|09.19.12 at 3:24 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Everyone in and around the Patriots locker room figured Deion Branch returning to the team was a mere formality of when, not if.
So, when over 20 reporters descended upon his locker – which remained in tact since his release on Aug. 31 – Branch was asked what it was like to be back with the team he’s had so much success, including MVP of Super Bowl XXXIX.
“Across the board, whether it was here, I always had to weigh my options,” Branch said. “That’s what I’m going to do first and foremost, weigh my options for my family and myself. But to get the call, besides some of the other calls, I think this was more important here.”
Branch acknowledged that other NFL teams indeed did reach out to him but he wanted to return to the Patriots. Why?
“First and foremost, my family is first,” Branch said. “Doing the things right by my family and put myself in the right position.”
Branch and Bill Belichick spoke about why he was cut at the time and how he might be used in coming back to New England for a second time in three years. The Patriots traded him in 2006 before being re-acquired in 2010 from Seattle, shortly after Randy Moss was shipped off to Minnesota.
“I’ll keep that between coach and myself,’ Branch said. ‘It was very understanding. I think, overall, if you play this game long enough, I’m pretty sure every guy in this building will go through it. And I mean that, every guy. And that comes with time, most of all you’re a team player, the team’s going to do what’s best for the team, and me personally, I’m going to do what’s best for Deion.”
Branch said he’s not going to worry about how the Patriots choose to use him.
“That all depends on the game plan and whatever the coaches have for me,” said Branch. “I’m going to do whatever they ask of me, whether that be special teams, offense, defense, I’m going to do that. As far as within the offense, that comes with the game plan.”
Branch has been busy taking care of his kids, leaving some time to keep up on the Patriots but not a lot.
“I watched the first game, and caught the second half of the second game,” he continued. “When you have kids, there ain’t too much free time.”
Branch had five touchdown receptions and 702 receiving yards last season. He became a free agent after the season and re-signed on March 22.
|09.19.12 at 2:54 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Niko Koutovides watching last Sunday’s game between the Patriots and Cardinals like many football fans: in a sports bar.
The linebacker, who had been recently cut loose by New England, couldn’t get the game at home in Connecticut, so he went out to the Wood-n-Tap Bar & Grill and watched the second half of the New England-Arizona contest.
‘I’m a big fan of not only my teammates but a Patriot fan,’ Koutouvides said before practice on Wednesday. ‘The first game in Connecticut, we had it. But this last game, for some reason, the game wasn’t on TV there, so I had to go down to a local bar to watch the game. I caught the second half.’
Did anyone recognize you?
‘No, but it was flooded with Patriot fans,’ he said with a smile, ‘and they get a little rowdy and love to have fun. It was a pretty fun atmosphere.’
He should have a significantly better view this Sunday, as Koutouvides was re-signed by the Patriots on Tuesday. The 31-year-old, primarily a special teamer, said he’s glad to be back in the New England locker room.
‘It’s always good to be back, especially back here with my fellow teammates. I’m excited. Ready to start practicing and ready to get ready for Baltimore,’ said the 6-foot-2, 245-pounder.
‘In this business, you never know. I was just working out, just staying in shape and was anticipating a call from somebody. Just happy to be back here as a Patriot.’
It was a tough stretch for Koutouvides. Last season, for the first time in his career, he was out of the game for an extended stretch. That made him think about his professional mortality.
‘Last year was kind of the first time I’ve dealt with it,’ he said when asked about how difficult it is to be out of the game. ‘I wouldn’t say it gets any easier, but I’d say the mindset is a little different. In this league, you’re not going to play forever — I’m starting to understand that.
‘You know, you want to go out on your own terms, but obviously, the league we play in and the way the business works, very rarely do guys have the opportunity to leave on their own. So I was staying in shape and hoping for a callback, and I’m back. So I’m excited and getting ready to focus on Baltimore.’
Based on his previous experience in the system, Koutouvides remains confident that he will be able to jump right back in and contribute this Sunday against the Ravens.
‘Yeah, I think so,’ he said. ‘Obviously, I have to work a lot, get the game plan, study, get ready to start putting the pads back on. Last year, I was out for almost six or seven weeks, which was a little different. This time around, it’s only been two weeks.’
|09.19.12 at 2:47 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Tom Brady knows what type of atmosphere he’s entering on Sunday night at M & T Bank Stadium in Baltimore harbor.
He knows the Ravens and their fans will be out for blood this time.
“Well, we went on the road to Tennessee and that was the opener and they’ve had a bunch of sellouts, so I think we’ve had a little experience on the road,” Brady said Wednesday. “This place is a little different.”
This place is the “Purple Palace” – the place that nearly ended the Patriots perfect regular season in 2007 on a Monday night, when the Patriots escaped, 27-24, when Brady found Jabar Gaffney in the corner of the end zone with 44 seconds remaining and Mark Clayton was tackled two yards shy of the end zone on a desperation heave at the end of the game. This is New England’s first trip back since.
“We’ve only really played there one time, which was a tough battle, a 60-minute game,” Brady said. “It always comes down to the end with these guys. I don’t know if we’ve ever had an easy game against these guys. They make you earn every yard you get. Certainly, communication is an issue when you go on the road. We’ll be pumping the crowd music in at practice today ‘ you’ll hear that from downtown Foxborough with how loud that is ‘ but we’ll be trying to simulate not being able to hear and still doing a good job of communicating and really being on the same page. That’s part of winning on the road. You’re bringing however many guys with you ‘ 53 plus some coaches ‘ and that’s really all you’ve got on the road and hopefully that’s all we’ll need.”
Other subjects the Patriots quarterback touched on included Deion Branch, Wes Welker, his unfamiliarity with Kellen Winslow, Julian Edelman and the Ravens defense without Terrell Suggs (out rehabbing an Achilles injury).
Q: Can you talk about your good friend Deion Branch being re-signed today and what his role will be?
TB: Well, Deion has just been a great player here for a long time, so it’s always great to see him back. There’s just a lot of stability. He’s that kind of player: dependable, consistent. So, we’ll see what kind of role he plays. Read the rest of this entry »
|09.19.12 at 2:31 pm ET|
FOXBORO — When Stevan Ridley looks across the line of scrimmage on Sunday night, he’ll see a familiar face looking back at him. The 23-year-old Patriots running back will see veteran Ravens’ linebacker Ray Lewis, someone who broke into the league in 1996 — when Ridley was seven years old.
‘You have to know where he is every time he’s on the field,’ Ridley said of the 37-year-old Lewis. ‘He’s smart, man. He’s physical. He knows the game. He’s played that position as long as I’ve been watching football, so he’s someone I’ve been watching since I was a kid.’
But that doesn’t mean Ridley can be in awe of Lewis, despite the fact that the linebacker is bound for the Hall of Fame on the first ballot.
‘I have to go out there and treat [him] just like another linebacker — he’s a player, he bleeds, sleeps, just like I do,’ Ridley said before practice on Wednesday. ‘This team is just going to go out there and play our game, We’re going to do what we want to do and we’re going to play ball, hardnosed, just like we’re supposed to.’
Ridley and the rest of the Patriots’ offense are preparing for a typical matchup with Lewis, Ed Reed and the rest of the Ravens’ defense: a physical showdown against one of the smartest and most battle-tested units in the league.
‘They have some strong players who have been there for a long time. They know how to play the game,’ Ridley said. ‘It’s going to be a hard-fought, physical game. For us, we’re just starting the day on Wednesday. It’s the first day we have to get on the practice field. We’re going to try to get our keys, make our reads, and do our assignments. We’re going to try and play Patriot football.’
The Patriots are coming off a surprising 20-18 home loss to the Cardinals, a game where Ridley finished with 71 yards on 18 carries and the team as a whole ended up with 90 rushing yards. The LSU product, is looking to lead the running game back to the levels it enjoyed in Week One, where the Patriots rushed for 162 yards (125 of which came from Ridley) in a 34-13 win over the Titans.
‘When they call my number, I have to go out there and make a play,’ said Ridley, who has 196 rushing yards through two games. ‘Our offense is going to get back on track. We had a tough loss last week, and we can’t sit on that. We’re going to prepare for the next game, and that’s what it is for us. It’s Week Three, early in the season. We can make any jump or get upset or anything like that. We have to play football. And we’re going to keep plugging away, just like we do every week.’
In the wake of the defeat, several players indicated that one of the reasons for the loss was a bad week of practice.
‘This week, I guess they’re putting a little bit more emphasis on [practice] because it’s the Ravens and that defense has a lot of tradition, a lot of playmakers on it,’ Ridley said. ‘But around here, it’s pretty much the same standard, in and out of each week: We’re coming out going to work and we have to work hard.
‘That’s football. We do this for a living. For us, we have to come out every day and be prepared. Be alert. Be sound. And go out there and practice our assignments so we can go out there and make the right reads and the right plays for our team.’
|09.18.12 at 11:24 pm ET|
It’s not the seismic shift in offensive philosophy they underwent midway through the 2010 season, but the moves the Patriots made on Tuesday will bring some new wrinkles to their offense while tight end Aaron Hernandez is on the shelf, and could spark some more debate regarding playing time for New England’s wide receivers.
On Tuesday, the Patriots made several changes on the offensive side of the ball, releasing wide receiver Greg Salas and fullback Lex Hilliard and adding veteran tight end Kellen Winslow and wide receiver Deion Branch. Salas and Hilliard went essentially nonfactors through the first two weeks of the season — Salas did not catch a pass in two games, while Hilliard was on the field working primarily as a fullback for a combined nine snaps in two contests.
In their place are Winslow and Branch. While Winslow doesn’t have anywhere near the same positional versatility that Hernandez has (Hernandez lined up in 10 different spots in the regular-season opener against the Titans), his game has some similarities with the Florida product. Provided that he’s healthy — remember, there are some questions about the health of his right knee — he is also a long, lean tight end who is more of a pass catcher than a blocker. In a perfect world for the Patriots, Winslow will work as the ‘joker’ tight end (a role that Hernandez has filled the last two-plus seasons) while Hernandez is on the shelf.
As for Branch, his return is one of the least surprising things we have seen in our time covering the team. Ever since he was released in late August, the team didn’t clear out his locker. He stayed in constant contact with teammates. And he stuck around the area, even making a very public appearance at Troy Brown‘s Hall of Fame induction last Sunday. In the end, it was not a matter of if, but when.
Read the rest of this entry »
|09.18.12 at 9:20 pm ET|
Patriots owner Robert Kraft issued a statement Tuesday night in the wake of the death of Steve Sabol of NFL Films.
‘Today, the entire National Football League mourns a great loss. It is impossible to measure, or truly comprehend, the impact that Steve Sabol and NFL Films have had in the growth and popularity of the NFL. He was a true visionary. It was Steve and his father, Ed, who first had the idea of recording professional football’s greatest moments and blending them with words of poetry and music. Steve was an artist who loved telling stories about the game of football. As a result, he brought generations of fans closer to the game by exposing them to the sights and sounds in a way that no one else ever has.
‘As chairman of the broadcast committee, I had the opportunity to work closely with Steve over the years. I know a lot of passionate football fans, but I never met anyone who loved the game more purely, or was more passionate about preserving its history, than Steve was.
‘The films he created and the highlights he captured were amazing. I still get goose bumps every time I watch one of the Patriots’ America’s Game series.
‘He spent his life preserving the legacy of the National Football League and its many legends. In doing so, he became a legend in his own right and leaves a legacy that football fans will enjoy for generations to come.
‘On behalf of my family and the New England Patriots, we extend our deepest sympathies to the Sabol family and all those who are mourning his loss.’
|09.18.12 at 7:01 pm ET|
We wrote about the upturn in the amount of reps Julian Edelman has enjoyed this season here, and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels weighed in on the topic on Tuesday, saying Edelman “has earned the right to get out there and play.”
“I think we have lot of guys that can do different things and help us make some plays and move the ball, and Julian is certainly one of those guys,” McDaniels said on a conference call with reporters. “He made quite a few plays the other day in the game and really helped us and came up big in a couple of those two-minute situations there.
“He’s a guy that gives you everything he’s got on every play. He’s got good speed and has caught the ball well for us so far this year. He certainly gives you an element — he’s a returner — so he certainly gives you an element of run after the catch. I would say that’s something he does fairly well, not to say we don’t have other players that do it very well too, but Jules has earned the right to get out there and play.”
To this point in the regular season, the fates of Edelman and Wes Welker remain inexorably linked. When it comes to Welker and the dip he’s seen in reps, McDaniels said it all boils down to the game plan for the week.
“Wes played a big role for us the other day,” McDaniels said. “I think it just goes back to the fact that we feel like we’ve got a number of different guys that can contribute and help our offense and have earned the opportunities that they’re getting. I think Wes — whatever it was, we threw the ball his way 12 or 13 times or somewhere in that neighborhood the other day and he made a number of big plays for us.
“Each game plan ends up different. Sometimes we play guys the majority of the game; other times we feel like using some different rotations may give us some advantages, whether that’s a matchup that we end up with in the front or a personnel grouping that we expect the defense to give us, or even formationally, ourselves in terms of what we try to do. I think there are a number of factors that go into our game plan every week, but certainly he is going to be a big part of our game plan each week that we go in and play.”
Here are some other highlights of McDaniels’ Q&A from Tuesday afternoon:
Read the rest of this entry »
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