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Jerod Mayo, Deion Branch on M&M: Practice key to Patriots’ success

09.19.11 at 11:42 am ET
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Linebacker Jerod Mayo and wide receiver Deion Branch joined the Mut & Merloni show live from Gillette Stadium on Monday, one day after the Patriots posted a 35-21 victory over the Chargers.

The game featured four turnovers created by the Patriots defense, plus a goal-line stand.

“When training camp started, we always said we’ve got to be tough on the goal line,” Mayo said. “I think it really paid off us yesterday — and the week before.”

Mayo said the defense benefits from practicing against the Patriots’ high-powered offense.

“Just going against our offense I think really helps us out,” Mayo said. “We’re still a young defense, and going against [Tom] Brady and Deion and those tight ends is good practice for us each and every day.”

Following are more highlights from the discussion. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.

Branch on young tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski: “I enjoy watching those two young guys practice each and every day. What they’re doing in the game is what they do in practice. It’s amazing. [Hernandez] truly thinks he’s a receiver. ‘€¦ The guy has so much confidence, and it’s good. He’s still learning, he still has a lot to learn. But both of them, Gronkowski and, true enough, the younger brother, Dan [Gronkowski], is another great one. Hopefully, we can get the opportunity to start to get him a lot of exposure as well.”

Branch on the failed third-down pass from Brady in the end zone: “It’s just a little miscommunication. Stuff just happens so fast. We were on the 4-yard line, so everything is so condensed. It’s going to happen fast. That’s something that we can always go back and look at after the play. Once we think about it, hey, I probably should have slowed down. ‘€¦ Going into the game, we want to make every play. You can’t just make every play. San Diego’s got some great players, great coaches, they had a great scheme.”

Mayo on Vince Wilfork‘s interception return: “It doesn’t get any better than that. You saw that head cock back, you know that back got a little tight on him. I think Devin [McCourty] made a great play as far as chasing that guy down, even though he got the penalty. Vince had that head back. He didn’t feel that guy behind him, trying to pop the ball out. We don’t want that.”

Mayo on filming a cameo this summer for the upcoming Farrelly brothers movie: “I had a little role in ‘The Three Stooges.’ I’m not going to tell you [about it], because I’ll probably get sued. My role is that pivotal in the movie.”

Read More: Aaron Hernandez, Deion Branch, Devin McCourty, Jerod Mayo

Boomer Esiason on D&C: Chad Ochocinco has made ‘mockery of his career’

09.19.11 at 11:07 am ET
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CBS Sports NFL analyst Boomer Esiason made his weekly appearance on the Dennis & Callahan show Monday morning to discuss the Patriots’ fast start.

Esiason said Sunday’s 35-21 victory over the Chargers made him think of the successful Patriots teams of the previous decade.

Said Esiason: “It reminded me of their Super Bowl teams, where the opposing offenses would go up and down the field ‘€¦ and then all of a sudden, somebody like Ty Law would come up with a big play, or Rodney Harrison would come up with a big play, Mike Vrabel would knock a ball down. It would be a key fumble recovery by Vince Wilfork. And lo and behold, what did we see yesterday? It was the same thing. It was great offense, tremendous special teams, a couple of gaffes here and there on defense, but at the end of the day four turnovers. The most key stat of all in the NFL is turnovers. And when you have a plus-four, the score is going to look like it did yesterday.

“And when your quarterback is comfortable, he’s playing maybe better than he ever has — and I can’t believe I’m saying that, after taking a look at what he did in 2007 then again in 2010 — can he play any better? I think defenses have got to start adjusting. I think they have to start blitzing, they have to start hitting him. ‘€¦ Defenses have got to get after him. They can’t just let him sit back there.”

Following are more highlights from the conversation. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

On the key to the Patriots’ offensive success: “No pressure. No pressure whatsoever. I know Tom [Brady] took a shot there at the beginning of the third quarter, but or the most part, when you watch their games, the last two games, the offensive line has been unbelievable. And I think teams have decided, OK, we’re going to play zone, we’re going to put eight men in the secondary, and we’re not going to pressure Tom. When a quarterback is in the zone or a quarterback is doing what Tom is doing right now, you have to get after him. You have to put him on the ground. I don’t care if it leads to a big play down the field.

“If there’s one thing that maybe the Patriots are missing, it’s the big-play, Randy Moss-type wide receiver down the field. I don’t know if [Chad] Ochocinco will become that. I don’t know if there’s anybody that can cover [Rob] Gronkowski or [Aaron] Hernandez down the field. But you can’t let him just sit back there. ‘€¦ If there’s no pass rush, he’s going to rip you apart.”

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Read More: Bill Belichick, boomer esiason, Chad Ochocinco, Ryan Fitzpatrick

Tom Brady and the definition of greatness

09.18.11 at 10:40 pm ET
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‘€œI mean, he’€™s a good football player. Period. Brady is Brady, I’€™m not going to sit up here and stroke the player, you know? He’€™s exactly what we thought he was going to be ‘€“ nothing more, nothing less. That’€™s Tom Brady.’€

- Takeo Spikes

Measuring greatness is a tricky thing. It’s almost impossible to define.

But here’s a pretty good rule of thumb: If a guy completes 31-of-40 passes for 423 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions and it isn’t anything close to a surprise to anyone we’ve officially entered Quarterbacking Greatness.

There is that rarefied air of greatness with quarterbacks (we know the names) and there is something else. And Tom Brady is now at Somewhere Else, Population 1.

In his last 10 regular-season games Brady has thrown 29 TD passes and one interception. We’re spoiled (seven titles in 10 years will do that) but we all understand that isn’t supposed to happen, right? Forty-three touchdowns against five interceptions since the start of the 2010 season? His passer rating in those 10 games? 117.4, 123.1, 158.3, 148.8, 113.4, 110.2, 107.0 (his worst rating came in a game where he had three TD passes and zero INT’s — did I mention Population 1?), 145.6, 121.6 (Miami on Monday) and 135.7 (vs. San Diego on Sunday). Put it another way: This isn’t Luke McCown we’re talking about (McCown had four interceptions in 19 attempts on Sunday, or one fewer than Brady in his last 580 attempts).

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Jerod Mayo and Patrick Chung make sure goal line is Patriots property

09.18.11 at 10:19 pm ET
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FOXBORO — For the second straight week, the Patriots defense made a key, game-changing goal line stand. And for the second week in a row, the offense responded with a 99-yard touchdown scoring drive after Jerod Mayo and Patrick Chung stopped Mike Tolbert at the Patriots 1 in the second quarter.

“We said ever since training camp that the goal line has to be ours,” Mayo said. “That mental toughness really shows up down there.”

Last week, the Patriots stopped the Dolphins at the 1 in the fourth quarter and Tom Brady hit Wes Welker for a 99-yard touchdown pass on the next play. This week was Mayo reading a key in the Chargers’ defense.

“[Randy McMichael] motioned over and he’s their run-blocking tight end and they had a heavy guy on that side as well, so I knew if they we’re going play-action, they would play-action to Gates’ side and throw the ball to him but on that side there really was no pass threat so I played the run real hard,” Mayo said.

The Patriots allowed 378 yards passing to Philip Rivers, including 10 catches by Vincent Jackson for 172 yards.

“We still have to work on the yardage and third-down defense and things like that but we showed great mental toughness by coming up with turnovers, huge turnovers and playing complimentary football,” Mayo said. “Just stopping the run and doing things on the goal line really shows toughness and I think the defense really showed that tonight.”

Read More: Jerod Mayo, New England Patriots, nfl, Patrick Chung

Chargers left frustrated by turnovers, lack of Gates

09.18.11 at 9:37 pm ET
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FOXBORO — An offensive shootout was expected between the Patriots and the Chargers at Gillette Stadium on Sunday, but what ultimately led to New England’€™s 35-21 victory was a few heads-up plays by the defense in crucial moments.

Chargers running back Mike Tolbert was stopped on a fourth-and-one at the Patriot goal line in the first half, and fumbled the ball on a critical drive while San Diego was trailing by a touchdown. After the game, Tolbert said that he was just trying to do too much to help his team get back in it, to no avail.

‘€œ[It was] a big loss. It’€™s football; you’€™ve got to learn from it and move on,’€ Tolbert said. ‘€œI can’€™t let the ball go, and we’€™ve just got to do better. ‘€¦ We had a good drive going, and could’€™ve taken the lead, and I put the ball on the ground, and I can’€™t do that. I owe my coaches and my teammates better.’€

Tolbert finished the game with nine carries for 10 yards and the fumble. He also had eight receptions for 73 yards.

But the blame wasn’€™t at all squarely on the shoulders of Tolbert in the Chargers locker room. Quarterback Philip Rivers threw two interceptions to the Patriots defense, both deep within the Patriots’€™ zone. Lineman Vince Wilfork deflected one of Rivers’€™ passes into the air and hauled it in while the Chargers threatened to score. It was the same scenario later on in the third quarter when Rivers was picked by safety Sergio Brown inside the 5-yard-line.

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Key Moment: Vince Wilfork takes command with an interception

09.18.11 at 8:12 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Down 17-7 with 19 seconds left in the first half, the Chargers were at the New England 19-yard line, driving for a touchdown that could pull them to within three as the second quarter came to a close. Operating out of the shotgun, San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers dropped back to pass and tried to shoot one right for running back Mike Tolbert, who was a threat all afternoon in the passing game (he finished with 73 yards receiving in eight catches).

But the pass was tipped up in the air by Patriots defensive lineman Vince Wilfork, who gathered the ball in and went rumbling down the San Diego sideline, all the way to the Chargers 29-yard line. Three plays later, Stephen Gostkowski banged home a 47-yard field goal to make it 20-7 at the half.

“I’m a cover two guy,” joked Wilfork after the game when talking about his style as a defensive back. “I like to come up and get my hands on the receiver. I’m physical at the line of scrimmage. I can’t play off (the line) — I have to be in someone’s face. … That’s where I make my living.”

“Vince is a tremendous athlete. People don’t realize that,” said Patriots coach Bill Belichick said of Wilfork. “He can throw it, catch it, return punts. He’s a terrific athlete.”

“Vince runs with the wide receivers,” linebacker Jerod Mayo said with a laugh. “Vince is a great athlete. He’s always been a great athlete. He ran the ball pretty well today.”

Read More: Bill Belichick, Jerod Mayo, Mike Tolbert, Philip Rivers

Snap Judgments: Patriots 35, Chargers 21

09.18.11 at 7:19 pm ET
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FOXBORO — The Patriots moved to 2-0 on the season with a 28-21 victory over the Chargers, a win highlighted by a brilliant Tom Brady (again) and a host of standout defensive plays, including a pair by Jerod Mayo, another by Vince Wilfork and a key interception by Sergio Brown.

The Patriots travel to Buffalo to battle the 2-0 Bills next week.


– Brady — who passed for 517 yards in the Monday night win over the Dolphins — completed 31-of-40 passes for 423 yards and three TD passes. He finished the game with a 135.7 passer rating, the ninth straight regular-season game he has topped the 100.0 mark. He was at his best on the 99-yard TD drive following the Mayo tackle, completing passes to five different receivers, including a 10-yard scoring strike to Rob Gronkowski. Brady also authored a 92-yard TD drive in the first quarter.

– The defense again allowed the opposing quarterback to put up big yardage (Philip Rivers finished with 364 yards passing) but made key plays when it counted. Mayo stopped Mike Tolbert at the NE one-yard line on fourth-and-goal to end a second-quarter drive, and Sergio Brown (with Patrick Chung in the locker room with an arm injury) stepped in front of Antonio Gates at the NE 17 for a first-down interception to halt another promising San Diego drive. And after the Patriots failed to convert a fourth-and-4 at midfield in the fourth quarter, Mayo stripped Tolbert in the backfield. Rob Ninkovich recovered, setting up the second Gronkowski TD that put the game away.

– But it was Wilfork with the signature defensive play of the early season for the Patriots, tipping and then intercepting a Rivers pass at the NE 29. Wilfork returned the pick 28 yards (though 10 yards were wiped out by a Devin McCourty penalty), Brady hit Branch with a pair of passes for 18 yards, and Gostkowski converted on a 47-yard field goal to end the first half.

– Both tight ends caught touchdown passes for the second straight week, as Aaron Hernandez capped the first New England drive of the game with a catch over Bob Sanders and Gronkowski put the finishing touches on the 99-yard drive. Gronkowski also caught a fourth-quarter TD and now has seven scores in his last six regular-season games.

– Branch did not catch a touchdown pass, but did finish with eight catches for 129 yards to lead all Patriots players.

BenJarvus Green-Ellis rushed for a 16-yard TD with 1:54 left in the game to finish off a 80-yard drive that put the Patriots up 35-21. Ellis finished the game with 68 yards on 16 carries as he served as the lead back (Danny Woodhead had only four carries).

Chad Ochocinco still wasn’t a featured player in the offense, but did make a key third-down catch on the opening drive and hauled in a 30-yard grab on the second play of the 99-yard TD drive.


– Injuries. Chung (hand), Ras-I Dowling (thigh)and Zoltan Mesko all left the game in the third quarter. Aaron Hernandez left (knee) in the fourth quarter and was not on the field for New England’s final drive.

– Danny Woodhead was virtually a non-factor (just four carries for 12 yards, though he did run in the two-point conversion to put the Patriots up 28-14) in the offense and struggled blocking, failing to pick up a pair of blitz pickups.

– The secondary had another shaky outing. Devin McCourty has his second straight up-and-down game, allowing several big plays against Vincent Jackson (career-high 10 catches, 172 yards). Kyle Arrington also had troubles in matchups with Jackson and Malcom Floyd.

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