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RB Jonas Gray named AFC Offensive Player of Week

11.19.14 at 10:03 am ET
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Jonas Gray

Jonas Gray

Jonas Gray was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week, the league announced on Wednesday morning.

The Patriots running back rushed for 201 yards and four touchdowns in Sunday’s 42-20 win over the Colts. The 5-foot-9, 230-pound Gray is the third Patriots player to rush for 200 yards in a game, and is the first NFL player to score his first four career rushing touchdowns in one game since Herb Henderson of the Evansville Crimson Giants in 1921.

It is the fourth AFC Player of the Week honor for the Patriots in 2014. Chandler Jones was named AFC Defensive Player of the Week for his performance in the win at Minnesota on Sept. 14, DL Chris Jones was named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week for his performance in the win vs. the New York Jets on Oct. 16, and Julian Edelman was named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week for his performance in the win vs. Denver on Nov. 2. In addition, QB Tom Brady was named AFC Offensive Player of the Month for October.

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Ex-Patriots Ty Law, Junior Seau among HOF semifinalists

11.19.14 at 9:43 am ET
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Ty Law earned his red Patriots HOF jacket this year. Is a yellow one from Canton next? (Mike Petraglia/

Ty Law earned his red Patriots HOF jacket this year. Is a yellow one from Canton next? (Mike Petraglia/

Former Patriots Ty Law and Junior Seau are among 26 semifinalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame‘s class of 2015, it was announced Tuesday.

Law played 10 seasons with the Patriots as one of the best corners in the NFL, finishing with 36 interceptions during his time in New England. The two-time All-Pro ended his career with briefs stopovers with the Chiefs, Jets and Broncos before retiring after the 2009 season.

Seau played 20 years in the NFL, including the better part of four seasons with the Patriots (2006-2009). The linebacker, who also starred for the Chargers and Dolphins, is among eight first-year candidates in the balloting.

Kurt Warner and Tony Dungy were also among the headliners who made the initial cut. Warner is among eight first-year candidates in the balloting, while Dungy is in his second year on the ballot.

Other semifinalists include receivers Marvin Harrison, Tim Brown and newcomers Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt; running backs Jerome Bettis, Terrell Davis, Roger Craig and newcomer Edgerrin James; safeties John Lynch, Darren Woodson and Steve Atwater; defensive ends/linebackers Charles Haley and Kevin Greene; linebacker Karl Mecklenburg; offensive tackles Joe Jacoby, Mike Kenn and newcomer Orlando Pace; guard Will Shields; newcomer center Kevin Mawae; placekicker Morten Andersen; and coaches Don Coryell and Jimmy Johnson.

The list will be cut to 15 modern era finalists to be considered on Jan. 31, the day before the Super Bowl, in Phoenix. Inductions will be in August.

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In Focus: Charting offensive opportunities for Patriots’ skill position players

11.18.14 at 9:12 pm ET
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Jonas Gray has suddenly jumped into the top 3 when it comes to offensive opportunities. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Running back Jonas Gray has jumped into the top three when it comes to offensive opportunities with the Patriots this season. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Every week, we list the Patriots’€™ “offensive touches,”€ a running tally of which one of the offensive skill position players is getting the most looks. Like our weekly look at targets, it can occasionally be an inexact stat, but it remains a good barometer of how confident the coaches (and quarterback) are when it comes to the skill position players at their disposal. Here’€™s a breakdown of the 2014 New England offense after 10 games:

RB Shane Vereen: 106 (70 carries, 36 catches) 1 negative catch, 4 negative runs
RB Stevan Ridley: 98 (94 carries, 4 catches), 8 negative runs
RB Jonas Gray: 70 (70 carries)
WR Julian Edelman: 67 (8 carries, 59 catches)
TE Rob Gronkowski: 53 (53 catches)
WR Brandon LaFell: 39 (39 catches)
QB Tom Brady: 19 (19 carries), 14 sacks, 7 kneeldowns
TE Tim Wright: 19 (1 carry, 18 catches), 1 negative rush
RB Brandon Bolden: 17 (16 carries, 1 catch), 2 negative runs
RB James White: 12 (9 carries, 3 catches)
WR Danny Amendola: 11 (11 catches)
FB James Develin: 7 (1 carry, 6 catches)
WR Kenbrell Thompkins: 6 (6 catches)
QB Jimmy Garoppolo: 6 (6 carries) 2 sack, 6 kneeldowns
WR Aaron Dobson: 3 (3 catches)
TE Michael Hoomanawanui: 2 (2 catches)
WR Brian Tyms: 1 (1 catch)

Notes: With the scoring change that was announced on Tuesday, the Patriots had no negative plays from scrimmage on Sunday, the first time all season that happened. … On the season, New England has run 685 plays from scrimmage, and 33 of them have gone for negative yardage (5 percent), not including kneeldowns. …  Against the Colts, the Patriots ran 75 plays, with 18 of them in shotgun (24 percent). And while they hurried back to the line on a few occasions, the official game book lists them as not having a single play in no-huddle all evening. … On the season, the Patriots have run 53 of their 685 plays out of no-huddle (8 percent) and 206 snaps in shotgun (30 percent). … By way of comparison, over the course of the 2013 regular season, the Patriots were in shotgun for 42 percent of their offensive snaps and they ran no-huddle on 11 percent of their snaps. … One interesting wrinkle — rookie offensive tackle Cameron Fleming was used as an eligible receiver/tight end on 37 of the 75 snaps on the night, and added some bulk to a New England offensive line that did a terrific job pushing the Indy defensive front back all evening.

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Josh McDaniels says Patriots’ ‘two-dimensional’ approach makes Tom Brady ‘excellent’ on 3rd down, red zone

11.18.14 at 4:17 pm ET
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Tom Brady stepped up his game in the second half of Sunday's win over the Colts. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Tom Brady stepped up his game in the second half of Sunday’s win over the Colts. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

The Patriots may have found the true key to maintaining success down the stretch, at least offensively.

The Patriots scored touchdowns in all five chances Sunday night in the red zone. The key, according to offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, was the genuine threat of either a pass or run.

As a matter of fact, the first five touchdowns the Patriots scored were the result of red zone execution. Instead of settling for field goals, which Tom Brady had mentioned in previous weeks as a problem, the Patriots were able to run it into the end zone four times behind the power attack of Jonas Gray.

Brady also converted a two-yard touchdown pass to tight end Tim Wright to cap an 80-yard drive that opened the second half scoring.

“In order to be good in the red zone, I think you have to maintain the ability to be balanced, two-dimensional down there,” McDaniels said in a conference call Tuesday. “If you ever get into the red zone and become all pass or all run, then generally a defense kind of either packs it in in the running game or tries to double cover certain people in the passing game, and there is obviously less space to throw it in, and there are usually more people near the line of scrimmage the lower you get in the red zone [and] the closer you get to the goal line.

“I thought that we were effective running the ball in the red zone the other night. A lot of people did a lot of good things. It’€™s tough when you get down there because there is not a lot of space, like I said, and you’€™ve got to get either receivers in there blocking tight, or your backs are going to have to break a tackle or run through an extra defender some times, and I thought that Jonas did a good job of doing that. We were fortunate to be able to run the ball in I believe four times the other night. Running the ball is not an easy thing, but I think the guys did a good job of trying to get a hat on those guys, and like I said, Jonas ran well.”

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Scoring change allows Patriots RB Jonas Gray to break 200-yard barrier

11.18.14 at 3:59 pm ET
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Jonas Gray

Jonas Gray

The NFL said Tuesday Patriots running back Jonas Gray is now credited with 37 carries for 201 rushing yards in Sunday’s game against the Colts, giving the youngster an extra two yards following a change in scoring.

It appears that the change came after a closer look at the scoring on a fourth-down run from Gray, one that ended with a two-yard loss. However, there was a penalty that was enforced on the play — the Colts were offsides, but the accepted penalty was a facemask on Indy linebacker Erik Walden.

With that negative run now having been nullified, Gray gets those two yards back, and finishes with zero negative rushes. He also now becomes the third running back in Patriots history to rush for 200-plus yard in a game, joining Tony Collins (212 yards on Sept. 18, 1983 against the Jets) and Jim Nance (208 rushing yards on Oct. 30, 1966 against the Raiders).

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Ex-Patriots RB LeGarrette Blount released by Steelers

11.18.14 at 3:45 pm ET
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LeGarrette Blount had 772 rushing yards with the Patriots in 2013. (Getty Images)

LeGarrette Blount had 772 rushing yards with the Patriots in 2013. (Getty Images)

The Steelers announced Tuesday they have released former Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount.

The move comes in the wake of Blount not receiving a single carry in Monday’s 27-24 win over the Titans. Blount had been an “internal problem for at least a month,” according to a report from Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

‘€œWe believe the decision to release LeGarrette is in the best interest of the organization and wish him the best of luck,’€ Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin said in a statement issued by the team.

Blount joined the Steelers as a free agent on March 28 after playing a single season in New England. He played in each of the team’€™s 11 games in 2014, rushing for 266 yards on 65 carries with two touchdowns and added six catches for 36 yards.

The 27-year-old Blount is expected to receive interest from several teams around the league, including the Colts, who lost starting running Ahmad Bradshaw to an ankle injury this past weekend in a loss to the Patriots. As for a possible reunion with New England, it would likely be a longshot, at least at this stage of the season, as the Patriots have four active running backs on the roster, a group that includes Jonas Gray, who rushed for 201 yards against Indy last weekend.

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Bill Belichick: 3rd downs, red zone opportunities, turnovers all ‘critical’ parts of the game

11.18.14 at 3:01 pm ET
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Third downs, red zone opportunities and turnovers.

According to Bill Belichick, those are the three most important situations in a given game.

“I definitely put them up top, along with turnovers. You talk turnovers, third down and red area, those are big, big situations in the National Football League,” Belichick said on Tuesday’s conference call. “They’€™re critical. We spend a lot of time on all situations, but particularly those. We try to do a good job in preparing our team for what in general to expect in those situations in the red area and third down based on the yardage, the personnel, sometimes the formation and then we obviously do it specifically for each team. If there’€™s particular, which there always are, but whatever the tendencies are. Again, all the things that go into it, whether it’€™s their protections, their coverages, their coverage adjustments and other subtle things that are part of all that.”

The Patriots did an outstanding job in two-of-the-three Sunday night against the Colts, going 9-for-12 (75 percent) on third down and were 5-for-5 in the red zone, scoring touchdowns on all five of their red zone appearances. The Patriots did turn the ball over twice, losing the turnover battle in the process, but it was just the fourth game out of 10 this season where the team has committed a turnover.

For the year, the Patriots are best in the AFC in turnover differential at plus-11, and second in the NFL, only trailing the Packers who are plus-14. They’ve also been successful in the red zone over the course of the season, scoring touchdowns on 63.4 percent of their trips, ranking sixth in the NFL. They have scored 220 total points in the red zone, which leads the NFL.

Third downs haven’t been as good, but they’ve improved over the course of the last three games. Overall on the year, New England has converted 43.97 percent of its third downs (ninth in the league), but over the last three games that number has risen to 56 percent, and that tops the NFL in that span.

These are all three areas the Patriots have been working on since the summer, so it’s no surprise the team is at, or near the top in all three categories that are most important to Belichick.

“It’€™s something that we try to devote a lot of time to, starting right from the beginning,” said Belichick. “Right the start of, probably late in the second week in the offseason and then the second week of OTAs. We started on red area on the first day of training camp, so it’€™s a priority.”

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