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Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees excited for another showdown with old friend Tom Brady

12.20.13 at 6:30 am ET
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Dean Pees isn’€™t buying it.

The Baltimore defensive coordinator spent plenty of time in New England — six years, to be exact — and despite the fact that the Patriots have listed quarterback Tom Brady with a right shoulder issue on a fairly regular basis for the better part of the last decade, he knows what’€™s up when it comes to Sunday’€™s New England-Baltimore game.

‘€œHow many years has he been in the league? He’€™s been on the injury report every week for 12 years,’€ Pees said with a laugh on Thursday. ‘€œThat’€™s nothing new there now. I was there six years, [and] I don’€™t think I ever saw him ‘€¦ I never knew he had a bad shoulder.’€

Pees knows a few other things about the New England offense, and Brady in particular. He was the linebackers coach with the Patriots in 2004 and 2005, and was New England’€™s defensive coordinator from 2006 through 2009. Getting the chance to go up against Brady every day in practice allowed him to get a good feel for what he can and can’€™t do when it comes to game-planning for the Patriots’€™ offense, and the quarterback in particular.

‘€œHe’s seen it all, so there is probably nothing new coverage-wise that you are going to throw at him that he hasn’€™t seen,’€ Pees said of Brady. ‘€œWhat you’€™ve got to be really careful of is thinking that you’€™re so clever that you are going to outsmart him, and then you can’€™t play the coverage you’€™re showing him.

‘€œBottom line is, yes, you’€™re always trying to disguise and do stuff, but when it’€™s all said and done, whether he knows it or whether he doesn’€™t know it, we better make sure we can play it.’€

One of the keys, according to Pees, is to be able to generate pressure without blitzing.

‘€œYou can’€™t rely on [blitzing] all the time; he’ll pick you apart,’€ Pees said. ‘€œJust like [Peyton] Manning and all the good ones ‘€“ there are just not that many coverages or many blitzes that you can come up with that they haven’€™t seen, and he doesn’€™t recognize.

‘€œHe is really good and the ball comes out extremely quick, so we’€™ve got to get pressure on him with the four-man rush.’€
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Read More: Dean Pees, Tom Brady,

Aqib Talib brushes off health questions: ‘This ain’t my first rodeo’

12.19.13 at 7:51 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Aqib Talib isn’t hearing any talk about his health being an issue.

‘€œI feel like everybody else,” he said Thursday. “It’€™s Week 16, and there isn’€™t anybody in the NFL who is 100 percent. It’€™s football, man.

“This ain’€™t my first rodeo.’€

Talib, who has struggled with hip problems on and off throughout the season, started strong but has appeared to drop off a bit as of late. There’s no telling how much of his problems are due to the hip issue (he was limited at Thursday’s practice because of the hip), but he knows he’s in for a challenge this week. The Ravens feature some of the better deep threats in the game — the Ravens have 13 pass plays of 40 or more yards this season, good for third-best in the league, trailing only the Eagles (18) and Browns (14). Torrey Smith (59 catches, 1,032 yards, four touchdowns and 17.5 yards per catch), Marlon Brown (40 catches, 443 yards, six touchdowns) and Jacoby Jones (35 catches, 433 yards, two touchdowns) all have an ability to connect with quarterback Joe Flacco when it comes to the deep ball.

Talib had plenty of good things to say about the Baltimore receiving corps, particularly the speed of Smith, who he called “one of” the fastest receivers in the league.

‘€œWe don’€™t even have to talk about that. You know how fast he is. We all know how fast he is,” Talib said. “He’€™s up there. Put him up there with the [Mike] Wallaces and Calvin Johnsons. Man, they’€™re burners.’€

One thing that Patriots coach Bill Belichick indicated earlier in the week was that the Baltimore offense has changed a bit since the return of Dennis Pitta — Belichick said it appears that the Ravens have favored more three-receiver sets since the tight end came back from injury. Pitta, who burned New England on several occasions in last year’s AFC title game, is still ramping back up after spending the bulk of the season sidelined, is still a factor.

‘€œHe’€™s key for them,” Talib said. “[Joe Flacco] goes to him a lot over the middle, in third-down situations. That’€™s one of his go-to guys. He’€™s key for them.’€

Talib and the Patriots (10-4) are looking to close out the regular season on an up note, while the Ravens (8-6) are in must-win mode — currently holding on to the No. 6 seed in the AFC playoff race, they have to win to keep their postseason hopes alive.

“It’€™s a big game for the both of us,’ Talib said. “So I’€™m sure they’€™re preparing like we’€™re preparing. It should be a good one.’€

Read More: Aqib Talib, Bill Belichick, Dennis Pitta, Jacoby Jones

Report: Ron Winter will work as referee for Patriots-Ravens

12.19.13 at 7:07 pm ET
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Ron Winter will work as the lead official for Sunday’s game between the Patriots and Ravens, according to Football Zebras.

Winter has worked as an NFL referee since 1998. This marks Winter’s first Patriots game of the 2013 season. His last New England contest was Dec. 2, 2012 when the Patriots met the Dolphins in Miami — that game was a 23-16 win for New England.

Here’€™s a look at each lead official assigned to work Patriots games to this point in the 2013 season:

Sept. 9 vs. Buffalo: Walt Anderson
Sept. 12 vs. NY Jets: Carl Cheffers
Sept. 22 vs. Tampa Bay: Jeff Triplette
Sept. 29 vs. Atlanta: Walt Coleman
Oct. 6 vs. Cincinnati: Gene Steratore
Oct. 13 vs. New Orleans: Tony Corrente
Oct. 20 vs. NY Jets: Jerome Boger
Oct. 27 vs. Miami: Walt Anderson
Nov. 3 vs. Pittsburgh: Walt Coleman
Nov. 18 vs. Carolina: Clete Blakeman
Nov. 24 vs. Denver: Gene Steratore
Dec. 8 vs. Cleveland: Jerome Boger
Dec. 15 vs. Miami: Tony Corrente
Dec. 22 vs. Ravens: Ron Winter

For more on Winter’s work as an official, check out his page at Pro Football Reference. And for the complete list of referee assignments this week, check out Football Zebras.

For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.

Read More: Ron Winter,

Patriots Thursday injury report: Nate Solder (concussion) limited, but Josh Boyce (ankle) another DNP

12.19.13 at 4:07 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Nate Solder went from DNP to limited, but the change in the status of the left tackle was the only tweak to the Patriots injury report on Thursday.

Solder, who suffered a concussion in Sunday’s loss to the Dolphins, was missing from practice on Wednesday, but was present Thursday — at least for the start of the session — which was held in sweats and shells inside Gillette Stadium.

Wide receiver Josh Boyce suffered an ankle injury in Sunday’s defeat. Thursday marked the second consecutive practice he has missed.

Here is Thursday’s complete report:

Did Not Practice
WR Josh Boyce (ankle)

Limited Participation
WR Danny Amendola (groin)
CB Kyle Arrington (groin)
TE Michael Hoomanawanui (knee)
WR Aaron Dobson (foot)
LB Brandon Spikes (knee)
CB Alfonzo Dennard (knee)
S Steve Gregory (finger)
RT Marcus Cannon (ankle)
CB Aqib Talib (hip)
WR Kenbrell Thompkins (hip)
LT Nate Solder (concussion)
OT Will Svitek (ankle)
QB Tom Brady (right shoulder)
LB Dane Fletcher (groin)

For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.

Phil Simms: Patriots, Ravens are ‘battle tested’ survivors

12.19.13 at 3:51 pm ET
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The broadcast team of Phil Simms and Jim Nantz will call Sunday’s Patriots-Ravens game for CBS. On Thursday, Simms praised both teams as survivors who are used to pressure situations.

On New England vs. Baltimore: “Baltimore and New England are two of the greatest surviving teams there are in the NFL. They survive. The best way to describe them is, they are battle tested. And that is not an overused phrase.  In a pressure situation it’€™s just not a big deal to them. Why? The two things that stick out about both teams are the coaches and the quarterbacks. They don’€™t flinch.  And they can play it right to the end.”

On pressure in final two weeks: “All the preparation and all the work for so many teams, and here it comes down to the final weeks. The word pressure is so over-used in sports, but these are pressure-packed weeks because you realize that this is the chance to win and have success in the playoffs.”

Read More: Phil Simms,

Nate Solder back at Thursday practice, but Josh Boyce (ankle) still missing

12.19.13 at 12:02 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Left tackle Nate Solder returned to practice on Thursday, but rookie receiver Josh Boyce was missing again as the Patriots continued preparing for Sunday’s game against the Ravens.

Solder, who suffered a head injury last week against Miami and was listed on Wednesday’s injury report with a concussion, was not present for Wednesday’s practice session. He was on the field at the start of Thursday’s session, which was held inside Gillette Stadium in sweats and shells.

Boyce was clearly hobbled at the end of Sunday’s loss to the Dolphins, and was on Wednesday’s injury report with an ankle issue.

For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.

Read More: Josh Boyce, Nate Solder,

Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Russell Wilson headline our list of 10 finalists for NFL MVP

12.18.13 at 7:47 pm ET
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FOXBORO — As the 2013 regular season nears the end of the road, the MVP race is starting to come into sharper focus. With two games remaining, here are our top 10 candidates — in no particular order — to take the honors.

Tom Brady: After a relatively slow start — he completed 56.6 percent of his passes over the first five games of the season, and in two of those games he threw for less than 200 yards — the quarterback has nudged his way back to the forefront of the MVP debate. Over the last six games, he’€™s gone 181-for-271 (67 percent) for 2,225 yards, with 14 touchdowns and four interceptions, all while dealing with serious personnel losses. He’€™s received a boost in that time from wide receiver Julian Edelman (who could be the first Patriots wide receiver other than Wes Welker to catch 100 passes from Brady since Troy Brown broke the 100-catch mark in 2001) and Shane Vereen (who could be the first 50-catch/50-carry running back in New England since Kevin Faulk turned the trick in 2008). He needs a strong finish to really put a capper on his candidacy, but is every bit the equal as most of the people on this list.

Calvin Johnson: Johnson is enjoying another terrific season, and with 81 receptions through 14 games, appears to have an outside shot at another 100-catch year. (If he does reach 100, it would be the second time in three seasons he’€™s hit that mark.) He’€™s tied for eighth in the league in catches, but is second in the league in receiving yards (1,449) and touchdown grabs (12, tied with Vernon Davis). The 6-foot-5, 236-pounder is the prototypical big receiver, one who can only be stopped if he drops the ball (he has eight drops on the season) or someone gets to his quarterback before he can get the ball out to him. If he’€™s able to crack 100 catches and the Lions reach the postseason (right now, they’€™re 7-7), Johnson should be considered a candidate.

Peyton Manning: In the eyes of many people, the default choice for the award, based primarily on his performance over the first half of the season. (He hit on 60 percent or better of his passes over the first six weeks of the season, and didn’€™t throw a pick until Week 5.) Manning stands poised to breaks Brady’€™s single-season mark for touchdown passes in a season (50, set in 2007), and it appears the Broncos will capture the No. 1 seed in the AFC while possibly setting a handful of new offensive records. That could be enough to lift him above the rest of the field in the eyes of the voters.

Robert Quinn: Probably an outside candidate at this point for several reasons, including the fact that defensive players almost never get their proper due when it comes to MVP voting. But the St. Louis defensive lineman has really come on down the stretch. He’€™s second in the league in sacks with 15, and leads the league with seven forced fumbles. You can argue whether or not a defensive player on a team that will struggle to reach .500 deserves a shot (the Rams are 6-8 heading into the final two games of the season), but Quinn’€™s overwhelming dominance at times certainly suggests he should earn a spot in the Top 10 — at the very least, he’€™ll certainly receive Defensive Player of the Year consideration.

J.J. Watt: Another defensive lineman who deserves to be on this list despite the fact that his team has had a bad year, the Houston defensive lineman remains a transformative defensive presence. Rated as the No. 1 3-4 defensive end in the league by Pro Football Focus, PFF also has him graded out as the leading pass rusher and run stopper at his position. He has 9.5 sacks through 14 games, and while he’€™s not batting down passes as the same rate he did last season (he has six this year, as opposed to 16 last season), but he’€™s someone you have to always account for on every play. Probably not in the running for the top spot this year, he’€™ll almost certainly garner serious consideration (along with Quinn) for Defensive Player of the Year honors.

Josh Gordon: He’€™s the best wide receiver the Patriots have faced to this point in the season, and while he’€™s probably more in the running for something like ‘€œBest Offensive Player’€ as opposed to MVP, it’€™s still worth mentioning that the Cleveland pass catcher leads the league with 1,467 receiving yards, and is 15th overall with 74 catches. His epic streak of four straight games with at least 125 receiving yards included a memorable seven-catch, 151-yard effort against New England — that came on the heels of back-to-back performances of at least 200 receiving yards. Like Quinn, you can argue the merits of handing out the MVP to a player on a team that won’€™t make the postseason, but his numbers are undeniable, and that should be enough for him to warrant consideration.

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Read More: Calvin Johnson, Cam Newton, Jamaal Charles, JJ Watt

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