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Tom Brady and his plans for the bye: ‘Stay focused’

11.01.12 at 11:57 am ET
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FOXBORO — How you get to be one of the most consistent and accomplished quarterbacks of all-time?

Keep your eye on the prize at all times. Brady entered the bye with a four-touchdown, 300-yard passing performance in a 45-7 win over the Rams that earned him a season-best 131.1 quarterback rating and a second AFC offensive player of the week honor of the season.

Tom Brady underscored that focus on Thursday when asked what his plans were for the bye week.

“I’€™m not sure yet. I haven’€™t quite made any plans,” Brady said, doing his best Bill Belichick. “Get a little rest, stay focused on what we have to do here and try to gear up for a really important next eight games of the year.”

One thing is for sure, once work is over Thursday and the team goes their separate ways, Brady’s decision on where’s he going is most likely in the hands of wife Gisele Bundchen. Asked if he plans on staying in the area, Brady said he didn’t know.

“I’€™m not sure,” Brady said. “It’€™s not up to me anymore.”

How is No. 12 feeling physically at this point of the season?

“Great. Couldn’€™t be better,” he beamed. “I mean, everyone deals with little things. But I feel great. Excited to be feeling this way with eight games left to play.”

Here is the rest of Brady’s Q and A with reporters Thursday at Gillette Stadium:
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Patriots safeties coach Brian Flores: ‘You can’t let things fester’

11.01.12 at 11:51 am ET
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FOXBORO — If you are going to be a successful safety in the NFL, you’ve got to have a short memory. That’s one of the lessons that Patriots’ safety coach Brian Flores is trying to impart on his young charges this season.

‘€œIn this game, you can’€™t let things fester. Our guys don’€™t do that,” Flores said before practice on Thursday. “You have to move onto the next play. You’€™re going to have hardships, you’€™re going to have a lot of good plays, you’€™re going to have bad plays. With your bad plays, you turn around and you forget them, you move on from them.

“I don’€™t think our guys are in a situation where they’€™re thinking about that. They’€™re thinking about improving, moving on to the next play and trying to make the next play better.’€

A former Boston College linebacker, the 31-year-old Flores is in his first season as safeties coach and his fifth coaching season in 2012. He and cornerbacks coach Josh Boyer have led a beleaguered group of defensive backs through the first eight games of the season — the Patriots are near the bottom of most major categories in pass defense, and the 42 pass plays of 20 or more yards continues to be the worst in the NFL.

But Flores is high on his group of safeties for several reasons, including the fact that they’ve gotten important contributions from rookie Tavon Wilson.

‘€œI think he’€™s made a lot of improvements over the course of this year,” Flores said of Wilson, who has three interceptions through the first eight games of his NFL career. “He’€™s made a lot of good plays; obviously he’€™s had some not so good plays. The thing about him is he works hard. He definitely comes in here every day, wants to improve, he puts the work in. He’€™s done a good job for us and he’€™s made a lot of good plays.

‘€œI think he’€™s contributed a lot so far. He’€™s made some plays for us. He’€™s obviously still developing, he’€™s a young player. He’€™s going to learn, every play is an experience for the young guys. Good or bad, it’€™s something you put in the memory bank and you move on and you get better from it. I think all of our young guys and all our players do that.’€

With veteran safeties Patrick Chung and Steve Gregory also sidelined with injuries over the last few weeks, Flores has been helped by the move of cornerback Devin McCourty to safety. Flores said Thursday that McCourty’s willingness to take some snaps at safety says a lot about the former Pro Bowl cornerback.

‘€œIt says that he’€™s a selfless player who just wants to do whatever he can to help the team win,’ Flores said of McCourty. “I think Devin is always selfless. He has all the traits: he communicates, he’€™s a focused player, he’€™s smart, he does a lot of things well. He can make that transition, a lot of guys can’€™t. I’€™m happy to have him.’€

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Patriots cornerbacks coach Josh Boyer: ‘You can’t play with panic’

11.01.12 at 11:18 am ET
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FOXBORO — Patriots cornerbacks coach Josh Boyer acknowledged Thursday that there were some ‘€œsome technique things’€ that the New England corners can improve on, but added that the group is ‘€œworking on the individual things that they can do to get better.’€

‘€œThere are some technique things that we can improve on,’€ Boyer said before practice on Thursday. ‘€œA lot of times, it’€™s different with different guys — maybe one guy is struggling with something and another guy is struggling with something else. Maybe there are some things that we can do structurally to help that. Those are all things that we take into consideration every week going into the game. Those guys are working on the individual things that they can do to get better.

‘€œAgain, being younger, a lot of the experience those guys get, it helps them. They understand things a little bit better, they see the game a little bit better, they understand the film study a little bit better. Those things will help them improve as we move forward.’€

The New England secondary has come under fire this season ‘€“ the Patriots are in the bottom five in almost major category in pass defense, including a league-low 42 pass plays of 20 yards or more. Boyer, in his first season as cornerbacks coach on Head Coach Bill Belichick‘€™s staff after three seasons as defensive backs coach, said Thursday that one of the things that’€™s constantly preached to the defensive backs is that they have to ‘€œplay with patience. You can’€™t play with panic.’€

‘€œThe most important play is the next play,’€ Boyer said. ‘€œWhether the play that happens is good, bad or indifferent, you need to move on and play the next play — which is again, the key process of our whole learning process here. It’€™s just trying to get better with each play, each day. That’€™s why the bye week is so great. It gives us an opportunity to improve on techniques today and try to get better today and moving forward next week.’€

Here are a few other highlights of Boyer’€™s Q&A with the media on Thursday:
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Patriots Bye-Week Breakdown: Tight ends

10.31.12 at 7:51 pm ET
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With the Patriots off this weekend, we’€™ve got our Bye Week Breakdown, a position-by-position look at the Patriots. We kicked things off with the running backs and wide receivers. Now, it’€™s the tight ends.

Overview: Entering their third full season together, it was believed that no team could match the young tight end combo of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. And while they’€™ve both been banged up over the course of the first eight games of the year, it’€™s clear that they are without peer when they are healthy and work together. While the Patriots have had to make some tweaks to their passing game with the two of them at less than 100 percent, it will be interesting to see how the New England offense changes when they’€™re back at full strength. Over the first half of the season, both Daniel Fells and Michael Hoomanawanui have provided depth and blocking skills. In fact, the entire group — even Hernandez, who is an occasionally reluctant participant as a blocker — deserves credit for their work as road graders, particularly in the running game. It’€™s one of the big reasons the Patriots have been able to become one of the more balanced offenses in the league.

Depth chart: Gronkowski (43 catches, 580 yards, seven TDs), Hernandez (17 catches, 143 yards, two TDs), Fells (two catches, 53 yards), Hoomanawanui (two catches, 22 yards), Winslow (one catch, 12 yards). For a closer look at how Gronkowski and Hernandez’€™s numbers compare to last year, CLICK HERE.

(If Gronk’€™s numbers seem kind of pedestrian compared to what he did last year, keep two things in mind: One, with the addition of Brandon Lloyd, his numbers were likely to take a dip. We saw that with Wes Welker. And two, it’€™s important to keep in mind that, at least statistically, he had a better second half in 2011. Over the last eight games last season, he had 46 catches and 11 touchdowns — including five games where he had two touchdowns each. Is he poised for a similar streak down the stretch in 2012?)

Best moment: We’€™ve got two. First, Gronkowski’€™s eight-catch, 146-yard effort last Sunday against the Rams was vintage Gronk, right down to his two touchdown celebrations. Second, Hernandez’€™s performance in the season opener against the Titans was amazing not so much because of his numbers (six catches on seven targets for 59 yards and a touchdown), but because he lined up at 10 different spots on the field.

Worst moment: Hernandez going down with an ankle injury in the first half against the Cardinals. Much of the offense is built around the versatility and flexibility of the Florida product, and the sudden removal of the tight end from the lineup caused the New England offense to struggle against Arizona. He’€™s still not at 100 percent.

By the numbers: After Sunday, Gronkowski now has 34 touchdown catches in his first 40 career games, the most in that number of games since Randy Moss started his career with 40 touchdowns in as many games between 1998-2000. (John Jefferson had 34 in his first 40 career games; Bob Hayes scored 35 touchdowns in his first 40 games; and Jerry Rice had 32 in his first 40 career games.)

Money quote: ‘€œThat little nutcracker dude that’€™s guarding the house. I like how he just sits there and stays still. It’€™s pretty cool.’€ — Gronkowski on who he was honoring with his first touchdown celebration last Sunday against the Rams.

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Patriots confirm release of Sterling Moore and Alex Silvestro and addition of two others

10.31.12 at 6:34 pm ET
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The  Patriots announced Wednesday that they have re-signed linebacker Mike Rivera and defensive back Derrick Martin. The team has also released defensive back Sterling Moore and tight end Alex Silvestro from the practice squad. Here’s the bulk of the announcement from the team on the moves:

Rivera, 26, made the Patriots 53-man roster out of training camp this year and played in the first two games of the season before being released on Sept. 19. He was signed by Miami on Sept. 25 and played in one game for the Dolphins before being released on Oct. 3.

The 6-foot-2, 255-pounder spent most of last season on the Patriots’€™ practice squad after being released by Miami following training camp. Rivera originally entered the NFL as a rookie free agent out of Kansas by the Chicago Bears in 2009. After being released by Chicago, Rivera was signed by Tennessee to the practice squad. He was released by Tennessee after training camp in 2010 and joined Green Bay’€™s practice squad before being signed by Miami to the 53-man roster late in the season.
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Patriots Bye-Week Breakdown: Wide receivers

10.31.12 at 2:16 pm ET
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With the Patriots off this weekend, we’€™ve got our Bye Week Breakdown, a position-by-position look at the Patriots. We kicked things off with the running backs. Now, it’€™s the wide receivers.

Overview: It’€™s been an interesting year to this point for the wide receiver group. At the start of the season, there was talk about how Wes Welker was getting phased out of the offense. (It was a field day for conspiracy theorists, who overlooked the fact that maybe the reason he didn’t get as many snaps at the start of the year was because the wide receiver himself said he wasn’€™t ready for the start of the season.) But after a bumpy start, it has been pretty much a typical year for Welker, who is close to the same numbers he put up through eight games last season thanks in part to the fact that tight end Aaron Hernandez continues to struggle with injury. (See below for the numbers.) After it appeared there were times where they were forcing the ball to him, Brandon Lloyd has started to click with Brady, and had his best effort in the loss to the Ravens where he caught nine passes for 108 yards. After a solid start, Julian Edelman has had injury problems. Meanwhile, Deion Branch — who was released on Aug. 31 and brought back on Sept. 19 — hasn’€™t posted crazy numbers, but has been a dependable presence in key moments for New England. His best moment probably came when he drew a pair of defensive pass interference calls on St. Louis defensive back Bradley Fletcher on a drive just before the end of the first half last Sunday.

Depth chart: Welker (60 catches, 736 yards, two touchdowns), Lloyd (37 catches, 435 yards, three TDs), Edelman (13 catches, 100 yards, one TD), Branch (five catches, 50 yards).

Best moment: Welker has had four elite level performances over the course of the first eight games, but perhaps his best effort came in the loss to Seattle, where he had 10 catches (on 14 targets) for 138 yards and a touchdown. It wasn’€™t so much the overall yardage that stood out in this one, however, but the fact that he took a tremendous shot in the second quarter from Seattle defensive back Brandon Browner and only missed three plays before returning to the field to catch a pass that helped move the chains for a first down. On an afternoon where very little was working for New England, Welker stood out.

Worst moment: Not many over the course of the first eight games, but our guess is probably Lloyd’€™s one catch (on eight targets) afternoon in the overtime win over the Jets, a game where Lloyd had at least two drops.

By the numbers: When compared with the first eight games of 2011, Welker’€™s production has dipped slightly, but instead of getting phased out of the offense, much of that can be attributed to the effect of having an extra receiver like Lloyd on the roster. Over the first half of last season, he had 66 catches on 93 targets for 960 yards and six touchdowns. Through the first eight games of 2012, he has 60 catches for 83 targets for 736 yards and two touchdowns. (That’€™s a difference of six catches, 10 targets, 224 yards and two touchdowns.)

Money quote: ‘€œI love Wes. He’€™s like one of my best friends. What he does on a daily basis to prepare himself really motivates everybody else. He’€™s a leader. He’€™s so tough. I’€™ve been in so many critical, critical situations with him where he’€™s worked so hard to do the right thing and vein the right place and make the play. He’€™s a phenomenal player.’€ – Quarterback Tom Brady on WEEI, Sept. 17.

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Patriots Bye-Week Breakdown: Running backs

10.31.12 at 11:39 am ET
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With the Patriots off this weekend, we’€™ve got our Bye-Week Breakdown, a position-by-position look at the Patriots. We kick things off with the running backs.

A diverse young group, the running backs have managed to exceed the expectations and bring a consistent balance to the New England offense for the first time in several years. Stevan Ridley is the closest thing the Patriots have to a feature back, but each back brings a different element to the field, with rookie Brandon Bolden (when healthy) providing a bruising look and Danny Woodhead filling the old Kevin Faulk role of multifaceted third-down back. Meanwhile, second-year back Shane Vereen has shown a nice ability to operate in space when given the opportunity. Their work can be summed up nicely when you stack the numbers against the stats the 2012 running backs had through the first half of last season. Through the first eight games in 2011, the Patriots had 199 rushes for 893 yards, an average of 4.5 yards per carry, and six touchdowns. In that same stretch this year, New England can boast of 276 rushes for 1,197 yards, 4.3 yards per carry, and 12 TDs. That’€™s more work and much more yardage.

Depth chart:
Ridley (150 carries, 716 yards, 4.8 yards per carry, five touchdowns), Bolden (43 carries, 234 yards, 5.4 yards per carry, two touchdowns), Woodhead (48 carries, 164 yards, 3.4 yards per carry, one touchdown), Vereen (17 carries, 72 yards, 4.2 yards per carry, two touchdowns)

Best moment:
In back-to-back outings against the Bills (247 rushing yards) and Broncos (251 rushing yards), the running game was tremendous, providing the sort of devastating presence the Patriots has been lacking the last few years. While the yardage was better against Denver, there was more versatility against Buffalo, as both Bolden (16 carries, 137 yards, one TD) and Ridley (22 carries, 106 yards, two TDs) topped the century mark. The win over the Bills was the first time the Patriots had two backs reach the 100-yard mark since Dec. 19, 1982, when Tony Collins (103) and Mark van Eeghen (100) did it.

Worst moment:
The common thread to all three New England losses to this point in the season? The Patriots have rushed for less than 100 yards. The running game stalled out in all three defeats — particularly down the stretch — but the worst likely was in the loss to the Ravens. In that one, New England finished with 77 yards on the ground on a whopping 34 carries, as the backs were unable to provide any sort of support in the four-minute offense down the stretch. Ridley (15 carries, 37 yards) and Woodhead (15 carries, 34 yards) were the only backs to top 30 yards on the ground.

By the numbers:
Woodhead has caught 19 of the 22 passes thrown in his direction for an astounding 86 percent catch rate, best among anyone on the team with at least 20 targets. He has 200 yards receiving, and he’s the only player on the team with at least 15 carries and 15 receptions.

Money quote: ‘€œOne positive I can see from the New England offense that wasn’€™t there last year was that when they want to run the ball and stay committed to it, they can do it with great success. That offense certainly has a lot more balance that they have had in the past.’€ — A high-level NFL personnel man

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