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Turnovers taste great this time of year to Vince Wilfork and the Pats’ D

12.16.10 at 2:38 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Forget the offensive comparisons to 2007. It’s the defense – and more specifically – the turnovers that are leading this Patriots team down a path that is looking more and more like a Texas trail with every game.

The Patriots lead the NFL in turnover ratio with a plus-18, led by an AFC-best 20 interceptions. The only team with more in the NFL is Philadelphia with a secondary that includes a cornerback by the name of Asante Samuel.

More to the point, the Patriots have had the ability to score off those turnovers, something Bill Belichick has preached to his team beginning with the Super Bowl run in 2001. Remember Super Bowl XXXVI? Ty Law picked off Kurt Warner and raced down the sideline with a momentum-turning pick-6 before halftime. Another unforgettable pick-6 was Tedy Bruschi‘s in the snow against Jay Fieldler and Miami in Dec. 2003 in a 12-0 Patriots win. That season also ended with a Lombardi trophy landing in Foxboro.

This year, Gary Guyton set the tone against Carson Palmer on Opening Day when he came off the edge and picked off the Bengals QB and ran it 59 yards back for six as the Patriots raced out to a 24-3 halftime lead. Those turnovers don’t happen by accident.

‘€œThat’€™s something we’€™re proud of,” defensive captain Vince Wilfork said. “We preach it every day in practice. Guys make plays all the time in practice and I’€™m telling you, it sounds like I’€™m saying this a lot, but I’€™m going to tell you that you can’€™t get enough practice. The more you do in practice, the more plays you make in practice, the more consistent you are in practice, you have a good chance of bringing that out on game day.

“And it’€™s been working for us. And I think that’€™s the best thing, because everybody is starting to see what we do in practice, we can carry that over into the games. And if we do carry it over into games, we’€™ll be OK. So we always talk about turnovers, getting ahead in the turnover game.’€

It was Guyton again last Sunday in the snow when he picked up a Johnny Knox fumble forced by Devin McCourty and returned it 35 yards for a TD. So the turnovers are tasty but taking them to the house are downright delicious.

‘€œThat’€™s even bigger,” Vince Wilfork said. “We’€™ll try to continue to do that, so ‘€¦ I love giving Tom Brady a short field to work with. The best quarterback in the game. Our job is to keep him in those situations. The more we do in practice and the more plays you make in practice, we just have to have confidence in the game that we’€™ll have the same success.’€

Ever since the Miami game on Oct. 4 at Dolphins Stadium, the Patriots have been a turnover machine. That night, during a 41-14 romp over the Dolphins, Rob Ninkovich had the first two interceptions of his career while safety Patrick Chung returned an interception 51 yards for a clinching touchdown late.

“In practice, we do certain drills to emphasize that stuff,” Ninkovich said. “That’s one of the things with our defense, we’ve had a lot of turnovers. Running to the ball has a lot to do with it and also having good awareness of where the ball is at all times.

“There’s always a high emphasis on it with every team because it’s such a big factor in the game. Turnovers, they’re a big deal.”

That night, the Patriots had four interceptions, the second of six games this season the defense has had multiple interceptions in a game. In fact the Patriots have had at least two picks in their last four games, contributing to a total of 12 turnovers forced over the span. The Patriots, meantime, have not committed a single turnover.

“As a defense you’re always looking to create turnovers,” said safety Jarrad Page, who is still waiting to collect his first. “We’re not doing anything special; we’re not going outside the defense when we’re supposed to be in a certain zone, running down there and trying to make plays. We’re just focused on when we get opportunities to intercept the ball, catch the ball, opportunities to strip the ball, strip the ball. Yeah, we’ve been very focused on things like that.

“But it seems like the reason why we’re getting all these [turnovers] we’re just being consistent and doing what we’re supposed to do, being where we’re supposed to be and the ball is coming to us.”

Read More: Chicago Bears, Cincinnati Bengals, Devin McCourty, Gary Guyton

The Big Nickel: Thursday with Vince Wilfork, an injury update and meet the two new guys

12.16.10 at 1:54 pm ET
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FOXBORO ‘€” The five most important things you need to know about the Patriots on Thursday:

1. The highlight of most Thursdays is the appearance of defensive lineman Vince Wilfork, and he certainly didn’€™t disappoint this week.
In an almost 10-minute Q&A with reporters he discussed a wide variety of topics, including the importance of playing with consistency, forcing takeaways and the play of both Gerard Warren and Jerod Mayo. Here are a few highlights:

On playing with consistency: ‘€œWhen your number is called, you have to be ready to perform, and perform pretty well, so I think as a team, it’€™s not just certain positions. You just can’€™t say it’€™s just the defensive line or the offensive line. I think as a team, you have to be consistent, day in and day out, and most of the time, that starts in practice. I think any football team will tell you that preparation is the key to everything. If you don’€™t prepare well, you won’€™t have a chance on game day. So we’€™ve been through those days. We came through a practice in a week where we say, ‘€˜You know what? I hope we have it on Sunday.’€™ And it wasn’€™t the case. But we’€™re more consistent. We’€™re starting to get more consistent. Everybody is starting to rally around each other and trust one another out there on the field. So I’€™m happy with the way things are going, but we just have to keep striving forward and keep our head down and keep fighting. It’€™s the only thing we can do right now.’€

On the Patriots’€™ defense and its’€™ ability to force takeaways: ‘€œThat’€™s something we’€™re proud of. We preach it every day in practice. Guys make plays all the time in practice and I’€™m telling you, it sounds like I’€™m saying this a lot, but I’€™m going to tell you that you can’€™t get enough practice. The more you do in practice, the more plays you make in practice, the more consistent you are in practice, you have a good chance of bringing that out on game day. And it’€™s been working for us. And I think that’€™s the best thing, because everybody is starting to see what we do in practice, we can carry that over into the games. And if we do carry it over into games, we’€™ll be OK. So we always talk about turnovers, getting ahead in the turnover game.’€

And the ability to turn those into points: ‘€œThat’€™s even bigger. We’€™ll try to continue to do that, so … I love giving Tom Brady a short field to work with. The best quarterback in the game. Our job is to keep him in those situations. The more we do in practice and the more plays you make in practice, we just have to have confidence in the game that we’€™ll have the same success.’€

On his relationship with Warren: ‘€œHe’€™s a helluva player, a helluva person. Smart, intelligent when it comes to football ‘€” and off the field. But it’€™s easy when you can have a veteran, a 10-year vet come in and adjust to a new system and catch on. And he’€™s done that. Everything we’€™ve asked of him, he’€™s done it. He’€™s taught people, the rookies. Even me. We sat down and watch film all the time. It’€™s very special when you sit back and hear him talk about the game itself. He’€™s very, very smart, so I’€™m happy to have him on this side with me, and he makes my job a little easier at times and probably vice-versa. We’€™re in it together, and he’€™s a heckuva player and I’€™m happy he’€™s here. He’€™s been doing a good job for us every week. I’€™m pretty sure he’€™s excited to be here, excited to be a part of something, a winning organization and a great group of guys.’€

And on Jerod Mayo ‘€” who he said could play at the U ‘€” and his tackle totals: ‘€œI’€™ll tell you, he’€™s an every down player. He’€™s every bit of a linebacker you’€™d want from a defensive person to a football player. And to be a middle linebacker in this game, you have to be able to tackle well. I know he’€™s taking it a little personal if he misses a tackle or whatever. I don’€™t think he misses many. I’€™m not sure, you’€™d have to ask him. I don’€™t think I’€™ve seen him miss one. But don’€™t quote me on that one. But he’€™s a very good tackler. He works his tail off. We see that guy working, his backers see him working, [and it] makes it easier for us to go out there and work, especially when you have somebody that’€™s giving 100 percent every play and playing every snap, that’€™s tough. The guy’€™s on special teams. He’€™s put together very, very well and he’€™s meant a lot to this organization and this team, especially for me to be a defensive lineman. He actually means a lot for me. Even though I’€™m taking up blocks for him I’€™m happy to have a man like Jerod with me. He’€™s probably one of the top guys at the position right now.’€
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Read More: aaron rodgers, Bill Belichick, Brandon Deaderick, Chevis Jackson

Pats practice Thursday: Tom Brady and Devin McCourty return

12.16.10 at 1:30 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Tom Brady and Devin McCourty returned to Patriots practice Thursday as the team practiced outside in slightly warmer conditions in preparation for Sunday night’s game against Green Bay.

Brady received another off day on Wednesday, as has been the case in practice the last several weeks while McCourty returned one day after missing practice with a rib injury, sustained in the win in Chicago on Sunday.

Four players – all along the defensive line – were still missing as Ron Brace, Mike Wright, Myron Pryor and Gerard Warren were not spotted during the open portion of practice. The team practiced in sweats and shells for the second straight day.

Wright is still dealing with the effects of a concussion while Pryor has a nagging back injury

Read More: Devin McCourty, Gerard Warren, Mike Wright, Myron Pryor

Vince Wilfork is hardly concerned about the Pro Bowl

12.16.10 at 12:46 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork said Thursday he isn’t worried about his current third-place standing in AFC Pro Bowl balloting among defensive tackles. Voting ends Monday night following the Bears-Vikings game.

The race among AFC tackles is a fierce one simply because of the level of competition as Wilfork is competing against the like of Baltimore’s Haloti Ngata and Pittsburgh’s Casey Hampton. The Pro Bowl voting process is split one third between fans, players and coaches.

“That’s something I’m not even worried about right now,” Wilfork said. “I’m all about Green Bay this week. Whatever happens with that, happens. We’ve got a bigger task at hand this week than worrying about the Pro Bowl. I’ll leave it where it’s at.”

One Patriots player who has overtaken the competition in the AFC is quarterback Tom Brady, who at last count had 947,194 fan votes while Peyton Manning fell to second with 806,025.

One of Wilfork’s biggest concerns and that of the defense is preparing for the possibility of facing one of two quarterbacks – either Aaron Rodgers or Matt Flynn – this Sunday night at Gillette Stadium.

“It’s tough, very tough,” Wilfork said of preparing for two quarterbacks. “But they run the offense very well. It’s a pretty good team. They’ve lost some close games and won some big games so we’re going to have our hands full dealing with these two guys, dealing with the offense in general. They have no excuses. They come to work every week.”

The Pro Bowl heads back to Hawaii this year and takes place on Jan. 30, one week before Super Bowl XLV in Arlington, TX.

Read More: Casey Hampton, Haloti Ngata, Hawaii, nfl

‘Sunday Night Football’ crew weighs in on Patriots-Packers

12.16.10 at 9:27 am ET
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In advance of this weekend’€™s Patriots-Packers game on NBC’€™s ‘€œSunday Night Football,’€ a handful of people who will work the game for NBC ‘€” including former Patriots safety Rodney Harrison, former Indianapolis coach Tony Dungy, play-by-play man Al Michaels and analyst Cris Collinsworth ‘€” talked a little about the matchup between New England and Green Bay.

MICHAELS ON PATRIOTS: ‘€œRight now, there is nobody that doesn’€™t think the New England Patriots are the best.’€

COLLINSWORTH ON PATRIOTS: ‘€œThey are a clear-cut Super Bowl favorite.’€

HARRISON ON PATRIOTS OFFENSE: ‘€œ Offensively they are playing at the top of their game right now.  Tom Brady is clearly the MVP and the Patriots are the best team in the league.’€

HARRISON ON PACKERS PLAYING ZONE DEFENSE: ‘€œWith Green Bay playing a zone defense, this sets up perfectly for Brady.  He loves to exploit the zone.  He finds himself a lot of holes and he throws to a lot of different receivers.  He will pick that zone apart.’€

HARRISON ON PACKERS: ‘€œGreen Bay was off just a little bit (against Detroit) and late in the season this is when you start seeing teams lose focus.  If you are Green Bay, you must win the division to get into the playoffs in the NFC.’€

DUNGY ON THE PATRIOTS DEFENSE: ‘€œTom is playing great, but a lot of people are overlooking their defense.  They’€™ve shut people down the last three or four weeks.  They blanketed the Jets and shut Chicago down.  This defense is playing better than people give them credit for.’€

HARRISON ON PATRIOTS DEFENSE: ‘€œThe strength of this defense used to be the defensive front, but you have to now look at the linebacker position and the secondary.  They’€™re creating turnovers and they’€™re scoring touchdowns.  That is why Bill Belichick brought these young guys in.’€

Read More: Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Rodney Harrison, Tony Dungy

Tom Brady and Bill Belichick continue to rewrite the record books

12.15.10 at 11:59 pm ET
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FOXBORO ‘€”Now in their 10th season together as starting quarterback and coach, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have been together longer than any other active QB/coach combination in the National Football League, and so it’€™s no surprise to see them start to push the record books when it comes to wins and losses as a duo.

On Sunday, Brady and Belichick moved out of a tie with Terry Bradshaw and Chuck Noll (107) into sole possession of second place for most wins as a quarterback-coach combo with 108. Brady and Belichick could theoretically break the record sometime in the first half of the 2011 season ‘€” only Dan Marino/Don Shula ever won more games together (116).

While they’€™re in second place on the wins list, they are first when it comes to the best winning percentage among head coach-starting quarterbacks since the 1970 merger at .771, and have been for some time. They recently passed Ken Stabler and John Madden, who posted a 60-19-1 mark (.756) when they were together in Oakland. Third on the list are Jim McMahon and Mike Ditka, who were 46-15 (.754) together with the Bears, while Peyton Manning and Tony Dungy ‘€” the only contemporaries of Brady and Belichick ‘€” are fourth with a 73-24 (.753) mark.

Read More: Bill Belichick, Chuck Noll, Dan Marino, Don Shula

An unfortunate situation has led to some unwarranted opinions

12.15.10 at 11:39 pm ET
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Editor’€™s note: WEEI.com guest columnist Matt Chatham is a former Patriots linebacker. The University of South Dakota product played in New England from 2000-05 before concluding his career with two seasons as a member of the Jets. Chatham now is working toward his MBA at Babson College.

So I’€™m guessing you’€™ve heard the one about the morally corrupt, meathead, New York Jets strength coach/cheater that built a fleshy wall-of-criminals and tripped the poor, defenseless Miami Dolphins gunner as he simply tried to do his job in the Jets-Dolphins game the other day? If this all sounds accurate, and you’€™re nodding along as you read, the concepts of ‘€œcontext’€ and ‘€œperspective’€ are in a pile on the other side of your wood-chipper.

The Dolphins’ Nolan Carroll was flagged earlier in the game for unsportsmanlike conduct for running out of bounds and not returning to the field in a timely fashion. So then he does it again, and the real story is a coach’€™s knee that moves a couple inches while in the area he’€™s legally required to be, contacting Carroll who … wait for it … isn’€™t?!

The point is Sal Alosi is having his job, livelihood, and good name threatened because, at its core, there is a palpable fear of public relations outrage from a mass audience that isn’€™t seeing what they’€™re seeing.

Carroll heads out of bounds on the 20 yard-line with a wide outside release to escape the double-team, grabs a Nathan’€™s with kraut from a vendor, high-fives Jenn Sterger’€™s replacement, and re-enters when he-damn-well-pleases before falling onto the 45 yard-line. In the absence of Sal’€™s lapse, his angle would likely have carried him up near midfield, 25-30 yards from where he started his tour of the countryside. And the only thing on the subject of ‘€œfairness’€ we’€™re discussing is a knee that traveled the length of the written word ‘€œMeadowlands?’€  Really?

One guy makes a poor decision while acting on an immediately regrettable impulse. The other is cheating in the game. Not Barry Bonds-type stuff, but enough to the extent that if you’€™re going to have a national discussion from the mount on ‘€œfairness,’€ you can’€™t start by barely noticing what’€™s actually going on. It might help if the analysts involved had picked up on the whole story. But instead they immediately and recklessly hopped into the ‘€œWho’€™s the Villain’€ game, which is never the right answer, like a bunch of intoxicated donkeys mashing SAT answer bubbles with their hoof-knuckles.

As a matter of full-disclosure I, like Sal, am a bald, slightly-crazy-looking white dude. But that’€™s just what God decided to go with. Because of this, one of the most offensive portrayals for me in this whole process has been the constant, sensationalized slow-zoom head shots of Sal that accompany each regurgitation of the story as if he just sexually assaulted a school bus. That is what’€™s truly ridiculous here.

Of course what Sal did was wrong, but just wrong, not egregious, or felonious, or heinous, or any of the other Roget ping-pong balls bouncing around out there on newscasts and the web. I think alarm bells should go off in every sound-minded American head when the ‘€œMorning Cup of Joe, with D-Bag and Donna!’€ involves their insight on the latest Christmas fashions, Jewel’€™s new album, and proper decorum for NFL gunner play.  In the land of bad-bedfellows, this is a hemophiliac in a sleeping bag full of badgers.

Carroll’€™s detour may not be apparent to all sensibilities, but to the people who play the game and whose own livelihoods depend on Carroll not killing the returner, watching him cruise down the ‘€œno-touch’€ highway time after time makes all the consternation over the ‘€œfairness’€ of a human wall (that’€™s well off the field and not illegal) seem more than a little off. For me, Carroll is like a guy on a crotch-rocket weaving through a traffic jam, or a purse-snatcher bolting down a crowded street. Somebody simply opened a car door to shed some light on an area that sorely needs more rules focus. Although the method was ill-advised, in a league that wants to see more big plays, bringing attention to the real issue here isn’€™t exactly a bad thing.   And Carroll will learn from it as well, move on, and be better for it.

The faux outrage over this silly incident is, to me, a microcosm of the hyper-sensitized pussification that’€™s going on in our society. Carroll actually handled the situation phenomenally well with his tone in post game interviews, and for that he deserves a ton of credit. He got tripped while roaming off the playing field while a game was going on he was supposed to be taking part in. I’€™m sure he, like Sal, just wishes this would all go away.

Steve Tasker, one of the NFL’€™s greatest all-time special-teamers recently explained to ESPN.com, “If [the Jets] are coached to do that, so what? Call a penalty on them. If a gunner is going to use the sideline as a weapon, like I did, why wouldn’t you want to form a road block? There’s nothing wrong with that as long as it’s within the rules.”

This story has reached the redonkulous stage, but what’€™s most disturbing, and simultaneously revealing, is how nearly every opinion across the sports landscape seems to miss the most blatantly obvious factual aspect of this drama: Carroll was trying to make a play, but he was the one breaking a league rule. Until they invent a new rule, nobody else was.

I know Sal to be a very principled, stand-up dude who deserves a little — but definitely not all — of the B.S. that has come his way from this mistake. If there needs to be a new rule or some clarity from above, so be it. Teams will adjust as they always do. This is the time of year where the really good and important stuff is going on within the playing field. Patriot Nation has no reason not to have bigger and better things on its mind.

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