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Tom Brady voted most trusted in clutch in poll of NFL players

01.29.14 at 11:07 am ET
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Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was voted the quarterback players would want in the last two minutes of a Super Bowl if the game was on the line. As part of ESPN’€™s NFL Nation Confidential anonymous player survey, the question was asked to 320 players around the league. Brady received 128 votes, 40 percent of the vote. Peyton Manning came in second, receiving 86 votes.

Brady, who has been to five Super Bowls and eight AFC championship games, has put together 30 comeback drives when trailing in the fourth quarter and 41 game-winning drives from a deficit or tie in the fourth quarter. All three of Brady’€™s Super Bowl wins were done by leading the team from a fourth-quarter deficit.

“He’s been there before and done it,” receiver Danny Amendola said. “You just kind of follow him as he takes the lead.”

For Brady’€™s teammates, they aren’t surprised by his calmness in leading comebacks, having been first-hand witnesses.

“He is a very calm guy when the game is on the line,” receiver Kenbrell Thompkins said. “He just says, ‘We live for these moments. Let’s do it.’€™ ”

Michael Hoomanawanui added that his experience in those situations make him trustworthy.

“It just comes from his experience, 14 years, that control he has over pretty much anyone in the huddle. He just takes over,” Hoomanawanui said. “Obviously, the fact he’s done it time and time before helps out a lot, too. That’s pretty much the way he goes out and plays each and every snap.”

Read More: Danny Amendola, Kenbrell Thompkins, Michael Hoomanawanui, New England Patriots

Pete Carroll says limitations in New England ‘kept me from being the kind of coach I could be’

01.28.14 at 6:13 pm ET
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NEWARK — His time in New England was brief and not altogether unsuccessful.

Pete Carroll stepped in for Bill Parcells and took his first two teams to the playoffs in 1997 and ’98. But when 1999 ended in 8-8 mediocrity and no playoffs, owner Robert Kraft decided it was time for a change. He was 10-6 in 1997, 9-7 in 1998, a season that ended with Scott Zolak as the starting quarterback against Jacksonville in a 25-10 playoff loss. He was 27-21 in three regular seasons with a playoff win over the Dolphins in his first season.

On Tuesday, at Super Bowl media day, Carroll reflected on those days in Foxboro.

“I never lost sight of what the possible opportunities were,” Carroll said. “I never had a thought where something like this couldn’€™t happen. But after getting immersed in the college world, that was everything. That was my whole life, so I lost sight of it a little bit there. But when opportunities came up, I’€™d revisit the thought and then let it go, because they weren’€™t right until the situation happened with Seattle. As soon as Seattle, when we came together on this thought coaching there, this resurfaced. We know that we’€™re where we’€™re intended to be and we’€™re excited about being here.”

“A lot of things were going on that made it difficult for him to stay, some of which were out of his control,” Kraft said at the time, “and it began with following a legend.”

What did he learn from working with Robert and Jonathan Kraft?

“€œI think I learned a lot. I think I learned a lot of things,” Carroll said. “Robert and his family are a great family to play and coach for. But I also learned what it takes for a person like myself to operate at my highest level and I also realized some limitations that were going on that kept me from being the kind of coach I could be. It allowed me to refocus and formalize some plans that I was able to put in at USC and then at the Seahawks.”

Of course, Carroll bridges the two greatest coaches in Patriots history, with Bill Belichick succeeding him in 2000.

Carroll said goodbye to the NFL for 10 years after the 1999 season with the Patriots. He took over the USC program and left that program just before the bottom fell out in 2009 and the school was hit with sanctions by the NCAA for numerous operations infractions, most centering around Reggie Bush.

Now he’s back in New York, where his NFL head coaching career began in 1994 with the Jets, a run that lasted just one season after his 6-10 record.

“€œYou know, I think I do a pretty good job of not doing that,” Carroll said of looking back. “I don’€™t really care about trying to figure out where we are right now, just keep moving forward. Someday we’€™ll look back and that’€™s when you can kind of make an assessment of what’€™s happening.

“€œIt’€™s very special to be here. Look at this event that our players are having to take part of. The game, the matchup, the culmination of the season, all of this is just extraordinary. It goes deeper than that. It goes way back to when we were little kids. There’€™s a lot to it. All in all, we’€™re just going to enjoy the heck out of it and try and play a good football game.”

Read More: Bill Parcells, Jonathan Kraft, New England Patriots, Pete Carroll

Wes Welker admits to Randy Moss: ‘I don’t care what it takes, you’re going to be out there in this game’

01.28.14 at 4:57 pm ET
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NEWARK — Who said former athletes and teammates can’t ask hard-hitting questions?

Former superstar receiver Randy Moss, who works now for Fox Sports 1, chatted up former teammate Wes Welker at Tuesday’s Super Bowl media day here and asked him if he would play in the Super Bowl with a concussion.

“What do you think? I mean, you want to be out there,” Welker told Moss, both of whom played in the Super Bowl XLII loss to the Giants. “The Super Bowl, this is what you dream about. You’re going to be there, I don’t care what it takes, you’€™re going to be out there in this game.”

Welker has dealt with many concussions over the course of his career, including one this season with the Broncos that forced him to miss the last two games of the regular season. When he returned in the playoffs against the Chargers, he wore an oversized helmet with extra padding, a helmet that prompted many comparisons to a cartoon character.

But concussions are certainly no joke and Welker has served as the poster boy for those critical of the NFL’s attitude toward dealing with concussions.

Moss, who retired this season after playing in last year’s Super Bowl, also asked Welker what he thought of playing against Seattle’s “Legion of Boom” secondary, starring of course Richard Sherman.

“I expect to be effective just by doing what I do and going out there and playing hard. Playing tough and making plays over the middle, trying to move the sticks and put us in position to score some points,” Welker told Moss.

Read More: concussion, Denver Broncos, New England Patriots, nfl

Jack Del Rio: ‘Lot of pride’ in finally being able to knock off Tom Brady, Bill Belichick

01.28.14 at 2:27 pm ET
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Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio said Tuesday that he “took a lot of pride” in being able to execute a successful game plan against the Patriots that allowed Denver to come away with the AFC championship.

Prior to this year’s the AFC title clash, Del Rio had struggled against Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. The quarterback had won all seven matchups while completing more than 70 percent of his passes and throwing 17 touchdowns and no picks. But in Denver’s 26-16 win, Brady was limited in the first three quarters by the Broncos — he didn’t throw a touchdown pass until late in the fourth quarter, and the majority of his production came with the game out of hand. He ended 24-for-38 for 277 yards passing and a touchdown.

“It was good. We had a good plan — we went out and executed a good plan and got to advance, and that’s what it was all about,” Del Rio said. “Clearly, the combination of Tom and Bill [Belichick] has been a very productive combination and one that I hadn’t seen a lot of success against. I took a lot of pride in the fact that we were able to put together a good plan, go out there and execute, play well and advance.”

Read More: Bill Belichick, Jack Del Rio, Tom Brady,

Wes Welker on Aqib Talib hit: ‘We ran the same play’ in New England

01.28.14 at 1:50 pm ET
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NEWARK — Wes Welker knew the question was coming.

What happened on his hit on Aqib Talib?

It was the play that knocked out the best defensive back in the Patriots secondary and changed the course of the AFC championship.

“€œIt’€™s a rub play that everybody runs,’€ Welker said at Tuesday’s Super Bowl media day at Newark’s Prudential Center. “It’€™s one of those deals where you try to get a rub on that guy and really, if you can get him to go over the top of you, the more separation the other receiver will have. That’€™s what I tried to do to get Demaryius a little more open and unfortunately we collided.”

Demaryius would be Demaryius Thomas, the Broncos wide receiver who dropped the pass on the crossing pattern over the middle, making the whole thing moot except for the little detail that Talib didn’t play another down after the play in the first half.

Welker was asked by The Boston Globe’s Dan Shaughnessy if if there were anything unusual about the play.

“€œI don’€™t think so,”€ said Welker.

Shaughnessy persisted, asking if he learned the play in New England under Bill Belichick.

“€œWe ran the same play,”€ Welker replied.

Shaughnessy’€™s first question of the day was, “Why does Bill hate you?”

Welker dismissed that pretty much out of hand.

“I don’t know if he does,” Welker said. “That’s a question for him.”

Read More: Bill Belichick, Denver Broncos, New England Patriots, nfl

Free agent snapshot: Emmanuel Sanders

01.28.14 at 1:26 pm ET
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When free agency begins in early March, there are a handful of players across the league who could appeal to New England. Over the next two weeks –€” with the understanding that the status of these players could change because of the franchise or transition tag — we’€™ll look at 10 possibilities for the Patriots to consider. We have to stress that these guys aren’€™t necessarily considered the elite of the free agent class ‘€” instead, they are players we think would be a good fit in New England. We started our series with a look at Anquan Boldin. Today, it’€™s wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders:

EMMANUEL SANDERS
Position: Wide receiver
Age: 26 (will turn 27 on March 17)
Height: 5-foot-11
Weight: 180 pounds

The skinny: The Patriots were hot after Sanders last offseason, going after the wide receiver (who was a restricted free agent) by signing him to an offer sheet. The Steelers ended up matching the offer, but that likely doesn’€™t change the fact that New England is likely still intrigued by the SMU product, who has 161 catches for 2,030 yards and 11 touchdowns in four seasons with Pittsburgh and is now a free agent. (That included a career-high 67 receptions for 740 yards and six touchdowns last season.) There’€™s a plethora of reasons for the Patriots to be interested in someone like Sanders — he not only has terrific straight-line speed (he had a 4.4 40 as a collegian), but also has great agility, posting a 6.6 time in the 3-cone drill while at SMU. The Patriots covet quickness in their receivers (draft picks like Josh Boyce, Deion Branch, Chad Jackson and Julian Edelman all had stellar 3-cone times as collegians), and Sanders is as fast as they come. It’€™s also worth mentioning that Sanders has some positional versatility, having played in the slot and outside the numbers, and has special teams value — he averaged 26.8 yards on his 10 kick return chances in 2013. It’s certainly a skill set that would intrigue the Patriots.

By the numbers: For a fast receiver, his 11 yards per catch last year was a little odd. One of the reasons that number could have dipped in 2013 was the fact that Pittsburgh utilized more screens and short passes this past season than they have in previous years, but for a guy who is known as something of a burner, those numbers are curious. (For a closer look at Sanders’€™ work in 2013, check out this excellent breakdown on how he was used and what the Steelers’€™ perspective might be on whether or not they’€™d be interested in retaining his services.)

Why it would work: The Patriots were really interested in Sanders last year, so much so that they took the rare step of signing him to an offer sheet, a move that would have cost them a second-round pick in Pittsburgh didn’€™t match. We all know that Bill Belichick looks at draft picks like currency, and so the idea of him being willing to part with a top 50 selection in exchange for Sanders should tell you all you need to know about how he feels about him. With salary cap issues — and youngster Markus Wheaton waiting in the wings — the Steelers may be interested in moving on from Sanders.

Why it might not work: One thing that really jumped off the page for Sanders when you’€™re talking about his 2013 season was the fact that he was a little underwhelming. With the departure of Mike Wallace, he was thrown into the role of No. 2 receiver and consistent starter for the first time in his career. While he had career-best numbers, he wasn’€™t the transformative offensive presence that some people believed he could be. While he wouldn’€™t likely be asked to be the No. 1 option in the passing game if he signed with New England, there’€™s some question as to whether or not he lived up to his $2.5 million deal, and what sort of receiver he could be going forward.

Quote: “I’€™d say that he’€™s an explosive player and he’€™s fast. He had a kickoff return, I don’€™t know how far it was, about 107, 108 yards against Baltimore and you could really see his speed and explosiveness and big play ability on that play. They ended up calling him, saying he stepped out of bounds, but it was a heck of a play. Then he had the two-point play last week against the Raiders where again he got out in space and he juked a couple guys and showed his speed and acceleration to get to the goal line. I think that’€™s kind of what he’€™s been able to do. He’€™s dangerous on catch-and-run plays like tear screens, which they run a lot of, reverses and kick returns, things like that, however he can get the ball in his hands. He’€™s also a good route runner with quickness and obviously speed and big play ability. He’€™s been a productive guy for them.”€ — Belichick on Sanders, Oct. 29, 2013.

Our take: Of course, a conspiracy-minded individual might try and tell you that the reasons the Patriots signed Sanders to an offer sheet last year was because they wanted to screw with the Steelers and make a bad cap situation in Pittsburgh worse. From this viewpoint, that probably played into their thinking a little, but it wasn’€™t the overwhelming reason New England decided to chase Sanders. He’€™s an 3-cone receiver who also showed great straight-line speed, as well as an occasional ability to stretch the field. He’€™d also likely come at a reasonable price, as he’€™s not expected to be one of the elite free-agent receivers on the market this spring but could still be had for relatively reasonable money. You throw in some special teams value, and from a New England perspective, all these things would appear to make him a good fit in Foxboro. On the surface, Sanders clearly intrigued the Patriots front office last season, and unless something dramatic happened over the course of the 2013 season happened to change their minds, it’€™s reasonable to think that New England would at least kick the tires on him this time around. The occasional issues he had last year mean he shouldn’€™t expect a flood of interest, but it seems clear that Sanders and the Patriots would make an interesting pairing.

Read More: Emmanuel Sanders, free agent snapshot,

Tom Brady, Bill Belichick will hit links at Pebble Beach

01.28.14 at 11:18 am ET
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Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have been busy this offseason — Belichick at the Senior Bowl and Brady not going to the Pro Bowl — but they’ve saved room for some golf.

The two have committed to play in this year’s Pebble Beach Pro-Am, set to run from Feb. 3-9 in California, the tournament announced earlier this week. It’s become an early February tradition for the two of them, and they’ve been spotted on the famous course several times over the last few years.

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

Read More: Bill Belichick, Tom Brady,

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