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Patriots sign TE Nate Byham

07.20.14 at 4:51 pm ET
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The Patriots announced Sunday they have signed veteran tight end Nate Byham.

Here’s a portion of the release issued by the team:

Byham, 26, is a veteran of four NFL seasons with the San Francisco 49ers (2010-11) and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2012-13). The 6-foot-4, 264-pounder, originally entered the NFL as a sixth-round draft pick by San Francisco out of Pittsburgh in 2010. He was signed by Tampa Bay on Oct. 2, 2012 after being released by San Francisco on Aug. 16, 2012. In his four NFL seasons, Byham has played 29 games with 11 starts and has totaled 11 receptions for 83 yards and one touchdown. Last season in Tampa Bay, Byham was limited to four games and finished with three receptions for 38 yards.

For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.

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Jets coach Rex Ryan: Patriots ‘need to worry about us’

07.20.14 at 11:16 am ET
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Despite missing the playoffs the last three years, Rex Ryan says he's a "great coach." (AP)

Despite missing the playoffs the last three years, Rex Ryan says he’s a “great coach.” (AP)

Sounds like Rex Ryan is back to being old Rex again.

After sounding chastened the last few years, in a series of interviews Saturday, the Jets coach sounded off about the state of the NFL, his own legacy, and where the Jets stand in relation to the Patriots.

“Somebody asked me if we focus on New England. Bull[expletive],” Ryan told the New York Post. “We’re focused on us. We’re focused on us and how are we going to be better. I have to be honest, I don’t worry about them. They need to worry about us. I think that’s really where we’re at now.”

Ryan didn’t make any Super Bowl predictions, but still sounded confident in his abilities as a head coach.

“Do I think that I’m a great coach? I absolutely know I’m a great coach,” Ryan told Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News. “But it’s not just about me. What makes a great coach is the people that surround you, the people that are with you every day.”

Ryan, who has a 46-40 career record as a head coach and has seen his team fall short of the postseason the last three years, will lead the Jets against the Patriots twice this season — Oct. 16 in Foxboro and Dec. 21 in North Jersey.

For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.

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Countdown to camp: Special teams

07.19.14 at 9:30 am ET
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Matthew Slater was one of two Patriots special teamers who made the Pro Bowl in 2013. (AP)

Matthew Slater was one of two Patriots special teamers who made the Pro Bowl in 2013. (AP)

As training camp approaches, we’€™ll offer a position-by-position breakdown of the 2014 Patriots. We’ve examined the wide receiver, tight end, offensive line, running back and quarterback positions. Now, we take a look at special teams.

Depth chart: Kicker Stephen Gostkowski; punter Ryan Allen; long snappers Danny Aiken and Tyler Ott; special teams captain Matthew Slater; punt returner Julian Edelman

Overview: It was a good 2013 for the specialists. With the exception of one glaring misstep (a late kickoff against the Dolphins in Miami caromed out of bounds, setting the stage for a Dolphins comeback), Gostkowski was very good all year, while Allen was a solid if unspectacular presence at punter. Meanwhile, the return games were mostly good and occasionally great at times, as LeGarrette Blount went from special teams punchline to quality return man — among his highlights was an 83-yard return against the Bills in the regular-season finale. In addition, Edelman had another good year as punt returner, and his 12.3 career return average now is tied for seventh on the all-time list. Going forward, there are questions as to who will replace Blount as kick returner, as well as the possibility of some of last year’s core special teamers (like Tavon Wilson) being squeezed out of back-of-the-roster spots because of positional battles. But if the health of Gostkowski, Edelman and Slater (and some others) holds, Scotty O’Brien‘s crew appears poised for another good year.

THREE THINGS WE KNOW

1. Stephen Gostkowski is one of the best kickers in the game.

Setting aside the previously mentioned botched kickoff in a loss to Miami (a game in which he also missed a 48-yard field goal in the second half), Gostkowski had the best season of his career in 2013. He had game-winners to beat the Bills and Broncos, as well as big late kicks against the Jets and Texans, one that led to overtime and other that ended up clinching a road victory. He also successfully executed an onside kick in the dramatic win over the Browns. In all, he finished the year 35-of-38 on field-goal attempts, as well as 65 touchbacks. He led the league in scoring — his 158 points were a career best, as well as best in the league in 2013 and 10th in NFL history.

2. Matthew Slater is one of the best pure special teamers in the league.

We’ve said it roughly 3,000 times over the last few years, but spend the $70 and get the All-22 film. That’s likely the only way you’ll get a real sense of just how good Slater is when it comes to speed, strength and ability to work as a disruptive presence. Belichick was effusive in his praise of Slater’s work as a gunner last year, saying he’s “one of the best in the league” in that department, adding that he always seems to draw double teams when he’s on the outside. Good for two or three targets a season at wide receiver, he is a pure special teamer and has carved out a nice niche for himself on the roster. (One more thing worth noting: The fact that the team took Slater — one of the most respected players in the locker room — on the road last season after he went down with an injury is a good sign of how highly regarded he is by Bill Belichick, as well as the rest of the franchise.)

3. The kick returning job is wide open.

The Patriots have found good kick return performances sporadically over the last five years — including the work offered by Blount over most of the second half of 2013 — but since Ellis Hobbs was dealt to the Eagles following the 2008 season, New England has struggled to find consistency at the position. Now, with Blount gone, the job is available again. A variety of faces rotated through the position throughout the spring, but no one was able to distinguish themselves during OTA’s and minicamp.

(One more thing: Allen was also one of the best things about the Patriots in the AFC title game, dropping three first-half punts inside the 20 and doing his part to help tilt the field for New England in the early going.)

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Lawyer: It was 34 texts between Bill Belichick and Aaron Hernandez, not 34 pages of texts

07.18.14 at 8:23 pm ET
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The Patriots issued a statement Friday night via lawyer Andrew Phelan on the report there were 33 pages of texts between Bill Belichick and Aaron Hernandez turned over as part of evidence in the trial of Hernandez.

“Earlier this week, a report indicated that an exchange of text messages between the team’s head coach and Mr. Hernandez totaled 33 pages. While it is unknown how the texts were printed or displayed, I thought it was important to clarify that during an early investigation conducted by state prosecutors, the team produced a total of 34 text messages (not pages of texts) spanning a period of five months (December 2012 ‘€“ April 2013) between the head coach and Mr. Hernandez.”

Hernandez has been charged with three murders, including one alleged to have occurred in June 2013.

For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.

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Countdown to camp: Quarterback

07.18.14 at 7:00 am ET
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Tom Brady starts the 2014 season still seeking that elusive fourth ring. (AP)

Tom Brady starts the 2014 season still seeking that elusive fourth ring. (AP)

As training camp approaches, we’€™ll offer a position-by-position breakdown of the 2014 Patriots. We’€™ve broken down the wide receiver, tight end, offensive line and running back positions. Now, we wrap up the offensive side of the ball with a look at quarterback.

Depth chart: Tom Brady (380-for-628, 61 percent, 4,343 passing yards, 25 TDs, 11 INTs), Ryan Mallett, Jimmy Garoppolo

Overview: It won’€™t go on the mantle alongside the 2007 and 2010 seasons, but as we wrote here, to take Brady’€™s 2013 season as an indicator that he’€™s on his way out is to miss the big picture. With so many of his familiar targets gone, he wasn’€™t at his best over the course of the year — the October loss against the Bengals where he went 18-for-38 for 197 yards and a pick — was one of the worst outings of his long and distinguished career. In addition, he missed plenty of makeable throws last season, including some key shots downfield in the AFC title game. But at the same time, he played some of his best football over the course of the season, with his four-game stretch from Nov. 3 through Dec. 1 serving as his personal peak: Against the Steelers, Panthers, Broncos and Texans, Brady went 115-for-164 (70 percent) for 1,443 yards with 10 touchdowns and two interceptions — a per game average of 29-for-41 for 358 yards, 2.5 TDs and 0.5 INTs. He was at the controls of an offense that actually outscored the Broncos over the second half of the season, and ranked No. 7 in the league in total offense and No. 3 in points scored. All that with Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Dobson, Danny Amendola, Sebastian Vollmer, and Shane Vereen combining to miss 33 games. (That doesn’€™t take into account Stevan Ridley being repeatedly benched for fumbling.) All in all, it wasn’€™t his best season, but considering everything around him, still not bad.

THREE THINGS WE KNOW

1. Brady has moved into a different phase of his football career.

The quarterback wants to always remind people he’€™s no bigger or more important than the 52 other guys on the roster. But Brady, who will turn 37 next month, is no longer a contemporary of his teammates. He will be the older guy on the team for the third straight season, and while he’€™s always been in a leadership role, that really became evident in 2013. Last year, he commanded a group of receivers who were young enough to watch him win Super Bowls while they were in grade school. (By way of example, Dobson was 10 years old when Brady and the Patriots beat the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI.) There’€™s more deference to Brady than there was in year’€™s past. That doesn’€™t mean he isn’€™t capable of doing some cutting up with teammates behind the scenes. Instead, he’€™s much more inclined to be spending an off day conducting weekly film sessions with the younger receivers.

2. Even though he hasn’€™t taken any significant snaps in the regular season, Mallett has done all he can to try and improve his stock.

It’€™s difficult to remember, but when Mallett came into the league as a third-round pick in 2011, he was a bit of a third rail. Despite the fact that he threw for more than 8,300 yards in three years as a collegian, he was dogged by character issues, which likely caused the draft fall. But since he’€™s arrived in New England, teammates have praised his attitude, work ethic and approach to the game. He may not ultimately get a shot with the Patriots, but he’€™s done well to put any questions about his past behind him.

3. Garoppolo’€™s development has shades of Brady’€™s evolution.

Garoppolo was tutored by quarterback guru Jeff Christiansen, and shortly after the draft, Christiansen told WEEI.com that much of the drills, technique and footwork that Garoppolo went through over the last 10 years all came straight from the book of the late Tom Martinez, who was Brady’€™s quarterbacking guru for nearly 20 years. “This is so surreal to me, it’€™s almost frightening,”€ Christiansen said after being told Garoppolo was drafted by the Patriots. “EVERYTHING we did [with Jimmy] was off Tom Brady. Brady set the standard for perfect technique, and so it just made sense for us to follow everything that Tom Martinez did with Brady.”

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Robert Kraft: NFL should push for team in London by end of decade

07.17.14 at 9:21 pm ET
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Robert Kraft

Robert Kraft

Robert Kraft said Thursday the league “should work very hard” to have a team in London before the decade ends.

Kraft made the comment today at a conference of television critics in California. The Patriots owner, who has been a longtime advocate of having a team overseas, has pushed for his team to play in the games in London on several occasions — New England has played games at Wembley Stadium in 2009 and 2012.

In all, the league will play three regular-season games in London in the coming season, with the Jaguars, Falcons and Raiders hosting contests at Wembley. Regular-season games have been played in London annually since 2007.

For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.

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Patriots release WRs Jeremy Johnson, Reese Wiggins

07.17.14 at 4:47 pm ET
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The Patriots announced Thursday they have release wide receivers Jeremy Johnson and Reese Wiggins. The active roster now stands at 87 players.

Here’s a portion of the release issued by the team on the moves:

Johnson, 22, was signed by the Patriots as a rookie free agent out of Southern Methodist on May 27. The 6-foot, 180-pounder, led SMU with 112 receptions for 1,112 yards and six touchdowns as a senior in 2013 and earned All-American Athletic Conference Second Team honors. Johnson finished his four-year college career with 196 receptions for 1,936 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Wiggins, 23, was signed by the Patriots as a rookie free agent from East Carolina on May 27. The 5-foot-11, 185-pounder, earned All-Conference USA Honorable Mention as a senior in 2013 after finishing with 26 receptions for 372 yards and four touchdowns. Wiggins finished his career at East Carolina with 80 receptions for 1,012 yards and eight touchdowns.

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