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Steve Young on M&M: Postseason record would drive Peyton Manning ‘crazy’ if he loses Sunday

01.31.14 at 1:52 pm ET
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Hall of Fame quarterback and ESPN analyst Steve Young joined Mut & Merloni on Friday to discuss quarterback legacies. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.

Many in the media have argued whether or not Peyton Manning will solidify his spot as the best quarterback of all time if he wins the Super Bowl this weekend.

“You can say, ‘€˜Oh, it’€™s just perception and truly teams go to the Super Bowl,’ ” Young said. “It doesn’t matter. That’€™s what it is. … I think Peyton at this point recognizes he laid it all out here in the seasons he’€™s had, but I think that he’€™s getting sick of hearing about his postseason record. The Super Bowl championship would stop that part of it.

“That’€™s the part of life that never goes away, even 15 years after I played, there are things that happened that I still hear about because they happened and I can’€™t stop it. Peyton would not want to retire and always hear about his postseason record. It would drive him crazy.”

For Young, Tom Brady is a great quarterback because of the way he plays even without strong weapons on the field with him.

“Tom has done more with less than anyone who ever played,” Young said. “He is a master, and it’€™s remarkable. Literally during the season, there are games I can’€™t believe what he just did with what he had. You can say that’€™s a fault of the GM or injuries or bad luck. It doesn’t really matter, that’€™s just a fact. That’€™s part of the equation when you talk about greatness — what did you do with the guys you had?

“To me, this season was one of the more remarkable ones that I’ve seen Tom over the remarkable career he’€™s had, and it’€™s unfortunate because if you have those steady weapons, you look at what Peyton’€™s doing with his steady weapons and you have consistency and you’ve got not a lot of turnover in the era of free agency.

“It’€™s hard for me to watch the greatest generation not get the support they really need.”

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Read More: Peyton Manning, Russell Wilson, Tom Brady,

Peter King on M&M: ‘I think they owe it to Tom Brady to get a lot better at the receiver position’

01.31.14 at 1:12 pm ET
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Sports Illustrated’s Peter King checked in with Mut & Merloni from Super Bowl Radio Row to preview Sunday’s game and discuss Patriots offseason news. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.

“I picked the Broncos, but look, if [the Seahawks] pick [Peyton] Manning off two or three times, they’re going to win,” King said. “I think one of the things you’ll see on Sunday — and I talked to Peyton a little bit about this yesterday, I had a few minutes with him after practice — I think Peyton Manning right now when he looks at this game what he sees is five-wide receiver formations, or five-receiver formations, maybe with Jacob Tamme or Andre Caldwell in the game. Spread, spread, spread. And just challenge Seattle to cover every guy so that he can’t find a window with any of the five guys. In my opinion, I think that’s the way they’re going to play it, and I think that’s smart.

“And then on Seattle’s side, I think Seattle is going to try to get Marshawn Lynch, and they’re going to try to run well and run the clock so that Manning only gets eight possessions. I think Seattle feels like, ‘We cannot give Manning the ball 11 times. If we do, we’re not going to win.’ ”

Touching on the Patriots, King said the primary need is obvious, but he said a trade for a big-name wide receiver appears unlikely.

“I see that it’s much more likely, at least in my mind, for them to draft and develop a receiver,” King said. “But I will say this: There are going to be a bunch of receivers who you can get. I think my feeling is they need to get younger and better at wide receiver, and I’m not sure the way to do that is by spending $12 million a year on a guy.”

King agreed that the team needs to surround Tom Brady with better talent.

“Especially after he did them — and no matter what anybody says, Brady did them a favor last year [by renegotiating]. And Brady will eventually, over the life of this contract, I believe, make less money than he could have — certainly than he could have. And he did that for a very simple reason: He wanted the team around him to be better. And look, some of this is circumstantial. Because there’s absolutely nothing that they could have done about this. Absolutely nothing.”

“And I think when you look at what has happened in the NFL now, you’re talking about a window. You look at what, to me, what the Denver Broncos did for Peyton Manning. He had a great situation going. And they said, ‘Oh, my God, two years [$]12 million for [Wes] Welker?’ ”

Added King: “I’m not saying that the Patriots have to go out and do something splashy like that. All I’m saying is that I think they owe it to Tom Brady to get a lot better at the receiver position.”

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Read More: Peter King, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Wes Welker

Zoltan Mesko on M&M: Bill Belichick has ‘right to state his own opinion’ on Wes Welker hit

01.31.14 at 12:29 pm ET
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Former Patriots and current Bengals punter Zoltan Mesko joined Mut & Merloni on Friday to discuss news related to his old team. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.

Mesko joined the conversation about Bill Belichick‘€™s reaction to the Wes Welker hit.

“He’€™s just stating his opinion,” Mesko said. “He’€™s got the right to state his own opinion to what level he’€™s coaching at and how much success he’€™s had. He sees things differently than anyone else does. The TV copy shows a different thing than what you get out of the end zone and sideline view that you see when you break things down at the football organizational level.

“œThe angle I saw was the TV copy, and I kind of want to revert to what Joe Montana said actually a couple of days ago on ESPN how you wouldn’t send a 5-9 receiver who has had two concussions across the middle to take someone out. The way that worked out was when you’€™re having receivers cross the field, you’€™re trying to make the cornerback always gain ground up field, so you’€™re trying to go underneath him and the cornerback has the responsibility to go underneath you. You’€™re kind of playing chicken there.

“There’€™s two sides to the story,” Mesko added, “but I would trust an opinion of a great coach.”

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Read More: Ryan Mallett, Tom Brady, Wes Welker, Zoltan Mesko

Heath Evans on M&M: ‘Never going to convince’ Marshall Faulk that Patriots didn’t cheat in Super Bowl XXXVI

01.31.14 at 11:48 am ET
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NFL Network analyst Heath Evans, a former Patriots fullback, joined Mut & Merloni from Super Bowl Radio Row on Friday to preview the Super Bowl and respond to Marshall Faulk‘s Spygate comments from a day earlier. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.

On Thursday, Faulk appeared on Mut & Merloni and indicated that he holds a grudge toward the Patriots, who upset his Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI in 2002, implying that they gained an advantage from illegal videotaping.

“When you have that blood, sweat and tears mixed into a lost Super Bowl vs. the Patriots, and then you hear all the conflicting reports about what could be or what was or what wasn’t, the bottom line is that you just start throwing it all, ‘Well, everything they did, they won because they were cheating,’ ” Evans responded. “Well, the bottom line is, we know for a fact as a team that the day when Bill [Belichick] came in and squashed that whole thing, we know there was a whole bunch of other teams that current time, in that day and age in ’07, that were doing the same exact thing. It was just kind of the standard policy that, OK, if you get caught you take the tape and you just kind of let it hush-hush. Well, [then-Jets coach Eric] Mangini had his panties in a wad, kind of broke rank, and end of story.

“You go back to those Super Bowls, Marshall doesn’t know for a fact that anything was done. It’s speculation. Therefore, it’s a non-conversation. If it was facts, then we could argue facts. But opinions? I’m never going to convince Marshall. We’ve had these same conversations.”

Added Evans: “When you’re in it, and your life’s invested in this, and then you feel something has been taken away from you — I look back at 2007 and I listen to some of the conversations that I’ve had with Bill and the conversations we had right after that game. It had nothing to do with taping; it had the fact that we drifted away from our game plan and we fell right into the trap of what the Giants would want us to do. We became a pass-happy team instead of cramming it down [Michael] Strahan‘s throat.

“Well, it is what it is. Now we live with 18-1 for the rest of our lives. There’s nothing we can do about it. But it had nothing to do with taping some signals Week 1 vs. the Jets. We beat them by 40 points. We could have given them all our signals and we still would have beaten them by 25.”

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Read More: Aqib Talib, Bill Belichick, Heath Evans, Julian Edelman

Free agent snapshot: Jacoby Jones

01.31.14 at 10:15 am ET
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When free agency begins in early March, there are a handful of players across the league who could appeal to New England. Over the next two weeks — with the understanding that the status of these players could change because of the franchise or transition tag — we’€™ll look at 10 possibilities for the Patriots to consider. We have to stress that these guys aren’t necessarily considered the elite of the free agent class — instead, they are players we think would be a good fit in New England. We started our series with looks at Anquan Boldin, Emmanuel Sanders, Dennis Pitta and Eric Decker. Now, we look at Jacoby Jones.

JACOBY JONES
Position: Wide receiver
Age: 29 (will turn 30 on July 11)
Height: 6-foot-2
Weight: 215 pounds

The skinny: After an electric finish to 2012 where he returned a kick 108 yards for a touchdown in the Super Bowl to help beat the Niners, Jones appeared poised for a breakout season, but a knee injury in the opener got 2013 off on a bad note. He was sidelined until Week 6, and while there were still impressive moments for Jones — he had three games with at least 50 yards receiving — he never really reached the levels he was hoping for. Working has a second or third receiving option in the Baltimore passing game for much of the year, Jones ended the season with 37 catches for 455 yards and two touchdowns. He’€™s not a high-end receiver, but he’€™s still been able to maintain a decent level of consistency — he’€™s had five straight years with at least 400 yards receiving. His real value could come in his special teams work, as he remains one of the best punt and kick returners in the league, and would certainly give a boost wherever he signed. Ultimately, Jones is probably a slightly under-the-radar free agent prospect who could be a nice addition for a team needing wide receiver depth, as well as a jolt in the return game.

By the numbers: 5. Including the postseason, the number of returns for touchdowns Jones has posted in the last two years for the Ravens.

Why it would work: As mentioned, Jones is a speedster who brings terrific special teams value as a return man. In 2013, he averaged 28.8 yards on kickoffs (fourth in the league) and 12.5 yards on punts (fifth in the league). However, he might represent a relative luxury item for the Ravens, who could be inclined to let him walk. It’€™s not believed that Baltimore would be inclined to franchise him, and with the Patriots in need of some consistency in the kick return game (and possibly at punt return as well with Julian Edelman poised to enter free agency), he could provide some stability there for New England.

Why it might not work: While he does have great straight-line speed, Jones is what scouts might term a one-dimensional speedster, and New England usually favors quicker, shiftier pass catchers as opposed to faster individuals. In addition, the possibility of a reunion between Jones and Gary Kubiak (the new Baltimore OC) could be too great for the receiver to ignore, as Jones came of age with Houston when Kubiak as head coach of the Texans. There’€™s a comfort level there with Kubiak that might allow him to take a discount when it comes to returning to the Ravens.

Quote: “You never see a dog stretch when he chases a car.” — Jones, speaking with the NFL Network this week, when asked why he doesn’t stretch before practice

Our take: Jones is not the type of receiver the Patriots usually favor, but his combination of special teams value and his ability to bring some depth to the receiving corps could add an interesting dimension in New England. While there’€™s some question as to where he would fit in the current positional grouping with the Patriots (he might represent a fallback plan for New England if someone else left), his elite-level speed and work as a returner will allow him to find a spot somewhere in the NFL. If New England and Jones could agree on some sort of relatively short-money investment — say, two years — it could be a winning matchup.

Read More: free agent snapshot, Jacoby Jones,

Free agent snapshot: Eric Decker

01.30.14 at 9:36 pm ET
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When free agency begins in early March, there are a handful of players across the league who could appeal to New England. Over the next two weeks — with the understanding that the status of these players could change because of the franchise or transition tag –€” we’€™ll look at 10 possibilities for the Patriots to consider. We have to stress that these guys aren’€™t necessarily considered the elite of the free agent class –€” instead, they are players we think would be a good fit in New England. We started our series with looks at Anquan Boldin, Emmanuel Sanders and Dennis Pitta. Today, it’€™s Eric Decker.

ERIC DECKER
Position: Wide receiver
Age: 26 (will turn 27 on March 15)
Height: 6-foot-3
Weight: 214 pounds

The skinny: You want to get back at a conference rival for swiping your elite-level pass catcher in free agency? Swipe theirs! OK, so it wouldn’t be as easy as that, but the idea of New England inking Decker a year after the Broncos picked up Wes Welker would be interesting, to say the least. Decker — who was taken three spots before the Patriots drafted Taylor Price in 2010 — finished the 2013 season with a career-best 87 catches for 1,288 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns, and will hit the market at the perfect time, particularly if he’€™s able to help Denver win on Sunday. He’€™s durable (he hasn’€™t missed a game the last three years), has some positional versatility (he’€™s lined up at both the X and the Z while with the Broncos), and he has some value as a special teamer (he worked as a punt and kick returner relatively early in his career with the Broncos before the job was given to Trindon Holliday).

By the numbers: 63. Of Decker’€™s 87 catches in 2013, 63 of them went for first down, a rate of 72.4 percent and good enough for ninth in the league. Decker was also in the top 10 in receptions of 20 yards or more (19, tied for ninth) and receiving touchdowns (11, tied for eighth overall).

Why it would work: Several reasons: One, the Broncos have several expiring contracts — 17 unrestricted free agents, to be specific — and would be hard-pressed to retain them all, including Decker. (In that same vein, it appears unlikely Denver would be interested in franchising him.) And two, Decker’€™s background with Josh McDaniels (McDaniels was his head coach with the Broncos when he was drafted by Denver) could create a nice comfort zone for the receiver. In good cases and bad, McDaniels has brought several pass catchers with him from stops in Denver and St. Louis — Decker could be the next McDaniels import to sign with New England.

Why it might not work: Money. A distinctly lackluster class of free agent wide receivers could drive up Decker’€™s asking price, and right out of the Patriots’€™ price range.

Quote: “He did draft me, and I’€™m very thankful that he gave me the opportunity to be playing in the NFL, especially with such a great organization like Denver. I’ve got a lot of respect for him as a coach. He’s a brilliant mind, offensively. I’€™m sure, like any coach, he’€™s excited and he’€™s happy for the guys that he drafted.”€ — Decker, speaking this week about the impact McDaniels had on his career

Our take: It seems like something of a long-shot — after all, a guy who has had 216 catches over the last three seasons will draw plenty of interest on the open market, especially when you consider that it’ll be something of a depressed year for receivers’ contracts. Throw in the fact that the Patriots aren’t expected to have a ton of dough under the cap this spring, and it feels like Decker is a little out of their range. But Decker clearly has an affinity for McDaniels, and the Patriots offensive coordinator has managed to find a way to get many of the guys he favored at previous stops to Foxboro the last few years, a group that includes Brandon Lloyd, Michael Hoomanawanui, Daniel Fells, Danny Amendola and Greg Salas. It’€™ll be interesting to see that if the Patriots are going to be involved in the pursuit of Decker, how much of an influence McDaniels could have.

Read More: Eric Decker, free agent snapshot, Josh McDaniels, Wes Welker

Patriots position-by-position breakdown: Running back

01.30.14 at 5:40 pm ET
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With the Patriots done for the year, we’€™ve got an end of the year position-by-position breakdown of where the roster stands. We started with special teams, wide receivers and tight ends. Now, it’€™s the running backs.

Depth chart: Stevan Ridley (178 carries, 773 rushing yards, 4.3 YPC, 7 TDs), LeGarrette Blount (153 carries, 772 rushing yards, 5 YPC, 7 TDs), Shane Vereen (44 carries, 208 rushing yards, 4.7 YPC, 1 rushing TD; 47 catches, 427 receiving yards, 3 TDs), Brandon Bolden (55 carries, 271 rushing yards, 4.9 YPC, 3 TDs; 21 catches, 152 receiving yards), fullback James Develin (4 carries, 10 rushing yards, 2.5 YPC, 1 TD).

Overview: This was a fascinating group to watch over the course of the year. The season started with Ridley as the lead back, but that didn’€™t last a full half before he was benched in the opener against Buffalo in favor of Vereen because of a fumble. Vereen then assumed the lead role — until it was revealed at the end of the Bills game that he suffered a wrist injury and would go on IR-DFR. The Patriots turned back to Ridley, who continued to have ball security issues over the course of the season, so much so that he was benched for a game against the Texans.

But as the season went on, Blount began to emerge as a powerful force, while Vereen and Ridley became complementary parts of the running game. While the running game stalled out in the AFC title contest, the stretch drive effort of Blount — 431 yards in a three-game stretch (two at the end of the regular season and one playoff game) — provided a tremendous lift for the New England offense at a time when it needed it most.

(While the three lead backs got most of the ink, it’€™s important to note that Bolden and Develin also provided a boost, Bolden with some much needed depth protection — particularly in spot duty when Vereen was on the shelf — while Develin and his neck roll were able to do a tremendous job clearing the way for the rest of the backs. Prior to the 2013 season, the Patriots hadn’€™t employed a full-time fullback since Heath Evans in 2008, but Develin’€™s work and dependability likely mean he’€™ll be back again in 2014.)

It remains to be seen what this group will look like in 2014. Can Vereen emerge as a healthy and consistent offensive threat? Can Ridley get over whatever ball security issues dogged him over the course of the 2013 campaign and return to full-time, lead-back status? And how deep will the Patriots reach into their own pockets to bring back Blount, who will hit the free agent market as one of the most intriguing prospects on the radar screen? Regardless, figure on the running back position to be one of the strengths of the offense heading into the 2014 season.
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Read More: Brandon Bolden, James Develin, LeGarrette Blount, position-by-position breakdown
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