|12.17.10 at 3:21 pm ET|
FOXBORO — A man most noted for his 1999 NCAA wrestling title over MMA and WWE superstar Brock Lesnar, Patriots right guard Stephen Neal is still debating his future in the NFL after having another surgery on his right shoulder two weeks ago.
In the last three years, Neal has had chronic problems with the shoulder, to the point where last year he openly wondered if he would return to the game he loved so much. But his rehab last winter went so well that he signed a two-year extension with the Patriots on March 5.
This year, he started eight games, the last coming in Cleveland on Nov. 7. But the shoulder problems again cropped up and he was placed on season-ending injured reserve on Dec. 2. He had surgery soon thereafter.
“It was bothering me for a little bit and it never came back around like I’d like it to,” Neal said on Friday in front of his locker. “I don’t think I’d be able to help the team that much until I got it cleaned up.
“I think I’ve had so many issues on my one shoulder. It just wasn’t working too good.”
Is he again wondering about his future in the NFL at 34?
“Definitely do that later,” Neal said. “You want to go through rehab and expect to come and keep doing stuff because if you go through rehab without hopes of returning, you’re not going to do a good job rehabbing. Just evaluate things later.”
“It’s great,” Neal said. “Logan’s come back and Connolly’s done a great job on the left and the right. [Ryan] Wendell has popped in there, done a great job. It’s good to see just everyone, offense, defense, clicking right now.
“Pretty much all I’m focusing on is rehabbing, rehabbing and not being a distraction to these guys. Let them do their thing, I’ll come and do my rehab and get in and out of here. It’s frustrating but it’s part of the sport. You sign up for the good things but the bad things happen, too. You can’t get too upset about it.”
Neal’s unique story is a familiar one to Patriots fans. A native of San Diego, he did not play football in college. Instead he was one of the top wrestlers in the nation at Cal State-Bakersfield, where he posted a 151-10 record.
He placed fourth in NCAA Division I as a freshman and second as a sophomore before winning titles his junior and senior year. His final title in 1999 came via a win over Lesnar, the future NCAA wrestling champion, WWE Champion and UFC heavyweight champion.
In 1999, Neal won the Dan Hodge Award – known as the Heisman Trophy of wrestling – following a year in which he won the U.S. Freestyle Championship, the Pan-American Games title and the World Championship. at 286 pounds.
In 1999 he also won the FILA outstanding wrestler award, an honor given to the best wrestler in the world. His 1999 season led up to the 2000 Summer Olympics trials where Kerry McCoy edged him for the trip to Sydney. After the trials, Neal retired from amateur wrestling.
Now, Neal is trying to determine whether he has a similar fate awaiting him in the off-season.
|12.17.10 at 2:00 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Leave it to Bill Belichick to take a simple question about how his team has been practicing ever since being embarrassed in Cleveland and break it down into pure science.
That’s exactly what he did on Friday when he spoke about not only practice but the detail of walk-throughs, film study and meetings.
This has been a focus of the Patriots ever since many of them said they felt they didn’t have a good week leading up to being manhandled by the Browns on the shores of Lake Erie on Nov. 7. Not only have they won every game since, they have taken on the look of a team that is primed, ready and focused on getting back to the Super Bowl for the first time since 2007.
“We’ve had 90 ‘ whatever it is ‘ 96 practices this year, so we’ve had a lot of practices,” Belichick said. “There have been a lot of good ones and there have been a lot of good plays. Then at every practice, there are things that aren’t the way we would want them to be as coaches or players – not the way they want them to be either. I think there’s always part of that, the corrections and making adjustments and taking plays in practice and getting them fixed on film and then getting them right either the next day or in games situations. I think, really, the attention to detail really comes more from meetings and walk-throughs and film study and all the preparational things that lead up to it.”
It was the late, great Philadelphia 76ers beat writer Phil Jasner who – in May 2002 – had one of the great exchanges in the history of press conferences when he asked Allen Iverson about his absence at a team practice.
Since the abysmal 34-14 mistake by the lake in early November, the Patriots have outscored their competition 196-88, for a winning margin of just over 21 points per game. That means they’ve been – on average – three touchdowns better than Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Detroit, the Jets and the Bears.
And whether it’s the defense coming up with 12 turnovers and the offense committing none or Tom Brady scoring at a 2007 pace, nearly every player this week in the Patriots locker room has pointed to one thing – practice.
“And practice is really the execution, similar to a game ‘ it’s not a game, but it’s the closest we can get to a game ‘ and that’s really where you go out and execute it and certainly the details and little things and fundamentals are important there, but so are the big things,” Belichick continued. “So, it’s kind of putting it all together and it’s not the final copy, it’s a dress rehearsal. The final show comes on game day. So, as long as you can correct those mistakes and get things to the point that you want them on Sunday, then that’s what practice is for.”
But then, as Belichick likes to do, he took it a step or two further.
“I think it’s the whole process,” he added. “I don’t think it’s just practice. I think it’s meetings, walkthroughs, film study, all that. I think as the season goes on, each game becomes more important because you have one fewer, so the outcome of the season is divided by, decided by six games to five, five games to four, four games to three and as you march along, each game takes on more importance because there are so few of them left. So, I think that’s what we try to emphasize to the team and I think they’re trying to do that. I think they understand it. We’ve only got three games left and each and every one of these games is going to be huge. This one’s more important than the last one and that’s the way it goes.”
Somewhere in Turkey, Allen Iverson cringes.
|12.17.10 at 1:10 pm ET|
Sports Illustrated and NBC Sports NFL expert Peter King made his weekly appearance on the Dale & Holley show Friday and talked about the Patriots’ resurgence and the team’s success in bad weather. To hear the interview, go to the Dale & Holley audio on demand page.
“The Patriots just play, and they play football, despite whatever weather they’re in,” King said, adding: “They don’t hunker down and say, ‘OK, let’s get 10 points on the board and try to stop them.’ They keep attacking.
“They’re so far and away the best team in football right now, it isn’t even close. They’ve repelled every challenge from every good team, beaten two nine-win teams in a row, 81-10. They’re a phenomenal football team right now.”
Talking about comparisons between this team and the 2007 juggernaut that went undefeated in the regular season, King noted that the 2007 team started to dip toward the end of the season, while this team appears to be peaking in December. “I think they’re probably playing a little better late in the year than they were in 2007,” he said.
A number of NFL issues were discussed, including the sideline controversy in New York. Said King: “I think the NFL is probably not going to find anything. ‘¦ The league doesn’t employ CIA agents. If they can’t find anything on the surface, usually the investigation dies. I think this investigation will die. I think Sal Alosi will be the lone perpetrator, exactly the same way Steve Scarnecchia was deemed the lone perpetrator in Denver.”
Asked if he believed Scarnecchia indeed acted alone in Denver, King said yes. “I believe Steve Scarnecchia was the lone perpetrator in Denver, yes,” he said.”I do not believe Josh McDaniels ordered the ‘code red.’ I don’t think so. And I’ll tell you why, in my opinion. Because Josh McDaniels knew that if he ever did something like that, there was a good chance his NFL career would be over. ‘¦ I do not believe that Josh McDaniels influenced in any way Steve Scarnecchia to tape that practice.”
|12.17.10 at 12:08 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Rookie tight end Aaron Hernandez was one of four players not spotted at the start of Patriots practice on Friday as the team worked out in sweats and shells on the main stadium field.
Hernandez was not listed on the injury report on Wednesday or Thursday. Wright and Brace are both dealing with concussions while Pryor is still slowed by a back injury. Warren was out with a knee injury before being cleared to return on Friday.
|12.17.10 at 11:48 am ET|
Running back Fred Taylor made his weekly appearance on the Dale & Holley show Friday morning and said he’s trying to be as patient as possible while he waits for his chance to see more action in the Patriots backfield. To hear the interview, go to the Dale & Holley audio on demand page.
“It’s not the best situation that I’ve been in throughout my career,” he said. “I’m used to playing. I’m used to playing, and I’m used to playing a lot. Right now at this point, that’s not what’s happening for me for now. But there is a process, and I understand that. Like I tell [son Kelvin]: ‘Be patient and continue to chip away.’
“For me, it’s all in God’s plan. There’ll be a green light one day. And I’ll be ready. That’s my thing. Preparation is key for me. I’m ready to go. And as soon as the coaches decide to green-light me and let me go, I’ll be more than ready. But right now it’s a process and we’re going to keep chipping away.”
Kelvin Taylor, a highly-touted high school sophomore, rushed a state-record 44 times for 248 yards and five touchdowns and helped Belle Glade Glades Day rally from a 21-point first-quarter deficit to Warner Christian and win the Class 1B state championship game, 42-35, last Friday in Orlando.
“Man, they fought,” Fred said of his son’s team. “They showed a lot of resiliency. They stood in there, down 21-0, and it worked out for them.”
Kelvin was ejected from the game following his second unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after the winning touchdown, when he was penalized for excessive celebration.
“The high-stepping and then the vintage Adrian Peterson is what he likes to call it,” Fred explained. “I’m like, ‘You’re going to do your dad’s celebration, but ‘¦’ He’s like, ‘Dad, when’s the last time you scored a touchdown? He snuck one on on me. I told him he’d better watch out.”
|12.17.10 at 11:42 am ET|
Linebacker Jerod Mayo checked in with the Dale & Holley show Friday morning and talked about why the Patriots seem to be so far ahead of other teams when it comes to playing in inclement weather. To hear the interview, go to the Dale & Holley audio on demand page.
“I think we play well in the snow and bad weather in general,” Mayo said. “Coach puts a lot of stress on it in practice, as far as the weather is concerned. He tells us in the morning: ‘Whatever the weather is, dress for it and we’ll deal with the elements.’ Sometimes you’ll see him pouring water on the ball to make it a wet ball for rainy games and things like that. He stresses it so much in practice and in the meeting rooms, I think when it actually does happen and the weather comes up, I think we’re well-prepared for it.”
The Patriots defense has had a dramatic reversal of late, going from one of the league’s worst defenses (at least statistically) to one that has allowed just 10 points in the last two games.
“I just think it’s the overall maturity of the guys,” Mayo said. “People already know I’m one of the old guys, and I’m only in my third year. I’m still really a young guy. But at the same time, some of these young guys like Devin McCourty, [Brandon] Spikes, Jermaine Cunningham, all those guys who have really taken on the roles that the coaches have put on them, they’re putting that extra time in the film room and things like that. I think the overall maturity of the defense is they key factor for us getting better.”
|12.17.10 at 9:48 am ET|
ESPN NFL insider Adam Schefter made his weekly appearance on the Dennis & Callahan show Friday morning and talked about the Patriots’ incredible success of late. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.
“You can’t watch them and not be impressed,” he said, noting: “They’ve scored in their last five games 196 points, which is 32 more than the Panthers have scored in 13 games this season.”
However, Schefter cautioned not to get carried away. “The team looks incredible, but the one thing that I would say ‘¦ is that these things go in cycles,” he said. “And just because in Weeks 12 and 13 you look dominant does not ensure postseason success. I was talking to a head coach yesterday and we were talking about the Patriots and their dominance. And he goes, ‘They’re not as good as people are making them out to be.’ I go, ‘No?’ And he goes, ‘Every team has flaws, and they show up at different times.’ The Patriots’ flaws have not shown up the last few weeks. They have not turned over the football in five weeks, which is an NFL record. At some point, the secondary is going to get beat, Brady’s going to get intercepted, there’s going to be a fumble from a running back. These things have not happened to them lately, and they will happen.”
Added Schefter: “All I’m saying is, because they’ve been so dominant the last two weeks, they’re not that good. Not that good. Not dominant.”
Schefter predicted the Bears would knock off the Patriots last Sunday in Chicago. After the Patriots rolled to a 36-7 victory, Schefter said he’s learned his lesson. “I may not pick against the Patriots from here through the Super Bowl,” he said. “So, there’s going to be one week ‘ maybe, maybe ‘ when I’m wrong. Otherwise, I’ll be right every single week with this team.”
Logan Mankins has been a boost to the Patriots offensive line since returning from his holdout midseason. Looking at what might happen in the offseason, Schefter said: “My guess is Mankins is back in New England. I think that the two sides sit down and get something worked out, because they love him as a player. And I think that these hard feelings fade over time. They’re not forgotten, but they fade a little bit to the point where you can justify the deal if someone’s going to pay you, ‘OK, I feel a lot better about things.’ ”
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