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Brady, Brees or Rodgers: Which history-making quarterback would you want?

12.27.11 at 11:38 am ET
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It has been an incredible year for quarterbacks. Saints quarterback Drew Brees broke Dan Marino‘s 27-year-old record for most passing yards in NFL history on Monday night. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is also likely to surpass Marino in his Week 17 contest against the Bills. Aaron Rodgers has thrown for 45 touchdowns and just six interceptions, and his 122.5 QB Rating would be the highest in NFL history.

All three quarterbacks are amidst historic seasons. All three have won Super Bowls, with Brees and Rodgers each having hoisted the Lombardi Trophy once, while Brady has done so three teams (though not since 2005).

A breakdown of the incredible 2011 seasons by the three quarterbacks is below — take a look and then vote in our poll.

Which quarterback do you think is having the best season in 2011? Vote below and offer your comments

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Patriots Potential Playoff Opponents: Baltimore Ravens

12.26.11 at 4:15 pm ET
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With the Patriots securely in the postseason, it’€™s time to start sizing up their possible postseason opponents. This is the first in a weeklong series of features on the rest of the AFC playoff teams. Today, we open with a look at the Baltimore Ravens:

The skinny: Baltimore, which enters the final week of the regular season at 11-4, has clinched a playoff spot and is currently the No. 2 seed behind New England. Despite the successes the Ravens have had this year, they remains the AFC’€™s ultimate trick-or-treat franchise: The Ravens have beaten several good teams — they’€™ve swept Pittsburgh, and posted solid wins over San Francisco, Houston, the New York Jets and Cincinnati. Meanwhile, they’€™ve submitted some of the worst performances in the league this season, having lost to Tennessee, Jacksonville, Seattle and San Diego, four teams who will likely miss out on the playoffs. Bottom line? No one is sure what to expect from this Baltimore team in the postseason.

Offense: The Ravens certainly don’€™t possess a world-class offense, but could still be called better than average. Baltimore relies on Ray Rice to grind out yardage in the running game, and the Rutgers product has 1,173 yards on 267 carries for a 4.4 yards per carry average and 10 touchdowns this season. When Joe Flacco (297-for-523 for 3,480 yards, 19 touchdowns and 12 interceptions) throws the ball, he looks for Rice out of the backfield (74 catches, 696 yards). When he does look downfield, it’€™s usually wide receiver Anquan Boldin (57 catches, 887 yards, 3 TDs) or tight end Ed Dickson (53 catches, 508 yards, five TDs).

Defense: More often than not, Baltimore wins because if its defense. The combination of defensive lineman Haloti Ngata, linebackers Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs and safety Ed Reed has been one of the best in the league the last few seasons, and this year is no exception. The Ravens can get after the passer with the best of them (their 47 sacks are second-best in the league to Philadelphia’€™s 49), and they rank in the top five virtually every major defensive category, including fewest points per game allowed (16.7 heading into the final week of the regular season).

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Read More: Anquan Boldin, Bernard Pollard, Ed Dickson, Ed Reed

Devin McCourty: I knew I had to ‘just keep fighting’

12.25.11 at 12:49 pm ET
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FOXBORO — It could’ve been the nightmare before Christmas for Devin McCourty. But the cornerback who kept getting picked on in the first half rebounded in the second half Saturday to turn his day into a feel-good Christmas Story.

McCourty had a brutal first half, giving up a 39-yard pass to Brian Hartline on 3rd-and-9 down the right sideline on the game’s opening drive. That led to a Dolphins field goal.

In the second quarter, it only got worse. McCourty again got spun around down the right sideline, ending in a 47-yard pass from Matt Moore to Brandon Marshall. That led to a Moore to Marshall 19-yard TD strike and a 10-0 Miami lead.

“When you line up against Marshall a lot, you know they’re going to throw him the ball,” McCourty said. “Covering him, you know you’re going to get some balls your way. They have guys out there than can make plays. They were able to put the ball in the air. We made some plays and they definitely made some, too.”

On the next drive, the Patriots had the Dolphins pinned 3rd-and-12 at their own 9. Moore threw a ball too high for Hartline, but in his haste, McCourty tackled Hartline. Pass interference was the call and the Dolphins went on to complete an 11-play, 89-yard drive, ending in a touchdown that put the Dolphins up, 17-0.

The vibes were bad. The first half ended with the Patriots being booed, as Stephen Gostkowski missed a 51-yard field goal with three seconds left in the second quarter.

‘€œJust keep fighting,” McCourty said of his first half and the team’s performance. “We’€™ve got 30 minutes to go, we’€™ve got to keep playing. We can’€™t go out there and just concede losing. Just go out there, keep fighting and see what happens.’€ Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Brandon Marshall, Devin McCourty, Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots

Stephen Gostkowski, Zoltan Mesko have big days as special teams come up big in holiday win

12.24.11 at 6:53 pm ET
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With the Patriots on their heels Saturday afternoon at Gillette Stadium, Dolphins kick returner Clyde Gates was ready to deliver a knockout punch.

After Miami stunned New England in the first half by racing out to a 17-0 lead, the Patriots could only manage a field goal on their first drive of the second half. And on the ensuing kickoff, Gates found a seam and burst through it towards open field. The only obstacle standing between him and the end zone: kicker Stephen Gostkowski.

“That was kind of the ‘Oh crap’ moment,” Gostkowski said following the game.

Gostkowski did not panic, as he dove and tripped up Gates, making the tackle on what otherwise would have likely been a touchdown. Instead, the Miami offense got the ball on its own 38-yard line. Three plays later, quarterback Matt Moore fumbled and Vince Wilfork recovered the ball, giving New England some life in what seemed like a hopeless game.

The Patriots offense scored a touchdown on that possession and the comeback was on. The Patriots went on to win the game, 27-24. After the game, Gostkowski talked about his all important tackle.

“Luckily I got myself in a good enough position to have an attempt to make a play,” Gostkowski said. “I’m sure there’s times, nine times out of 10, where the guy probably just runs right by me. But you know, it was a big play and it feels even more rewarding that we turned the ball over right after that and then we end up winning the game. I guess that was my Christmas present.”

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Read More: Stephen Gostkowski, Vince Wilfork, Zoltan Mesko,

Key Moment: Third-quarter turnover paves the way for a Patriots’ comeback

12.24.11 at 5:26 pm ET
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FOXBORO — For the Patriots, the key moment in Sunday’s 27-24 win over the Dolphins came early in the second half when a key turnover helped New England flip the script and gain momentum of the game.

New England had dug itself a 17-0 halftime deficit with some poor play on both sides of the ball, but the Patriots had started to climb out of the hole on its first possession of the third quarter when Stephen Gostkowski drilled a 45-yard field goal to them New England on the board with 11:44 remaining in the third.

On the Dolphins’ next possession, they were able to move the ball out to their own 40-yard line. Three plays into the drive, a botched center/quarterback exchange between Mike Pouncey and Matt Moore led to a fumble, and Patriots defensive lineman Vince Wilfork was immediately on it, falling on the ball and giving New England some of its best field position of the day. The Patriots then went 38 yards on seven plays, with the culmination coming when Tom Brady found Deion Branch on a one-yard pass play in the back of the end zone.

The extra point made it 17-10, Miami, but it was just the beginning — the Patriots would score 27 consecutive points, turning a 17-0 deficit into a 27-17 lead. New England would hold on down the stretch for the 27-24 win, pushing its’ record to 12-3 and clinching a first-round bye in the AFC playoffs.

“There was never a doubt in our mind, especially my mind, that we were going to pull this game out,” Wilfork said “We just had to go out there and make the plays, get off the field and make the plays and get off the field, and put our offense in good situations. Field position was a big thing today. Once we got field position and gave it to the offense, they handled it very well.

“That’s one of those things. You have to just keep rolling. You never know how you’re going to win but good teams always find a way to. That’s what we have to continue to do.”

Read More: Deion Branch, matt moore, Mike Pouncey, Stephen Gostkowski

Patriots beat Dolphins, clinch first-round bye

12.24.11 at 4:20 pm ET
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The Patriots followed perhaps their worst half of football with inspired play late, scoring 27 straight points in the second half and hanging on to defeat the Dolphins, 27-24, at Gillette Stadium Saturday.

The Patriots were able to do very little offensively through the first two quarters, punting on all but on of their drives, but a stronger Tom Brady and some mishaps from Dolphins quarterback Matt Moore helped the team turn things around in the second half. The Pats, who trailed 17-0 at halftime, had a 27-17 lead at the two-minute warning, but a pass from Moore to Devon Bess brought the Dolphins back within there with 1:48 remaining in the contest. The Pats were able to keep the ball the rest of the game.

With the win, the Patriots, who had already sewn up the AFC East title, clinched a first-round bye. They will finish the season next week against the Bills.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE PATRIOTS

– Brady had Tim Tebow-like numbers in the first half (6-for-19), but was surgical in the second half for the Patriots. He had a pair of rushing touchdowns (marking the second straight week in which he rushed for a score) and 21-of-27 throwing with a touchdown pass to Deion Branch.

– The Patriots had difficulty getting the ball into Miami territory offensively in the first half, but Moore made their job easier for them when he fumbled a snap in the third quarter that was recovered by Vince Wilfork. The Pats got the ball at the Miami 33-yard line. After catches by Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez moved the Pats closer, Brady capped the drive by hitting Branch in the back of the end zone for a 1-yard touchdown. The play was reviewed to determine whether Branch stepped on the end line, but the play stood. Brady was 5-for-5 on the drive.

– Moore’s turnover and Wilfork’s recovery may have woken the Patriots’ defense up, as Brandon Deaderick sacked the Dolphins’ quarterback for a nine-yard loss on the first play of the following Dolphins’ drive. Reggie Bush had a nice run on 2nd-and-19, but Rob Ninkovich was able to force another Moore fumble on 3rd-and-11. Mike Pouncey recovered, but the Dolphins had to punt from so deep in their own zone that a seven-yard return from Kevin Faulk set the Pats up at the Miami 41. The Pats would score on that drive as well, and the defense continued to play well in the second half. Jerod Mayo came up with his first sack of the season in the fourth quarter.

Dane Fletcher had some success going right up the middle at Moore. It was his pressure that rattled Moore enough to fumble the ball on the handoff to Reggie Bush on the Dolphins’ second drive of the day, and he shot through again in the fourth quarter, chasing Moore deep and forcing the Miami quarterback to throw it away and nearly take an intentional grounding penalty.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE PATRIOTS

– It was definitely an up-and-down day for Devin McCourty. He had some bright spots covering Brandon Marshall after he was beaten by Brian Hartline for a 39-yard play in the first quarter, but treachery generally surrounded the Pats’ second-year cornerback in the first half Saturday.

Marshall beat him in single coverage early in the second quarter for a 47-yard play, and the Dolphins scored two plays later to extend their lead to 10-0. On the following drive, McCourty committed an ill-advised defensive pass interference penalty. It was a play in Moore was pressured deep in Miami territory and let the ball sail, so even if Hartline were Inspector Gadget, he still would have had trouble reaching the ball. Even so, McCourty roughed him up around the waist as he was jumping before the ball got there (or didn’t get there).

McCourty nearly made a great play to intercept the ball in the end zone later in the drive, but Marshall did a good job of breaking it up. The drive resulted in a Dolphins touchdown to Charles Clay.

There was some good on the day for McCourty. Following a lost challenge by the Pats (see below), Moore went back to Hartline to for what would have been a touchdown. Moore under-threw the ball, and McCourty picked it easily for his first interception of the season. Like the rest of the Pats, McCourty was plain old bad in the first half, but he came up big when the Pats needed to turn it around.

– The makeshift offensive line put together by the Patriots with Matt Light out struggled with the pressure the Dolphins applied. With Logan Mankins at left tackle and Donald Thomas at left guard, Miami took advantage of any discomfort that may have existed on the Pats’ offensive line, sacking Brady three times in the first half and hurrying him six times.

– Mankins left the game in the first half with a knee injury and did not return to the game. Not a good sign for a team that already has injuries on the offensive line to the likes of Matt Light and Sebastian Vollmer.

– Speaking of difficulty on offense, the Patriots were terrible on offense in the first half. They punted on their first six drives, never making it past the 50-yard line before punting it each time. Their last drive of the first half was the only one in which they didn’t punt, but but it ended with Stephen Gostkowski missing a 51-yard field goal wide left.

Bill Belichick lost a challenge for the first time this season. The New England coach challenged the spot of the ball on a completion to Hartline in the third quarter, hoping to force the Dolphins to punt on fourth down rather than give them a fresh set of downs. It all worked out in the end, as McCourty picked Moore on the following play.

Halftime analysis: Dolphins 17, Patriots 0

12.24.11 at 2:33 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Two quarters are in he books here at Gillette Stadium, and the Dolphins hold a 17-0 lead on the Patriots.

‘€¢It was an ugly first half for the Patriots, who didn’t run a single play in Miami territory until there was less than a minute left in the first half. Meanwhile, the Miami offense had little trouble carving up the Patriots on the way to a pair of first-half passing touchdowns from quarterback Matt Moore.

‘€¢The Patriots saw left tackle Matt Light go down in warmups, and were already without Sebastian Vollmer, so they cobbled together an offensive line that had Logan Mankins move from left guard to left tackle (and make his first NFL start at the position), while Solder moved from right tackle to tight end and back again throughout the first half. (Marcus Cannon was at right tackle when Solder moved to tight end.) Taking Mankins spot at left guard was Donald Thomas, who appeared overwhelmed at times in pass protection early on. Then, things went from bad to worse, as Mankins went down with what appeared to be a knee injury.

‘€¢Predictably, the Patriots struggled, as the patched together offensive line had problems with picking up a Miami defense that blitzed a lot early on. (Both BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead whiffed on early blocks that led to havoc in the Patriots’ backfield.) For the half, Brady was sacked three times and the Patriots punted six times. It all culminated with a missed 51-yard field-goal attempt from Stephen Gostkowski before the end of the half.

‘€¢For New England, the defensive highlight of the first half likely came early, when Shaun Ellis made his presence felt for the first time all year when he busted in for an early sack on Moore, but the Patriots gave that yardage back (and more) when Moore found Brian Hartline for a 39-yard completion on a play where Hartline beat Devin McCourty. On that drive, the Dolphins got on the board when Dan Carpenter drilled a 47-yard field goal to make it 3-0.

‘€¢McCourty had a couple of nice pass breakups early on Brandon Marshall, but Marshall quickly got his revenge. A 47-yard completion down the Miami sideline from Miami quarterback Matt Moore to Marshall early in the second quarter (at the expense of McCourty) set up the Dolphins nicely for their first touchdown of the game, a 19-yard touchdown pass from Moore to Marshall to make it 10-0 with 13:45 left in the second quarter. On the next Miami drive, McCourty also got nailed with a defensive pass interference call that allow Miami to keep moving the chains. (That was one of two DPI calls on third-down that kept Dolphin drives alive, with the second coming on Rob Ninkovich on a funky play where Reggie Bush tried to throw a touchdown pass after a handoff from quarterback Matt Moore … but Ninkovich failed to turn around and bumped into Moore.) Moore hit Charles Clay on a one-yard pass play to make it 17-0 midway through the second quarter, drawing loud boos at Gillette.

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