|10.09.11 at 12:41 pm ET|
FOXBORO — It’s not often that the Jets and Patriots play a game that feels like the Yankees and Red Sox at Fenway Park on a summer afternoon but that is the stage at Gillette Stadium for a late afternoon game in early October.
Sunshine and temperatures in the upper 70s are expected for the key AFC East clash between two teams with a lot riding on the outcome.
As if the inspiration of beating the Jets wasn’t enough, the latest Boston champion will be in the building with its most-famous piece of hardware as the Bruins are bringing the Stanley Cup to Gillette after their Sunday practice.
The Patriots are 3-1 and still searching for an identity on defense, which is now likely without one of its leaders for a while as Jerod Mayo injured his left knee last week in Oakland. The Patriots are giving up more yards per game than any team in the NFL but they showed signs last week in the second half of turning a corner.
The Jets are 2-2, coming off two hideous performances, including last week’s embarrassment on national TV in Baltimore as they were stampeded by the Ravens, 34-17. The week before, they gave up 170 yards to Darren McFadden, including a 70-yard TD run that coach Rex Ryan this week labeled “an embarrassment.”
The Patriots have no such identity problems on offense as they have ridden the arm of Tom Brady and the hands of Wes Welker to record-setting start. Welker is on a record-pace in the first four games, with 40 catches for 616 yards and five touchdowns. The catches and yards would break Jerry Rice‘s all-time record if the pace continued over 16 games. Welker has 472 catches since the start of the 2007 season, 57 more than Brandon Marshall, who is second with 415.
The Patriots haven’t lost a regular season home game since being beaten 33-10 by the Steelers on Nov. 30, 2008, a run of 18 straight wins on the Gillette Stadium turf.
The Patriots haven’t lost to an AFC East foe at home since the Jets beat them that season, 34-31, in overtime on Nov. 13.
Both teams are looking forward to the return of key players from injury. The Patriots are expected to have Albert Haynesworth available after missing the last two weeks with a sore back. Tight end Aaron Hernandez could be back after injuring his left knee in Week 2 against the Chargers. Defensive lineman Mike Wright, who suffered a concussion in Week 1 against the Dolphins, was listed as questionable and returned to practice this week. He is a possibility in the defensive rotations.
The Jets are getting back Pro Bowl center Nick Mangold from a high ankle sprain. Colin Baxter was roughed up by the Ravens last week as Mark Sanchez practically no time to throw the ball and was under constant pressure.
|10.09.11 at 12:31 pm ET|
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is scheduled to start Sunday against the Titans, but this may still be a good week to bench him. ESPN’s Jamison Henley reported that Roethlisberger was limping badly during pregame warm-ups and could barely run at half-speed when the Steelers sprinted to midfield. Roethlisberger sprained his left foot last week.
NFL Network’s Jason La Canfora reported Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall will be a game-time decision for the Steelers game against the Titans Sunday. Mendenhall is questionable with a hamstring injury, and even if he does play in Sunday’s game, he will play backup to Isaac Redman. Since the Titans have the eighth-ranked run defense in the NFL and running backs with hamstring issues are never good news, Mendenhall likely will not be a productive fantasy player this week.
The Vikings announced Bernard Berrian will be inactive for Sunday’s game. Berrian has not been much of a factor in fantasy leagues this year, but he was not listed on the injury report this week. Beat writer Jeremy Fowler of the St. Paul Pioneer Press suggested Berrian may have been benched because of comments on Twitter questioning his role on the offense and taking a shot at a state lawmaker. After catching one pass for 20 yards last week against the Chiefs, Berrian wrote wide open at least 5 times . . . starting the #getBTwicetherockCampaign enough is enough.
Later, Berrian responded to a tweet from lawmaker John Kriesel in which Kriesel called Berrian hilarious because of his comments about his role on the offense. Berrian wrote Anytime u wanna watch the film with me. Not just one game but all of them . . . and if not, sit down n shut up!!
The Seahawks announced cornerback Marcus Trufant will be inactive this week with a back injury. The Seahawks secondary has struggled and will be even worse without Trufant, but they are not the worst secondary in the league. Trufant’s absence will be a concern, but not an increased reason to panic for anyone who has the Seahawks as a defense.
|10.08.11 at 8:59 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Patriots owner Robert Kraft was among the many around the NFL and the world of sports to pay tribute to Al Davis on Saturday.
The Raiders announced earlier in the day Saturday that the longtime owner passed away at the age of 82 and Kraft – a fellow NFL owner – recalled the first time he met Davis, a fellow native of Massachusetts.
‘I was deeply saddened to learn of Al Davis‘ death this morning,” Kraft said in a statement Saturday night. “Al was an American Football League pioneer and a legendary hall of fame contributor to the National Football League. He was one of the first owners to welcome me into the NFL in 1994, which was a great thrill for me personally and an introduction that I will never forget. I always admired his passion for the game and enjoyed listening to his historical account of some of the game’s most memorable moments. He had a unique style and a certain aura about him that would be hard to ever replicate. When engaged in any discussion, he always spoke with great conviction and could be very persuasive.
‘We shared a bond as two Massachusetts natives in the NFL, something that he pointed out to me in that initial introduction. I feel fortunate to have spent time with him just last Sunday before our game against the Raiders. Not knowing when I would see him again, I told him how much I appreciated all he had done for the game of football and thanked him for all that he had done for me. He informed me of the Raiders’ plans to honor my sweetheart with a moment of silence before our game, which was a touching and heartfelt gesture. Little did I know that just one week later, we would be doing the same in his honor. It’s very sad.
‘On behalf of the entire Kraft family, I want to extend our heartfelt condolences to the Davis family, the Oakland Raiders organization and all of the Raiders fans who are mourning his loss. His presence will be missed, but his legacy will live forever.’
|10.08.11 at 1:15 pm ET|
Upon the passing of Raiders owner Al Davis on Saturday morning, Patriots coach Bill Belichick has issued a statement through the team: ‘While I am saddened by the news of Mr. Davis’ passing, I will forever be heartened and enriched by the many personal interactions I had with him over the years. His winning, his football knowledge, his passion for his team and contributions to the league made him one of the all-time greats. By striving for the highest level of excellence with our respective teams and the game itself, we will be honoring the memory of Al Davis.’
|10.08.11 at 9:30 am ET|
Another Sunday, another big one for the Patriots as they host the Jets in Foxboro. Here are some numbers that struck me:
* – New England’s Stevan Ridley rushed for 97 yards on 10 carries last Sunday, good for a 9.7 yard average. It was the highest average by a Patriots’ rusher in his first game with 10 or more carries since at least 1970:
9.7 – Stevan Ridley, 2011
7.3 – Robert Perryman, 1987
6.9 – Andy Johnson, 1975
6.9 – Don Calhoun, 1975
6.8 – Steve Grogan, 1977
In the last 41 years (since 1970), 1,116 different NFL players have experienced their first game with 10 or more carries. Ridley’s 9.7 average was the 6th highest out of those 1,116 (non-QB’s). Here are the top three:
10.7 – Troy Hambrick, DAL, 2001
10.4 – Gil Fenerty, NO, 1990
10.4 – Tony Galbreath, NO, 1976
* – New England has put up a touchdown on their first offensive possession in all four games this season. The Jets have allowed two opening possession touchdowns. With 35 “first possession” points (first and second halves combined), the Patriots lead the league:
35 – Patriots
31 – Cowboys
28 – Packers
Note this: On their first possession of the second half, New York has wound up punting the ball away all four times.
* – The Patriots have scored a touchdown in the first quarter in nine consecutive games, one shy of the longest in the NFL since 1997:
10 – Chargers (2009-2010)
9 – Patriots (2010-2011)
9 – Titans (2004-2005)
Note this: In three of the last nine games, the Patriots have scored TWO touchdowns in the first quarter. The Jets have not scored two first quarter TD’s in a game in any of their last 29 games.
Note this too: After not allowing a first quarter TD until their EIGHTH game last season, the Jets have allowed four in their first four games this year.
Only St. Louis (7) and New Orleans (5) have allowed more.
Worthless Fact: Since 1997, the Patriots have allowed an average of 5.6 first quarter TD’s per season, easily the fewest in the league in that span (the Jets rank second at 6.0).
* – Patriots’ opponents are averaging an incredible 8.83 yards on first down through four weeks. Not only is that last in the league, but it’s on pace to be the worst in the NFL since 2000 by a WIDE margin:
8.83 – Patriots, 2011 (through four weeks)
6.80 – Lions, 2008
6.57 – Redskins, 2010
6.52 – Texans, 2010
The Patriots’ worst showing from 2000 through 2010? They allowed an average of 5.93 yards on first down in 2005. I’d say that mark is in serious trouble.
Note this: While the Patriots have the worst first down defense in the league, the Jets have the best, allowing an average of 3.97 yards on first down.
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|10.07.11 at 1:43 pm ET|
Sports Illustrated’s Peter King joined Mut & Merloni Friday at noon for his weekly discussion of NFL news.
King talked about wide receiver Wes Welker and his incredible start to the season. Welker has 40 receptions for 616 yards and five touchdowns in just four games so far this season. King said that the Patriots wideout is one of the top four or five receivers in the game.
“I think he is [one of the NFL’s top receivers] if you consider that there are a lot of different kinds of receivers in football right now,” King said. “He certainly is the state-of-the-art in the flat, and the great thing about him is he’s versatile, he can do anything.
“If the Jets are smart, they’ll put [Darrelle] Revis on him from the start of the game until the end. He clearly is a guy who you have to pay attention to on running downs and throwing downs, and If I were Rex [Ryan], if I were Mike Pettine, there’d be no question. On Wednesday, I would have taken Revis and I would’ve just said, ‘You’ve got this guy every snap.’ ”
While Welker has been enjoying an excellent 2011 season, teammate Chad Ochocinco has struggled to find a place in the New England offense. Through the first four games, Ochocinco has just seven receptions for 113 yards.
“I’m surprised, because knowing the offense and conquering what he has to know in the playbook has never been a problem, and I don’t know if specifically if that’s his problem today,” King said. “He has not done with Tom Brady what Brady has with all those other guys, which is the faith of knowing exactly where he’s going to be and what time he’s going to be there.”
Following are more highlights from the conversation. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.
On the Patriots defense: “It’s only a matter of time before the defense ruins their season. I wrote that the other day, and after watching them now for 75 percent of their games, their plays so far, I just think that first of all, I was very surprised to hear Pepper Johnson, who I respect a lot, say the other day that he’s happy with the pressure that they’re getting on up front. How can you be happy with the pressure you’re getting up front when Chad Henne torches you?
I don’t think its the scheme. I think Belichick knows what he’s doing in that way. I just think the players playing it, particularly in the front end, are just not getting the pressure they need to bother quarterbacks enough to beat them.”
On Jets QB Mark Sanchez: “We’ve all seen him be good enough to very good, especially in the clutch. And I refuse to believe that the guy’s a bum. He’s not a bum, he’s a young quarterback learning his craft who is going to have some rocky days. … Without pressure on Sanchez, I would think he’d be able to do some damage with [Plaxico] Burress and Santonio Holmes this week.”
On the surging Detroit Lions: “Calvin Johnson reminds me of Andre Johnson. Matt Schaub once told me, ‘I’ll just throw it up there, [Andre] has the best chance of anybody, even if he’s in triple coverage, to get it. And I remember being with Matthew Stafford in training camp this year and I said, ‘Look at how many times you keep going to Calvin Johnson.’ I think there was 17 plays on that day in camp with the full squad on the field, on both sides, 17 snaps and he completed six passes out of like 10 to Calvin Johnson. And I said, ‘Why’d you go to him so much?’ And he look at me and he goes, ‘Wouldn’t you?’ “
|10.07.11 at 1:33 pm ET|
FOXBORO — The emotions following last January’s 28-21 playoff loss to the Jets were pretty raw for the Patriots, even for the always-smiling and relaxed Deion Branch.
After he saw Jets players doing their airplane wings all over the field in the closing moments and hearing many of them trash-talking to the Patriots and to the crowd, he had seen enough.
‘It was a lot of classless play on the football field after the game,’ Branch said after that game. ‘But you have to expect that from some of the guys.
‘You can tell they’re not used to being in this position, for some of the guys to act like that. You can tell some of the guys that have been in this position before.’
Branch was so bothered by both the Jets behavior and his own response that he felt he had to make amends. On Friday, Branch told reporters inside the Patriots locker room, that he had done just that.
“Nah, that’s stuff is behind me,” Branch said, two days before the rematch at Gillette. “I’m a refreshed man. I’m a refreshed man Everything’s good. That stuff is in the past. I don’t think about that. I spoke to those guys. I’m a refreshed man. Everything’s good. It’s all about going out Sunday and playing football.
“I think the rivalry will get guys pumped up. All that stuff that happened in the past, I don’t think guys are really fueling off that stuff. They’re not coming in here and saying, ‘We beat them last year, da, da, da.’ It’s a big game for both of us. We both have to go out and execute our plays and whatever team goes out and makes the [fewest] mistakes, I’m pretty sure that’s who will come out on top.” Read the rest of this entry »