|01.12.14 at 1:14 am ET|
FOXBORO — With the Patriots holding a 21-10 lead with 2:18 remaining in the first half the Patriots were set to punt at midfield when long-snapper Danny Aiken‘s snap went over the head of punter Ryan Allen and all hell broke loose.
The ball sailed all the way back inside the Patriots five-yard line and when the rookie punter scooped up the loose ball he tried to make a play by lateraling the ball, but it went out of the end zone resulting in a safety and Allen taking a bone-crunching hit by a few Colts special teamers.
Allen punted the ensuing free kick, but then held onto his shoulder walking off the field. After some medical attention on the sideline he retreated to the locker room and did not return with what the team called a shoulder injury. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski took over as punter and Tom Brady as the place-holder.
“Ryan was getting checked out after the safety punt and he went in to see the doctors and they said you’re up,” Gostkowski said. “I didn’t really panic and when everyone else around you can stay calm it makes it easier for you to stay calm.”
Even though it was Gostkowski’s first time punting in a game at any level over the course of his career, even back to high school, you wouldn’t have known it as of his five punts two went inside the 20-yard line and he averaged 41.8 yards per kick, including a long of 53.
“I can never prepare for something like that, it’s just something that happened,” Gostkowski said. “It’s unfortunate that Ryan couldn’t return. My thoughts and prayers go out to him and hopefully he’s OK. He’s done such a great job this year and just an unfortunate set of circumstances that I was lucky enough to do a good job and help the team win. It’s hard to have too much fun when my compadre was sidelined with an injury, but it’s about as fun as I can have with not kicking field goals.”
Losing their punter and holder in the middle of a playoff game could have been deadly for the Patriots, but their ability to remain calm in a situation like that was one of their keys to victory Saturday night.
“It’s a lot different,” Gostkowski said of punting instead of place-kicking. “I was really worried about just catching it and getting it off. That was the first time I’ve ever punted in a game in my life so it was a challenge and luckily I didn’t let it get me nervous. I felt comfortable out there, I don’t know how. I think getting off a good first punt helped too and I just didn’t try to do too much.”
Allen had a very impressive rookie season averaging 44.5 yards per punt and pinning opponents inside the 20-yard line 28 times.
If Allen is unable to play in next week’s AFC Championship the Patriots will need to sign a punter.
|01.11.14 at 11:29 pm ET|
FOXBORO — The most sneaky underrated trade in recent Patriots history continues to pay dividends for the Patriots, as New England rode LeGarrette Blount and his 166 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns to a 43-22 win over the Colts Saturday night in divisional playoff action at Gillette Stadium.
Blount — who was traded to the Patriots in exchange for football part-timer Jeff Demps and a seventh-round pick this past spring — served as a wrecking ball against the Colts Saturday night, setting a new franchise record with four rushing touchdowns in a playoff game.
The Patriots jumped out to a 14-0 lead and even though Andrew Luck provided a few nervous moments for the soggy Gillette Stadium crowd, New England was in control for most of the night. Blount (who now has 431 rushing yards in his last three games) and Stevan Ridley (14 carries for 52 yards and two touchdowns) led the way for the Patriots, as the ground game paced the Patriots attack.
Tom Brady ended up without a touchdown pass — the first time he has quarterbacked a New England team that broke 40 points and didn’t have a touchdown pass since a 44-13 win over the Colts on Sept. 30, 2001. The Patriots quarterback went 13-for-25 for 198 yards. Meanwhile, Andrew Luck was 20-for-41 with 331 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions.
The Patriots now advance to the AFC title game, set for next Sunday against the winner of Sunday’s Chargers-Broncos contest.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
– Once again, Blount was up to the challenge. The Patriots leaned heavily on their running game throughout the night, and Blount responded, particularly in the red zone. He rushed for a pair of first-quarter touchdowns — both from two yards out — to help New England push out to a 14-0 lead. He added a second-quarter and a fourth-quarter touchdown, breaking the franchise record for most rushing touchdowns in a playoff game (Curtis Marin had three against Pittsburgh in 1997.) In addition, Ridley tacked on two rushing touchdowns of his own. In all, it was a sturdy night for the running game, and a big reason the Patriots went 5-for-6 in the red zone.
– New England got a very good performance out of its linebackers. Rookie Jamie Collins was very competitive — particularly in coverage, most of the time against tight end Coby Fleener. He had a nice tackle for a loss midway through the third quarter on Trent Richardson, as well as a sack of Luck later on that same series. He saved his best highlight for the fourth quarter, when he picked off Luck and took it all the way back to the Indy 18. Meanwhile, Dont’a Hightower was aggressive, and did a nice job coming away with a Luck interception. In the wake of the news that Brandon Spikes may have played his last game with the Patriots, it was a positive sign for the Patriots.
WHAT WENT WRONG
– The Patriots lost any sort of offensive rhythm they had built up over the better part of the first and into the second quarter by the midway point of the game. They had three consecutive series between the end of the second quarter and into the third quarter where they were unable to generate any sort of traction on the offensive side of the ball, with one of the three series ending when punter Ryan Allen was crunched trying to recover a bad snap that got away from him. The Patriots had one nice series at the end of the third quarter — one that ended with a three-yard plunge from Ridley for a touchdown — but the offensive draught continued late in the third and into the fourth, and allowed the Colts to hang around into the final quarter.
– Allen was really blasted on a second-quarter punt attempt that left him sidelined for the rest of the night and caused the Patriots to go to Stephen Gostkowski to punt the rest of the evening. A bad snap from Danny Aiken — his worst of the year — caused Allen to go scrambling back to the goal line to try and recover the ball. He was cracked and lost the handle, as the play went for a safety. He went to the locker room and did not return. Gostkowski did well down the stretch while punting, but all in all, it was a rough night for the Patriots special teamers, who also took some bad penalties early on.
|01.11.14 at 6:58 pm ET|
FOXBORO — The following players were listed as inactive for the Patriots for Saturday’s game against the Colts: offensive lineman Chris Barker, wide receiver Aaron Dobson, tight end DJ Williams, defensive end Jake Bequette, defensive lineman Isaac Sopoaga, defensive back Justin Green and linebacker Steve Beauharnais. Here’s who will be most affected by the inactives:
On offense, Barker is a rookie lineman out of Nevada who has played in four games this season, but with the recent improvement in the health along the offensive line, he’s been left out as a healthy scratch. The same is likely the case for Williams, as tight ends Matthew Mulligan and Michael Hoomanawanui are as healthy as possible for Saturday’s contest. Dobson was downgraded to out on Friday, and in his place, expect a heavier workload for rookie Kenbrell Thompkins.
Sopoaga, Bequette, Beauharnais and Green are all healthy scratches on the defensive side of the ball. Sealver Siliga has emerged as more of a presence at defensive tackle as of late, which has left Sopoaga expendable as a game-day option. The same applies to Bequette, as he has clearly been supplanted by Andre Carter and Michael Buchanan as the leading options as backup defensive ends. Meanwhile, Beauharnais and Green have been inactive more than active over the course of the regular season, so it’s no surprise they have been officially deactivated for Saturday’s playoff game.
For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.
|01.11.14 at 6:38 pm ET|
FOXBORO — The Patriots have played playoff games in bitter cold, fog and snow before in Foxboro.
Saturday night, they’ll be playing the Colts in something a little different. Steady rain and gusty winds are expected throughout the game that will send the winner to the AFC championship next Sunday.
While the temperature shouldn’t be an issue (53 degrees forecasted for 8:15 p.m. kickoff), the wind could be a huge factor in the passing and kicking games.
Rain is expected from the start of the game through 11 p.m. with wind gusts of up to 45 miles an hour in the forecast. The wind is expected to be a steady 20 MPH out of the south, meaning the team moving toward the closed (south) end of the stadium will be moving into the wind and the team moving into the open (north) end will have the wind, at least at the start of the game.
Several tarps covered the field until shortly before 6 p.m. when they were taken off to allow both teams to warm up on the wet turf. Puddles – like those that developed in the second half of the Bills game on Dec. 29 – were spotted all over the field.
Memorable weather games played at Foxboro include the heavy rain of Dec. 31, 1978 when the Oilers beat the Patriots, 31-14, in the divisional round, the fog of Jan. 5, 1997 when the Patriots beat the Steelers and the coldest Patriots home game ever (-4 F) of Jan. 10, 2004 when they beat Tennessee to advance to the AFC championship. The Patriots beat Peyton Manning and the Colts, 24-14, the next week in the snow to advance to Super Bowl XXXVIII.
Of course, the most famous playoff game ever played in Foxboro was the “Snow Bowl” on Jan. 19, 2002 when Tom Brady and the Patriots beat the Raiders, 16-13, in overtime to advance to the AFC championship.
|01.11.14 at 5:19 pm ET|
FOXBORO — As the Patriots take the field against the Colts to open a hopeful playoff push to Super Bowl XLVIII, they will be doing so without a teenager who brought them together in the opening month of the season.
Sam Berns, a 17-year-old who battled the disease Progeria, died Friday night. Berns was to have been the Patriots honorary game captain for their playoff contest against the Colts. The team will hold a moment of silence before the game.
‘I loved Sam Berns and am richer for having known him,” Kraft said. “He was a special young man whose inspirational story and positive outlook on life touched my heart. I am so lucky to have had the opportunity to spend time with him and to get to know his incredible family. Together, they positively impacted the lives of people around the world in their quest to find a cure for Progeria.
“The HBO documentary, ‘Life According to Sam’ shared his incredible story with a national audience. It was so beautifully done. It made you laugh. It also made you cry. Today, it’s the latter for all who knew Sam or learned of his story through that documentary. Earlier this week, I had extended an invitation for Sam to be the Patriots’ honorary captain for tonight’s playoff game. I was looking forward to spending more time with Sam and his family.
“News of his passing came as a complete surprise. It is another reminder that we can’t take anything for granted. Be sure to give your loved ones hugs and kisses and tell them how much you love them. My heart aches for his parents, Scott and Leslie, his aunt Audrey and the rest of Sam’s extended family. Words cannot express the sadness or the depth of sympathy I feel for them today.”
Progeria is a rare syndrome in children and adolescents characterized by physical signs and symptoms of premature old age. Most diagnosed with the disease do not live past the age of 20 and there is no known cure for the disease.
|01.11.14 at 11:36 am ET|
FOXBORO — On the morning of their divisional playoff game against the Colts, there is word that the latest starter on defense to end his season on injured reserve didn’t land there because of injury alone.
Brandon Spikes, who told the Boston Globe about playing through the pain of a knee injury this season, was placed on season-ending injured reserve last Monday because he showed up late to a team meeting during the playoff bye week, according to a report by ESPN’s Chris Mortensen.
The team had practices and meetings on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of the team’s bye week, including the morning of the major snow storm “Hercules” that hit New England on Jan. 3. It was being late to that Friday meeting that Mortensen reported was the “final straw” for Bill Belichick.
The Globe’s Shalise Manza Young reported before the regular season finale that Spikes’ knee issues would require surgery as soon as the season was over.
Spikes played in all 16 games of the regular season for the first time in his four-year career, finished third in team tackles as the team’s best run-stopping linebacker. The news of Spikes being disciplined in this way is an ominous sign for his return to New England in 2014 as he is a free agent after the season.
Brandon Spikes hobbled with knee but being late to Friday's bye week practice was final straw for Belichick. Mutually, to IR, per sources
— Chris Mortensen (@mortreport) January 11, 2014
|01.11.14 at 10:19 am ET|
1. The forecast for Saturday night is for winds and rain, but with highs in the mid-50s. (Weather.com says highs on Saturday could reach 55 degrees.) While much has been made about the Patriots being a superior cold weather team, this could be the warmest outdoor playoff game in Foxboro during the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady era, and one of the warmest playoff games in the recent history of the franchise. The highest temperature at kickoff a postseason game at Gillette — according to NFL gamebooks — was last year’s AFC divisional playoff against the Texans, where the mercury reached 51 degrees. Prior to that, the 2006 wild-card contest against the Jets was 49 degrees at kickoff. But the warmest postseason game of the Belichick-Brady era was Super Bowl XXXIX in Jacksonville, where the Patriots and Eagles met in a game that was 55 degrees at kickoff. (For what it’s worth, according to our records, the Patriots are 7-2 when the temperature is 40 degrees or more at kickoff, with their only two losses, coming in last year’s AFC title game — 41 degrees at kickoff — and the 2005 divisional playoffs in Denver — 45 degrees at kickoff.
2. While Pete Morelli and his crew will work Saturday’s Patriots-Colts game at Gillette, New England fans might have shuddered when they heard about another one of the other officiating assignments for this weekend. Clete Blakeman was named as the lead official for the Broncos-Chargers game. Blakeman was at the center of the controversial finish to the Patriots-Panthers game, one that ended with a decision to pick up a late flag on a play that who had gone as a pass interference call against Carolina. One more note on officiating: our pals at Football Zebras indicate that Tony Corrente and Gene Steratore will work the conference championship games. If New England does advance to the AFC title game, they will see a familiar face in either Corrente and Steratore — both worked two Patriots games this season without incident.
3. It was a good week for a pair of former Patriots who were able to land new coaching gigs. Ex-New England linebacker Mike Vrabel made the move from the Ohio State staff to join Bill O’Brien as the new linebackers coach with the Texans. As a player, Vrabel always struck as an extremely cerebral type — he considered quitting football to go to law school before he ended up signing with the Patriots — and in the wake of his success at Ohio State, it isn’t a surprise to see him make the leap to the pros as quickly as he did. The 38-year-old Vrabel could very well be following the same career path as Pepper Johnson, who carved out a niche as a smart and heady linebacker with Bill Belichick when he was with the Giants, and then parlayed that into an extensive career as an NFL assistant. In addition, it was nice to see former New England defensive back Terrell Buckley also get the call to join Bobby Petrino‘s staff at Louisville. Buckley had been working as the defensive backs coach at the University of Akron. In his tenure with the Patriots, Buckley distinguished himself as always being pleasant and accommodating with the media, and a smart individual who always had a love for the game.
4. In that same vein, it was interesting to see O’Brien take a page out of Belichick’s book this week in Houston when he reportedly took all sorts of mementos that emphasized individual over team that were hanging throughout the Texans facility. Two things comes to mind: One, it’s a move right out of the Bill Belichick playbook — the coach did the same thing around Gillette in 2010 when he was trying to reinvent the franchise, putting an emphasis on team ahead of individual. (That was the same offseason when he brought in veteran leaders like Alge Crumpler and got rid of players like Adalius Thomas.) And two, it can be a potentially risky move for a new coach. Several reporters responded to the initial news of O’Brien clearing the walls with reminders that Josh McDaniels and Steve Spaguolo did the same thing when they arrived, only to see themselves out on the street within two years. It can be a risky move, but from this perspective, O’Brien is likely in for the long haul in Houston. (After all, it’s not every day that the new coach gets a visit from an ex-President.)
5. Ex-Pats personnel man Lionel Vital is becoming a hot name around the league when it comes to potential GM openings. Multiple reports indicate that Vital is a candidate for the vacant GM job in Tampa Bay. Vital is currently the director of player personnel with the Falcons, but he made his bones with the Patriots, where he spent five seasons in New England, mainly as an assistant director of college scouting, where he worked closely with Thomas Dimitroff. After leaving New England, Vital served three seasons under Ozzie Newsome as a national scout in Baltimore before joining Dimitroff in Atlanta — he became director of player personnel with the Falcons last January.
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