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Why Matt Prater may be more important than Tim Tebow

12.18.11 at 2:02 pm ET
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Forget Tim Tebow. Matt Prater is the most valuable player in the Broncos‘ miraculous six-game winning streak. Prater has kicked the winning field goal in Denver’s last three games and in five of Denver’s eight wins this season.

Without the powerful and artful foot of Prater, Tebow and the Broncos aren’t on the cover of Sports Illustrated and getting their own Saturday Night Live skits.

The best example of this came last week against the Bears, when Tebow was limited by the clock and could only get the Broncos to the Bears’ 40, down 10-7.

Prater came on and booted a 59-yarder that had about 10 yards to spare. Tie game. Then, on Denver’s first possession of overtime, Prater nailed the game-winner from 51 yards. The 59-yarder was the second of Prater’s career in the mile-high air. Prater owns three of the six longest field goals in team history. Jason Elam has the longest in franchise and NFL history at 63 yards against Jacksonville in 1998.

Prater, you might recall, had the overtime game-winner on this same field in 2009 when then-Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels did his epic celebration after beating the Patriots, 20-17.

“Field goal range is extended,” Belichick said. “Absolutely, he’€™s like [12-for-16] from over 50 or whatever it is. He’€™s got the leg but he’€™s also an accurate kicker. He’€™s hit a lot of long ones. Scott [Scott O’€™Brien] coached him out there. We know him, he knows him. We know this guy has got a lot of leg so yeah, absolutely it extends your defense in those situations in terms of the field goal. If you’€™re trying to protect against the field goal then you’€™re extending out a little bit further. Again, that’€™s something we talk about every week. We go into the game with what we feel like the opposing kicker’€™s range is, also our kicker, what our kicker’€™s range is, how far we have to get to. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Denver Broncos, Mario Haggan, Matt Prater, New England Patriots

Setting the scene: Patriots-Broncos

12.18.11 at 12:23 pm ET
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It will be a very mild day in the Mile High City when the Patriots take the field against Tim Tebow and the Broncos this afternoon at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.

The forecast calls for sunny skies and temperatures in the mid-50s at kickoff as the 10-3 Patriots can clinch their third straight AFC East title and their ninth in 11 seasons with their sixth straight win. The Patriots also clinch the AFC East with a tie and a Jets’ loss or just a Jets’ loss at Philadelphia.

The Patriots will not have Deion Branch today as he injured his groin last week during the win over the Redskins. Branch was ruled out Saturday night by the team. Patrick Chung didn’t even make the trip to Denver, as he and his injured right foot took in the Celtics scrimmage Friday at TD Garden, staying behind as the team traveled west on Friday afternoon, heading out early to adjust to the time change and altitude.

Also ruled out by the team on Saturday night were offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer (right foot), who will miss his third straight game, linebacker Brandon Spikes (right knee), missing his sixth straight game and Shane Vereen (hamstring). That leaves just two players who will be gameday scratches, one of whom will be likely be quarterback Ryan Mallett, inactive since Week 3 against the Bills.

Safety Ross Ventrone was signed off the practice squad on Saturday and will be activated for today’s game. He takes the place defensive back Malcolm Williams, who was released this week. Coach Bill Belichick said Williams was released for this game because they felt other players could better fit their scheme this week.

While the Broncos have one of the best pass rushes in the NFL, there is reason to think the Tom Brady could pick apart the secondary. Safety Brian Dawkins (neck) reportedly did not participate in the Broncos walkthrough on Saturday while various reports indicate another safety – David Bruton (Achilles) is also expected to be out. The team signed safety Kyle McCarthy back to active roster Saturday. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: AFC East, Denver Broncos, kyle orton, New England Patriots

SNL takes on Tim Tebow (and the Patriots as well)

12.18.11 at 11:38 am ET
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Indirectly, the Patriots got a mention on “Saturday Night Live” as part of the buildup to the Broncos game on Sunday. Worth a watch:

Nuggetpalooza: How do the stats look in the Patriots matchup with Tim Tebow and the Broncos?

12.17.11 at 9:28 am ET
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Here’s my take on “Tebow-mania”: I’m a fan of the sport, so I tend to overlook all the esoteric stuff that doesn’t have anything much to do with the games themselves. But I’m not blind, and Tim Tebow is the most polarizing athlete in years, maybe ever. There’s no gray area with him. Fans either love him or hate him.

But as a fan of the sport, I just see that the guy’s team seems to win the games that he plays in. I give him a lot of credit for stepping up despite all the criticism that’s been heaped on him from all corners (“He can’t play quarterback in the NFL”) and making it work to the best of his ability. But give the most credit to John Fox and the Broncos‘ coaching staff for thinking outside the box to come up with an offensive system in which Tebow can thrive (to whatever extent possible) and to Tebow’s teammates, for recognizing his ability as a leader and for buying into the possibility that they can have success with him at the helm. That’s not easy to do in this age of the rich, pampered athlete who is generally hesitant to leave his comfort zone. Love him or hate him, it’s been breathtaking to watch.

Can Tebow and the Broncos take down the 10-3 Patriots? It shouldn’t happen, but New England better not get caught flat on Sunday. Get ready for this week’s NFL’s headliner with some numbers I’ve noticed:

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* – Since the start of the 2006 season, the Patriots defense has faced an opposing quarterback for the first time on 30 occasions, winning 27 of those games, including games against the Colts (Orlovsky) and the Chiefs (Palko) this season. Here are the losses in that span:

November 7, 2010 at Cleveland (Colt McCoy)
October 11, 2009 at Denver (Kyle Orton)
September 20, 2009 at NY Jets (Mark Sanchez)

Their last such loss, prior to the three listed above, was also at Denver, on October 16, 2005, with Jake Plummer at the helm. So two of their last four losses against quarterbacks they’ve faced for the first time, have come at Mile High.

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* – Denver has scored 111 of their 269 points in the fourth quarter this season (41.3%). That would be the highest percentage since the 2005 Dolphins (43.7%).

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* – By winning last week, Denver became just the second team in the last eight seasons to win three overtime games in a single season:

2010 Redskins
2003 Panthers
2002 Chargers
2001 49ers
1997 Steelers

Note this: No team has ever won four overtime games in a season.

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* – The Broncos have gone 3-and-out a league high 51 times this season, already surpassing their previous club record of 50 in a single season since they began tracking the stat in 1995 (set in 1999 and last year). For the record, since 1995, only one team that has finished 30th or worse in 3-and-outs has won more than eight games in a season (the 11-5 Bears of 2005) and they’ve averaged just 5.1 wins each.

—————————————————————————————————————————————————- Read the rest of this entry »

Peter King on M&M: Patriots need fast start vs. Broncos

12.16.11 at 12:50 pm ET
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Peter King of Sports Illustrated and NBC Sports checked in with the Mut & Merloni show Friday for his weekly discussion about the Patriots and the NFL.

Looking at Sunday’s game against Tim Tebow and the Broncos, King said one coach told him, “You always talk about getting off to a fast start. This is the one week you have to get off to a fast start. Whether it be no-huddle, whether it be varying how quickly [Tom] Brady goes to the line, whatever it is. He said just play fast and get out to a big lead. Score the first two or three times you have the ball. Then you change everything about Denver’s plan. Because the last time they got behind a lot was the Detroit game. Tebow threw the ball I think 39 times. It was a disaster. They don’t want to play that way.”

The Broncos are expected to counter by trying to slow the game down.

“I think they’re going to try to run the ball and bleed the clock,” King said. “My belief is that John Fox has a number in his head of possessions he wants Tom Brady to have. I think he would love it if Tebow’s snapping the ball as the play clock is down at four, three, two, every time. He wants to bleed the clock and he wants to hold Brady to whatever, seven or eight possessions. That’s easier said than done, but I think that that is what he’ll try to do.

“I think they’re going to try to bash them with Willis McGahee, if he’s healthy enough to do that, and just make sure that Tebow gets enough touches and is able to carry the ball the way he has in the last few weeks.”

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

On Tebow’s future with the Broncos: “I think they want to be disciplined and wait and see the entire season before they make that decision. But I think it’s highly unlikely they’re going to be able to go into this offseason with the idea of having another guy quarterback this team. I would be stunned if they replaced him now. ‘€¦ I think that he’s played so well, especially down the stretch. And the fan base is so enamored with him.”

On Bears receiver Sam Hurd’s arrest on a drug dealing charge: “This story is going to flesh itself out soon, but I know, having talked to [a reporter] in Chicago last night, there are some drug dealers in Chicago who didn’t even know who Sam Hurd was. For somebody to be moving that amount of drugs in the city of Chicago or in the environment of Chicago ‘€¦ you’ve got to figure that the drug kingpins would know. And evidently some of them didn’t even know who this guy was. I’m not saying that it is true that it’s exaggerated; I don’t know whether it is or not. The only thing I would say is I think it’s probably safe to say that some NFL players are going to be in trouble, but I’m not sure that Sam Hurd was the drug kingpin of Chicago. I guess that’s the way I’d put it.”

On Ben Roethlisberger’s status for Monday night’s game against the 49ers: “He’s going to try to practice tomorrow. ‘€¦ If he cannot protect himself and if he can’t move around in any way to protect himself, then Mike Tomlin is not going to play him on Monday. But I believe that Roethlisberger is going to give it a really good effort and try to play. What I have been told about this particular game is that the Steelers are really hesitant to play him in this game because San Francisco has a really good pass rush and they’ve got a great run defense. And at some point, the quarterback’s going to have to make some plays. He’s going to have to move around to make some plays. ‘€¦ I think it is a huge huge mistake for Roethlisberger to try to play in this game.”

Read More: Ben Roethlisberger, John Fox, Sam Hurd,

Five thoughts on the Patriots’ (alleged) courtship of Tim Tebow

12.15.11 at 10:21 pm ET
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FOXBORO — While we count down to the inevitable clash between the Patriots and Broncos, here are five thoughts on New England’€™s courtship of Tim Tebow in 2010:

1. Let’€™s assume for the sake of this discussion that the Patriots could have found some way to take him in the mid to late 20s. (He ended up going 25th overall to Denver, while New England ended up taking cornerback Devin McCourty at No. 27.) Frankly, the idea of Tebow in New England sparks more questions than answers, and opens the possibility he could have become Michael Bishop for a whole new generation of Patriots fans. (Google the name, youngsters. We’€™ll be here when you get back.) Would the Patriots think about using him in a nontraditional fashion? Could be he anything more than a backup quarterback to Tom Brady? And how would have his selection affected what New England did in the rest of the 2010 draft and the entire 2011 process? First and foremost, if they had gone with Tebow in 2010, the positional battle at backup quarterback between Brian Hoyer and Tebow would have given plenty of Patriots fans plenty to chew on. (Considering that Hoyer’€™s contract is up after this season, if they did take Tebow back in 2010, it’€™s conceivable that New England could have been moving into the 2013 season with a quarterbacking tandem of Brady and Tebow.)

2. There’€™s always the possibility that Belichick, while being genuinely intrigued about Tebow as a possible offensive Swiss Army Knife, was more interested in a doing a favor for a friend in Florida coach Urban Meyer. Belichick and Meyer are very tight off the field, and the coach certainly wouldn’€™t be above helping out a pal whose quarterback needed a pre-draft spike. A sitdown between Belichick and Tebow was guaranteed to get tongues wagging around the league, and the Patriots weren’€™t exactly clandestine when it came to this affair. (Think to yourself: When’€™s the last time you saw the Patriots do something like this so out in the open? Agents have told me that the team has cancelled workouts with possible prospects because the news was leaked to the media. Taking someone like that to Tresca in the North End is a guarantee people will find out about it … even before the dinner is over.) If the Patriots start sniffing around a nontraditional prospect like Tebow, it’€™s likely that’€™ll draw the interest of the rest of the league. If the Patriots are interested, there must be something there. The added draft buzz from a high-profile meeting between Belichick and Tebow was enough to give Tebow’€™s pre-draft stock a serious bounce.

Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Aaron Hernandez, Brian Hoyer, david givens, Devin McCourty

Matthew Slater prays for Tim Tebow because ‘he’s putting himself out there on a limb’

12.15.11 at 4:28 pm ET
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FOXBORO — A Bible was open to the book of Isaiah on the locker stall of Matthew Slater.

It was like any other day at Gillette for the devout Christian. Slater – a member of the Patriots special teams and secondary – is among the many athletes who openly recognize their faith after a performance, giving praise to God before addressing their own achievements.

And this week, with all talk about Tim Tebow, Slater has a unique perspective on the most popular Christian athlete on the planet.

He took time to speak with WEEI.com Thursday and offer his thoughts on a man he will be chasing and defending on Sunday in Denver.

“I truly have a lot of respect for him,” Slater told WEEI.com on Thursday. “I think he’s a great ambassador for Christ and for the faith. I know he’s taken some criticism for how outspoken he is but I feel like, as Christians, we’re all called to be outspoken for Christ and take a stand and he’s definitely done that. I have a ton of respect for him.

“I definitely pray for the guy because he’s putting himself out there on a limb. But he’s doing it for the faith and I can relate. I understand his beliefs and where he’s coming from. So, I have a tremendous amount of respect for him.”

Slater has heard all the jokes about athletes being on the “God Squad” and all the NFL players who have mocked Tebow this year, dropping to one knee and pointing skyward going as far as “Tebowing” on the field when they tackle Tebow for a loss.

“Those who are familiar with the bible, Christ said they persecuted him and they’re going to persecute us as followers of him, also,” Slater said. “That’s criticism. As Christians, we kind of look at that as, ‘Well, I guess we’re doing something right,’ if we’re taking a stand for what we believe in, and whether people like it or not, he’s following his beliefs to the best of his ability and he’s a great ambassador for the faith.”

Slater has never sat down and discussed his faith with Tebow in person.

“I met him once when he was in here for a visit but haven’t spoken with him,” Slater said. “I’ve always admired him from afar, strictly for what he’s done for the faith and the for the man he seems to be. He’s truly a great ambassador for our faith.

“We’re out there competing. We’re out there to do a job, to win a game that we love and we compete hard. Hey, we can be brothers in Christ but I want to win the game and I’m sure he wants to win the game, also. It’s not going to be like, ‘Hey, brother, love you, man.’ No, we’re out there to win a game. We can play hard and compete as Christian athletes. It doesn’t change how we play the game. We play hard, we play physical and we want to win the game.”

Has Slater ever endured criticism for his open show of faith?

“I have in some cases but he’s just in the spotlight so much, being a quarterback, being as successful as he’s been and being as outspoken for the faith as he is, he’s more in the spotlight than I’ve been, personally,” Slater said. “But I have to admire him. Despite all the criticism that he has taken, he’s standing by his beliefs, and if people say he’s talking about the faith too much, this, that and the other. And respect him for that.”

Read More: Christian athletes. God Squad, Denver Broncos, Matthew Slater, New England Patriots
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