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Pats practice Thursday: Tom Brady and Devin McCourty return

12.16.10 at 1:30 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Tom Brady and Devin McCourty returned to Patriots practice Thursday as the team practiced outside in slightly warmer conditions in preparation for Sunday night’s game against Green Bay.

Brady received another off day on Wednesday, as has been the case in practice the last several weeks while McCourty returned one day after missing practice with a rib injury, sustained in the win in Chicago on Sunday.

Four players – all along the defensive line – were still missing as Ron Brace, Mike Wright, Myron Pryor and Gerard Warren were not spotted during the open portion of practice. The team practiced in sweats and shells for the second straight day.

Wright is still dealing with the effects of a concussion while Pryor has a nagging back injury

Read More: Devin McCourty, Gerard Warren, Mike Wright, Myron Pryor

Vince Wilfork is hardly concerned about the Pro Bowl

12.16.10 at 12:46 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork said Thursday he isn’t worried about his current third-place standing in AFC Pro Bowl balloting among defensive tackles. Voting ends Monday night following the Bears-Vikings game.

The race among AFC tackles is a fierce one simply because of the level of competition as Wilfork is competing against the like of Baltimore’s Haloti Ngata and Pittsburgh’s Casey Hampton. The Pro Bowl voting process is split one third between fans, players and coaches.

“That’s something I’m not even worried about right now,” Wilfork said. “I’m all about Green Bay this week. Whatever happens with that, happens. We’ve got a bigger task at hand this week than worrying about the Pro Bowl. I’ll leave it where it’s at.”

One Patriots player who has overtaken the competition in the AFC is quarterback Tom Brady, who at last count had 947,194 fan votes while Peyton Manning fell to second with 806,025.

One of Wilfork’s biggest concerns and that of the defense is preparing for the possibility of facing one of two quarterbacks – either Aaron Rodgers or Matt Flynn – this Sunday night at Gillette Stadium.

“It’s tough, very tough,” Wilfork said of preparing for two quarterbacks. “But they run the offense very well. It’s a pretty good team. They’ve lost some close games and won some big games so we’re going to have our hands full dealing with these two guys, dealing with the offense in general. They have no excuses. They come to work every week.”

The Pro Bowl heads back to Hawaii this year and takes place on Jan. 30, one week before Super Bowl XLV in Arlington, TX.

Read More: Casey Hampton, Haloti Ngata, Hawaii, nfl

‘Sunday Night Football’ crew weighs in on Patriots-Packers

12.16.10 at 9:27 am ET
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In advance of this weekend’€™s Patriots-Packers game on NBC’€™s ‘€œSunday Night Football,’€ a handful of people who will work the game for NBC ‘€” including former Patriots safety Rodney Harrison, former Indianapolis coach Tony Dungy, play-by-play man Al Michaels and analyst Cris Collinsworth ‘€” talked a little about the matchup between New England and Green Bay.

MICHAELS ON PATRIOTS: ‘€œRight now, there is nobody that doesn’€™t think the New England Patriots are the best.’€

COLLINSWORTH ON PATRIOTS: ‘€œThey are a clear-cut Super Bowl favorite.’€

HARRISON ON PATRIOTS OFFENSE: ‘€œ Offensively they are playing at the top of their game right now.  Tom Brady is clearly the MVP and the Patriots are the best team in the league.’€

HARRISON ON PACKERS PLAYING ZONE DEFENSE: ‘€œWith Green Bay playing a zone defense, this sets up perfectly for Brady.  He loves to exploit the zone.  He finds himself a lot of holes and he throws to a lot of different receivers.  He will pick that zone apart.’€

HARRISON ON PACKERS: ‘€œGreen Bay was off just a little bit (against Detroit) and late in the season this is when you start seeing teams lose focus.  If you are Green Bay, you must win the division to get into the playoffs in the NFC.’€

DUNGY ON THE PATRIOTS DEFENSE: ‘€œTom is playing great, but a lot of people are overlooking their defense.  They’€™ve shut people down the last three or four weeks.  They blanketed the Jets and shut Chicago down.  This defense is playing better than people give them credit for.’€

HARRISON ON PATRIOTS DEFENSE: ‘€œThe strength of this defense used to be the defensive front, but you have to now look at the linebacker position and the secondary.  They’€™re creating turnovers and they’€™re scoring touchdowns.  That is why Bill Belichick brought these young guys in.’€

Read More: Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Rodney Harrison, Tony Dungy

Tom Brady and Bill Belichick continue to rewrite the record books

12.15.10 at 11:59 pm ET
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FOXBORO ‘€”Now in their 10th season together as starting quarterback and coach, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have been together longer than any other active QB/coach combination in the National Football League, and so it’€™s no surprise to see them start to push the record books when it comes to wins and losses as a duo.

On Sunday, Brady and Belichick moved out of a tie with Terry Bradshaw and Chuck Noll (107) into sole possession of second place for most wins as a quarterback-coach combo with 108. Brady and Belichick could theoretically break the record sometime in the first half of the 2011 season ‘€” only Dan Marino/Don Shula ever won more games together (116).

While they’€™re in second place on the wins list, they are first when it comes to the best winning percentage among head coach-starting quarterbacks since the 1970 merger at .771, and have been for some time. They recently passed Ken Stabler and John Madden, who posted a 60-19-1 mark (.756) when they were together in Oakland. Third on the list are Jim McMahon and Mike Ditka, who were 46-15 (.754) together with the Bears, while Peyton Manning and Tony Dungy ‘€” the only contemporaries of Brady and Belichick ‘€” are fourth with a 73-24 (.753) mark.

Read More: Bill Belichick, Chuck Noll, Dan Marino, Don Shula

An unfortunate situation has led to some unwarranted opinions

12.15.10 at 11:39 pm ET
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Editor’€™s note: guest columnist Matt Chatham is a former Patriots linebacker. The University of South Dakota product played in New England from 2000-05 before concluding his career with two seasons as a member of the Jets. Chatham now is working toward his MBA at Babson College.

So I’€™m guessing you’€™ve heard the one about the morally corrupt, meathead, New York Jets strength coach/cheater that built a fleshy wall-of-criminals and tripped the poor, defenseless Miami Dolphins gunner as he simply tried to do his job in the Jets-Dolphins game the other day? If this all sounds accurate, and you’€™re nodding along as you read, the concepts of ‘€œcontext’€ and ‘€œperspective’€ are in a pile on the other side of your wood-chipper.

The Dolphins’ Nolan Carroll was flagged earlier in the game for unsportsmanlike conduct for running out of bounds and not returning to the field in a timely fashion. So then he does it again, and the real story is a coach’€™s knee that moves a couple inches while in the area he’€™s legally required to be, contacting Carroll who … wait for it … isn’€™t?!

The point is Sal Alosi is having his job, livelihood, and good name threatened because, at its core, there is a palpable fear of public relations outrage from a mass audience that isn’€™t seeing what they’€™re seeing.

Carroll heads out of bounds on the 20 yard-line with a wide outside release to escape the double-team, grabs a Nathan’€™s with kraut from a vendor, high-fives Jenn Sterger’€™s replacement, and re-enters when he-damn-well-pleases before falling onto the 45 yard-line. In the absence of Sal’€™s lapse, his angle would likely have carried him up near midfield, 25-30 yards from where he started his tour of the countryside. And the only thing on the subject of ‘€œfairness’€ we’€™re discussing is a knee that traveled the length of the written word ‘€œMeadowlands?’€  Really?

One guy makes a poor decision while acting on an immediately regrettable impulse. The other is cheating in the game. Not Barry Bonds-type stuff, but enough to the extent that if you’€™re going to have a national discussion from the mount on ‘€œfairness,’€ you can’€™t start by barely noticing what’€™s actually going on. It might help if the analysts involved had picked up on the whole story. But instead they immediately and recklessly hopped into the ‘€œWho’€™s the Villain’€ game, which is never the right answer, like a bunch of intoxicated donkeys mashing SAT answer bubbles with their hoof-knuckles.

As a matter of full-disclosure I, like Sal, am a bald, slightly-crazy-looking white dude. But that’€™s just what God decided to go with. Because of this, one of the most offensive portrayals for me in this whole process has been the constant, sensationalized slow-zoom head shots of Sal that accompany each regurgitation of the story as if he just sexually assaulted a school bus. That is what’€™s truly ridiculous here.

Of course what Sal did was wrong, but just wrong, not egregious, or felonious, or heinous, or any of the other Roget ping-pong balls bouncing around out there on newscasts and the web. I think alarm bells should go off in every sound-minded American head when the ‘€œMorning Cup of Joe, with D-Bag and Donna!’€ involves their insight on the latest Christmas fashions, Jewel’€™s new album, and proper decorum for NFL gunner play.  In the land of bad-bedfellows, this is a hemophiliac in a sleeping bag full of badgers.

Carroll’€™s detour may not be apparent to all sensibilities, but to the people who play the game and whose own livelihoods depend on Carroll not killing the returner, watching him cruise down the ‘€œno-touch’€ highway time after time makes all the consternation over the ‘€œfairness’€ of a human wall (that’€™s well off the field and not illegal) seem more than a little off. For me, Carroll is like a guy on a crotch-rocket weaving through a traffic jam, or a purse-snatcher bolting down a crowded street. Somebody simply opened a car door to shed some light on an area that sorely needs more rules focus. Although the method was ill-advised, in a league that wants to see more big plays, bringing attention to the real issue here isn’€™t exactly a bad thing.   And Carroll will learn from it as well, move on, and be better for it.

The faux outrage over this silly incident is, to me, a microcosm of the hyper-sensitized pussification that’€™s going on in our society. Carroll actually handled the situation phenomenally well with his tone in post game interviews, and for that he deserves a ton of credit. He got tripped while roaming off the playing field while a game was going on he was supposed to be taking part in. I’€™m sure he, like Sal, just wishes this would all go away.

Steve Tasker, one of the NFL’€™s greatest all-time special-teamers recently explained to, “If [the Jets] are coached to do that, so what? Call a penalty on them. If a gunner is going to use the sideline as a weapon, like I did, why wouldn’t you want to form a road block? There’s nothing wrong with that as long as it’s within the rules.”

This story has reached the redonkulous stage, but what’€™s most disturbing, and simultaneously revealing, is how nearly every opinion across the sports landscape seems to miss the most blatantly obvious factual aspect of this drama: Carroll was trying to make a play, but he was the one breaking a league rule. Until they invent a new rule, nobody else was.

I know Sal to be a very principled, stand-up dude who deserves a little — but definitely not all — of the B.S. that has come his way from this mistake. If there needs to be a new rule or some clarity from above, so be it. Teams will adjust as they always do. This is the time of year where the really good and important stuff is going on within the playing field. Patriot Nation has no reason not to have bigger and better things on its mind.

Westhoff: Patriots also form special teams wall

12.15.10 at 4:17 pm ET
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The same day that the Jets suspended strength and conditioning coach Sal Alosi indefinitely after the team got ‘€œnew information’€ that Alosi ‘€œinstructed’€ five players to stand in a wall before he tripped a Dolphins player on Sunday, New York special teams coach Mike Westhoff hinted the Patriots engage in many of the same tactics.

Appearing on the Waddle & Silvy Show on ESPN 1000 in Chicago, Westhoff said ‘€œa number of teams do it,’€ including ‘€œa pretty good team up north.’€

Asked by one of the hosts if he was talking about the Patriots, Westhoff added, ‘€œWell, if you watch them, their defense when the opponents’€™ punt team is out there …  they’€™re up there pretty close to the line so it looks like they are trying to do it. Now are they doing anything illegal? Are they tripping anybody, heck no. I’€™m not saying that. That’€™s not the point. But, yeah, they’€™re lined up there. Is it making a difference? I don’€™t know. I really don’€™t know, because to tell you the truth before this happened I never really looked at anybody’€™s sideline in all my years.’€

Read More: Jets, Mike Westhoff, Patriots,

Brady, McCourty don’t practice for Patriots

12.15.10 at 4:12 pm ET
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FOXBORO ‘€” Quarterback Tom Brady, cornerback Devin McCourty and defensive linemen Myron Pryor, Gerard Warren, Mike Wright and Ron Brace all did not practice for the Patriots on a chilly Wednesday. Here’s the complete injury report as issued by the team:

Did Not Practice
QB Tom Brady (right shoulder/foot)
DL Myron Pryor (back)
DL Mike Wright (concussion)
DL Ron Brace (head)
CB Devin McCourty (rib)
DL Gerard Warren (knee)

Limited Participation
WR Deion Branch (knee)

Full Participation
CB Kyle Arrington (elbow)

Read More: injury report, Patriots,
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