries. Is Wilfork encouraged after Week 1?

“That’€™s a work in progress,” Wilfork said Thursday. “That’€™s something that we put a lot of time and effort in and it showed up well for us last week. Hopefully we can continue to do it. The main thing is consistent. We definitely have to come in and play the run well again, and that’€™s always a goal of ours. This week it’€™s going to be again – they have three good backs that can run the ball and they have a fullback [Anthony Sherman] they like to put in some certain situations. Its going to be a challenge for us again and we’€™ve just got to keep putting it together.

“We’ve got a bunch of great guys on this defense and a lot of guys have the love for the game and the passion for the game. Every year that’s a goal, but when you have a bunch of guys fighting for one goal, and the passion and the love for it and the understanding of the game – what needs to be done – you can do mainly anything you want to do, if you put your mind to it. That’€™s what we have. But that’€™s easy. The tough part is when you’€™re struggling in a game or a game’€™s close or when you don’€™t have a team that’€™s one dimensional, they’€™re doing everything still, how mentally tough are you? That’€™s one thing you always have to work toward to, the mental game. Because everything is not always going to be perfect out there.”

Of course, the number one weapon the Cardinals bring to the table is wideout Larry Fitzgerald. Will Wilfork and the Patriots defense be able to get enough pressure on Kevin Kolb and the Cardinals offensive line?

“They do a lot of things well,” Wilfork said. “They’€™re coached very well, they play hard. that’€™s one thing you can see on film that they put 60 minutes and sometimes overtime. They play very, very hard. It’€™s going to be a challenge for us.”

To Wilfork’s point, the Cardinals are 8-2 in their last 10 games, with four of those coming in overtime. Kolb figures to start for the Cardinals after John Skelton injured his right ankle in the season-opening win over the Seahawks. Kolb was the QB who led the Cards down the field on a fourth-quarter go-ahead TD drive.

“He’€™s a good quarterback, let’€™s get that understood right now. But that whole offense, they have weapons, from the backs to the tight ends to the receivers, up front they know what they’€™re doing. He has a good supporting cast around him, too. Not taking anything away from him, because he is a good quarterback. We just have to do a good job of our game [plan], how we want to attack it. He made a lot of plays. Last week is came in the game and brought these guys back, so they have a lot of faith in him, and it’€™s for a reason. We see a lot of things on film that he poses a threat to, so we’€™re going to have to do a real good job defensively trying to slow him down.

“Our hands are full, definitely,” Wilfork said. “At the beginning of the year to play a team like this, it poses a lot of challenges and threats for us.”

When Wilfork watches the Cardinals on tape this week he sees a lot of familiar schemes in the Arizona offense, not surprising since Ken Whisenhunt ran the Steelers offense when he was in Pittsburgh with Bill Cowher. And Russ Grimm, a hall of famer with the Redskins, is their offensive line coach.

“They have a good coaching staff, great,” Wilfork said. “You can see the way they play the game, the kids that they have now, they play it the same way, hard-nose football. Every down counts, every second counts. Definitely the background ‘€¦ it’€™s tough. it’€™s a tough football team. Don’€™t get me wrong, They’€™re very, very tough because they do so many things well.”

Read More: Arizona Cardinals, Beanie Wells, John Skelton, Ken Whisenhunt

Troy Brown tries on his Patriots HOF jacket for first time and thanks fans

09.13.12 at 2:41 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Troy Brown took part in what’s become an annual tradition on Thursday.

Every year, before the first Patriots home game of the season, new inductees into the team’s Hall of Fame try on their red jacket for the first time in a photo op at The Hall at Patriot Place. Then, the Saturday night before the home opener, they are inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Among the highlights were his recollections of the time then-Patriots head coach Bill Parcells cut the Marshall product in final cuts before the 1993 season.

“It was something I deserved,” an honest Brown said Thursday. “I didn’€™t play very well in the preseason. I had the good fortune of talking to Bill for a long, long time at the National Football League Hall of Fame in Canton when Curtis Martin got inducted. We talked and we chatted for about an hour and talked about all those things and all those good days. He was really proud of the way things turned out for me after all that stuff, down to being cut. He was really happy about it and I’€™ve always had a tremendous respect for Bill Parcells and the way he went about doing things.

“He’€™s a tough guy and he had his beliefs and he stuck with them, but that doesn’€™t mean that I couldn’€™t try to prove him wrong. It made me a better player, I think. It made me a better person and everything else. Being cut is not fun because I was out for over half the season that year. I came back and I lost my number ‘€“ I used to be Irving Fryar [No. 80] and I came back as Stanley Morgan [No. 86]. It wasn’€™t fun. He kind of beat me up a little bit when I got back. Obviously, when the season was over, it’€™s my second year and I’€™m still a free agent; I didn’€™t know what was going to happen in the offseason and if they were going to sign me back or not. He did again and gave me another opportunity and it’€™s been pretty good since then.”

Here are the rest of the highlights from Thursday’s Q and A at the Hall at Patriot Place, courtesy Patriots media relations.

Q: What do you expect your emotions to be on Saturday?

TB: I don’€™t know. I’€™m usually a pretty happy person. I don’€™t think I cry very easily. It just brings back a lot of memories and hopefully I’€™ll see a lot of familiar faces that I haven’€™t seen in awhile. I think this is a great way to cap off what everybody ‘€“ Bill [Belichick] was talking about a great career that I put together for myself with the help of so many people ‘€“ it’€™s a great way to cap that off. I don’€™t want to say bring it to an end or close it out, but just to cap it off. You can’€™t get any greater honor than this when you’€™re a Patriot.

Q: Do you feel like you can still play?

TB: Every once in awhile I do. I can call Bill [Belichick] up right now and tell him I have four of five good [plays] in me, but in all actuality it would probably be one play and I’€™m done but I could go out and block somebody probably.

Q: Vince Wilfork‘€™s description of you included the word leadership. How does that make you feel.

TB: It’€™s great because when Vince came onto the scene with us, I think my leadership abilities had already blossomed. Before he got here, Vince didn’€™t know me as being this really, really quiet guy in the corner. Kevin Faulk always talks about me as a leader even though I didn’€™t talk a whole lot and do all those things, but for a guy like Vince to say that and to watch him play the game the way he does, I think [the idea] that some of the way I went about doing things rubbed off on him means a lot. You did your best to set a good example.

Q: You use the word blossom. How does leadership blossom? How did it work out in your case?

TB: For a long time I didn’€™t realize it. I just talked about Kevin Faulk just now and I never really realized that he was watching me as much as he was. I was kind of the same way ‘€“ I watched a lot of guys, I watched everybody. Just how they went about doing things and things they said and did, I kind of learned from that. When you don’€™t realize it, you just don’€™t. When you finally realize what position you’€™re in and how you have to be a good example for the rest of the guys to study and take care of their bodies and do all those things. I was probably in my 10th or 11th year, somewhere in there. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: New England Patriots, nfl, Patriots Hall of Fame, Troy Brown

Larry Fitzgerald returns the favor to Bill Belichick

09.12.12 at 7:48 pm ET
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Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald received some high praise from Bill Belichick this week when the Patriots coach said that the former third overall pick may go down as the greatest receiver of all time. On Wednesday, Fitzgerald returned the favor.

“He’s a great receiver,” Belichick said on Tuesday’s conference call. He’ll go down as one of the all-time greats. He might end up as the best one ever.”

After hearing of Belichick’s comment, Fitzgerald responded by saying, “It’€™s an honor that he even knows my name.”

“He’€™s arguably the best coach to ever do it,” Fitzgerald continued. “You look at his record and what he’€™s been able to accomplish over his career. He’€™s an unbelievable football coach. I have a long way to go. I have a lot to improve on and a lot to work on. Obviously I’€™m envious of him with all his hardware he has and his team has. We have a lot to improve on.”

There’s no doubt that Sunday’s game will match up one of the game’s better receivers with one of its better coaches. In his career, Fitzgerald has 697 receptions for 9,678 yards and 73 touchdowns. He is tied for 30th in career touchdown catches, and is tied for fourth among active players. Fitzgerald certainly has time to climb higher on that list, as he is still 29 years old. If he can repeat his eight touchdowns of a season ago, he’ll move into the top 20.

However, much like Bill Belichick isn’t ready to get excited over his rookies’ success, Fitzgerald isn’t going to spend the week thinking about his accolades.

“I have a long way to go,” he said. “We’€™ve only played one game this year and we were in the same position last year and we dropped the next six. That’€™s something that we talked about all this week, and attention to detail is something that we’€™ve really been stressing. The New England Patriots are a team that if you make a mistake against them, they will make you pay for it.”

Read More: Bill Belichick, Larry Fitzgerald,

In case you forgot, Bill Belichick thinks the world of Mark Bavaro

09.12.12 at 5:13 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Next week, we will again – no doubt – hear from Bill Belichick on how safety Ed Reed is winding up in Canton someday. And with good reason. The safety had a pick-6 on Monday night, igniting the Ravens to a 44-13 thrashing of the Bengals before a national TV audience.

But on Wednesday, we were reminded just how much he thinks of a player he used to coach in New York. Mark Bavaro is in the upper stratosphere of players he’s ever coached. Belichick – of course – was the defensive coordinator with the Giants and on the team’s defensive coaching staff for years and saw close up what kind of battles Bavaro would have with his two stars on defense – Lawrence Taylor and Carl Banks.

“All the obvious things: tough, strong, physical, good catch radius, tall, good in the red zone,” Belichick said when asked to compare Bavaro to Rob Gronkowski. “Mark was a tremendous player, I mean tremendous player. In my opinion, there aren’€™t many’€¦I don’€™t know if there’€™s a more complete tight end than Mark Bavaro. There are guys that have stats that are in the Hall of Fame and whatever, but talk about a guy that could line up across from Reggie White and actually block him ‘€“ that alone would meet my criteria. Great in the red zone, tough, played great in big games, didn’€™t make any mental mistakes. He was always at the point of attack and you could always count on him: played hurt, played tough, played against the best players in the league at his time and really he handled himself well. Played against the two best outside linebackers in football every day in practice and that was a war.

“I mean, that was a war. [Carl] Banks and [Lawrence] Taylor will tell you that. When they got to the game, there wasn’€™t anybody that was tougher than they were. I’€™m sure Bavaro would tell you the same thing about those two guys after going against Banks and Taylor in practice. Whoever they were blocking, it probably wasn’€™t as bad as going against those two. It was a great competitive situation in practice. Training camp was awesome. Those are three good football players, every day, very competitive, trying to get the best of the other guy, but they all got better. Mark was great. He was a tremendous player.

Belichick realizes those days are long gone with the new CBA.

“Yeah, two-a-day practices are definitely gone,” Belichick said remorsefully. “We kissed those goodbye last year.

Why are tight ends so valued by Belichick?

“I just think a tight end is involved in a lot of plays,” he said. “He’€™s involved in the running game. He’€™s involved in the passing game because he’€™s in the middle of the field. He’€™s involved in pass protection. There’€™s really no way, there really aren’€™t hardly any plays where that guy is out of the play. He’€™s a central guy in pretty much whatever you want to do. And the more versatile he is, the more things he can do, then defensively the harder he is to defend. If you have to defend a guy in the passing game, then that’€™s an issue.

“You have to worry about them running behind him, that’€™s an issue. You have to worry about his speed, that’€™s an issue. You have to worry about him breaking tackles and catching short passes and turning them into long plays. The more versatile any player is, the more valuable they are. At that position in the middle of the field ‘€“ with skill players are involved in every play, they give you more options.”

Here’s the rest of Wednesday’s transcript from Belichick’s session with reporters at Gillette Stadium, in which he also heaped praise on Troy Brown as he enters the Patriots Hall of Fame this weekend and the athleticism of the Cardinals, this week’s opponent. (Courtesy: Patriots media relations): Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Bill Belichick, Carl Banks, Gronk, Lawrence Taylor

Patriots preparing to face either John Skelton or Kevin Kolb

09.12.12 at 5:02 pm ET
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FOXBORO — John Skelton or Kevin Kolb?

That’s a question that’s been asked around Arizona plenty as the team has tried to find a franchise signal-caller over the last two seasons, but this week it’s a question for the Patriots as they wonder which quarterback they’ll face.

The Cardinals gave up a boatload to get Kolb prior to last season, but various injuries caused him to miss eight games in the 2011-12 season. Skelton, a fifth-round pick out of Fordham in the 2011 draft, went 6-2 as a starter in his place last year and won the starting job entering this season, but an ankle sprain forced him out of the season-opener. With Skelton out of the game, Kolb came in and threw the game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter to lead Arizona to a 20-16 win over the Seahawks.

It’s unknown whether Skelton will be good to go for Sunday, and coach Ken Whisenhunt hasn’t definitively said that Skelton will keep the No. 1 job. Asked about the decision-making process for the quarterback position Wednesday, Whisenhunt didn’t say anything concrete.

“We still have a few days until the game,” he said on a conference call. “A lot of [what we do] is going to depend on how John’€™s ankle as it’€™s improving, continues to improve. We feel very fortunate that it was just an ankle sprain and a low ankle sprain at that. And he’€™s getting better quickly so we feel very lucky about that.”

While Kolb certainly has a higher pedigree as a second-round pick (albeit a bit of a surprise second-round pick) of the Eagles back in 2007, neither he nor the then-rookie Skelton dazzled despite the fact that the team won seven of its last nine games last season. Kolb was 146-for-253 for 1,955 yards with nine touchdowns, eight interceptions and seven fumbles the eight games in which he played, while Skelton completed 151 of 275 passes for 1,913 yards with 11 touchdowns, 14 picks and one fumble.

Whichever quarterback is under center, Bill Belichick and the Patriots hope to be ready.

“I think their skill sets are a little bit different, but the offense is the same,” Belichick said Wednesday. “Certainly when Kolb came in last week, they didn’t change their offense. They continued to do what they do, so we have to defend the other 10 guys as well as the quarterback. It’s just more of an awareness of which guy’s in there and knowing his skills. It’s like when they have different running backs, whether it’s [Ryan] Williams or [Beanie] Wells or whoever it is, it’s still the same plays.”

Added Belichick: “They’re both good players and they’ve won with both players,” Belichick said. “We’ll have to be ready for whoever they put in there. We can’t control that.”

Read More: John Skelton, Kevin Kolb,
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