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‘Patient’ Deion Branch comes back and comforts Donte’ Stallworth: ‘He’s one of my guys’

12.14.12 at 12:12 am ET
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Deion Branch was ready to come back – for a third time this season.

The 33-year-old veteran was released on Nov. 17, shortly after straining his hamstring. What did he do?

He spent time with his family, picking up his 7-year-old daughter D’Ahni at school.

‘€˜’€˜She said, ‘€˜Dad, what happened? Why aren’€™t you playing?”€™’€™ Branch told reporters Thursday. ‘€˜’€˜I said, ‘€˜Baby, daddy can’€™t play right now. I don’€™t have a job.’€™ And she said, ‘€˜aw, you’ll get one.’€™ And I said, ‘€˜I know, baby.”€™’€™

As fate would have it, Donte’ Stallworth, brought in to replace the injured Julian Edelman, joined Edelman on injured reserve with a high right ankle sprain on his 63-yard TD play Monday night.

Branch got the call Tuesday morning from Bill Belichick. While he was happy for himself and his daughter, he felt badly for Stallworth.

‘€˜’€˜He’€™s one of my guys,’€™’€™ Branch said. ‘€˜’€˜We came in the [2002] draft class together.’€™’€™

Standing near his walking boot in his locker, Stallworth confirmed he injured his right ankle on his touchdown catch and said he doesn’t regret going on injured reserve since he wants it to heal properly.

‘€˜’€˜There’€™s no rush, so I want to make sure that I get it back right,’€™’€™ Stallworth said.

Branch said Thursday that he feels healthy and right back at home, ready to contribute again.

‘€˜’€˜Nothing’€™s changed,’€™’€™ he said. ‘€˜’€˜All the guys just walked past my locker like nothing ever happened, so I didn’€™t get any hugs, just ‘€˜Hey, how you doing? What’€™s up?”€™’€™

The Patriots never took down his nameplate, nor did they clean out his locker, leaving his “Team Branch” family picture in his locker. The team took the same approach earlier in the season, when he was cut before the season, only to be brought back the first two games of the season after he was cut shortly before it began. He was back for Game 3.

The Super Bowl XXXIX MVP repeated a declaration on Thursday – he wants to retire with the Patriots and won’t be playing for anyone else.

‘€˜’€˜It was a long time ago, but that stuff is in the past,” Branch said. “It’€™s behind us. I think we all need to be grateful, be thankful just to play the game that we play. I’m thankful. I seize every moment that I get. I’m just glad to be back.’€™’€™

The Patriots let him go after the 2011 season, making him a free agent on March 13. But 17 days later, Branch returned, signing a one-year contract. Branch was asked what would be his fate this season if Stallworth hadn’t injured his ankle.

‘€˜’€˜I don’€™t know,’€™’€™ he said. ‘€˜’€˜Everything happens for a reason and with guys that are patient, stuff happens for them. I’m a patient guy.’€™’€™

Read More: Deion Branch, donte stallworth, New England Patriots, nfl

WEEI NFL Power Rankings, Week 15: Patriots charge to No. 1

12.13.12 at 7:14 am ET
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The mighty have fallen. After seven straight weeks occupying the top two spots, the Texans (4) and Falcons (5) no longer can be called the two best teams in the league. The Patriots surge all the way to the No. 1 spot for the first time this season after a dominating Monday night performance. The 49ers (2) and Broncos (3) round out the new top three.

The Seahawks (9) finally break into the top 10 after winning four of their last five games. Their impressive play of late has catapulted them in front of both the Bears (10) and Steelers (12). The Colts are another team that continues to inch closer into the league’s elite. Andrew Luck has Indy (11) poised to make a playoff appearance after the team won just two games last year.

The top two teams in the WEEI NFL Power Rankings rarely play each other, not to mention in December, but we’ll get to watch the regular-season version of the Super Bowl this Sunday night. That’s not the only top-10 matchup we’ll see in Week 15. The Broncos (3) play the Ravens (8), and the Giants (7) will take on the Falcons (5). We’re in for another interesting week of pro football.

Click here to listen to Mut, Merloni, and Zarbano discuss this edition of the WEEI NFL Power Rankings.

1. (3) Patriots (10-3) ‘€” The Patriots defense did what it had to do: improve. Bill Belichick‘s D held the Texans to just 14 points. The only other team in the league that was able to hold Houston to fewer points was the Bears. Under Tom Brady, the Pats have won a remarkable 20 straight home games in the month of December. Super Bowl-caliber teams get better in December and that’s just what New England is doing once again.

2. (4) 49ers (9-3-1) ‘€” The relentless 49ers defense is at the top of the league in pass defense, run defense and points allowed. Sunday night’s matchup pits the best defense in the league against the best offense. Football fans are in for a treat.

3. (5) Broncos (10-3) ‘€” The way Knowshon Moreno has been able to step up and fill Willis McGahee‘s shoes is very encouraging for Broncos fans. With Peyton Manning at the helm, an effective run game makes the Broncos offense extremely difficult to defend against.

4. (1) Texans (11-2) ‘€” Are the Texans good enough to rebound from a loss like this? Their pass defense has officially been exposed. On a big stage, the Texans crumbled. Stupid penalties, turnovers and an overall lack of competitiveness has many across the NFL questioning if this team is as good as its record indicates.

5. (2) Falcons (11-2) ‘€” The Falcons have a tremendous opportunity this Sunday to prove to the NFC that they are an elite team. The defending Super Bowl champion Giants will be in Atlanta and both teams have a lot on the line.

6. (7) Packers (9-4) ‘€” Green Bay has won seven of its last eight and has come storming back to take control of the NFC North. Aaron Rodgers has been terrific, though it has been production from the run game over the last two weeks that has made a huge difference on offense for Green Bay.

7. (8) Giants (8-5) ‘€” Keep an eye on the NFC East race and the Giants. New York travels to Atlanta and Baltimore the next two weeks while the Redskins and Cowboys are just one game back and hold a better divisional record.

8. (6) Ravens (9-4) ‘€” It’s never a good sign for a playoff team to fire its offensive coordinator in December. Unlike the Patriots and Broncos, the Ravens have played worse as the season has progressed. If recent play is any sign, the Ravens look to be on track for falling just short of the Super Bowl once again.

9. (11) Seahawks (8-5) ‘€” There have to be many organizations out there that are extremely jealous of the Seahawks’ recent success. This is a team that not only drafted a quarterback in the third round but started him over Matt Flynn after signing the former backup to a three-year deal. Teams struggling to find a quarterback like the Cardinals, Jets and Bills must be envious. Russell Wilson has played outstanding of late. In his last five games, he’s thrown 10 touchdowns and just one interception.

10. (9) Bears (8-5) ‘€” Jay Cutler‘s health is imperative to the Bears’ success. Everyone watched the Bears go 1-5 last year at the end of the season when Cutler was injured. The starting QB has been sacked 31 times this year and already has suffered a concussion. The offensive line has to get better if this team is going to be successful. Chicago has dropped four of its last five.

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Read More: Andrew Luck, Bruce Arians, NFL Power Rankings, Rex Ryan

Tom Brady perfects the art of advance scouting

12.12.12 at 9:35 pm ET
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FOXBORO — For all those who think all of the Patriots have a “one-game-at-a-time” mentality, Tom Brady provided an exception to the rule on Wednesday.

Realizing several weeks ago that this would be a very short week against two outstanding NFL teams, he decided to take advantage of the long break between their Thanksgiving rout of the Jets and their Dec. 2 division-clincher over the Dolphins. Instead of looking ahead to Miami, he stole a little time and looked three weeks down the road.

“After our Thursday night game against the Jets, I tried to do a bunch of work on the Niners,” Brady said Wednesday. “So I put a couple of days in there and actually after the game on Monday night, I felt like I just had to watch their most recent game and I was caught up. So, you try to take advantage of a little extra time, a little planning. [I] probably wouldn’€™t have done that 10 years ago.

“It’€™s probably most important for the quarterback position. I don’€™t think the receivers are necessarily doing that. They study what they need to study. I kind of have my own routine and preparation. A lot of guys prepare differently. I know Matt Light, who we honored at halftime last week, didn’€™t watch much film at all. He said it screwed him up. He’€™s one of the best players I’€™ve ever played with, so there’€™s something to be said about that too.”

How hard is it for Brady to look ahead to a particular game, but also stay focused on the next game?

“I’€™ve done it before, so you just kind of close the chapter and then move on and focus all of your attention on Houston,” Brady said. “We had eight days to do that, which was good. And certainly we had extra time with Miami too, so it was just part of time management.”

Brady knows he’ll need every advantage he can get against a defense that is ranked second in the NFL in total yards (275.2), rushing yards (90.8) and passing (184.7). And at 14.2 points allowed per game, no one in the NFL has been better.

“It’€™s speed, they play well together, they’€™re physical, they stop the run, they rush the passer, they can cover, they create turnovers, they play well in long yardage situations, they’€™re good in the red area,” Brady said in summing up the Niners D. “They do everything well. Like I said, they were in the NFC Championship last year and had a great season. They’€™re off to a great start. They won some really tough road games ‘€“ at New Orleans is tough, they won that one; at Green Bay is as tough as it gets, they won that one. So they can win on the road. They’€™re a very good team.”

Read More: New England Patriots, nfl, San Francisco 49ers, Sunday Night Football

Randy Moss: I still have a lot of love for Patriots, but I’m with Niners now

12.12.12 at 9:17 pm ET
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Randy Moss said Wednesday he’€™s still got fond memories of his time with the Patriots, but now, he’€™s a member of the 49ers.

The former New England wide receiver, who called Foxboro home from 2007 until the early stages of the 2010 season, said that he didn’€™t want to compare the two organizations ‘€œbecause whatever I say is going to be the wrong thing to say,’€ but said that the Patriots still hold a place in his heart.

‘€œBasically, I’€™ll leave it at that I still got love and respect for the New England Patriots and everything we did as a team. But now, I’€™m a 49er, so hopefully, like I said, we go up there Sunday night and give it a good game,’€ said Moss, who caught 259 passes for 3,904 yards and 50 touchdowns in 52 regular-season games with the Patriots.

‘€œHopefully, we can complement our defense, [but there’€™s] no telling what’€™s going to happen,’€ he added. ‘€œBut like I said, we have to play complementary football, and I think if we do that and try and not let Tom [Brady] and the [New England] offense run the score up on us, I think it’€™ll be a good game.’€

Through 13 games, the 35-year-old Moss has 21 catches (on 37 targets) for 326 yards and two touchdowns for San Francisco. His best all-around outing of the year came in the season opener against the Packers, when he had four catches (on four targets) for 47 yards and a touchdown. Despite the dip in his numbers, the Niners praised Moss on Wednesday, with San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh saying he’€™s been a ‘€œgreat teammate.’€

‘€œHe’€™s a good teammate,’€ said linebacker Aldon Smith. ‘€œHe’€™s a guy I looked up to as a kid growing up, and being able to be in the locker room and sit next to him is cool. It’€™s a dream come true.’€

‘€œHe’€™s done a nice job,’€ said Harbaugh. ‘€œHe’€™s been a contributor, he’€™s produced, and he’€™s been a great teammate.’€

He’€™s also getting a lot of respect in New England. Safety Devin McCourty spent training camp and the initial stages of the 2010 season as a teammate of Moss, and recalled Wednesday how the veteran receiver helped him grow up on a daily basis as a young defensive back.

‘€œHe’€™s still a very, very good receiver,’€ said McCourty. ‘€œI learned a lot just going against him when he was here. You see him out there, and he’€™s still able to make plays. I think one of the special things about him is that he’€™s still able to get vertical and run by guys. I guess one good thing is that we have some familiarity with him, and that can help us a little bit. But he’€™s still a very good receiver.’€

“He does a great job of reading defenses,” said Wes Welker. “He knows when he’s about to get the ball and he knows when to kick into high gear and get open and make plays. He really understands defenses, how they’re trying to play them and how to attack them.”

‘€œI think Randy looks like Randy. He’€™s the greatest deep ball receiver I think that’€™s ever played,’€ said Patriots coach Bill Belichick. ‘€œNobody runs better patterns or has a better feel over the deep part of the field like Randy Moss. I still see him doing that. Because of his ability to do that, it certainly opens up a lot of other things as well because you have to respect the ability to stretch the field and go deep and get behind you.’€

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Read More: Aldon Smith, Alex Smith, Bill Belichick, Colin Kaepernick

Bill Belichick returns the favor to Doc Rivers: ‘I have a lot of respect for Doc’

12.12.12 at 5:16 pm ET
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FOXBORO — On Tuesday, Doc Rivers expressed his gratitude to Bill Belichick for letting him sit in on an offensive game plan meeting prior to Monday night’s game.

On Wednesday, Belichick essentially said the pleasure was all his.

“It was great to have Doc here,” Belichick said. “I have a lot of respect for Doc and the program the Celtics run. I think he does a tremendous job coaching his team. I really admire the way his teams play, the way his players play. I think he has great leadership from a lot of those guys and has had it through the years. Certainly Kevin [Kevin Garnett] and Paul [Paul Pierce] and guys like that. We’€™ve learned a lot from watching them.”

Has Belichick ever sat in on pregame Celtics meetings like Rivers did on Monday?

“We talk. We exchange ideas,” Belichick said. “I’€™m certainly pulling for them and I know they’€™re pulling for us. We definitely have a rooting interest in it but beyond that, on a professional level, I think there’€™s certainly a lot that I’€™ve learned from watching Doc and the Celtics and the way they do a lot of things organizationally and his coaching style and some of the things he’€™s talked to me about the way he’€™s handled players and handled different situations and things like that. He’€™s talked to our team and said a lot of things that really made sense and really hit home. I’€™ve had an opportunity to talk to his guys a couple times. We have a good relationship. We’€™ve probably both learned from each other.”

In keeping with the light-hearted NBA theme toward the end of Belichick’s presser Wednesday, he was asked if it would be a good idea to just wave at the coach at the end of the game like they do in the NBA instead of a handshake? Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Bill Belichick, Boston Celtics, Doc Rivers, Kevin Garnett

Troy Brown is right: Bill Belichick doesn’t let his former stars beat him

12.12.12 at 5:06 pm ET
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Former Patriots receiver Troy Brown said this week on Mut & Merloni that Patriots fans shouldn’t worry about former New England great Randy Moss giving the Pats trouble when the 49ers come to town Sunday. The reason? Because Bill Belichick won’t let him.

“If there’s somebody on that team that will beat the Patriots on Sunday, it will not be Randy Moss,” Brown said. “He will not score a touchdown on Sunday night.”

Brown explained that Belichick makes a point of it to limit his former players when they play again him.

“Just from what I know, when [Belichick] plays against former [Patriots] that have played for him, those particular players will not beat him,” Brown said. “I saw him put two guys on Terry Glenn when he came back with Dallas to play here. We were going to win the game. It was just the fact that he didn’t want Terry to catch a touchdown or make a big play.”

Brown knows Belichick better than most people, and going through the game logs, it’s pretty clear he has a point. Glenn, who made a name for himself in New England before talking his way off the team, had his least-productive game of the 2003 season when he played the Pats as a member of the Cowboys, catching just one ball for eight yards in a 12-0 Patriots win.

That stat line (one catch for eight yards and no touchdowns) was repeated by Moss when he played the Pats after they traded him to the Vikings in the 2010 season, suggesting that perhaps Belichick does indeed game-plan around star players who had played under him in New England. Here’s a look at how some of the more notable Patriots from the Belichick era have fared against him after leaving New England.

Drew Bledsoe
-Nov. 3, 2002: 28/45, 302 yards, TD, INT
-Dec. 8, 2002: 32/51, 328 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT
-Sept, 7, 2003: 17/28, 230 yards, TD, INT
-Dec. 27, 2003: 12/29, 83 yards, INT
-Oct. 3, 2004: 18/30, 247 yards, TD, INT
-Nov. 14, 2004: 8/19, 76 yards, 3 INT

Lawyer Milloy
-Sept. 7, 2003: 5 combined tackles (3 assisted), sack
-Dec. 27, 2003: 8 combined tackles (4 assisted)
-Nov. 14, 2004: 15 combined tackles* (5 assisted)
-Oct. 30, 2005: 3 combined tackles (2 assisted)
-Dec. 11, 2005: 8 combined tackles (4 assisted)

*Career-high

Terry Glenn
-Nov. 16 2003: 1 reception, 8 yards

Ty Law
-Dec. 4, 2005: 5 combined tackles (1 assisted)
-Dec. 26, 2005: 2 tackles, interception returned 74 yards for TD
-Nov. 13, 2008: 3 tackles

Willie McGinest
-Oct. 7 2007: 2 assisted tackles

Randy Moss
-Oct. 31, 2010: 1 reception, 8 yards

Richard Seymour
-Oct. 2 2011: 3 tackles

It appears Brown has a point, as a couple of strong showings from Milloy and a pick-6 for for Law are the only bright spots on a rather lengthy list of games from star players. As for Belichick not letting those players beat him? Brown was right about that, too: In those games (there’s some overlap due to Bledsoe and Milloy’s time with the Bills), the Patriots went 11-2. Neither of those losses were the direct result of former Pats’ big games, though Milloy sacked Tom Brady in the memorable 31-0 drubbing Buffalo gave the Pats to open the 2003 season, a game in which Bledsoe only needed a mediocre performance (17/28, 230 yards, TD, INT) thanks to Brady’s four-interception day.

As the Patriots prepare for the 49ers, it’s safe to say that Moss isn’t the same player he was when he set the single-season touchdown reception record in 2007. He can “still run,” as Brown noted, but history shows it should be a quiet night for him on Sunday.

Read More: Bill Belichick, Randy Moss, Troy Brown,

Josh McDaniels knows the value of a quick start against superstar pass rushers

12.11.12 at 11:58 pm ET
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FOXBORO — The Patriots scored the first three times they had the ball Monday night.

How important was getting off to a fast start in a game against a team that was thought to be superior to the Patriots?

“I think it’€™s always something you’€™d like to do, is get off to a good start and get ahead in the game,” Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said. “You always try to run the best plays you can or put the groupings out there that you think can give you the most success or try to put the players in the best positions to be successful as many times as you can and that starts with the beginning of the game.

“I don’€™t think that changes based on who you’€™re playing. You always try to get out there and play well early. And against a really good team as we played yesterday, to go out there and put some points on the board in the first quarter, credit goes to the players. They did a great job of executing some of those things and really made some adjustments there and made some critical plays under pressure that helped us get off to a good start yesterday and play from ahead.”

McDaniels spent all week scheming against – J.J. Watt – one of the most dangerous defensive players in the NFL.

Watt did have three hits of the six hits on Tom Brady, forced a fumble on Danny Woodhead that resulted in a Brandon Lloyd recovery for a touchdown in the end zone. But he did not have a sack and the Patriots were able to throw deep

“He’€™s a great player and I don’€™t think we felt like we were going to be able to just [keep] him from making any plays, hopefully you can contain him from making any impact plays, where he tips the ball up in the air and get an interception, which has happened multiple times this year or sack the quarterback, strip-sack the quarterback ‘€“ all those kinds of plays that he’€™s making throughout the course of the season that have changed the course of games or the outcome even. That’€™s what we’€™re trying to prevent. When you can get help on a special player like that, you can try to, but there’€™s so many ways to avoid that as the defensive play caller, too.”

Could that help this Sunday against the 49ersAldon Smith, the only pass rusher who has more sacks (19.5) than Watt?

“We can’€™t control what other people are saying or what’€™s being said outside of the building, obviously,” McDaniels said. “The thing we can do is come to work every day. I’€™ve seen a number of players already in today getting film and treatment and all those things and just prepare and go through our normal process of preparation. I know that’€™s the best way to focus on our next opponent and control the things that we can control and I think that our guys are really intent on having another good week of preparation as we did last week and just trying to put the best performance we can out there on Sunday night against a really, really talented defense. I mean, this is as good as we’€™re going to face. We certainly have a great deal of respect for the way they’€™re coached, the way they way, the style of defense they have. They have great players at all three levels of their defense, Pro-Bowl caliber players. This will be a tremendous challenge for us. Really, we’€™re going to have our hands full with just the preparation and getting ourselves ready to play against a really, really special defense.

“We’€™re just getting ready to play them. I’€™m sure they’€™re going to come in here and play hard, just like they always do and that’€™s what we’€™re going to do, too. Extra this or that, I’€™m not sure that anybody needs it this time of the year. We’€™re all fighting to win each and every game that we can and I’€™m sure they’€™re going to come in here and play hard and hopefully we can have a great week of preparation and put our best performance out there on Sunday night.”

Read More: Aldon Smith, j.j. watt, Josh McDaniels, New England Patriots
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