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Mike Petraglia and Chris Price preview Patriots-Saints

10.10.13 at 3:39 pm ET
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Rob Gronkowski says ‘nothing’s changed’ about his availability to the Patriots

10.10.13 at 1:31 pm ET
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FOXBORO — The question was short and to the point to open a two-minute availability with Rob Gronkowski Thursday: Any chance of you playing Sunday against the Saints?

“It’s basically nothing new,” Gronkowski began. “Just working hard every week, working hard out at practice and nothing’s changed. We’re day-by-day like we’ve been from the very beginning. It’s all about the New England Patriots versus the New Orleans Saints this weekend. It’s going to be exciting. They’ve got a good team.

“I’m improving every single week and just working hard.”

Does Gronkowski sense the team – and specifically the offense – needs him desperately back on the field?

“I’m just doing whatever the coach asks me to do,” Gronkowski said. “I’m out on the practice field, doing what my teammates ask me to do and just help out the team to my max ability.”

Does he feel he can play?

“I’m just working every day, improving every day to my max and taking it day-by-day,” he added, before being asked what it will be like to finally get back on the field in a game. “It’s going to be a great feeling, obviously. Just been working hard towards that goal, working hard every day to achieve that. It’s going to be exciting when it happens. It’s going to be awesome.”

What is he looking for to get over the hump?

“Really just taking each at a time and just trying to improve every day at a time and that’s all,” Gronkowski said. “I’m improving every week. Obviously, when I started at the beginning, conditioning was pretty rough but that’s what practice is for and working hard is for. Just improving every week, taking it day-by-day and we’ll be super excited when I get out there.”

The session with Gronk ended when a reporter asked if this the best he has felt since having offseason surgeries on his forearm and back.

“I’ve got to go work out so I’ll probably feel better after that,” Gronkowski said with a laugh.

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Patriots practice Thursday: Tommy Kelly, Leon Washington and Jamie Collins missing

10.10.13 at 10:47 am ET
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FOXBORO — Tommy Kelly and Leon Washington missed their second straight practice on Thursday while defensive end Michael Buchanan returned as the Patriots worked out in sweats and shells on the upper grass fields outside Gillette Stadium. Linebacker Jamie Collins, who was not on Wednesday’s injury report, was not present either for the start of practice.

Kelly left Sunday’s game in the fourth quarter holding his right knee and limped off the field. Washington suffered an ankle injury and was replaced by Devin McCourty in the kick return game.

Also of note, running back Shane Vereen and defensive lineman Armond Armstead made an appearance on a separate practice field and were spotted working out in sweats. Vereen had a brace on his right wrist, the wrist that was broken in Week 1 in Buffalo. Armstead, who spent the first five weeks on the non-football illness list, has been recovering from an infection that required surgery in the summer.

The team is continuing on-field preparations for the Saints this Sunday at Gillette Stadium.

On Wednesday, in an effort to add depth along the defensive line, which is already without Vince Wilfork for the rest of the season, the team signed former Panthers defensive tackle Andre Neblett on Wednesday.

Read More: Armond Armstead, Jamie Collins, Leon Washington, New England Patriots

Sean Payton says Bill Belichick is ‘someone certainly I look up to’

10.09.13 at 9:07 pm ET
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From the moment he took over the Saints as head coach in 2006, Sean Payton has always paid close attention to Bill Belichick. So when he was reminded Wednesday that Belichick paid him a big compliment for the way he calls plays for the Saints, Payton returned the favor.

‘€œWe are in different conferences and yet he has been someone that I first got to know at the Pro Bowl in 2006 when we both coached teams there,” Payton said. “He has been someone certainly that I look up to. We’€™ve shared the opportunity to work for a Hall of Fame head coach and so there are probably some things that are similar and yet a lot of things that would be different.

“When you are young in this league, Bill talked about this all the time, when he had guys like (Tom) Landry, (Joe) Gibbs and (Chuck) Noll, older coaches that not necessarily took him under their wing, but that he could visit with periodically. We’€™ve had a chance to scrimmage in practice with New England and that opportunity for me to just spend some time with Bill has been always helpful and a positive experience.’€

Belichick was effusive in his praise for Payton and the way he calls plays before their Monday night meeting in 2009. The Saints came out and blew away the Patriots, 38-17, in front of a national TV audience.

Of course, in 2009, Payton joined Belichick in the select group of Super Bowl-winning coaches. Payton was asked if he considers his Saints in the same class at the Patriots in terms of giving their fans a consistent winner. Under Payton, the Saints are 67-34. That does not include the 7-9 season of 2012, when he was suspended for the full season for his involvement in the “Bounty Gate” scandal. Payton’s winning percentage, including playoffs, is .660. That ranks him fifth among all coaches, with Belichick topping the list at .756 with a 167-54 mark.

‘€œWe just haven’€™t had the same amount of years,” Payton said. “These guys are now through 10 years and so that would be a goal to win the championships and win as many championship games as they had. You aspire to do that. You aspire to put yourselves in a position to play in the important games, but there are a lot of postseason wins and regular season wins we are behind.’€

So how did Payton become so successful calling offensive plays?

‘€œI think it just varies with your players,” he said. “You try to just put them in the best position you can. I have been on teams where the personnel has been different and obviously then what you are trying to do is different. I think each week we try to look at each game and figure out the best way we feel it is possible to do that, it kind of stems from that.’€

Something else Payton learned from Belichick is to always prepare as if a player like Rob Gronkowski will play, even though he’s missed the first five games of the season. On Wednesday, Payton showed he’s learned well from Belichick.

‘€œI think you go through the process as if he is playing,” Payton said of Gronkowski. “You discuss jersey numbers and when you are running practice plays you try to prepare for what you have seen when he played and not be surprised if he is up. And also understand that if he is not each week we are faced with that now and the other team is as well. Sometimes if it is an interior lineman, certain positions aren’€™t as maybe as noticeable where you are trying to match up certain personnel, but with a player like him it is pretty significant.’€

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Prosecutors seek removal of judge in Aaron Hernandez murder trial

10.09.13 at 5:29 pm ET
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Prosecutors in the Aaron Hernandez murder trial suspect the worst when it comes to Bristol County Superior Court Judge Susan Garsh. That much was made clear as Hernandez appeared in Bristol County Superior Court Wednesday.

Lead prosecutor and Bristol County Assistant D.A. William McCauley Wednesday filed a motion to remove Garsh, a judge he says has shown “antagonism” toward the government in the past.

Hernandez appeared in court Wednesday for the first time since his arraignment on first degree murder charges in the shooting of 27-year old former associate Odin Lloyd in June.

Garsh said she would schedule a separate hearing and denied McCauley’s request for a confidential sidebar on the request to have her recused from the case.

McCauley’s skepticism toward Garsh dates to a 2010 murder trial, after which McCauley ripped the judge in an interview. McCauley claimed the judge showed ‘€œantagonism’€ toward the government throughout the case.

Defense lawyers in that case defended Garsh as fair while and Hernandez’s legal representatives said Wednesday they would oppose the prosecution’s motion. Garsh was assigned the Hernandez case two weeks ago after he pleaded not guilty to an indictment charging him with killing Lloyd and weapons possession.

During Wednesday’s hearing, Hernandez was briefly called to the stand so the judge could ask him about a potential conflict of interest, as one of his defense lawyers works in the same firm as the wife of one of the prosecutors. Hernandez said he was aware of the connection but did not have a problem with it. The judge asked him a series of questions, including what kind of work he did.

‘€œI played football ‘€“ NFL,’€ he told Garsh in a barely audible voice.

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Patriots injury report Wednesday: Stevan Ridley limited in return, Rob Gronkowski still limited

10.09.13 at 5:07 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Stevan Ridley returned to practice on Wednesday and was among 11 Patriots listed as limited at the sweats and shells workout in Foxboro as the team begins preparations for the Saints Sunday at Gillette Stadium. Ridley missed all three practices last week with a knee injury, which kept him out of Sunday’s game against Cincinnati, the first game he’s missed due to injury in his three year career.

Center Ryan Wendell and pass rusher Rob Ninkovich were among two notable additions this week, with Wendell dealing with a concussion from Sunday’s game in Cincinnati while Ninkovich is suffering from a groin ailment.

Matthew Slater practiced for the second time in five days after returning last Friday. He was again limited with a wrist injury that forced him to miss the Bengals game. Slater has missed four games since injuring the wrist in Week 1.

Here is Wednesday’s complete report:

Did Not Practice
DT Tommy Kelly (knee)
RB Leon Washington (ankle)
DE Michael Buchanan (not injury related)

Limited Participation
WR Danny Amendola (groin)
RB Brandon Bolden (knee)
WR Aaron Dobson (neck)
TE Rob Gronkowski (back/forearm)
LB Dont’a Hightower (knee)
LB Jerod Mayo (ankle)
DL Rob Ninkovich (groin)
RB Stevan Ridley (knee)
ST Matthew Slater (wrist)
C Ryan Wendell (concussion)
DB Tavon Wilson (hamstring)

Full Participation
CB Kyle Arrington (groin)
DB Nate Ebner (ankle)

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Tom Brady isn’t waiting around for Rob Gronkowski: ‘If he’s there, he’s there’

10.09.13 at 4:41 pm ET
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FOXBORO — No one has relied on Rob Gronkowski over the last three years more than Tom Brady. But even the Patriots quarterback realizes at some point you can’t wait around forever.

Told that there is a higher expectation that the star tight end finally makes his 2013 debut this weekend against the Saints, Brady took a more cautious approach.

“Whenever that happens, who knows? I feel like I’€™ve kind of talked about it a lot the past five weeks,” Brady said. “If he is there, he’€™s there. If he’€™s not, he’€™s not. We’€™re going to try to win anyway.

“Our job is to go out there and score, so we’€™re not doing a great job of that. The execution has to be a lot better. That’€™s what we’€™re working on. We’€™re trying to improve in all areas. It’€™s frustrating when we don’€™t score, but we’€™re going to try and do better this weekend.”

Has it been difficult to game plan not knowing if Gronkowski is available?

“Well during the week, whoever is out there is out there, and the plan is the plan,” Brady said. “You could lose guys the first play of the game, and the whole plan that you worked on all week is out the door at that point.

“It’€™s an emotional game, so I think all emotions play into what we are trying to do. I think you have to focus on what your job is and then try to do it the best you can, regardless of who is out there, because someone can get hurt this week, but you have to keep moving on, like what happened with Vince [Wilfork] in Atlanta. We lost him early [and] we still had to go out there and play a game. We’€™re 4-1 so I think that’€™s the good thing. Hopefully we can get to 5-1. That would be a pretty good start. We had our chances last week, didn’€™t do it, but the great part is that we have an opportunity this week. We just have to go out and play a lot better than we played last week.”

“He has been a great player for us since he got here. He’€™s always looked the same to me. He’€™s Gronk, that’€™s what he is. He comes in every day and works hard. He’€™s got a lot of excitement and brings a lot of energy to the team. He’€™s a great player. What he has shown over the past few years, that’€™s what he is.”

Can Gronk help Brady right now?

“We’€™ll see. I mean it’€™s not up to me,” Brady said. “I haven’€™t made those decisions. I’€™m just kind of waiting like everyone else. Whenever it is, it is. We’€™re 4-1, we’€™ve won four games without him. If he is not there this week, we’€™ve got to try to go 5-1 anyways. Hopefully when he does get back out there we will be more productive.”

The Patriots managed to win their first four games before the stinker last week in Cincinnati. Has it been frustrating to watch the offense struggle without him overall?

“I just want us to score points, so whatever it takes to score points, that’€™s what matters. I think you let your emotions get into it and feelings and so forth ‘€“ I mean realistically, you have to come up with a plan. We have to figure out to score points. I said after the game, we’€™re not going to win many games scoring six points. So, if we score six points this weekend we probably won’€™t win. We’€™ve got to do a lot better than that.”

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