|12.05.14 at 5:11 pm ET|
SAN DIEGO — The Patriots wrapped up their on-field preparations here at the University of San Diego on Friday before taking part in a walkthrough on Saturday.
Linebacker Chris White (ankle) was again the only Patriots player missing from shorts and shells practice while music blared from inside Torero Stadium. Friday is typically a day for red zone offensive and defensive work. White, a core special teams player, missed last Sunday’s game against the Packers after landing on the injury report in the middle of last week.
The only other significant note was the presence of long snapper Danny Aiken in a non-contact red jersey. Aiken missed Sunday’s game in Green Bay with a concussion suffered in the win over the Lions on Nov. 23. missed practice once again. If Aiken misses again, Rob Ninkovich will be the long snapper for the second straight game.
Chandler Jones (hip) and linebacker Dont’a Hightower (shoulder) were on the field but their status remains up in the air. Jones has missed the last five games while Hightower is getting extra treatment on his shoulder in an effort to be ready for Sunday night.
For the Chargers, tackle D.J. Flucker was added to the injury report after suffering a concussion in Wednesday’s practice. He didn’t practice Thursday but returned on Friday. Quarterback Philip Rivers was also added with a chest injury, but was a full participant in practice and is listed as probable for Sunday.
|12.05.14 at 12:04 pm ET|
The New England secondary was tested early and often during this past Sunday’s matchup against the Green Bay receiving corps. This week’s game will provide the Patriots with another challenge, as the Chargers have a formidable collection of wideouts.
“They never make it easy for us,” Arrington said. “It’s another great group we’re facing … they’ve got great receivers. Obviously, Antonio Gates at the tight end position. [Michael] Floyd, [Keenan] Allen, [Eddie] Royal, those are great at what they do as well. We have our work cut out for us.”
Directly after Sunday’s loss in Green Bay, the Patriots traveled to San Diego rather than heading back to Foxboro. The warm and sunny weather of California could provide the Patriots a bit of a distraction, but Arrington said the Patriots are a mature team that knows what’s at stake this week.
“We have a pretty professional group, so everybody knows at the end of the day that it’s a business trip,” Arrington said. “Guys are focused this week, practice has been, I think, going well. You know, we’re just getting prepared to play a football game.”
Philip Rivers has yet to win a Super Bowl, although he has put together some strong regular-season statistics. Over his last three games, the San Diego signal caller has thrown for a combined five touchdowns. Rivers’ consistency has been questioned, but Arrington, like others, has noted the quarterback’s toughness in the pocket.
Said Arrington: “He’s probably one of the more competitive guys you see on the field. Demonstratively speaking, he always expects a lot from himself, his teammates and you can just tell he has the fiery attitude. He just wants to win.”
The Chargers will be the fifth team in a row that Patriots will face that has a winning record. Good record or not, any team poses a threat to win, according to Arrington.
“I think this is a great stretch that we’re on,” Arrington said. “Definitely, any given Sunday, it doesn’t matter. You can throw all of the records out the window. Whoever plays the better ball that given day will ultimately probably is going to win that game. But we’re facing a lot of good teams on this stretch. Like you guys said, we’re a battle-tested team. We’re ready to compete week in and week out.”
|12.05.14 at 10:07 am ET|
NBC NFL analyst Rodney Harrison joined Dennis & Callahan on Monday to discuss the Patriots’ game this Sunday against the Chargers. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.
The Patriots are coming off a tough loss to the Packers and are looking to right the ship in San Diego. With the Broncos breathing down the Pats‘ necks for the No. 1 spot in the AFC, Harrison said this Sunday’s game is a must-win.
“I think they have to win,” Harrison said. “If you look at the Broncos‘ schedule, I think they’re going to win out, so it’s going to put a lot of pressure to pretty much have to win each and every week. But, trust me, you talk about all of that travel, this is a nationally televised game, the Chargers know their schedule, what they’re up against. Philip Rivers — he’ll be ready. He wants to show the world he’s just as good as Tom Brady, if not better. And trust me, the San Diego Chargers, they’re a very competitive team. They’re not just going to come out and say, ‘You’re the mighty Patriots.’ They watched the tape, they see some holes in the Patriots, they could probably take advantage of it.”
Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner have provided the Patriots with one of the best cornerback tandems in the entire league. Going against a pass-heavy offense in San Diego could potentially be a good matchup for the Patriots. Harrison, however, said Rivers’ receivers are better than people give them credit for.
“I disagree with you, they do have a lot of great weapons,” Harrison said of the San Diego offense. “I believe Keenan Allen is a top-10 receiver in this league. Eddie Royal‘s been a guy when he’s been there and healthy, he’s been very productive. And you look at Antonio Gates, one of the greatest tight ends to ever play the game, is still a very productive guy. You’ve got Malcolm Floyd, he’s a [6-foot-5] deep threat. So they have a lot of weapons. Ryan Matthews, he’s played halfway decent. He didn’t play a great game last week, they didn’t run the ball enough last week against the Baltimore Ravens. But they’re more than capable of putting up points. And like I said before, you’re going to see a team that’s very competitive, they’re not afraid of the Patriots.”
Continued Harrison: “You talk about the cornerbacks and being good, but it’s not about Darrelle Revis and Browner. It’s about the third and fourth cornerbacks: [Kyle] Arrington and Logan Ryan. And it’s also about Patrick Chung being able to match up against Antonio Gates.”
Rivers might have the receivers to compete against the Patriots, but he has lacked the consistency to sustain a long run of success. He closed out November with a 383-yard, three-touchdown performance against Baltimore, but he started the month with three interceptions in one game in Miami. Harrison couldn’t offer a clear answer for Rivers’ inconsistencies.
Said Harrison: “I don’t know. It’s the same thing as why some players are really great. Whether it’s ability, whether it’s study habits, whether it’s the talent around him, whether it’s coaching, whether it’s a comfort level, some players can just play like that. That’s what makes Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady and Peyton Manning three of the all-time greats — just the consistency in which they played and mental preparation and just having great coaching. Philip Rivers, he’s had a great career and we’ll see what happens. I can’t answer it definitively. I like Philip Rivers. For whatever reason, he’s put up big numbers, just hasn’t been able to win the big one.”
Rodgers gave the Patriots defense a tough test because of his mobility. Rivers plays a different style, mostly staying around in the pocket.
“You’ve got to get there,” Harrison said of the defense attacking Rivers. “It’s up to those guys in the middle. Obviously, you have those edge rushers. But [Bill] Belichick and Matt Patricia do a good job of running some tackle-end stunts to put some pressure right up the middle. Philip Rivers, the one thing I watch when I watch tape, he has a tendency to really stay in the pocket and hold on to the ball. And times he’s very careless with the ball. But he has a lot of confidence in his arm, he’s a big guy, he’ll stand in the pocket, he’s tough as nails and he doesn’t care if he gets hit, he’s going to try and deliver the ball down the field.”
|12.05.14 at 8:53 am ET|
Welcome to the Week 14 starts and sits! It’s win-or-go-home time in most fantasy football leagues, so lineup decisions potentially are crucial. If you are looking for a second opinion on players not listed in this article, head over to my site, Rotobahn, and check out our full lineup rankings for Week 14.
Don’t forget to tune in Sunday morning for another episode of the Fantasy Football Hour with my co-host Jim Hackett. If you have last-minute lineup concerns, you should check out my Sunday chat. It takes place right here at WEEI.com and it runs from 11 a.m. to noon.
If you want to keep track of all our fantasy football content, both here and at Rotobahn, follow me on Twitter. I send out links to all fresh articles and chats as well.
Matt Ryan, Falcons at Packers
The Falcons are going to trail in this game, and it should happen fast. They will go into this game knowing that they’ll have to score a lot of points to win. They will try to get Steven Jackson going to set up some play-action for Ryan to work off of, but in the end, the Falcons have to throw to have any chance at all. Ryan should post solid fantasy statistics based on volume of attempts, and he’s got big-game potential if he gets some pass protection.
Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers at Bengals
It’s hard to see Roethlisberger not making some plays in this game. He’s got a lot of places to throw the football, and his team will need the points based on the way the Steelers have played defense recently. He’s playable if you need him.
He’s a viable option in deeper leagues if you are in need. The Titans are an easy mark, and Manning has enough weapons to get the job done, most notably Odell Beckham. It might not always be pretty, but Manning should have decent numbers by the end of the day. Remember, the Giants need to develop their offense as much as they need to win. New York’s season ended weeks ago. The remaining games are about establishing things that can carry over to 2015. Expect plenty of pass attempts.
Joe Flacco, Ravens at Dolphins
His receivers are an issue, with Steve Smith slowing down and Torrey Smith nursing a sore knee. The Dolphins defense represents a tough road matchup, so this is a situation to avoid. I’ve got at least 16 quarterbacks ranked higher than Flacco this week.
|12.05.14 at 8:42 am ET|
In what might become an annual ritual, with the regular-season entering the final quarter for the Patriots Sunday in San Diego, here are our top 10 questions for New England, as well as some answers about what faces the Patriots down the road.
1. IS TOM BRADY CAPABLE OF JOINING AN VERY ELITE CLUB?
The 37-year-old Brady is bidding to become just the fifth quarterback 35 or older to win a Super Bowl, joining a group that includes Johnny Unitas (37 when he led the Colts to a win in Super Bowl V), Roger Staubach (35 when the Cowboys won Super Bowl XII), Jim Plunkett (36 when the Raiders won Super Bowl XVIII) and Elway (he was 37 and 38 when he led the Broncos to Super Bowl XXXII and XXXIII). He’s going to have to have a full compliment of offensive options around him, including a healthy Rob Gronkowski (more on him in a bit), as history tells us that veteran quarterbacks need someone special to lean on if they want to be the last man standing. In addition, the Patriots will continue to have to grind it out defensively, with no more ill-timed breakdowns like the ones that happened against the Packers last Sunday.
2. CAN ROB GRONKOWSKI’S HEALTH HOLD UP?
This is not only the most important question as it relates to the Patriots, but maybe the biggest question for the AFC. With Gronkowski — and if it can maintain home-field advantage — New England has to be considered the favorite in the AFC. The big tight end is not the overwhelming offensive presence he was during a remarkable five-game stretch earlier in the year when he had 36 catches for 516 yards and five touchdowns, but is still demonstrating every week that he is one of the most unguardable offensive options in the league at this point. If he can stay healthy — and his current 12-game consecutive games played streak is the longest he’s had since he played 46 straight at the start of his professional career — there’s no reason to think the Patriots won’t be able to play deep into January, and possibly beyond.
3. CAN THE OFFENSIVE LINE CONTINUE TO BE RELATIVELY STABLE?
Continuity and consistency have played a big role in helping the Patriots’ offensive line finding some stability over the last two months, and even though things were rough at times last week against the Packers, there’s been signs of improvement up and down the offensive front. Rookie center Bryan Stork’s emergence has played a big role in allowing things to shape up along the interior (more on him in a bit). At the same time, there’s little margin for error here, as depth questions at a variety of spots make the Patriots vulnerable if someone goes down between now and the playoffs. If they can stay healthy, there’s a good chance that the group will be able to maintain a solid front into the playoffs. (That includes rookie Cameron Fleming, who has done an excellent job as the sixth offensive lineman, providing some punch in the ground game. Fleming missed last week’s game against the Packers, and Marcus Cannon was nowhere near effective trying to fill his shoes in limited action.)
4. HOW MUCH OF AN IMPACT CAN CHANDLER JONES MAKE DOWN THE STRETCH?
The defensive end made his first appearance with the media on Thursday since he went down with a hip injury in Week 7, and while he’s still a question mark for Sunday’s game against the Chargers (he was listed as limited on Thursday’s report), history tells us that even his mere appearance in front of the media is a good sign as it relates to his chances of playing sooner rather than later. That’s good for New England, as a consistent performance out of Jones down there stretch and into the playoffs would certainly provide a major boost to the Patriots defensive front, which has occasionally struggled to get consistent pressure on quarterbacks without him in the lineup. He’s not the answer to all their problems, but if he’s healthy, he could play a big role for this team over the course of the rest of the season.
5. WHEN FACED WITH THE CHALLENGE OF DEFENDING A DEEP PASSING GAME, DO THE PATRIOTS HAVE ENOUGH DEPTH AT CORNERBACK?
Darrelle Revis remains a world-class presence at corner. His work, while teamed with veteran newcomer Brandon Browner, have allowed the Patriots to lock down some elite receivers over the course of the season. The questions arise when teams start leaning on their third and fourth receivers, like the Packers did last Sunday with Davante Adams (six catches for a career-high 121 yards in the win over New England). Granted, it’s one thing to say that teams have found a way to defeat the Patriots pass defense. It’s another thing to be able to execute that plan with the necessary personnel. Not every team features that sort of quality depth at the receiver position, depth that has the potential to put real stress on the Patriots cornerbacks. Green Bay and San Diego (only one of four teams that have four pass catchers with at least 500 receiving yards) are two teams who can do that to New England if given the opportunity. That means someone like slot corner Kyle Arrington (who is still banged up) or Alfonzo Dennard (who has slipped precipitously down the depth chart), or youngsters like Logan Ryan or Malcolm Butler will have to play a bigger role down the stretch.
|12.05.14 at 7:30 am ET|
“He’s a guy that I had a lot of respect for. It’s not just the way he plays the game, it’s how many different ways he can make you look silly out there, [of] which, there are plenty,” Light said of the 6-foot-1, 268-pound former All-Pro who moved from Indy to San Diego prior to the start of the 2013 season.
The 34-year-old Freeney, who has 110 sacks in the regular season over the course of his career, is no longer the elite-level pass rusher he was when he and Light knocked heads on a regular basis a few years ago, but he’s still a good situational presence. In his second season with San Diego, Freeney has a pair of sacks while working at right outside linebacker, and has been a steady and consistent presence for a team in need of a pass rushing spark.
“Freeney has been a pain in our butt for a long time,” said quarterback Tom Brady.
The Chargers don’t have one overwhelming pass rushing presence — they have 18 sacks as a team this year, 29th in the league — but instead, have a number of players who are capable of getting pressure on the quarterback through aggression and scheme.
“I think he’s one of the guys that has that aggressive style,” left tackle Nate Solder said of Freeney. “I think every year he’s played, he’s played hard and he’s really put a great effort out there. I think it’s going to be a challenge, certainly, to go against him, as well as all the guys that they put out there.”
And if you underestimate him, well, there’s still the chance he’ll make you look a little silly.
“He’s still a very good player,” said tight end Michael Hoomanawanui. “We’ve got to be ready for him and everything he brings to the table on Sunday. Any of those reports that say he’s lost it, we’re not believing it. We can see it on film already.
“Whatever he wants to do over his long career, he’s pretty much had the liberty to do it,” he added. “It comes in a bunch of different ways, but you’ve got to be ready for everything, speed, power, whatever it is. Whatever he brings — which could be a lot. His toolbox is big.”
|12.05.14 at 6:00 am ET|
As the calendar flips to December it means temperatures are cooling down to below freezing, but it also means Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is heating up.
Brady is a career 45-7 in the month of December, the best record for any NFL quarterback with a minimum of 20 December starts, per Elias. The 45 wins are the most of any month for the quarterback. December is when the games matter the most, so it’s no surprise Brady raises his game with him being one of the most clutch quarterbacks to ever play the game.
“I always say it’s really a game of emotion,” Brady told reporters in San Diego before Thursday’s practice. “You have to be at your best when the game is on the line. I think that our guys have always figured out a way to do that, especially at this time of year. December is when football season is, this is what it’s all about. Regardless of what you’ve done to this point, everybody’s season is decided at this point in the year. This is when you’ve got to be at your best. We got off to a really slow start last weekend, hopefully we can rebound this weekend and play much better.”
The 37-year-old also notes that it isn’t just about him during the month — it’s about the entire team. Over the last 10 seasons, the Patriots have a record of 36-4 in the month of December, the best mark in the entire NFL. Coming in right behind them is this week’s opponent, the Chargers, who come in at 32-9.
It doesn’t matter whether the Patriots at home or on the road, they simply win in the month of December. In road games since 2002, the team is 24-5 in the month of December.
“This is the strength of our team, it’s not my strength,” Brady said. “I think that really speaks to the work ethic, the discipline of our guys, the mental toughness. It’s not easy to get up every day, on a Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and grind through it like we do. I think that although it may not be really short-term, the positive feelings from some of those things in the end, that’s when it pays off the most.
“I think you just have to grind through it. It’s hard for everybody. It feels a little easier out here on days like this. But ultimately it comes down to your execution and how well you go out and play. Like I said, our team has always done a good job of that this time of year when it matters.”
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