|10.25.12 at 3:39 pm ET|
FOXBORO — It’s been the running theme of the Patriots this season. Finish the job.
From Bill Belichick down to the coordinators and position coaches, the message that has been stressed to every player is playing a full 60 minutes. And in some cases, like Sunday, a few more.
Defensive captain Vince Wilfork has heard the message loud and clear. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t take great satisfaction in the wins, however ugly or fortunate they may appear. Like Sunday’s 29-26 come-from-ahead-then-behind win over the Jets in overtime.
“It’s football, it’s football. You can’t go out and expect to blow somebody out 50-0 every week,” Wilfork said. “You can’t go out and expect to win by 10, 17 points every week. Let me tell you something, when you’re playing with divisions, in division games the record doesn’t matter. You have two teams that know one another best. They know what we do and we know what they do. They might have a little wrinkle, we might have a little wrinkle. But at the end of the day, we know each other, especially that team. Sometimes, we play three times a year.”
So, with the Rams up next in London, many fans are expecting another win, to improve to 5-3 heading into the bye week. And with star receiver Danny Amendola likely on the sidelines recovering from a broken collarbone, fans may be expecting an easy time of it, as was the case in 2009 in a 35-7 romp over Tampa Bay at Wembley.
“This is the NFL. You can’t get bummed out from winning the ball game by one,” Wilfork said. “I’m pretty sure Seattle or Baltimore or Arizona weren’t bummed out by beating us by a couple of points. Trust me on that. You get paid to produce. That’s what we’re here for, is to produce. However you get it, you’ve got to get it. And that was a big one for us. I don’t care how we got it, we got it. We still have room for improvement.
“And that’s the biggest thing. This team hasn’t played its best football yet. I would love to see this football team when we actually, finally get it together and play 60 minutes of good football, just to see how that looks.”
|10.25.12 at 11:26 am ET|
FOXBORO — Over the first seven games of the season, the Patriots have yielded 38 pass plays of 20 yards or more, and on Sunday against the Rams, the guy most likely to make it 39 is likely wide receiver Chris Givens.
The rookie out of Wake Forest isn’t the Rams’ No. 1 option in the passing game — he has 10 catches for 270 yards and a touchdown in his first year in the NFL — but his speed makes him something special. He ran a 4.41 at the combine last February, and the fourth-round pick has used those jets to put together a streak of four straight games where he’s caught a pass of 50 yards or more.
‘Givens has really made some big plays for them. He really hasn’t had that many opportunities, but the ones he’s had, he’s hit big on,’ said Patriots coach Bill Belichick. ‘They’ve also used him some in the return game, so that’s something — they’ve used several different returners, so I’m not sure exactly who we’ll see, but we have a lot of respect for him and he’s definitely given them an element of big plays.’
According to Belichick, the loss of wide receiver Danny Amendola — who went down with a clavicle injury earlier this month in a win over the Cardinals — has forced quarterback Sam Bradford and the St. Louis passing game to become more egalitarian. Belichick compared with the Rams have done in the passing game to what happened with the Jets, who started spreading the ball around more after Santonio Holmes went down with an injury.
As a result, the Rams now have seven players with at least 10 receptions.
‘They really use everybody — they use all of their receivers. It looks like they have a lot of confidence in all of them,’ Belichick said. ‘They work the ball around pretty good. I don’t think they’re just locked into one guy — although Amendola is clearly a go-to guy for them, but I’d say since then, they’ve done a good job of spreading the ball around. Kind of similar to last week, really, to when Holmes went out, and how it balanced the offense out for the Jets. I’d say it’s a little bit of the same thing with the Rams. They seem to be really more balanced now and less of one go-to guy.
‘They have an explosive team,’ he added. ‘I think it’s a well-balanced team. They’re probably balance is a little better now without Amendola, although I’m sure they miss his playmaking skills. I’m not saying that. It seems like the ball now has gotten spread evenly around to everybody — tight ends, backs and receivers.’
|10.25.12 at 11:08 am ET|
The NFL Players Association and the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center in Washington, D.C., announced Thursday that Patriots owner Robert Kraft has been selected as the inaugural recipient of the NFL Players Association Georgetown Lombardi Award, which will take place during the 26th Annual Lombardi Gala on Nov. 3 in Washington, D.C.
The award was established to honor a leader in the sports industry whose life and family have been touched by cancer, and who encourages cancer research, prevention and treatment through awareness and philanthropy. The connection between the NFL Players Association and Georgetown Lombardi has grown in the past few years, in part out of a shared connection to the legacy of legendary NFL coach Vince Lombardi, who was treated for cancer at Georgetown University Hospital before succumbing to the disease in 1970. Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center is named in his memory.
DeMaurice F. Smith, executive director of the NFL Players Association, is serving as the honorary chair of the Lombardi Gala for the third year. He issued a statement Thursday celebrating the work of Kraft, who lost his wife of 48 years, Myra, to ovarian cancer in 2011.
‘Like many of us in the NFL community, Mr. Kraft has been personally affected by cancer,’ said Smith. ‘Despite his loss, Mr. Kraft has continued to be a leader on cancer awareness, research and treatment. We are thrilled to honor his achievements and dedication to fighting cancer on this special night.’
Over the past four decades, the Kraft family has become known as one of New England’s most philanthropic families, donating more than $100 million in support of local charities and civic affairs.
‘Mr. Kraft is widely recognized as one of the most successful owners in professional sports, but he’s also a champion off the field,’ says Georgetown Lombardi Director Louis M. Weiner, M.D. ‘We honor Kraft for his vision to recognize the need for generous community support for cancer research if we are to defeat this devastating set of diseases.’
|10.25.12 at 11:00 am ET|
FOXBORO — Tom Brady laughed when he was asked if he was going to be taking part in the NFL-sponsored “FanFest” to celebrate the Patriots-Rams game in London on Sunday.
“I’m not doing that,” Brady chuckled. “Don’t believe everything you read. Not me, but have fun though.”
But then he was gently reminded by the NFL powers that be that his presence was needed to meet NFL commitments to the fine folks putting on the game at Wembley Stadium.
“I’m going,” Brady said Thursday. “They mentioned it to me after the [Wednesday] press conference and told me it was mandatory so I’ll be there.”
Brady is hoping to have his fun during the game, like last time at Wembley, when he threw for 308 yards and three touchdown passes in a 35-7 win over the Buccaneers in 2009.
“Yeah, I am [looking forward to the game],” Brady did say on Wednesday. “It will be fun. It will be a great game. It will be a tough game, but it will be memorable for a lot of reasons. I certainly remember our last trip, so it will be a nice experience for all the players kind of coming together. We’re leaving after practice [Thursday], so hopefully we can go out there and play well. That’s the most important thing.”
|10.25.12 at 10:50 am ET|
FOXBORO — While much has been made of the struggles of the Patriots’ pass defense, New England has actually been very stout against the run over the first seven games of the season, allowing 86 yards per game — eighth in the league.
In that time, the Patriots have faced some of the league’s elite backs and held all of them under their season average, including Chris Johnson (11 carries, 4 yards), C.J. Spiller (8 carries, 33 yards), Willis McGahee (14 carries, 51 yards) and Marshawn Lynch (15 carries, 41 yards). Only one back — Ray Rice — has topped 100 yards on the ground against New England, and Sunday’s win over the Jets marked the fourth straight game in which New England has held an opponent under four yards per carry.
The Patriots’ run defense will face its next real test Sunday in the Rams’ Steven Jackson. The 29-year-old Jackson, in his ninth season out of Oregon State, has run for 380 yards on 101 carries this season for St. Louis, including 76 yards (on 18 carries) in a 17-3 win over the Cardinals. A multipurpose threat out of the backfield, he also has 19 catches on the season for 189 yards, and has 379 receptions for 3,079 yards over the course of his career.
Jackson, who was a first-round pick of the Rams in 2004, was initially on New England’s radar that year. With the draft looming, it was widely believed the Patriots were in the market for a running back — to that end, New England coach Bill Belichick went out to meet with Jackson in his hometown of Las Vegas to check him out.
‘I went out there and met with him and spent the whole day, pretty much the whole day with him out there — he was a very impressive individual,’ recalled Belichick of Jackson. ‘Obviously a big, strong kid that runs well, that catches the ball very well. That’s very good in the passing game — he’s a little underrated in that area. Good in blitz pickup. A smart guy. Has really had an outstanding career. He was definitely a guy we were very much interested in. Like I said, I personally spent quite a bit of time with him.’
While the Patriots decided to go in another direction — they acquired Corey Dillon shortly before the draft and selected defensive lineman Vince Wilfork and tight end Ben Watson with their two first-round picks — that certainly hasn’t diminished Belichick’s opinion of Jackson and what he’s accomplished over the course of his career, particularly his durability.
‘It’s impressive. It’s real impressive,’ said Belichick when asked about Jackson’s durability. ‘He’s had a 1,000 yards it seems like every year, or close to it, whatever it is. But he dishes it out. I think he probably gives out about as much as he takes. It’s not like that with all backs, but he’s got the quickness to be elusive on the second level and avoid guys and he’s also got the power to put his shoulder down and run through guys. He’s a hard guy to tackle.
‘His production in the passing game is very good too. Not just screens, but route running, going out there and getting open and beating linebackers. And he’s a great target for the quarterback to throw to. Not a 5-foot-8 guy you’re trying to find out there. He’s a big tall strong guy who has a lot of range. A big catch radius with good hands.’
|10.24.12 at 9:10 pm ET|
The NFL began introducing American football to Europe and England with the American Bowl in 1986 with exhibition games. Then came NFL Europe.
In 2007, the Dolphins beat the Giants at Wembley Stadium starting a series that will continue on Sunday with the Patriots and Rams doing battle.
But, even with all that exposure, the NFL still has a lot of work to do to reach the next generation of fans in England.
“Yeah, it’s definitely different,” Rams quarterback Sam Bradford said Wednesday from London. “We went to that “Play 60″ event [Tuesday] and it was very apparent that we were in a foreign country. Just the youth here compared to the youth in America, I mean, they had very little awareness to what American football was. I think it surprised me a little bit just how little they knew about our game, which I think is one of the reasons it’s such a great opportunity for the NFL to come over here. These kids aren’t exposed to American football and if we want to expand our game, we’re going to have to do things like this to get them active and get them interested in learning more about the game.”
Bradford was then asked to compare the football skills of the American and European kids he’s interacted with at the “Play 60″ events.
“You really can’t even compare them because I mean, I have a feeling that yesterday some of the kids we were dealing with, it was probably the first time they’d ever seen an American football,” Bradford said honestly. “Obviously they play a lot of soccer over here. I asked a couple of them what they played and the predominant answers were soccer and cricket. I think, obviously, they’re just brought up a little differently in terms of the sports they’re exposed to. It really is kind of hard to compare them talking about football.”
|10.24.12 at 5:43 pm ET|
In 2009, in the week leading up to the Patriots-Buccaneers contest at Wembley, there was plenty of talk about whether the Patriots were doing the right thing by traveling to London so late in the week. Tampa Bay, owned by the same Glazer family that owns Manchester United, went out early and practiced at the world-class soccer facility.
The result? The Patriots, behind three touchdown passes from Tom Brady, went out and throttled the Bucs, 35-7.
This time, it’s the Rams who are the early arrivals in the U.K. and the Patriots are hoping history repeats itself. They are having two practices in New England before hopping a plane for a red-eye after Thursday’s practice at Gillette.
“We talked to other clubs,” Fisher said in a conference call from London on Wednesday. “I’ve been over here several times in the preseason in the American Bowls and we just felt that the fact that Mr. Kroenke has a facility here, we felt that it would probably be best to come over early to put the travel behind us and the time difference behind us and get settled. That’s what we’ve done thus far. I just moments ago got off the practice field and I’m very pleased and proud with the way the guys have responded to the time change. They brought a lot of energy to the field; we had a great practice.”
But that’s not to say Fisher doesn’t think the world of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. Quite the opposite.
“[Tom Brady] does such a great job,” Fisher said. “It’s so quick and obviously their terminology allows them to get up there and go. He sees things and he puts himself in the best possible position and then there’s so much that’s done after the snap too with the guys outside.
“He makes great decisions. He’s usually always right with the decision he makes. He has tremendous arm strength, vision, he’s accurate. He can extend the play with his legs. I don’t know what else you can say about him. He’s just very, very difficult to defend. Over the years, they’ve done a great job of surrounding him with great people.”
Fisher was asked, – in historical terms – if Brady were right there near the top with all the great quarterbacks, considering Fisher and his Titans would face Peyton Manning twice a year.
“Oh yeah, there’s not a doubt,” he said. “We faced Peyton twice a year for a long time. Hey, Aaron Rodgers isn’t bad either. I’d say there’s no doubt that Tom is probably one of the top that I’ve faced over the years.” Read the rest of this entry »