|12.27.13 at 9:59 am ET|
The Patriots host the Bills Sunday in the regular-season finale. Here are five things you have to know about the Bills (6-9), who are looking to end the season on an up note.
1. They have a scrappy defense, especially when it comes to stopping the pass.
The Bills are one of the best teams in the league when it comes to pass defense. Buffalo is fifth in the league against the pass, yielding an average of just 210.4 yards per game. It’s a complete team effort, as the Bills are getting good work from their front seven (Buffalo leads the league in sacks with 56, already a franchise record — Mario Williams has a team-high 13), as well as their secondary (four players have four picks: Kiko Alonso, Aaron Williams, Jairus Byrd and Jim Leonhard). Alonso has fast become a defensive centerpiece, as the rookie linebacker out of Oregon leads the team in defensive snaps through 15 games with 1,102, and is fourth in the league in tackles with 145.
2. They can run the ball but can’t really throw it with any consistency.
The Bills have one of the best running games in the league, averaging 145.2 rushing yards per game (second in the NFL). Buffalo is the only team in the league with at least two backs who have 800 yards or more through 15 games — Fred Jackson has 193 carries for 836 yards and eight touchdowns, while C.J. Spiller has 182 carries for 822 yards and two touchdowns. Ten of the last 11 teams have rushed for at least 100 yards against the Patriots, and it’s a safe bet that Buffalo will make it 11 of 12. (The Bills had 136 rushing yards against New England in Week 1.) Their problems come when they have to throw the ball — whether it’s EJ Manuel or Thad Lewis under center, they haven’t had much of any success when it comes to the passing game. The Bills average 191.9 passing yards per game, 29th in the league. Buffalo hasn’t had a single game in which it’s passed for more than 300 yards in a game, with its best outing coming in Week 2 when Manuel went 27-for-39 for 296 yards in a win over the Panthers. The Bills have just as many touchdowns as picks (15 of each), and as a team, they complete just 57 percent of their passes.
3. They do a really good job taking the ball away, but they also give it away frequently.
As previously stated, the Bills are good at forcing takeaways. They have four guys with four interceptions, and are second in the league with 22 picks. Overall, their 29 takeaways are tied with New England for second in the AFC. At the same time, they’re one of the league’s most turnover-prone teams, tied for eighth with 27, including nine in the last four games. Manuel has thrown nine interceptions, backup Lewis has three interceptions and two fumbles lost. Cornerbacks Logan Ryan (who leads all rookie corners with five picks, including two last weekend) and Aqib Talib (with four) could have some chances Sunday against the Bills.
4. As of Thursday night, no one was quite sure who was going to start at quarterback.
Last week, Bills coach Doug Marrone was he was “110 percent confident” that Manuel was going to be good to go against the Patriots, but as the days have passed, it’s become clearer that that percentage is taking a hit. Marrone hasn’t yet publicly announced a decision on a starter — of course, it could just be a bit of gamesmanship on the part of Marrone. But Manuel sat out this past Sunday’s game against the Dolphins because of a sprained left knee, while Lewis has four starts in relief of Manuel and has produced a 2-2 mark, including Sunday’s 19-0 win over Miami. For what it’s worth, Manuel was limited at Thursday’s practice, while Lewis was a full go but listed with a left shoulder issue.
5. They have a lot of fans in Cincinnati.
The Bengals are hoping the Bills can pull the upset on New England. A Buffalo win over the Patriots — combined with a Cincinnati win over the Ravens — would allow the Bengals to leapfrog past New England and into the No. 2 spot in the AFC playoff chase.
|12.26.13 at 5:20 pm ET|
FOXBORO — For the fourth time this season, the Patriots have released defensive back Marquice Cole from their roster.
Cole, 29, is in his fifth NFL season after spending time with the New York Jets (2009-11) and the Patriots (2012-13). The 5-10, 195-pounder originally joined New England as a free agent on March 19, 2012, and was re-signed by the team on March 20, 2013. Cole was released by the Patriots on Sept. 1, and re-signed by the team one day later on Sept. 2. After playing in the first three games, Cole was released on Sept. 27 and re-signed on Oct. 1.
He was released again on Oct. 4 before being re-signed on Oct. 7. Overall in 2013, he has played in 13 games and has 10 total tackles, one interception, two passes defensed and eight special teams tackles.
Cole played his first game of the season against the Jets on Oct. 20, playing a season high 62 of 93 snaps in the overtime loss. He averaged just over seven defensive snaps in his final five games, including a season-low four in the Dec. 15 loss to the Dolphins. Cole had one tackle in 18 special teams snaps last Sunday against Baltimore.
Cole originally entered the NFL as a rookie free agent with Oakland out of Northwestern in 2007. He spent the end of the 2007 season on the Tennessee practice squad and part of the 2008 season on the practice squad of New Orleans. Cole began the 2009 season on the practice squad of the New York Jets before joining the 53-man roster early in September.
|12.26.13 at 5:17 pm ET|
The Patriots returned to the practice field Thursday outside Gillette Stadium and there was one more name on the injury report. Rob Ninkovich showed up for the first time this week with an injured ankle suffered in the Patriots’ win in Baltimore Sunday.
Meanwhile safety Steve Gregory (finger/knee) and running back Shane Vereen (groin) joined Ninkovich as limited Thursday and were among the 12 Patriots limited at practice. Gregory, Ninkovich and Vereen were all injured in the win over the Ravens. Vereen left in the first quarter and did not return.
Wide receiver Josh Boyce (ankle) and safety Devin McCourty (concussion) were the only two players not practicing Thursday. McCourty (concussion) left Sunday’s game against the Ravens with a head injury in the second half, and did not return. In addition, Boyce has been nagged by an ankle issue he’s been dealing with since a loss to Miami earlier this month.
Here’s the complete report:
Did Not Practice
WR Josh Boyce (ankle)
S Devin McCourty (concussion)
CB Kyle Arrington (groin)
OT Marcus Cannon (ankle)
CB Alfonzo Dennard (knee/shoulder)
WR Aaron Dobson (foot)
LB Dane Fletcher (groin)
S Steve Gregory (finger/knee)
DL Rob Ninkovhich (ankle)
OT Nate Solder (concussion)
LB Brandon Spikes (knee)
OT Will Svitek (ankle)
WR Kenbrell Thompkins (hip)
RB Shane Vereen (groin)
|12.26.13 at 2:39 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Stevan Ridley had politely declined to speak about his Dec. 1 benching for the last several weeks. On Thursday, the third-year running back felt it was finally time to open up.
“I just really believe this: God will never put you through anything more than you can handle,” Ridley told reporters in a five-minute session that appeared at times to double as a self-counseling session in front of his locker. “For me, it wasn’t what I wanted, but I know why I got there. It’s not like coach just woke up and decided, ‘Hey, let’s bench Stevan Ridley today.’
“I put myself there. For me, it’s about not letting your past mistakes hold you down. I think life brings you that. You’re going to have adversity, you’re going to have stuff that you’re going to go through. But it’s how you bounce back from it as a person.”
Ridley then made a point of assuring that his four lost fumbles this season, two of which have been returned for touchdowns, hasn’t diminished his love of playing, and playing with fellow running backs Brandon Bolden, Shane Vereen and LeGarrette Blount.
“I love what I do. I love the sport I play in,” he said. “God put me here. For me, I can’t sit on the past, whether it’s success or whether it’s something I don’t want. For me, it’s focusing on these upcoming weeks because I think if we finish this year the way we want to finish this year, nobody will remember what happened in the past. It’s going to take a total team effort. And it’s not just about me, it’s about the running back room, in general, being strong, whoever the number is back there. Whether it’s Shane, whether it’s Brandon, whether it’s Blount, whether it’s me, whoever it is, we have to be accountable and we have to go out there and be a strong point for this team.”
Ironically, one of those two fumbles came against the Bills in Week 1 in Orchard Park when Ridley’s second-quarter cough-up led to Da’Norris Searcy‘s 74-yard return for a score, allowing the Bills to jump back in game after trailing New England 10-0. He’ll get a chance to make amends on Sunday.
“Hold on tight, that’s all I can tell you because there’s no magic words, there’s not one thing I can do,” Ridley said. “I can’t change the player that I am. I just have to go out there and play ball. Honestly, I just spent a lot of time on my knees praying about it, talking to a lot of the people that I knew are close to me. The bad times will pass, too, just like the good ones. It’s all in the past. These upcoming games we’re trying to be mistake-free and if we can be mistake-free it definitely gives us the upper hand and the better chance of winning the ballgame. And that’s all our coaches are trying to do. There’s no hard feelings. I’m just trying to win every game from here on out, the Bills included, and that’s our team’s focus right now.”
Ridley also said he had conversations recently with two people who gave him words of encouragement as well as an attitude adjustment – Kevin Faulk and his high school coach from Mississippi.
“Faulk met me down in Texas,” Ridley said of the trip to Houston when he was benched. “I got to talk to him for a long time and told me some things I needed to hear. I also got to talk to my high school coach, David King, down in Natchez [Mississippi]. I just talked to the people who I knew had my best interests in mind. Regardless of what it was, I’m just focused on what it’s going to be from here on out.”
|12.26.13 at 12:13 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Devin McCourty and Josh Boyce were the only two Patriots players not in attendance Thursday as the Patriots returned to the practice field after having Christmas Day off. Both players also missed the light walkthrough inside Dana Farber Field House on Tuesday before getting the holiday off on Wednesday.
Both players were projected as not participating Wednesday if the team had held a practice. The Patriots were required to issue the report per NFL guidelines.
McCourty suffered a concussion in the third quarter of Sunday’s win over the Ravens when he went low, trying to make a tackle on Baltimore Ravens tight end Ed Dickson.
Boyce missed the game on Sunday altogether with an ankle injury suffered on a kickoff return in the fourth quarter of the loss in Miami on Dec. 15.
The Patriots practiced in sweats and shells on the lower grass fields on Thursday and will practice again on Friday as they get ready for the Buffalo Bills on Sunday at Gillette Stadium in the regular season finale. With a win, the Patriots would improve to 12-4 and clinch a first-round bye in the upcoming AFC playoffs.
|12.26.13 at 11:54 am ET|
While the 2013 Patriots have gotten an extraordinary hand from players like Tom Brady, Logan Mankins, Rob Ninkovich, Chandler Jones, Aqib Talib and Devin McCourty, one of the defining characteristics of this team might be the contributions it has received from several players who were not ticketed for such a sizable role. In no particular order, here are seven Patriots who have exceeded expectations in 2013.
James Develin — The fullback has stepped nicely into a versatile role working as a blocker and offensive option — he’s caught four passes for 62 yards, and added three carries for six yards and a touchdown. He’s also done a nice job working with Michael Hoomanawanui filling in as an extra body when the Patriots need to go big with an extra tight end or fullback, as was the case Sunday against the Ravens when he provided a dose of physicality up front with his 23 snaps. The 6-foot-3, 251-pounder out of Brown will never be an every-down player in the Patriots offense, but his dependability and toughness have made him important to the success of New England in 2013.
Bill Belichick on Develin: “He’s done a good job of executing his role, whether it’s been offensively or in the kicking game or even as it relates to the scout team in practice and things like that, helping the defense get ready. As far as what he’s been called on to do offensively and in the kicking game, he knows what his job is, he works hard to do it well, as well as he possibly can. It’s actually expanded a little bit. I don’t think he’s ever going to be out there for every play offensively, that’s not his role, but when we do have him out there or when we have him out there in the kicking game, he works hard at what he’s asked to do and he’s been a good contributor for the team. He’s smart, he’s tough, he works hard, he’s a very dependable guy and there’s an awful lot to be said for that.”
Julian Edelman — The wide receiver had an extensive resume with New England prior to this season — including 37 catches as a rookie in 2009 — but his 96 catches, 991 yards and six touchdowns have been one of the league’s biggest surprises this year. Edelman rushed into the offensive void created by the loss of Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Aaron Hernandez and Danny Woodhead (as well as the injuries to Danny Amendola and Rob Gronkowski), and has proven himself to be utterly dependable. That, as well as his value as a punt returner, undoubtedly will make him one of the most interesting free agents on the market this offseason.
Belichick on Edelman: “There are a lot of things to like about Julian: his toughness, his speed, his quickness, his ability to run with the ball after he catches it and break tackles and be elusive and have good run skills in the secondary. He’s a tough kid who can come in and block. He’s smart, he’s got versatility. I think the big thing with Julian was just his ability to stay on the field, and this year he’s been out there on a consistent basis. That not only has obviously helped his production, but it’s led to more consistency with his timing and execution, because you’re able to build on it week after week, or day after day for that matter, instead of kind of the way some of his career has been where it goes along and it’s good and then he misses some time and then there’s natural kind of backslide and rebuilding to where it was.”
|12.26.13 at 11:49 am ET|
When Bill Belichick offers up an opinion, it’s usually for a reason.
In a conference call with Bills reporters this week, the Patriots coach made no mistake – he thinks fewer offseason practices as demanded by post-lockout NFL labor deal increases the number of player injuries.
“I’m in favor of total preparation for the players for the season,” Belichick said during a conference call. “And I think that’s been changed significantly and, I would say, not necessarily for the better when you look at the injury numbers.”
The Patriots have lost five starters to season-ending injuries, including Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo, Tommy Kelly, Sebastian Vollmer and Rob Gronkowski. Safety Adrian Wilson also had Achilles surgery and never played a down for the Patriots this season.
Belichick believes the shorter the time players have to prepare during the offseason the more likely they are to open themselves to injuries.
“Personally, I think that’s taking the wrong approach,” he said. “You have a gap between preparation and competition level. And I think that’s where you see a lot of injuries occurring. We get a lot of breakdowns. We get a lot of situations that players just aren’t as prepared as they were in previous years, in my experience anyway.
“When you see the number as high as they are, then I don’t think that’s a randomness that’s been two years in a row,” Belichick said. “I’ve got to think there’s some correlation there.”
In an effort to appease the NFL Players Association, teams were prevented from holding two-a-day practices during training camp. Belichick has often said “this isn’t 1975,” referring to his first year in the NFL when two-a-day training camp practices and full pad practices were common two or three times during a week.
Now, there are limits on how many times players practiced in pads throughout the year. In the spring, offseason team activity time was reduced from 14 to nine weeks, and 10 if the team changed head coaches.
NFL spokesman Michael Signora disputed Belichick’s claims that injuries are on the rise, likely due to the new policies.
“We carefully monitor player injuries,” Signora told the Associated Press. “There is no evidence that the new work rules have had an adverse effect on the injury rate or that injuries have in fact increased.”
The NFL declined to released its numbers to the Associated Press. But according to STATS Inc., the number of NFL players finishing a season on injured reserve has risen significantly over the past 14 seasons. From 2000-06, there was an average of 239 players on IR. That average has jumped to about 314 over the past seven years.
The low over that span was 192 in 2001, with the high being 353 in 2010, but that was before the new offseason rules came into effect.
As of Monday, there were 288 players on IR, the lowest total since 287 in 2008. Those figures, however, don’t include players who have been on injured reserve and released by their teams during the season. It has also been difficult to measure how many regulars have missed games due to injury.
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