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Slow starts continue to vex Patriots offense

11.22.11 at 5:27 pm ET
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While the Patriots finished strong, for the sixth consecutive game they had a bit of a sluggish start offensively. On Monday against the Chiefs, they managed just 10 points over the first two quarters and going punt-punt-fumble-punt over its first four possessions.

Overall, the Patriots didn’€™t even get into Chiefs’€™ territory until Kansas City botched an onside kick at the end of the first quarter, and didn’€™t engage in a sustained drive from their side of the field into the Chiefs side until late in the second when Tom Brady hit Rob Gronkowski with a 52-yard scoring strike to finally get New England on the board.

Including Monday night, the Patriots have now averaged 9.3 points over the first half of their last six games, including a high of 13 points (once against the Cowboys and once against the Jets) and a low of zero (against the Giants).

‘€œWe have to do a better job of starting the game with better plays, with better execution,’€ Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’€™Brien said Tuesday. ‘€œBefore we go any further, you really have to give Romeo [Crennel] and Kansas City, the defense there, a lot of credit. They came in and played a really good game. They came in and did some things that were really good against what we were doing. (But) we have to continue to go out and execute and have good plays and have good practices and start the game faster.’€

The Patriots had 24 points in the second half, but the slow starts remain a concern for O’€™Brien.

‘€œI believe we adjusted well during the game in the first half, in the first quarter going into the second quarter. And then, obviously, in the second half we played better,’€ O’€™Brien said. ‘€œWe just have to start faster.’€

Read More: Bill O'Brien, Rob Gronkowski, Tom Brady,

So what happened to Wes Welker on Monday night?

11.22.11 at 3:59 pm ET
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On Monday against the Chiefs, Wes Welker had his quietest game of the season — he wasn’€™t targeted by Tom Brady until the quarterback threw a pass his way with 9:59 left in the fourth quarter, and didn’€™t catch his first pass of the night until he hauled in a short six-yarder with six minutes left in regulation. On the night, he ended up with two catches for 22 yards.

On Tuesday, offensive coordinator Bill O’€™Brien acknowledged that it wasn’€™t one of Welker’€™s best games statistically, but he did a lot of things that didn’€™t show up in the boxscore.

‘€œHe only had two catches, but he does so many other things that help our offense,’€ O’€™Brien said. ‘€œI don’€™t know if you guys watched the tape, but if you go back and watch it, he was blocking extremely well and helping us in the running game. We rushed for 157 yards. Some of that was because of him and how well he blocked.

‘€œObviously, the Chiefs had a good game plan and they did a good job for most of the night and we were able to make some plays as the game wore on and it ended up being pretty good.’€

Coach Bill Belichick was also asked about Welker, and seemed to hint that even though the wide receiver had just two catches, he would get a positive grade for his work against the Chiefs.

‘€œWe grade players in the game based on them doing their assignment right and performing their responsibility on the play properly — that’€™s what they’€™re graded on,’€ Belichick said. ‘€œWhatever a player is supposed to do — run a route, block somebody, whatever it happens to be — if they do what they’€™re doing properly, that’€™s really all they can do. The opportunities that they get, then you can evaluate those. If those opportunities go to somebody else or the running play, the production is going to show up with the running back, not the guys who are blocking. That’€™s the way it is.

‘€œWes, he does a good job for us; has done a good job all year in terms of his route running, his assignments, his blocking — pretty much whatever we ask him to do, we can count on him to do it and perform it well. He’€™s done that consistently; he did it last night.’€

Read More: Bill Belichick, Bill O'Brien, Tom Brady, Wes Welker

Deion Branch on M&M: ‘We have to get back to starting fast’

11.22.11 at 1:01 pm ET
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Patriots wide receiver Deion Branch joined Mut & Merloni on Tuesday to discuss New England’s 34-3 rout of the Chiefs on Monday night.

While the Patriots offense was excellent in the second half of Monday’s game, it struggled at times in the first half, scoring just 10 points against a Chiefs team that is 25th in the NFL in scoring defense. New England’s first four drives resulted in three punts and a fumble. According to Branch, the Patriots were simply getting in their own way on those initial drives.

“[Chiefs defensive coordinator Romeo] Crennel came in with a great game plan, but the thing is our execution was our fault,” Branch said. “The plays that were messing up on, whether it be protection, whether it be getting the right plays, somebody releasing on a certain route, that was all of us.

“There was nothing that they were doing that was really stopping us within those first four possessions. I’m not taking anything away from them, they have a great team, great coordinator who came in and had a great game plan. But if we go out and just execute our plays the way we know we can, you’ll see the output you saw in that second half.”

Patriots wide receivers combined for just four receptions in Monday night’s win. The production of outside receivers on the New England offense has been lacking, but Branch said that the Patriots are just taking what the defense gives them.

“I think last night we took advantage of what Kansas City was giving us,” Branch said. “We said, ‘Hey, if they want to leave [Rob] Gronkowski in the end zone, let’s give it to him.’ And that’s what we have to do.”

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Read More: Chad Ochocinco, Deion Branch, Rob Gronkowski,

Andre Carter on M&M: ‘It’s all about balance’ on Pats D-line

11.22.11 at 12:09 pm ET
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Defensive lineman Andre Carter joined the Mut & Merloni show Tuesday morning for his weekly chat about the team.

The Chiefs made it a priority to keep Carter away from inexperience quarterback Tyler Palko, after Carter recorded four sacks vs the Jets the week before.

“They mixed in chipping in with the running back and also the tight end. ‘€¦ The only rush I had was doing my best to get around the corner,” Carter said. “Overall, they had a great game plan. Even the Chiefs offensive linemen talked to me, they were like, ‘There’s no way we’re going to let you get around the corner.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, you’re protecting that well.’

“As a player in general you’re honored, because they look at you, or they look at our D-linemen and say, OK, this is the game plan and we just have to stick to it.”

With teams starting to pay more attention to Carter, fellow defensive lineman Mark Anderson has been taking advantage. Anderson had four tackles and 1½ sacks Monday.

“It’s all about balance,” Carter said. “Especially when teams look at myself and say, OK, we have to use two-on-one or possibly three-on-one. Especially when they just kind of slide, particularly my way, whether it’s Mark Anderson or whether it’s Rob Ninkovich, whoever is rushing on that left end, or just the tackle in general, somebody has to win the one-on-one. That’s something we’ve always harped on.”

Added Carter: “I’m just blessed to play with a great, elite group of men that have a love for the game and love for each other. It’s just been great.”

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Read More: Andre Carter, Julian Edelman, Mark Anderson, Rob Gronkowski

Transcript of Tom Brady on D&C: ‘I feel as good as I’ve ever felt going into Thanksgiving’

11.22.11 at 11:37 am ET
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Following the Patriots’ 34-3 rout of the Chiefs, quarterback Tom Brady checked in with Dennis & Callahan Tuesday morning for his weekly discussion.

Brady took a couple of hits Monday night, but he said he’s happy with where he is health-wise heading into the stretch run of the regular season.

“I’m fine. I feel great,” he said. “I feel as good as I’ve ever felt going into Thanksgiving time. I feel really good and excited about where we’re at and hopefully we can keep building on these wins. We have a huge game this weekend against a very good opponent. Coach [Bill] Belichick said last night that this the best team we’ve played all year. That says a lot. I think they’re talented at every position, so we have to go out there and see what we can do against a very good football team.”

Following is transcript of the conversation. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

Can you explain how four offensive — and man, I mean offensive — series to open the game gets turned around in a heartbeat? What switch was flipped, what adjustment was made, how did you turn it around so quickly?

Our execution early on obviously wasn’t very sharp. we just weren’t on the same page collectively as a group. I thought once we settled into the game and got to the stuff that we felt really good about, we did a much better job of executing. Obviously, that produces points.

Early on it was just tough. They threw a bunch of different things at us and we were just kind of out of sorts. But I thought we responded well there in the second half. I always say it’s hard to win in the NFL. To win 34-3 was pretty good for us coming off really an emotional win against the Jets and then a tough loss at home two weeks ago. Now it’s on to the Eagles.

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Read More: Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski, Ton Brady, Wes Welker

Fantasy Football: Week 12 Waiver Wire

11.22.11 at 9:57 am ET
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Welcome to the Weeik 12 waiver wire. We’€™re here to give our top choices for Week 12  pickups. If you play in a large league, feel free to join us at Rotobahn.com, where we’€™ll be adding more free agent options throughout the day.

Carson Palmer, QB, Raiders

He is still available in 36% of Yahoo leagues and he shouldn’€™t be. Palmer has settled in and can be your weekly starter in any format. Get him if he is available and if you have a need.

Christian Ponder, QB, Vikings

He’€™s more of a QB2 in large leagues, but he can post solid numbers and they are getting Percy Harvin more involved, which helps. If he can stay healthy, Ponder looks like a long term solution for Minny.

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WEEI NFL Power Rankings: Week 12

11.22.11 at 9:20 am ET
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No team can overtake the Packers. The undefeated defending champions cruised to 10-0 and once again sit atop the WEEI NFL Power Rankings. Perhaps their biggest test of the season will come on Thanksgiving against the Lions (9) on a short week of rest. The 49ers (2) are not far behind. The only thing preventing the Niners from an undefeated season is a Week 2 overtime loss to the Cowboys (11).

For the second straight week, another playoff contender lost its starting quarterback. Jay Cutler will miss the rest of the regular season, thus putting the Bears’ playoff hopes in jeopardy. Mark Sanchez is putting the Jets’ playoff hopes in jeopardy as well, but for a whole different reason. The lackluster play of Sanchez has resulted in back-to-back losses and drops the Jets three spots to 14.

Week 12 promises to have a major impact on the rankings. Six of the top 10 teams will face each other. The most intriguing matchup will involve the No. 2 and 3 teams, as the 49ers visit the Ravens. The Harbaugh brothers will face off in one of the most anticipated games of the year.

1. (1) Packers (10-0) ‘€” Defending the Packers seems like an impossible task. The array of weapons on offense is the reason why the defending champs are undefeated. Dating back to last year, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers have won 16 straight games. They’ll have to win 22 straight to finish the regular season undefeated and 25 to win the Super Bowl. That would be an amazing feat, and it looks more possible each week.

2. (2) 49ers (9-1) ‘€” The turnover-to-takeaway ratio is always a fine statistic to gauge how good a team actually is. The 49ers lead the league with a plus-17. The Packers are in second place with a plus-12. The Niners’ eight straight wins are a result of protecting the football, causing turnovers, great coaching and a physical defense.

3. (3) Ravens (7-3) ‘€” Ray Rice received 20 carries and helped lead the Ravens to a key divisional win. Baltimore wins more times than not when the play-calling on offense involves a strong mix of run and pass. For some reason, the Ravens at times get away from that philosophy. John Harbaugh‘s team is in first place but is playing the 9-1 Niners Thursday. The run-stifling defense of the Niners vs. Ray Rice promises to be a fun matchup to watch.

4. (4) Steelers (7-3) ‘€” The 31 times Ben Roethlisberger has been sacked this season has taken a toll on the 6-foot-5 quarterback. Roethlisberger is nursing a fractured thumb, and the Steelers must find a way to limit the amount of hits he takes if they want to go deep into the playoffs. Four of the Steelers’ six remaining games are against teams with a sub-.500 record.

5. (5) Saints (7-3) ‘€” Drew Brees and the Saints will get back to work in Week 12 against the Giants. Heading into the game, many are wondering if the Saints are capable of beating the Packers. Their defense must make a statement against Eli Manning and the New York passing attack. Defensively, the Saints have failed to generate much pressure on the quarterback.

6. (7) Falcons (6-4) ‘€” Finally, Roddy White dominated a game like he did so many times last year. With Julio Jones sidelined with an injury, White stepped up in a big way during Sunday’s win over the Titans. Matt Ryan and the offense will need White to perform each week as they battle for a playoff spot.

7. (9) Patriots (7-3) ‘€” It’s still difficult to determine whether the Patriots are a true Super Bowl-contending team. The next six games will shed little light on that answer. The combined record of the six remaining teams on the schedule is 20-40. Tom Brady and the Pats likely will wrap up the division and secure a high AFC seed. However, the lack of depth in the secondary makes the Pats an extremely beatable team.

8. (6) Bears (7-3) ‘€” Jay Cutler‘s injury hurts the Bears in so many ways. This is a team that has lost just one game since October. The Bears have improved dramatically. The offensive line was preventing sacks and opening holes for Matt Forte, while Cutler was finally protecting the football. Now the playoff hopes of Bears fans are in the hands of Caleb Hanie. It’s tough to like their chances of getting one of the two wild card spots in the NFC with the Lions, Falcons, Giants and Cowboys all fighting as well.

9. (10) Lions (7-3) ‘€” The resilient Lions have shown they are a team that can come back from any deficit. Once again, Matthew Stafford rallied his team to a win after trailing by double digits. The Lions’ play has been shaky of late, but they can breathe a little easier now that Bears QB Jay Cutler is out for the regular season. However, Detroit’s remaining schedule includes two games against the Packers and one against the Saints.

10. (8) Giants (6-4) ‘€” Sunday night’s monumental loss to the Eagles could really hurt the Giants. The G-Men are tied for first place in the NFC East with games against the Saints and Packers next. The run game has been the Giants’ biggest weakness all year. Ahmad Bradshaw is out with an injury and Brandon Jacobs has been inconsistent. He averaged less than two yards per carry and rushed for just 21 against the Eagles.

11. (12) Cowboys (6-4) ‘€” The Cowboys are undefeated in the month of November. Tony Romo and the offense have found a rhythm. The balanced attack of run and pass is making the offense difficult to defend against. Defensively, the Cowboys have shown signs of improvement. The run defense allowed just 2.5 yards per carry to the Redskins after being scorched by Fred Jackson last week for 8.8 yards per carry.

12. (13) Texans (7-3) ‘€” The Matt Leinart era will begin in Houston this Sunday when the Texans take on the Jaguars. Leinart will make his first start since 2009. He’ll be hoping Andre Johnson will be alongside. Johnson has been out since Week 4 and is expected to return.

13. (15) Raiders (6-4) ‘€” Carson Palmer‘s last two games are making doubters think twice before criticizing the team for giving up a first- and second-round draft pick. Palmer is getting into a rhythm with his receivers and has a high completion percentage. One thing that must be mentioned when talking about the Raiders is the amount of penalties they are flagged for. Hue Jackson has failed all season at getting his team to play more disciplined football. The Raiders had 12 penalties called against them against the Vikings. They’ll need to fix that issue if they want to remain in first place and make a run in the playoffs.

14. (11) Jets (5-5) ‘€” Mark Sanchez continues to drag the Jets down week after week. The third-year quarterback has made a habit at making the same mistakes time after time. His poor decisions with the football have resulted in some backbreaking plays over the last few weeks. There are talented players all around him, but Sanchez will prevent Rex Ryan and the Jets from accomplishing their goal if he doesn’t protect the football.

15. (14) Bengals (6-4) ‘€” Four of Andy Dalton‘s five interceptions over the last two games have come in the second half. The rookie has exceeded expectations this year, but at the same time he has been responsible for some untimely turnovers. The Bengals certainly are a team that has improved dramatically, but they don’t seem to be talented enough to beat the Ravens and Steelers this year.

16. (19) Eagles (4-6) ‘€” The overhyped Eagles finally won a big game. However, it might be a little too late. They’ll have to win their remaining six games against the Patriots, Seahawks, Dolphins, Jets, Cowboys and Redskins to avoid becoming the most disappointing sports team since the 2011 Red Sox.

17. (20) Buccaneers (4-6) ‘€” The Bucs proved they can compete with the best in the league when LaGarrette Blount is healthy and leading a strong run game. Blount provides balance to the offense, and that is exactly what the Bucs need to be successful. The carelessness Josh Freeman has shown with the football this year has to be a major concern for coach Raheem Morris. Following his three-interception performance last week, the third-year QB threw two more against the Packers, giving him a total of 15 for the season. Last year he threw just six.

18. (16) Titans (5-5) ‘€” Since the Titans’ shocking Week 2 win over the Ravens, they’ve yet to beat a team over .500. Chris Johnson has made Titans owner Bud Adams second-guess his decision to give him a six-year, $56 million deal all year. Johnson averaged just 1.1 yards per carry in Sunday’s loss.

19. (18) Chargers (4-6) ‘€” Five straight losses have sent the Chargers spiraling down to last place in one of the worst divisions in football. Philip Rivers and the Chargers haven’t won a game since Oct. 9. Norv Turner‘s days in San Diego are numbered if his underachieving team fails to make the playoffs again.

20. (17) Bills (5-5) ‘€” The Bills got off to a fast start because they won the turnover battle. That hasn’t been the case lately. Since Week 6, the Bills are a minus-9 in the takeaway/giveaway category. Defenses are starting to figure out the Bills offense. Ryan Fitzpatrick has thrown nine interceptions in the last three games.

21. (21) Broncos (5-5) ‘€” With Tim Tebow as the starter, the Broncos have a 4-1 record and are just one game out of first place in the AFC West. Tebow’s fourth-quarter performances have been amazing to watch. It’s clear he gives his team the best chance to win. However, John Elway has also made it clear that he doesn’t believe Tebow is the quarterback of the future in Denver. In a passing league, Tebow’s inability to complete passes eventually will hurt him. It will be interesting to see what role Tebow plays in the offense down the road.

22. (26) Dolphins (3-7) ‘€” The Dolphins are just the third team in league history to win three straight games after losing seven straight. Matt Moore has been one of the biggest difference-makers. He’s thrown just one interception over the last three games.

23. (25) Seahawks (4-6) ‘€” Ray Rice and Steven Jackson have been the feature backs against the Seahawks the last two weeks and have a combined 69 rushing yards. They’ve stopped the run well all year and now rank eighth in the league in rush defense. Pete Carroll needs a quarterback far better than Tarvaris Jackson to get Seattle back to the playoffs.

24. (23) Chiefs (4-6) ‘€” It’s been a nightmare season for the Chiefs. The injury to Matt Cassel was the final straw. Tyler Palko didn’t make a strong case that he should be the starter going forward. It wouldn’t be surprising if we saw fifth-round draft pick Ricky Stanzi get some action behind center. With six games remaining, no team has a more difficult schedule ahead than the Chiefs. All six opponents have a winning percentage of .500 or better.

25. (24) Cardinals (3-7) ‘€” It’s time to put an end to the Beanie Wells experiment in Arizona. Dating back to college, durability has always been an issue for Wells. The Cardinals need a strong running game to be successful, and it’s obvious Wells isn’t the answer.

26. (30) Browns (4-6) ‘€” The Browns’ 14 points against the Jaguars was their highest total in five weeks. The multiple-touchdown performance from the offense was a rare but welcomed occurrence. Finding more offensive firepower is a must for the Browns when the season concludes.

27. (22) Jaguars (3-7) ‘€” It’s clear Blaine Gabbert needs more talent around him for the Jaguars offense to be successful. Gabbert led a solid final drive but his receivers let him down with dropped passes. With Maurice Jones-Drew at running back, it seems like the Jaguars just need an upgrade at the receiver position to get the offense out of the gutter. The Jags are averaging just 12.5 points a game.

28. (27) Vikings (2-8) ‘€” Offensive line help should be a major area the Vikings address in the offseason. They know they have a young quarterback with the potential of being one of the best in the league. Now they have to find the protection for him. Christian Ponder was sacked five times during Sunday’s loss to the Raiders. He was constantly chased out of the pocket but proved he can do some damage with his feet, racking up 71 yards on the ground.

29. (28) Redskins (3-7) ‘€” It’s been a difficult but promising year for the Redskins. Injuries have beleaguered Mike Shanahan‘s team, but before that rash of injuries the Redskins were playing quality football. The one missing ingredient is a quarterback. If the Redskins can get a top-caliber QB in the offseason, they’ll be in a great position to make the playoffs in 2012.

30. (29) Rams (2-8) ‘€” Sam Bradford, last season’s Offensive Rookie of the Year, has been sacked 31 times in just eight games this season. There aren’t many more damaging ways to stunt your franchise quarterback’s growth. Improving the offensive line will be No. 1 on the priorities list for the Rams.

31. (31) Panthers (2-8) ‘€” Cam Newton put it best: “We put on a clinic on how to lose a game.” The young Panthers have done that all year, losing six close games. Newton has proven he could be the best quarterback in the league someday, but he still has a lot to work on. Ball security hasn’t been his strong point. He’s thrown 14 interceptions this year; four of them came against the Lions during Sunday’s loss.

32. (32) Colts (0-10) ‘€” The No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 draft is just a couple of weeks away from being wrapped up by the Colts. Indy’s remaining schedule includes games against the Patriots, Ravens and Texans.

Which NFL teams are in your top 10? Leave your opinions/comments below or e-mail them to powerrankings@weei.com. You also can send comments via Twitter to @JoeytheFishWEEI.

Read More: aaron rodgers, NFL Power Rankings, Tim Tebow, Tom Brady
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