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Dont’a Hightower on OM&F: Last 3 games Patriots ‘growing together as a defense’

12.05.16 at 1:21 pm ET
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Dont'a Hightower

Dont’a Hightower

Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower checked in with Ordway, Merloni & Fauria on Monday to recap the Patriots’ 26-10 win over the Rams. To hear the interview, go to the OM&F audio on demand page.

It was the third straight solid performance for the Patriots defense as it has started to come together as a unit. In the three games the Patriots have allowed 14.6 points per game, 264.6 total yards, 74 rushing yards, 190.6 passing yards and forced four turnovers.

Granted it’s come against the 49ers, Jets and Rams, the group is coming into its own.

“The past couple of weeks we’ve just been growing together as a defense and be able to trust one another and building that camaraderie to be able to know where each other is going to be at,” Hightower said.

“The past couple of weeks we have definitely been harping on the turnover things, getting after the quarterback and things are definitely starting to fall in line,” Hightower added. “If we can continue to build on it, we’re definitely going in the right direction we want to be.”

In Sunday’s game against the Rams, Hightower got chop blocked, which he wasn’t too happy about.

“A little [pissed], but I talked to [Todd] Gurley after the game and I don’t think it was intentional with the chop block and the guard coming over the top,” he said. “It’s part of football. I was pretty pissed about it and kind of took my frustration out on the next series.”

On the FOX broadcast, cameras caught a fan who looked exactly like defensive coordinator Matt Patricia. Hightower noticed it, too.

“Yo, I’ve seen that,” he said. “I swear it looks just like him. He might have a twin, I might have to ask him that.”

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Former Jets CB Antonio Cromartie: Tom Brady best of all-time

12.05.16 at 12:41 pm ET
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Former New York Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie, who once called Tom Brady “an asshole” prior to a playoff game against the Patriots, said Monday that the New England quarterback is the best signal-caller of all-time, as far as he’s concerned.

“I played against Brett Favre. I played agains Peyton Manning. Tom, Tom tops [them] all,” Cromartie said on an appearance on the Fox Sports 1 show “Undisputed.”

When asked why Brady was ahead of his peers, Cromartie cited postseason history.

“Tom played a lot better in the playoffs,” he said. “He played a lot better during the season. And it didn’t matter who he had at receiver. You could put Troy Brown at defensive back and have him playing receiver, and he’s going to win football games. The thing that Tom understands about football is mismatches.”

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Bill Belichick isn’t into second-guessing his decision to leave Tom Brady in

12.05.16 at 11:50 am ET
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Tom Brady won his 201st career game Sunday against the Rams. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

Tom Brady won his 201st career game Sunday against the Rams. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

We already know that Tom Brady wants to keep his foot on the gas pedal when it comes to staying in apparent blowout games late.

Bill Belichick feels pretty much the same way as he made clear in his conference call Monday.

During Sunday’s game against the Rams, the Patriots had a 26-3 lead against a Los Angeles team that couldn’t move the ball all day. With 5:52 left in the fourth quarter and the Patriots up 23 points, there was some speculation across social media that Brady would come out and give Jimmy Garoppolo a chance to get some snaps in.

That turned out not to be the case, as Brady took the the field and continued his attack as normal against an LA team that could still provide a formidable pass rush.

“After the game turns out and it’s easy to go back and make those suggestions,” Belichick said. “I’ve seen a few games in this league. I’ve seen double-digit leads evaporate in a minute or two. I know that’s not a big concern when it doesn’t happen. But when it does happen, it’s a major crisis. Then it’s a lot of second-guessing about what should’ve been done or shouldn’t have been done. Just try to win the game.”

As it turns out, the Rams did put up some points late when Jared Goff hit a wide-open Kenny Britt on a 66-yard pass on 4th-and-11 at the Los Angeles 33. Several plays later, Goff hit Britt for a TD pass and it was suddenly a two-score game with 1:15 left.

There was no onside kick and the Patriots recovered the kickoff in the end zone for a touchback and ran out the clock.

Read More: Bill Belichick, Jimmy Garoppolo, Los Angeles Rams, New England Patriots

Bill Belichick sings praises of Jabaal Sheard: ‘He’s had a couple of good weeks here’

12.05.16 at 11:21 am ET
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Dec 4, 2016; Foxborough, MA, USA;  Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley (30) is pursued by New England Patriots defensive end Jabaal Sheard (93) during the fourth quarter at Gillette Stadium.  The New England Patriots won 26-10.  Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Jabaal Sheard (93) makes a tackle on Rams running back Todd Gurley. (Greg M. Cooper-USA Today Sports)

It sure sounds like Jabaal Sheard has worked to get himself out of Bill Belichick’s doghouse.

And, judging by the way Belichick spoke Monday of Sheard’s work against the Rams, it’s paid off.

Belichick praised the work of Sheard after the defensive lineman demonstrated Sunday a new skill to his game – dropping in pass coverage.

“Well, we know he can rush the passer,” Belichick said. “His coverage plays were pretty impressive.”

Indeed, Sheard, who played 28 of 52 defensive snaps Sunday, stayed in on passing downs but not always to rush the passer. On several occasions throughout the game, Sheard didn’t rush but dropped back in passing lanes and got his hands on several passes from rookie Jared Goff. It was all in an effort to trick the quarterback into thinking pressure might be coming when it wasn’t.

“It’d be a season for a defensive lineman for the number of balls he had his hands on,” Belichick said of Sheard. “[He] had very impressive awareness and getting depth to get into the passing lanes, playing the ball. When you drop defensive linemen into coverage, you generally don’t get a lot of production from them in coverage. They take up some space. Usually a quarterback doesn’t want to throw the ball in the area where somebody’s standing. In terms of making plays on the ball, they don’t really make a lot of them.”

Sheard didn’t have a sacke but he finished with four tackles, a quarterback hit that resulted in Kyle Van Noy’s interception and three passes defended. Sheard didn’t even make the trip to San Francisco three weeks ago when he was benched. But since returning, he’s had seven tackles and averaged 26.5 snaps.

“That was good [work] by Jabaal [Sunday],” Belichick said. “He rushed well, played the run well. He’s had a couple of good weeks here. It’s good to see him string them together.”

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What pundits were saying about Patriots on Sunday: Tom Brady ‘in conversation of the greatest ever’

12.05.16 at 11:17 am ET
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Rodney Harrison

Rodney Harrison

Here’s a quick look at what some of the national pundits were saying about the Patriots before and after Sunday’s win over the Rams:

NFL Network’s Deion Sanders after the game, talking about Tom Brady: “He has to be in the conversation of the greatest ever, and I didn’t stutter nor did I stumble when I said that.”

NFL Network’s LaDainian Tomlinson after the game, on Brady: “I think the most special thing about him is his ability to win in different ways with different teams. He had Randy Moss at times, but when he didn’t have Randy Moss, he was still able to be as effective with guys we didn’t even know about. He made a lot of these guys famous.”

NBC Sports analyst Rodney Harrison, talking about the Patriots after the game, specifically about the loss of Rob Gronkowski: “It’s business as usual. They’re not going to complain because they have a lot of weapons. … They don’t sit back and worry about things they can’t control. …They’re built to handle adversity. All of their backup guys are well prepared. Anytime one of the starters gets hurt, they just fill in with another guy.”

Harrison, who played with Tom Brady from 2003-08, on Brady’s record 201st career victory: “I’m just really happy and proud for Tom. I’ve been in the locker room, I’ve seen him work hard and sacrifice so much for his teammates. Congratulations, Tom.”

NBC Sports analyst Tony Dungy on the Patriots, after the game: “All these guys fill in. Nobody does it better than the Patriots in making adjustments, but I’m telling you, they are not the same offense without Rob Gronkowski. I think this opens up the whole AFC, I really do.”

NFL Network’s Michael Robinson, before the game, on losing Gronkowski: “Losing Rob Gronkowski, the fear that this offense puts in opposing defenses, that’s gone.”

More from Robinson on the loss of Gronkowski: ”[With Gronk injured] Miami could possibly win the AFC East, and then you’re talking about New England in a wild card spot.”

NFL Network analyst Michael Irvin, before the game, on the AFC race without Gronkowski: “Without Gronk, it moves closer for the Oakland Raiders. Now you have a little bit better chance. When I look back at it, and I’ve seen such great wins for the Oakland Raiders, but the Patriots, man, they are so consistent in what they do and they’ve won games without Gronk before. So yeah, I think it keeps them closer, but I still say the Patriots have just a little bit of an upper hand.”

Read More: Deion Sanders, Michael Irvin, Michael Robinson, Rodney Harrison

Tom Brady confirms Rob Gronkowski has worked with Alex Guerrero, but could he do it more?

12.05.16 at 10:57 am ET
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Tom Brady said Rob Gronkowski has worked some with Alex Guerrero. (Stew Milne/USA Today Sports)

Tom Brady said Rob Gronkowski has worked some with Alex Guerrero. (Stew Milne/USA Today Sports)

Part of what has enabled Tom Brady to play in the league for so long and withstand some of the hits he’s taken, has been his work with personal coach Alex Guerrero.

The work is not centered around strength work and weight lifting, rather resistance work to help with flexibility.

Rob Gronkowski had his ninth surgery since college late last week and with his body being more muscle and most of his training being done with weights since being a child, many have wondered if he could benefit from working with someone like Guerrero and focusing more on flexibility?

On Kirk & Callahan Monday morning, Brady said Gronkowski has worked with Guerrero some in the past, but it’s up to the individual as to how invested they want to be with it.

“I mean Gronk is so hard working and Gronk has spent a lot of time with Alex at different points,” Brady said. “Gronk has his rehab and he’s going to do it and I have no doubt he’s going to come back stronger and better than ever. All of us learn every year about things that work and don’t work. It’s really up to the individual. Gronk, it depends what all the — I don’t want to single out Gronk because he’s the only one that is injured — but a lot of players that get injured over the course of the year and then you go about changes in your routine because you think this may work and this may not work.

“To me, I feel like it’s very touch and feel with how you do take care of your body. Some weeks it is a little more strengthening. Some weeks it’s a little more conditioning. Some weeks it’s a little more pliability depending on how your body feels. I don’t think people spend enough time on pliability at all. I think that is the missing third leg to what athletes in high school should be learning and college athletes. We learn at a young age it’s all about strength and conditioning and strengthening at the expense of pliability, to me gets you injured. If you’re injured you can’t play. If your body is your asset and you’re injured, you’re not going to have much of a career for any athlete. Every team is trying to incorporate the things they see and they feel and they want to do a better job of. I feel like that is part of what I want to teach people is how I have done it.”

The only games Brady has missed in his 17-year career were in 2008 when he tore his ACL. The quarterback noted how much goes into preparing his body during the week for the games on Sunday to withstand the hits that he takes, which is a major reason why he’s been able to be so dependable.

But in Gronkowski’s case, some injuries are just unavoidable.

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Danny Amendola reportedly has high ankle sprain, could be out until postseason

12.05.16 at 9:30 am ET
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Danny Amendola

Danny Amendola

It wasn’t all good news in Sunday’s 26-10 win over the Rams, as wide receiver Danny Amenedola left the game with an ankle injury.

Amendola was injured in the third quarter returning a punt when it looked like he twisted his ankle. The wide out didn’t start the game returning punts, but was forced into that role when rookie Cyrus Jones muffed another punt early in the game that the Patriots recovered.

He was seen after the game leaving the locker room on crutches.

According to NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport, Amendola has a high ankle sprain and the plan is to make sure he’s ready for the playoffs.

This isn’t the first time Amendola has been injured returning punts, as last year he injured his knee when he was forced into the role because of Chris Harper’s issues. The team will need to find someone it can count on for the rest of the season, ideally not Julian Edelman.

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