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Matt Slater: Urgency and intensity gets picked up in the postseason

01.08.13 at 2:25 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Special teams captain Matt Slater is one of 35 players on the Patriots’ 53-man roster who have postseason experience — Sunday will mark the sixth playoff game of his career. He said that unless you’ve been through it before, there’s no way to acclimate yourself to the speed and the urgency of the game when the postseason rolls around.

“We can try to preach to them all week and try to put it in their head but I know for me, until I got out there and actually felt it, I didn’€™t understand what it was like,” Slater said when asked how he tries to get the younger players ready for the playoffs.

“But we’€™ll be on those young guys all week to let them know, ‘€˜Listen, this is not the regular season. This is not what you guys have experienced up until this point.’€™ But I think until they get out there the first couple series, the first couple plays, then they won’€™t really understand what it is.”

According to Slater, there’s a jump in intensity, speed and urgency that isn’t necessarily there in the regular season. If you’re making an SAT-level comparison, the preseason is to the regular season as the regular season is to the postseason.

“The preseason obviously is a different feel, and you go to the regular season and it’€™s a much different feel; the speed,” he said. “I think the jump is just as drastic from the regular season to the postseason. I think it’€™s a one-game season for everybody and nobody is holding anything back — not that we do that during the regular season — but it’€™s a drastic difference.”

As far as whether or not either team has an edge because of added playoff experience, Slater sounded dubious.

“I think it helps a little bit, but every year is a different year,” he said. “What happens in the regular season usually has no bearing on what happens in the postseason. I think it helps for guys that have played in the big games to know what to understand and expect as far as the speed of the game, the intensity of the game — it’€™s nothing like a regular season game.

“Like I said, every year is different, every team is different, every situation is different, so you can’€™t really rely on past experiences to kind of expect it to be the same when you get to the game this year.”

Here are a few highlights of the rest of his Q&A with the media:

Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: 2013 playoffs, Matt Slater,

Vince Wilfork on Arian Foster and Texans: ‘We are expecting their best’

01.08.13 at 2:20 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Vince Wilfork doesn’t need a sports columnist to remind him that the Houston Texans will be highly motivated for their AFC divisional game this Sunday at Gillette Stadium.

The Pro Bowl nose tackle is fully aware the Texans will be out to show they are a much better team than the effort they put forth in their 42-14 no-show against the Patriots on Dec. 10.

“Yeah, we know that,” Wilfork said Tuesday. “They didn’€™t play their best game. They know that and we know that. Come Sunday we are expecting their best. It’€™s all or nothing from here on out and for us; we have to be able to execute. If we don’€™t execute, we’€™ll have troubles. First, it starts with their running game. It starts with [Arian] Foster ‘€“ the more touches that he gets, in the passing game or on the ground, the better that team is. But I’€™m pretty sure they’€™re sitting down there saying, ‘€˜You know what? They played us in the regular season and things didn’€™t go well.’€™ We basically outplayed them and they feel that they are a better football team and they are a better football team.

“There’€™s a reason that they’€™re in the postseason and there’€™s a reason that we’€™re in the postseason. So I don’€™t think anything from that game is going to play a huge factor. I think it will give them more momentum or give them more of an edge that they will want to come back up here and face us and try to beat us in Foxborough. So we can control what we can control, and that’€™s going to practice and working hard and trying to fix little kinks and stuff. We had a good chance to get back to work last week. We had two days of good practices, working on things that we think can help us moving forward. But it’€™s going to come down to execution ‘€“ that’€™s what it’€™s going to boil down to. A bunch of guys making plays ‘€“ who can make the most plays and who can execute well. That’€™s what this game is going to boil down to.”

And it just might boil down to how well the Patriots do against Arian Foster again. Back on Dec. 10, Wilfork and the Pats held Foster to 46 yards on 15 carries. Last week against the Bengals, Foster carried over twice that (32 carries) for over triple the amount of yards (140) and a touchdown.

“Absolutely, I expect to see the best,” Wilfork said of Foster. “Whatever they have, I expect to see it ‘€“ the kitchen sink if it’€™s called for. But last week you saw why this guy is one of the top offensive players in the game ‘€“ not just a back, but a top offensive player in the game ‘€“ the things that he can do with the ball in his hands in the pass game and running it. He’€™s a great blocker when they ask him to block. I mean he’€™s a special player and we understand that. We know it starts with their running game. I mean you can’€™t x-out the receiver, Andre Johnson, you can’€™t x-out [Owen] Daniels, you can’€™t x-out the quarterback [Matt Schaub] and you can’€™t ex-out their Pro Bowl size. They’€™re well put together and the last time we played them, they didn’€™t play as well. So, I’€™m pretty sure that they’€™re going to come out here fired up and ready to play this week.”

Here is the remainder of Wilfork’s press conference on Tuesday at Gillette Stadium:

Q: What are some of the challenges of facing a team that runs a zone blocking scheme?

VW: Well always cut blocks. That’€™s something that they do very, very well. Their zone running scheme, stretch runs [and they] mix in a couple scheme runs. But playing cut blocks is always a big challenge when you’€™re facing a team like this because it seems like ‘€“ I don’€™t care if you’€™re getting cut on the front side or the back side, that running back sees it and he hits it right off that cut block. So up front it’€™s going to be very important for us to try to stay on our feet and make sure that we are playing our blocks pretty good. And hopefully everybody around us is doing the same thing. But it’€™s always tough. Any team that runs the ball the way they run the ball and has the play-action and the bootlegs and all the stuff that comes after that, it’€™s a big challenge for us. But we’€™ve faced it, we’€™ve seen it a bunch of times, so we kind of know how we want to play this game. If we play it the way that we need to play it, we’€™ll be OK. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Arian Foster, houston texans, New England Patriots, nfl

Report: Tony Corrente will work Patriots-Texans as referee

01.08.13 at 1:57 pm ET
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According to our pals over at, Tony Corrente will work as the referee for Sunday’s Patriots-Texans divisional playoff contest. In his 18th season as an official and 15th as a referee, Corrente has previously worked two divisional playoffs, three conference championships and Super Bowl XLI.

While he has an impressive track record as an official, he gained a small measure of fame earlier this season when he was caught yelling an obscenity at a fellow official … with his game mic on. As a result, Corrente was docked a game check, and NFL VP of Officiating Carl Johnson called Corrente’s language “inappropriate for a game official.” It’s also noteworthy that Corrente, who will be seeing the Pats for the first time this season, has worked nine New England games since 2000, with the Patriots posting a 7-2 record in that stretch. (With Corrente working as the lead official, New England lost to the Jets in 2002 and the Colts in 2000.)

For more on Corrente’s tendencies as an official, check out his page at Pro Football Reference. And for a look at all the officiating assignments for the weekend, check out

Patriots Positional Playoff Preview: Linebackers

01.08.13 at 1:08 pm ET
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With the postseason underway, we’€™ve got the Patriots Positional Playoff Preview, a week-long, position-by-position look at the Patriots and how they look heading into the postseason. We covered the offense a few days ago, and now, it’€™s the defense. We started with the secondary — now, it’€™s the linebackers.

Depth chart (stats based on coaches film review): Jerod Mayo (184 tackles, 3 sacks, 5 quarterback hits, 1 INT, 4 forced fumbles), Brandon Spikes (128 tackles, 1 sack, 5 quarterback hits, 7 passes defensed, 5 forced fumbles), Dont’€™a Hightower (75 tackles, 4 sacks, 9 quarterback hits, 3 passes defensed), Tracy White (10 tackles), Mike Rivera (12 special teams tackles), Niko Koutouvides (8 special teams tackles).

Overview: The combination of Mayo, Spikes and Hightower combined to form the nucleus of one of the best young linebacking corps in the league this season. Mayo continues to serve as the captain of the defense, and with the addition of Hightower and the continued maturation of Spikes, was freed up to do more things this season than he did in year’€™s past. Spikes still has occasional issues in coverage, but has certainly improved to the point this year where he’€™s become an every down linebacker. (While he occasionally swings and misses when it comes to shooting the gaps, he remains one of the most feared linebackers in the league when it comes to stopping the run.) And Hightower had some growing pains — there were some distressing dips late in the season — but he’€™s given every indication that he should be a force in the league for year’€™s to come.

Going into the playoffs, the group will be counted on heavily as part of a rapidly improving defensive unit. One of the areas worth monitoring very close will be the health of Spikes, who has been dogged by knee and ankle issues for a sizable portion of the season. Spikes, who is one of New England’€™s two most important defenders when it comes to stopping the run (the other being Vince Wilfork), played just eight snaps over the last two weeks of the regular season, presumably to allow him to be at full strength once the playoffs roll around. It will be interesting to keep an eye on him right out of the gate as he jumps headfirst into the postseason — against a team that’€™s one of the better running teams in the league.

Best Moment: In the fourth quarter of a Dec. 2 game against the Dolphins, Miami was sitting on the Patriots’€™ 7-yard line, looking to cut into a 10-point New England lead. After the ball was snapped, Mayo took off on what appeared to be a delayed blitz, blasting up the middle on third down and drilling Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill for an eight-yard loss. The most important of the Patriots’€™ three sacks on the afternoon, the well timed tackle-for-loss kept the Dolphins out of the end zone and forced them to kick a field goal. Mayo’€™s sack helped preserve a lead of at least a touchdown, keeping Miami at bay and allowing New England to escape South Florida with a narrow win.

Worst Moment: Spikes had some issues in coverage in the first half of the first game against the Bills, where he was clearly targeted by Buffalo quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. However, he was able to right the ship nicely in the second half and come away with a second-half pass defense, as well as a pair of forced fumbles.

By the numbers: For the season, Spikes had seven passes defensed — more than any non-defensive back on the team.

Money quote: ‘€œWe’€™ve really had three linebackers, with Jerod [Mayo], Dont’€™a and Brandon [Spikes] and two of these three are on the field in a lot of the nickel passing situations. Usually it’€™s Jerod, and the other has kind of been split between Dont’€™a and Brandon [Spikes], but with Brandon out [against the Jaguars], Dont’€™a got more of those reps. But I really think his overall production on a per-play basis has been pretty consistent, as far as doing the right thing and handling his responsibility and all that. The big plays, obviously there are fewer of them than there are regular plays, so they’€™re kind of spotted here and there, but Dont’€™a has been pretty solid for us all the year.’€ — Bill Belichick on Hightower and the rest of the linebackers.

Read More: 2013 playoffs, positional playoff preview,

Patriots sign WR Andre Holmes to practice squad

01.08.13 at 12:08 pm ET
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The Patriots announced Tuesday they have signed wide receiver Andre Holmes to the practice squad. The 24-year-old Holmes originally entered the NFL as a rookie free agent with Minnesota out of Hillsdale in 2011. The 6-foot-4, 223-pounder was released by Minnesota after training camp and was signed to the Dallas practice squad. Holmes was signed to the Dallas 53-man roster late in the 2011 season but was inactive for the final four games of the season. He made the Dallas 53-man roster out of training camp in 2012 and played seven games, registering two receptions for 11 yards. Holmes was released by Dallas on Nov. 25 and signed back to the practice squad on Nov. 27.

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Patriots Positional Playoff Preview: Defensive backs

01.07.13 at 6:11 pm ET
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With the postseason underway, we’€™ve got the Patriots Positional Playoff Preview, a week-long, position-by-position look at the Patriots and how they look heading into the postseason. We started with the offense. Now, we’€™ll flip it around and break down the defense. First up, the secondary.

Depth chart (stats based on coaches film review): Devin McCourty (89 tackles, 5 INTs, 13 passes defensed), Kyle Arrington (67 tackles, 11 passes defensed), Steve Gregory (55 tackles, 3 INTs, 5 passes defensed), Patrick Chung (53 tackles, 2 INTs, 5 passes defensed), Alfonzo Dennard (35 tackles, 3 INTs, 7 passes defensed), Tavon Wilson (48 tackles, 4 INTs, 6 passes defensed), Aqib Talib (19 tackles, 1 INT, 2 passes defensed), Marquice Cole (12 tackles, 1 INT, 3 passes defensed), Nate Ebner (17 special teams tackles), Malcolm Williams (2 special teams tackles).

Overview: It’€™s been fascinating to watch the New England secondary evolve over the course of the 2012 season. Much like the offensive line, there were struggles early on as they tried to find the right mix, but once they were able to find a good combo (namely, Talib and Dennard at corner and McCourty and Gregory at safety), the continuity and consistency helped improve the New England pass defense.

The addition of Talib has really been a boon. He hasn’€™t been a Pro Bowler by any means, but the trickle-down effect has been tremendous for the rest of the defensive backs, and, by extension, the defense as a whole. It’€™s allowed the New England defense to shuffle some players — particularly the move of McCourty from corner to safety, as well as kicking Arrington from outside back into the slot — and take some pressure off younger defensive backs. As a result, the Patriots have managed to maximize the strengths of the defensive backs they do have, and the numbers have reflected the change. Since late November, the following numbers have all decreased for the New England defense: points per game, average passing yards, average rushing yards and total average yards allowed per game. In addition, in that stretch, the Patriots have increased their takeaway ratio.

Going forward, health is probably the biggest issue for this group, particularly Talib. He was slowed by a nagging hip problem (which first appeared in the initial Patriots-Texans game in early December), and was held out of the bulk of the last two regular-season games. The hope is that with almost a month on the shelf, he’€™s over whatever health issues plagued him, and he can slide back into a regular role for the postseason. If Talib is there, look for the same group of defensive backs (Talib, Dennard, McCourty and Gregory) to get the bulk of the reps in the playoffs, with support from Arrington, Cole and Chung.

(For what it’€™s worth, one of the great offseason questions will be what happens with Talib. A free agent at the end of the season, provided he remains a key part of a secondary that plays deep into January, how much would the Patriots pony up to keep the cornerback? The 26-year-old would likely be in for a handsome payday if he does steer clear of any off-field issues and stay healthy, but would he likely take less than market value for the chance to stick in New England?)

Best Moment: Moved back to safety on a consistent basis over most of the second half of the season, McCourty made two very similar plays working as the deep safety against both the Niners and Texans, coming away with big picks in both games on the goal line. Against Houston, McCourty picked off quarterback Matt Schaub in the first half, a game-changing turnover that denied the Texans an early score. And against San Francisco he did the same thing, coming away with a nifty pick of Colin Kaepernick.

Worst Moment: It was more of a problem with team defense, but the lasting image of the New England secondary over the first half of the season was Wilson and Ebner failing to keep Sidney Rice in front of them in the fourth quarter against the Seahawks in Seattle — as a result, Russell Wilson found Rice for a 46-yard touchdown pass with 1:18 left.

By the numbers: According to Pro Football Focus, McCourty led the Patriots in defensive snaps in 2012 with 1,098, beating out linebacker Jerod Mayo (1,073.)

Money quote: ‘€œIt’€™s a different team. You just feel it walking around here ‘€” the atmosphere. A winning organization. You can feel it in the air. I’€™ve never been a part of an organization like that. It’€™s good to feel it in the air, the confidence that’€™s in this building.’€ — Talib on joining the Patriots.

Read More: 2013 playoffs, positional playoff preview,

Audio: It Is What It Is Cast breaks down divisional matchup between Patriots and Texans

01.07.13 at 3:41 pm ET
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In this edition of the It Is What It Is Cast, Chris Price and Mike Petraglia preview the Patriots-Texans divisional playoff contest. The guys talk about why this game won’t be similar to the game between the two squads back in December. They also take a look at some of the changes between the two teams since that game, and also check out some of other playoff action in the NFL. Click to listen or download it HERE.

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