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Patriots position-by-position breakdown: Quarterback

02.01.14 at 11:08 am ET
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With the Patriots done for the year, we’€™ve got an end of the year position-by-position breakdown of where the roster stands. We started with special teams, wide receivers, tight ends and running backs. Now, it’s time for the quarterback.

Depth chart: Tom Brady (380-for-628, 61 percent, 4,343 passing yards, 25 TDs, 11 INTs), Ryan Mallett.

Overview: It was perhaps the singular most complicated and complex season for Brady in his professional career, as the New England offense went through multiple looks and different schemes. Wave after wave of different personnel were shuffled through, and some were incredibly important one week and completely irrelevant the next. As a result, it stands to reason why Brady may have had an uneven year — few quarterbacks could have handled the constant rotation, series of injuries and flat-out different looks as well as he did. Because of injuries, week-to-week game-planning, weather conditions and the surprise emergence of some new faces, the Patriots went from an offense seeking an identity to a pass-first group to a run-heavy set, and the quarterback was able to handle it better than most.

There are a lot of reasons why this New England team was able to overachieve on a fairly consistent basis over the course of the year, but if Brady’s not there, there’s no way this team gets as far as it did. There were sizable stretches over the course of the season where he was dominant — November 2013 was one of the finest months of his career — and it’s a tribute to his skills that he was constantly in the MVP discussion despite a relatively subpar statistical year. He had just as many late-game comebacks as he had at any point in his career, and even as he entered his late thirties, he proved his flair for the dramatic was just as keen as it was a decade before.

That being said, there were also large portions of the season where the frustration got to him. No one outside of Gillette Stadium is completely sure how much of the issues were tied to the quarterback, or rookie receivers doing the wrong thing. But stripped of so many of the offensive options he had grown accustomed to over the course of previous year, there were times where he was easily flustered, and other times where he appeared overwhelmed as he was unable to jumpstart an occasionally sluggish New England offense that had a nasty habit of slow starts. And when the team needed him to lift his game to the next level in the AFC title game, he was inconsistent, missing key throws early to Julian Edelman, Matthew Slater and Austin Collie. That led to an early deficit the Patriots were unable to bounce back from.

Brady leaves a mixed legacy when it comes to the 2013 season. Was it his best year statistically? Certainly not, at least when it comes to his own occasionally ridiculous standards. And there were fits of Marinoesque rage that made him appear small and petty. But at the same time, he was truly great for several key stretches, showing an ability to lift his team through key moments. And despite all the personnel changes, he was able to work the controls of an offense that actually outscored the Broncos over the second half of the regular season. In addition, he played a major role in infusing the 2013 team with a level of mental toughness that hadn’t been seen around Foxboro for the better part of the last decade.

In the end, it was a year of personal and professional growth for the quarterback, who — by his own admission — had to take on a new series of responsibilities in 2013, holding weekly film sessions with the rookie receivers and working as a mentor to several members of his own offense. (It’s odd to think that Aaron Dobson was just 10 years old when Brady and the Patriots beat the Rams at Super Bowl XXXVI.) If he and his charges can learn from the hard lessons of 2013 and apply them going forward, buoyed by the return of Rob Gronkowski, there’s no reason to think that the quarterback and the rest of the offense can’t be even more competitive in 2014.

Best moment: Brady’s four-game stretch — from Nov. 3 through Dec. 1 — was as good a period as any period (statistically) as any series of games over the course of his career. Against the Steelers, Panthers, Broncos and Texans, Brady went 115-for-164 (70 percent) for 1,443 yards with 10 touchdowns and two interceptions — a per game average of 29-for-41 for 358 yards, 2.5 TDs and 0.5 INTs. In retrospect, it wasn’t coincidental that this was also the best four-game stretch of the season for Gronkowski.

Worst moment: The Oct. 6 loss to the Bengals in Cincinnati was the statistical (and offensive) nadir for Brady and the New England offense. The quarterback was 18-for-38 for 197 yards and a pick. In the midst of a monsoon, a last-minute drive by Brady and the Patriots fells short when he misfired on a late pass attempt. The contest marked the end of Brady’s streak of games with a touchdown pass at 52.

By the numbers: 5. Per Pro Football Reference, Brady led five game-winning drives in 2013. It was tops in the league in 2013, and tied with 2001 for the tops in his career in a single season (As defined by PFR, game-winning drives are defined as an offensive scoring drive in the fourth quarter or overtime led by the quarterback that puts the team ahead for the last time.)

Money quote: ‘€œIn my opinion, [it’€™s] by far the most impressive performance in any season that Tom has had. I know the numbers are not Tom Brady-like numbers. But based on the situation, the cast around him, the fact he is more of a player-coach, which is always tough; you’€™re teaching in the huddle, at the line, getting guys lined up. It is a testament to how good he really is.’€ — Former MVP Brett Favre, speaking with NFL Network on Brady’s 2013 season

Read More: position-by-position breakdown, Ryan Mallett, Tom Brady,

Court papers reveal prosecutors abandon Carlos Ortiz as witness against Aaron Hernandez

02.01.14 at 10:29 am ET
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At least one murder case against 24-year-old Aaron Hernandez appears to be turning in the favor of the former Patriots tight end.

Carlos Ortiz, the star witness against Hernandez in the murder of Odin Lloyd, will not be called as a witness in the trial against Hernandez. Hernandez stands charged with first-degree murder of the former 27-year-old semi-pro linebacker this past June. He was charged in late June and immediately cut by the Patriots.

Various reports early on in the case indicated that Ortiz became the star witness based on information apparently obtained from him in the course of search and arrest warrants.

On Friday, it became apparent from paperwork filed in court, and obtained by the Taunton Daily Gazette, that prosecutors view Ortiz as “€œcompletely unreliable”€ based on the fact that his allegations against Hernandez had changed significantly.

According to the Associated Press, prosecutors want to review Hernandez’€™s phone conversations in search of ‘€œcoded messages’€ that could show Hernandez was talking about the murder of Lloyd with his fiancee, Shayanna Jenkins, and/or his cousin, Tanya Singleton.

Prosecutors plan to argue that Hernandez discussed Lloyd’€™s murder in coded fashion, which allegedly included Hernandez’€™s “belief about his criminal liability”€ and the “extent of his control over persons charged as accessories.”

Now, without witness Ortiz, allegedly in the car with Hernandez when Lloyd was shot, it figures to be much, much harder to prove Hernandez guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Authorities still have the chance to call the other alleged passenger in the car, Ernest Wallace, but they also have serious doubts about his credibility in testifying against Hernandez in the case.

This case seems much more murky than the double-homicide case being prepared against Hernandez. In January, Bristol (Conn.) police filed an affidavit in which they suggest an SUV found at Hernandez’s uncle’s home in Connecticut may have been involved in a double-murder in Boston in July 2012.

Bristol police believe there is “€œprobable cause to believe Hernandez was operating the suspect vehicle used in the shooting deaths, and may have been the shooter,” in the July 2012 murders of Daniel Abreu and Safiro Furtado, according to the affidavit.

Read More: Aaron Hernandez, Carlos Ortiz, Daniel Abreu, Ernest Wallace

Report: Pepper Johnson joining Bills coaching staff

01.31.14 at 8:57 pm ET
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Pepper Johnson will be joining the Bills coaching staff, according to Pete Roussel of Coachingsearch.com.

Johnson joined the Patriots as assistant linebackers coach in 2000. He was the team’€™s inside linebackers coach from 2001-03, the defensive line coach from 2004-11 and the linebackers coach the past two seasons. One day after New England lost to the Broncos in the AFC title game, he announced he was leaving the organization, saying he was going to “embrace this new chapter in my life.”

Johnson’s title has not been announced, but given his background, it’s not a stretch he could be considered for either the job of linebackers coach or defensive line coach — the Bills do not currently have linebacker coach, while defensive line coach Anthony Weaver has been linked to a new job with the Browns. It is interesting to note that he’ll be working with a coach from the Bill Belichick tree — new Bills defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz worked for Belichick roughly 20 years ago in Cleveland.

(UPDATE, 9:23 p.m.: Multiple reports now indicate that Johnson will serve as the Bills’ defensive line coach.)

For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.

Read More: Bill Belichick, Jim Schwartz, Pepper Johnson,

Local company again programmed for Super Bowl success

01.31.14 at 5:44 pm ET
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While the Patriots won’t be representing New England in the big game on Sunday in New Jersey, there will be a distinct New England influence throughout the stadium.

The most popular – and accessible – souvenir of any Super Bowl is the official game program. The publisher is H.O. Zimman, Inc. is based in Lynn, Massachusetts.

This year’s program features 288 highly-glossed pages, including team bios and the summation of the 2013 NFL season, including the playoffs.

There are features on the host region of New York and New Jersey, including stories on the most famous NFL championship game ever played, the 1958 championship played across the Hudson River at the old Yankee Stadium.

Zimman estimates that there is a circulation of one million copies with a “pass-on” value of five readers per copy, with extensive distribution throughout the United States, with saturation in the South and in the home markets of the two Super Bowl teams.

Forbes magazine agrees, listing the Super Bowl as ‘€œthe world’€™s most valuable sporting events brand.”

Advertisers’ messages also will appear in the digital versions of the Super Bowl XLVII Official Souvenir Magazine and 2013 Pro Bowl Official Magazine. In the weeks following the games, both magazines will be available for free viewing and hardcopy purchase on NFL.com. NFL.com expects to receive more than 50 million unique visits and experience approximately 500 million page views during this time.

The cost of the program is $20.

Read More: Denver Broncos, H.O. Zimman Inc., nfl, Seattle Seahawks

Patriots introduce variable pricing for fans in 2014

01.31.14 at 5:08 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Variable pricing is coming to Gillette Stadium.

The team announced Friday that, starting in 2014, the team will utilize variable pricing for their season ticket packages for the first time. The concept is already used by most professional sports leagues and many of the NCAA‘€™s largest college football programs. In the NFL, the Patriots are among the first to announce their intentions to implement the new pricing strategy.

This year’€™s season tickets will list different prices for games in the three categories of “Preseason” (two games), “Premier” (four games) and “Marquee” (four games). While the season tickets will show three different prices for the 10 home games, the overall price of the season tickets will not change due to variable pricing. Rather, the pricing is intended to better reflect the value and expected demand of each game. Individual game tickets will continue to be sold at a higher price, giving season ticket holders the greatest value for their Patriots game tickets.

The team announced that With variable pricing, demand can vary based on multiple factors, including the opponent, day of the week, time of the game and placement of the game on the schedule. Preseason games will now be priced at approximately 50 percent of the Premier games, while the most anticipated Marquee games, such as the 2014 rematch of the 2013 AFC Championship Game between the Patriots and Broncos, will be assigned a value approximately 25 percent higher than “Premier” games. The prices in the Premier category reflect the standard ticket pricing from last year, of which five of the seven categories have not changed.

While the Patriots have not had a stadium-wide ticket increase since after the 2007 season, they will have pricing adjustments in two of the three lower bowl seating categories at Gillette Stadium this year. Price adjustments will be made in the midfield and end zone sections on the 100-level, with prices increasing by an average of $10 and $18, respectively, per ticket. The prices in the remaining seating categories, including all seats on the Mezzanine and Upper levels will not change.

The new ticket prices for the Preseason, Premier and Marquee games are listed below, along with the total season ticket package price.

The annual season ticket renewal packets will be sent out in mid February with a payment deadline of March 31.

Variable Price per Game
Seating Level and Area Preseason Premier Marquee Total
Lower Level Midfield $95 $195 $245 $1,950
Lower Level Sideline $83 $169 $212 $1,690 *
Lower Level Corner/End Zone $71 $135 $167 $1,350
Mezzanine Level Corner $57 $117 $147 $1,170 *
Upper Level Midfield $49 $99 $124 $990 **
Upper Level Sideline $45 $89 $111 $890 *
Upper Level Corner $27 $65 $84 $650 *

* Price unchanged since 2008.

** Price unchanged since 2012.

Read More: Gillette Stadium, New England Patriots, nfl,

Media prognosticators split heading into Super Bowl

01.31.14 at 1:56 pm ET
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What happens when the best defense in the league faces off against the best offense? Even media prognosticators aren’t too sure.

ESPN‘€™s group of 13 analysts heavily favor the Broncos, with nine leaning toward Denver and just three favoring Seattle. Eric Allen, Merril Hoge, Ron Jaworski, KC Joyner, Chris Mortensen, Adam Schefter, Mark Schlereth, Tom Jackson, and Mike Ditka all believe that the Broncos will take the Super Bowl title. Meanwhile, Seth Wickersham, Keyshawn Johnson and Cris Carter project the Seahawks will take home the trophy. Mike Golic did not choose a team.

Who wins Sunday's Super Bowl?

  • Seahawks in a close game in regulation (63%, 275 Votes)
  • Broncos in a close game in regulation (20%, 86 Votes)
  • Seahawks in a rout (9%, 38 Votes)
  • Broncos in a rout (7%, 30 Votes)
  • Seahawks in overtime (1%, 5 Votes)
  • Broncos in overtime (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 434

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The prognosticators at SB Nation gave the advantage to Seattle. Ryan Van Bibbler, Joel Thorman, Jason Chilton and Matt Ufford went with the Seahawks, while Stephen White and David Fucillo say the Broncos will win it.

Meanwhile, the CBS Sports panel came out completely split. Pete Prisco, Will Brinson, Josh Katzowitz and Jamey Eisenberg think Denver will win, whereas Jason La Canfora, Ryan Wilson, John Breech and Dave Richard favor Seattle.

Sports Illustrated’s panel was also split as Don Banks, Chris Burke, and Jim Trotter predicted the Broncos and Austin Murphy, Tom Mantzouranis and Doug Farrar went with the Seahawks.

Following are more predictions from around the country.

Elliot Harrison, NFL.com, Broncos 27, Seahawks 23: “The weather won’€™t be bad enough to slow [Peyton Manning‘€™s] air game drastically. If Seattle is to have a chance, [Russell Wilson] and the ‘€˜Hawks will have to get it together in the air to make it close at the end. Ultimately, though, given how the Broncos€™ defense has played of late, I feel that Denver will win Super Bowl XLVIII.”

Don Banks, Sports Illustrated, Broncos 24, Seahawks 20: “Elite defense usually trumps elite offense in Super Bowl showdowns of this ilk, and sometimes in blowout fashion (think Tampa Bay over Oakland from 11 years ago). But not this time. I can’t shake the feeling that it’s Peyton Manning‘s year and the rest of us are just along for the ride. Even the much-discussed weather will wind up breaking right for the Denver passing game on Sunday in the Meadowlands.”

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Read More: Peyton Manning, Russell Wilson,

Steve Young on M&M: Postseason record would drive Peyton Manning ‘crazy’ if he loses Sunday

01.31.14 at 1:52 pm ET
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Hall of Fame quarterback and ESPN analyst Steve Young joined Mut & Merloni on Friday to discuss quarterback legacies. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.

Many in the media have argued whether or not Peyton Manning will solidify his spot as the best quarterback of all time if he wins the Super Bowl this weekend.

“You can say, ‘€˜Oh, it’€™s just perception and truly teams go to the Super Bowl,’ ” Young said. “It doesn’t matter. That’€™s what it is. … I think Peyton at this point recognizes he laid it all out here in the seasons he’€™s had, but I think that he’€™s getting sick of hearing about his postseason record. The Super Bowl championship would stop that part of it.

“That’€™s the part of life that never goes away, even 15 years after I played, there are things that happened that I still hear about because they happened and I can’€™t stop it. Peyton would not want to retire and always hear about his postseason record. It would drive him crazy.”

For Young, Tom Brady is a great quarterback because of the way he plays even without strong weapons on the field with him.

“Tom has done more with less than anyone who ever played,” Young said. “He is a master, and it’€™s remarkable. Literally during the season, there are games I can’€™t believe what he just did with what he had. You can say that’€™s a fault of the GM or injuries or bad luck. It doesn’t really matter, that’€™s just a fact. That’€™s part of the equation when you talk about greatness — what did you do with the guys you had?

“To me, this season was one of the more remarkable ones that I’ve seen Tom over the remarkable career he’€™s had, and it’€™s unfortunate because if you have those steady weapons, you look at what Peyton’€™s doing with his steady weapons and you have consistency and you’ve got not a lot of turnover in the era of free agency.

“It’€™s hard for me to watch the greatest generation not get the support they really need.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Peyton Manning, Russell Wilson, Tom Brady,

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