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LeGarrette Blount knows he still has lots in tank (and lots to give) down stretch run

12.13.14 at 8:45 pm ET
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FOXBORO — LeGarrette Blount has plenty left to give the Patriots.

It’s funny how one turn of fortune on one team could wind up having a drastic impact on another. If it weren’t for Blount being frustrated with the way the Steelers were using him, he wouldn’t have left the Nov. 17 game in Tennessee early. He wouldn’t have been released and the Patriots wouldn’t have been given the chance to pick him up.

Now the Patriots have the power running back in their backfield that they wanted all along for the rough and tumble months of December and January. They also have Jonas Gray, Brandon Bolden and Shane Vereen behind him.

Blount is coming off his most active game of the season, with a season-high 20 carries and 66 yards. Forty-two of Blount’s 107 carries have come in the three games since joining the Patriots.

“I feel real good, I feel real good,” Blount told WEEI.com. “There’s not a lot of running backs that feel at their best at this point of this season but I feel close to it. I felt good all season. You could say that but at the same time, I’m a pretty durable running back.”

Indeed, he’s actually dressed in one more game (14) than the Patriots have played this season. He didn’t get a single carry on Nov.17 but he did suit up. He played in all 16 games for the Patriots in 2013. He’s missed just eight games in his five-year career.

There’s one other thing: he loves doling out the punishment at this time of year with his 6-foot, 250-pound frame.

“It gets cold outside,” Blount said. “Defenses are lot less willing to tackle big guys like me. These are the times where guys like me have fun.
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Read More: LeGarrette Blount, New England Patriots,

Vince Wilfork concedes Jamie Collins is ‘pound-for-pound’ best athlete on Patriots

12.13.14 at 8:12 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Vince Wilfork has seen a lot over his 11 seasons with the Patriots. But he’s rarely seen an athlete as gifted as Jamie Collins play with him on the Patriots defense.

“He’s something special but I’m something special, too. He’s probably the most, pound-for-pound, athletic guy we have. The things he can do, the way he can move, the way he can jump, it’s amazing. I’ll give him that nod,” Wilfork conceded Friday.

But what’s truly amazing and appreciated by Wilfork is the linebacker’s ability to pick up the system and leadership role in just his second season. Last week in San Diego, with Dont’a Hightower out with a shoulder injury and Jerod Mayo lost for the season with a knee injury, the leadership and communication role was turned over to Collins.

“From last year to now, it’s unbelievable what we ask him to do, and he steps up every week. Last week was a big week for him. With Hightower not playing and him stepping into the role, the quarterback of the defense, he did a great job. It just goes to show you the importance that work and just being focused and coming to work and getting the defense working the right way, it just goes to show you how committed he is to being a great football player.

“We love everything about him. That’s one of the things we do around here, move guys around and sometimes when you’re called upon, you have to be able to step up and play. It’s good to have a guy like that on our squad where we can move him around in different places and get a lot of production out of him.

“It’s tougher for opponents to game plan with guys like that. That’s been a staple of our defense, being able to move guys around a little bit here and there, make the offense figure it out on the run. Sometimes, that’s tough to do. We just have to continue to play at a high level, especially now in December. You want to win ball games later in the year. It starts now. It started last week with a great road win for us. Coming home, a chance to win a division. It doesn’t get any easier, I’ll tell you that.”
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Read More: Jamie Collins, Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots, nfl

Scouting Report: What you have to know about Dolphins-Patriots

12.13.14 at 12:57 am ET
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Given the struggles of Miami's run defense, Sunday could be a big day for LeGarrette Blount. (Getty Images)

Given the struggles of Miami’s run defense, Sunday could be a big day for LeGarrette Blount. (Getty Images)

Here’€™s what you have to know when it comes to Sunday’s Patriots-Dolphins game at Gillette Stadium:

WHEN THE PATRIOTS RUN THE BALL

One of the more overlooked storylines of the week is the fact that the Dolphins have been pretty bad against the run, at least as of late. Miami has yielded an average of 220 rushing yards per game in the last three contests, including a whopping 277 yards against the Jets. (That’s on the heels of a five-game stretch where the Dolphins allowed less than 65 yards on four of the five occasions.) Look for LeGarrette Blount to reap the benefits of a sluggish Miami run defense, as the recently re-acquired back has 42 carries for 202 yards (a 4.8 yards per carry average) and two touchdowns in his three games with the Patriots. Meanwhile, Shane Vereen will likely be mixed in as a third-down option, but shouldn’t carry the ball more than a handful of times. As for Jonas Gray, it’s likely he remains on double-secret probation, at least at this point.

WHEN THE PATRIOTS PASS THE BALL

Provided the New England offensive line can buy Brady enough time, this is a winnable matchup for the Patriots. Of course, that’s a big if — Miami is tied for 10th in the league in sacks with 34, with Cameron Wake (9.5 sacks) and Olivier Vernon (6 sacks) bringing most of the pressure off the edge. Statistically, the Dolphins have done really well limiting opposing passing games — Miami is third in the league, having allowed an average of 203.2 passing yards per game. That’s because of good pass defense on all three levels, from rushers like Wake and Vernon to coverage linebackers and defensive backs like Brent Grimes (five interceptions and 12 passes defensed) and Reshad Jones (three interceptions and seven passes defensed).

One potential area of weakness the Patriots could look to exploit is the Dolphins’ ineffectiveness against running backs in the passing game — per Football Outsiders, Miami’s DVOA in the passing game against backs is 28th in the league. That could mean opportunities for Vereen, one of only six backs in the league with at least 80 carries and 40 catches on the season. The one really interesting statistical wrinkle is that Miami has done really well defending Rob Gronkowski (more on that shortly) and the Dolphins also do really well when it comes to defending tight ends, so it wouldn’t be a complete surprise to see a relatively quiet(ish) afternoon for the big fella.

WHEN THE DOLPHINS RUN THE BALL

This is not the same team that ground the Patriots into a fine dust with a punishing ground attack the first time they met this season. In that opener, Knowshon Moreno rushed for 134 yards on 24 carries — the most rushing yards the Patriots have yielded to a single individual in a single game this season. But, Moreno was lost for the year when he went down with a knee injury in October, and while Lamar Miller has done a serviceable job stepping in as a replacement, he hasn’t matched Moreno’s productivity. Four of their last five games, the Dolphins have failed to top at least 100 yards — that includes last week against the Ravens, when Miami had just 63 rushing yards as a team. Miller has 162 carries for 782 yards and six touchdowns to lead the Dolphins on the ground. This will be a good test for the New England run defense, which has allowed less than 100 rushing yards in four of its last five games.

WHEN THE DOLPHINS PASS THE BALL

Miami has gotten a jolt from rookie receiver Jarvis Landry, who has performed very well in his first season in the NFL, and has evolved into one of the primary options for quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Landry leads the team with 63 catches, to go with 573 yards and five touchdowns. In addition, veteran receiver Mike Wallace (57 catches, 700 yards, 7 TDs) and tight end Charles Clay (41 catches, 387 yards, 2 TDs) have proven to be worthy targets in the passing game. While Landry has been moved around a lot — Darrelle Revis called him a bit of a “gadget” receiver on Thursday — he has seen the bulk of his time in the slot. As a result, if Kyle Arrington is healthy, he will mostly likely draw the assignment when New England is in man coverage. Piggybacking on that, there’s the likelihood we’ll see Revis work against Wallace in man coverage, while the bigger and more physical Browner could be matched up on Clay.

One thing worth looking out for here is the fact that the Dolphins struggle to go deep — Miami has just 29 plays of 20-plus yards (30th in the league, and ahead of only the Jets and Raiders) and one pass play of 40-plus yards (tied for last in the league with the Chiefs). Tannehill’s longest touchdown pass this season is for 21 yards, and his last seven touchdowns passes have been for 10 yards or fewer.

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Brandon Browner won’t be fined for hit on Ladarius Green

12.12.14 at 5:19 pm ET
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It won’t bring back Devin McCourty‘s negated pick-6 but Patriots fans will be happy to know that Brandon Browner won’t be fined for his hit on Ladarius Green that laid out the Chargers tight end before a national audience.

When the league handed out its fines, this week, Browner’s name was not on the list of those violating NFL safety guidelines.

With Green out cold at midfield, two flags came in late, penalizing Browner for unnecessary roughness for the shoulder blow to the chest that made contact with Green’s chin. The 15-yard penalty wiped out McCourty’s interception that was returned for a touchdown. Green left the game with a concussion.

The decision by the NFL doesn’t come as a complete surprise as NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino weighed in on the play told the NFL Network that Bill Leavy’s officiating crew didn’t get the interpretation wholly correct.

“€œI think the first problem [was that] we announced helmet-to-helmet and this is not a helmet-to-helmet hit,”€ Blandino said. “€œThat’€™s incorrect. When you watch the play, Browner actually does a good job trying to lead with the shoulder and get his head to the side. You can see his head is to the side and he does lead with the shoulder.
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Read More: Brandon Browner, LaDarius Green, New England Patriots, San Diego Chargers

Patriots look for fans to make big play in Sunday toy drive for charity

12.12.14 at 5:06 pm ET
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Gillette Stadium. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

Gillette Stadium. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

FOXBORO — Tis the season for giving.

Since starting 2-2, the Patriots have given their fans lots to cheer about, winning eight of nine and shooting to the top of the AFC once again. With a win on Sunday, the Patriots will give their fans something else: a sixth straight AFC East title.

Now, the Patriots are asking for fans to return the favor to help out the needy kids throughout the region they represent.

Prior to Sunday’s game against the Dolphins at Gillette Stadium, the team will be counting on arriving fans to support another important drive, the annual Holiday Toy Drive, benefitting New England children in need this holiday season.

Fans are encouraged to bring new and unwrapped toy donations to the collection bins outside the entry gates at Gillette Stadium or to the Patriots ProShop prior to the game. All who donate will receive a $5 voucher to the Patriots ProShop. All toys donated by fans will be delivered by Patriots players at upcoming holiday events. Toys will serve children ranging from newborn to 18 years old.

A few suggested items to donate are listed below:
· Action figures
· Art supplies including markers, washable paints, colored pencils and drawing pads
· Board games
· Books
· Building toys (blocks, etc.)
· Dolls
· Educational toys (science, math, reading)
· Footballs, soccer balls and assorted sporting goods
· Jewelry kits
· Musical toys
· School supplies
· Stuffed animals
· Toy cars and trucks
· Winter clothing ‘€“ gloves, hats, jackets and mittens

The New England Patriots Charitable Foundation’€™s Celebrate Volunteerism campaign encourages fans to personally go out into the community and make a difference by pledging volunteer hours. For more information about the Celebrate Volunteerism initiative, including resources and information about volunteering, the ‘€œPatriots Difference Maker’€ award and to join the Celebrate Volunteerism movement by pledging volunteer hours, visit www.patriots.com/community.

Read More: New England Patriots, New England Patriots Charitable Foundation, Toy Drive,

Dominique Easley (knee) ruled out Sunday, Rob Ninkovich, Dont’a Hightower among 9 questionable

12.12.14 at 4:53 pm ET
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Dominique Easley

Dominique Easley

FOXBORO — Rookie defensive lineman Dominique Easley will miss his third game of the season Sunday after being ruled out on Friday’s injury report released by the team. Easley has been dealing with a nagging knee injury.

Rob Ninkovich (heel) continues to headline the limited players, as this is the first time he’s appeared on the injury report this season. Chandler Jones (hip) and Dont’a Hightower (shoulder), who both missed Sunday’s game, were limited. Offensive lineman Cameron Fleming (ankle), who has missed the last three games, was also limited. Julian Edelman (thigh) was again limited, as has been the case in recent weeks.

Edelman, Ninkovich, Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower are among those listed officially as questionable. Hightower missed last Sunday’s game with a shoulder injury while Jones has missed the last six with a hip issue.

The Patriots did get some good news as Danny Aiken, who suffered a concussion against the Lions on Nov. 23, was removed from the injury report altogether and is expected to play Sunday.

Here is Friday’s complete practice report:

Did not practice

DL Dominique Easley (knee) OUT

Limited participation

OL Dan Connolly (ankle) QUESTIONABLE
WR Julian Edelman (thigh) QUESTIONABLE
OL Cameron Fleming (ankle) QUESTIONABLE
LB Dont’a Hightower (shoulder) QUESTIONABLE
DE Chandler Jones (hip) QUESTIONABLE
WR Brandon LaFell (shoulder) QUESTIONABLE
DE Rob Ninkovich (heel) QUESTIONABLE
RB Shane Vereen (ankle) QUESTIONABLE
LB Chris White (ankle) QUESTIONABLE

Full participation

QB Tom Brady (ankle) PROBABLE

Read More: Dominique Easley, Dont'a Hightower, Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots

Adam Schefter on MFB: Patriots ’rounding into form’

12.12.14 at 12:42 pm ET
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Adam Schefter

Adam Schefter

ESPN’s Adam Schefter made his weekly appearance on Middays with MFB and talked about the Patriots’ prospects in the AFC as they head into the home stretch of the regular season. To hear the interview, go to the MFB audio on demand page.

Schefter said it clear the Patriots are “the favorites in the AFC, for whatever’s that worth.”

“I think this team is rounding into form,” Schefter said. “It’s getting better. It’s adding parts like Akeem Ayers and Jonathan Casillas and Alan Branch and LeGarrette Blount — guys that were essentially on the scrap heap that they’re pulling off, utilizing, making them shine in roles they did not have with other teams. it has enabled this team to get better. Chandler Jones come back at some point here, they should obviously benefit tremendously from that. I certainly would not pick them to lose a game from this point on.

“They’ve lost two straight games to the Miami Dolphins. Does anybody think that the Miami Dolphins are going to beat New England for a third straight time in Foxboro on Sunday? I don’t. I don’t. And so if this team just continues to take care of its business and do what it’s been doing, I don’t mean to sound like a coach, but good things will happen.”

Added Schefter: “Good luck to the team that has to come into New England and try win there in January when the winds are whipping and the fans are yelling and temperatures are dipping. That’s going to be a tough assignment to do — not that it can’t be done, because we’ve seen the Baltimore Ravens do it — but it’s going to be a tough assignment for somebody to come in there in January and beat a Patriot team that seems to be improving.”

Offensive lineman Marcus Cannon agreed to a reported two-year, $9 million extension Thursday. This raised some eyebrows because of how it might affect the team’s other linemen.

“It gives New England options,” Schefter said. “You’ve got a situation where Nate Solder‘s deal’s coming up, [Sebastian] Vollmer‘s in a situation. Interestingly enough, Vollmer and Solder have the same agent as Wes Welker and as Shane Vereen. I could be wrong here, but I don’t know if they’ve had any negotiations of any players and any deals since the Wes Welker experience. So these would be the first.

“Now, obviously you’d have to think both sides are going to be smart enough to put previous differences behind them and move forward and do what’s best for both. … But there is a history there. And it will be interesting to see if that history plays into these deals at all and impacts the negotiations on the clients that these two sides have dealt with before.”

Looking at the situation in New York with the Jets, Schefter said he expects owner Woody Johnson to clean house after the season, firing coach Rex Ryan and general manager John Idzik.

“I don’t think that they’re related in any way,” Schefter said. “I don’t think Rex Ryan will be back in New York, I don’t think John Idzik will be back in New York. I think both will be released at the end of the season and I think the Jets will chart a new course and a new direction. That’s the direction it certainly sounds like the franchise is heading. They’ve got to make decisions and make things official, but based on everything I’ve heard, I would be surprised if either guy was back.”

For more Patriots news, visit the team page at weei.com/patriots. For more from Schefter, including his thoughts on Rob Gronkowski‘s kitten photos, Johnny Manziel and the Ray Rice situation, listen to the interview at the MFB audio on demand page.

Read More: adam schefter, John Idzik, Marcus Cannon, Rex Ryan
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