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Wes Welker admits to Randy Moss: ‘I don’t care what it takes, you’re going to be out there in this game’

01.28.14 at 4:57 pm ET
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NEWARK — Who said former athletes and teammates can’t ask hard-hitting questions?

Former superstar receiver Randy Moss, who works now for Fox Sports 1, chatted up former teammate Wes Welker at Tuesday’s Super Bowl media day here and asked him if he would play in the Super Bowl with a concussion.

“What do you think? I mean, you want to be out there,” Welker told Moss, both of whom played in the Super Bowl XLII loss to the Giants. “The Super Bowl, this is what you dream about. You’re going to be there, I don’t care what it takes, you’€™re going to be out there in this game.”

Welker has dealt with many concussions over the course of his career, including one this season with the Broncos that forced him to miss the last two games of the regular season. When he returned in the playoffs against the Chargers, he wore an oversized helmet with extra padding, a helmet that prompted many comparisons to a cartoon character.

But concussions are certainly no joke and Welker has served as the poster boy for those critical of the NFL’s attitude toward dealing with concussions.

Moss, who retired this season after playing in last year’s Super Bowl, also asked Welker what he thought of playing against Seattle’s “Legion of Boom” secondary, starring of course Richard Sherman.

“I expect to be effective just by doing what I do and going out there and playing hard. Playing tough and making plays over the middle, trying to move the sticks and put us in position to score some points,” Welker told Moss.

Read More: concussion, Denver Broncos, New England Patriots, nfl

Jack Del Rio: ‘Lot of pride’ in finally being able to knock off Tom Brady, Bill Belichick

01.28.14 at 2:27 pm ET
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Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio said Tuesday that he “took a lot of pride” in being able to execute a successful game plan against the Patriots that allowed Denver to come away with the AFC championship.

Prior to this year’s the AFC title clash, Del Rio had struggled against Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. The quarterback had won all seven matchups while completing more than 70 percent of his passes and throwing 17 touchdowns and no picks. But in Denver’s 26-16 win, Brady was limited in the first three quarters by the Broncos — he didn’t throw a touchdown pass until late in the fourth quarter, and the majority of his production came with the game out of hand. He ended 24-for-38 for 277 yards passing and a touchdown.

“It was good. We had a good plan — we went out and executed a good plan and got to advance, and that’s what it was all about,” Del Rio said. “Clearly, the combination of Tom and Bill [Belichick] has been a very productive combination and one that I hadn’t seen a lot of success against. I took a lot of pride in the fact that we were able to put together a good plan, go out there and execute, play well and advance.”

Read More: Bill Belichick, Jack Del Rio, Tom Brady,

Wes Welker on Aqib Talib hit: ‘We ran the same play’ in New England

01.28.14 at 1:50 pm ET
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NEWARK — Wes Welker knew the question was coming.

What happened on his hit on Aqib Talib?

It was the play that knocked out the best defensive back in the Patriots secondary and changed the course of the AFC championship.

“€œIt’€™s a rub play that everybody runs,’€ Welker said at Tuesday’s Super Bowl media day at Newark’s Prudential Center. “It’€™s one of those deals where you try to get a rub on that guy and really, if you can get him to go over the top of you, the more separation the other receiver will have. That’€™s what I tried to do to get Demaryius a little more open and unfortunately we collided.”

Demaryius would be Demaryius Thomas, the Broncos wide receiver who dropped the pass on the crossing pattern over the middle, making the whole thing moot except for the little detail that Talib didn’t play another down after the play in the first half.

Welker was asked by The Boston Globe’s Dan Shaughnessy if if there were anything unusual about the play.

“€œI don’€™t think so,”€ said Welker.

Shaughnessy persisted, asking if he learned the play in New England under Bill Belichick.

“€œWe ran the same play,”€ Welker replied.

Shaughnessy’€™s first question of the day was, “Why does Bill hate you?”

Welker dismissed that pretty much out of hand.

“I don’t know if he does,” Welker said. “That’s a question for him.”

Read More: Bill Belichick, Denver Broncos, New England Patriots, nfl

Free agent snapshot: Emmanuel Sanders

01.28.14 at 1:26 pm ET
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When free agency begins in early March, there are a handful of players across the league who could appeal to New England. Over the next two weeks –€” with the understanding that the status of these players could change because of the franchise or transition tag — we’€™ll look at 10 possibilities for the Patriots to consider. We have to stress that these guys aren’€™t necessarily considered the elite of the free agent class ‘€” instead, they are players we think would be a good fit in New England. We started our series with a look at Anquan Boldin. Today, it’€™s wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders:

Position: Wide receiver
Age: 26 (will turn 27 on March 17)
Height: 5-foot-11
Weight: 180 pounds

The skinny: The Patriots were hot after Sanders last offseason, going after the wide receiver (who was a restricted free agent) by signing him to an offer sheet. The Steelers ended up matching the offer, but that likely doesn’€™t change the fact that New England is likely still intrigued by the SMU product, who has 161 catches for 2,030 yards and 11 touchdowns in four seasons with Pittsburgh and is now a free agent. (That included a career-high 67 receptions for 740 yards and six touchdowns last season.) There’€™s a plethora of reasons for the Patriots to be interested in someone like Sanders — he not only has terrific straight-line speed (he had a 4.4 40 as a collegian), but also has great agility, posting a 6.6 time in the 3-cone drill while at SMU. The Patriots covet quickness in their receivers (draft picks like Josh Boyce, Deion Branch, Chad Jackson and Julian Edelman all had stellar 3-cone times as collegians), and Sanders is as fast as they come. It’€™s also worth mentioning that Sanders has some positional versatility, having played in the slot and outside the numbers, and has special teams value — he averaged 26.8 yards on his 10 kick return chances in 2013. It’s certainly a skill set that would intrigue the Patriots.

By the numbers: For a fast receiver, his 11 yards per catch last year was a little odd. One of the reasons that number could have dipped in 2013 was the fact that Pittsburgh utilized more screens and short passes this past season than they have in previous years, but for a guy who is known as something of a burner, those numbers are curious. (For a closer look at Sanders’€™ work in 2013, check out this excellent breakdown on how he was used and what the Steelers’€™ perspective might be on whether or not they’€™d be interested in retaining his services.)

Why it would work: The Patriots were really interested in Sanders last year, so much so that they took the rare step of signing him to an offer sheet, a move that would have cost them a second-round pick in Pittsburgh didn’€™t match. We all know that Bill Belichick looks at draft picks like currency, and so the idea of him being willing to part with a top 50 selection in exchange for Sanders should tell you all you need to know about how he feels about him. With salary cap issues — and youngster Markus Wheaton waiting in the wings — the Steelers may be interested in moving on from Sanders.

Why it might not work: One thing that really jumped off the page for Sanders when you’€™re talking about his 2013 season was the fact that he was a little underwhelming. With the departure of Mike Wallace, he was thrown into the role of No. 2 receiver and consistent starter for the first time in his career. While he had career-best numbers, he wasn’€™t the transformative offensive presence that some people believed he could be. While he wouldn’€™t likely be asked to be the No. 1 option in the passing game if he signed with New England, there’€™s some question as to whether or not he lived up to his $2.5 million deal, and what sort of receiver he could be going forward.

Quote: “I’€™d say that he’€™s an explosive player and he’€™s fast. He had a kickoff return, I don’€™t know how far it was, about 107, 108 yards against Baltimore and you could really see his speed and explosiveness and big play ability on that play. They ended up calling him, saying he stepped out of bounds, but it was a heck of a play. Then he had the two-point play last week against the Raiders where again he got out in space and he juked a couple guys and showed his speed and acceleration to get to the goal line. I think that’€™s kind of what he’€™s been able to do. He’€™s dangerous on catch-and-run plays like tear screens, which they run a lot of, reverses and kick returns, things like that, however he can get the ball in his hands. He’€™s also a good route runner with quickness and obviously speed and big play ability. He’€™s been a productive guy for them.”€ — Belichick on Sanders, Oct. 29, 2013.

Our take: Of course, a conspiracy-minded individual might try and tell you that the reasons the Patriots signed Sanders to an offer sheet last year was because they wanted to screw with the Steelers and make a bad cap situation in Pittsburgh worse. From this viewpoint, that probably played into their thinking a little, but it wasn’€™t the overwhelming reason New England decided to chase Sanders. He’€™s an 3-cone receiver who also showed great straight-line speed, as well as an occasional ability to stretch the field. He’€™d also likely come at a reasonable price, as he’€™s not expected to be one of the elite free-agent receivers on the market this spring but could still be had for relatively reasonable money. You throw in some special teams value, and from a New England perspective, all these things would appear to make him a good fit in Foxboro. On the surface, Sanders clearly intrigued the Patriots front office last season, and unless something dramatic happened over the course of the 2013 season happened to change their minds, it’€™s reasonable to think that New England would at least kick the tires on him this time around. The occasional issues he had last year mean he shouldn’€™t expect a flood of interest, but it seems clear that Sanders and the Patriots would make an interesting pairing.

Read More: Emmanuel Sanders, free agent snapshot,

Tom Brady, Bill Belichick will hit links at Pebble Beach

01.28.14 at 11:18 am ET
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Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have been busy this offseason — Belichick at the Senior Bowl and Brady not going to the Pro Bowl — but they’ve saved room for some golf.

The two have committed to play in this year’s Pebble Beach Pro-Am, set to run from Feb. 3-9 in California, the tournament announced earlier this week. It’s become an early February tradition for the two of them, and they’ve been spotted on the famous course several times over the last few years.

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Read More: Bill Belichick, Tom Brady,

Patriots position-by-position breakdown: Wide receivers

01.28.14 at 8:53 am ET
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With the Patriots done for the season, we’€™ve got an end-of-the-year position-by-position breakdown of where the roster stands. We started with special teams. Now, it’€™s the wide receivers.

Depth chart: Julian Edelman (105 catches, 1,056 yards, 6 TDs), Danny Amendola (54 catches, 633 yards, 2 TDs), Kenbrell Thompkins (32 catches, 466 yards, 4 TDs), Josh Boyce (9 catches, 121 yards), Aaron Dobson (37 catches, 519 yards, 4 TDs), Austin Collie (6 catches, 63 yards)

Overview: With New England searching for an offensive identity at the start of the season, it was Edelman who filled the void, immediately picking up where Wes Welker left off. The former college quarterback had one of the best starts of any receiver of the Tom Brady era, and was the first receiver in a New England uniform other than Welker to finish a season with 100-plus catches since Troy Brown turned the trick in 2001. He was sturdy and dependable — and, for the first time in his career, he stayed healthy for all 16 games. As a result, he’€™ll hit the open market as a free agent as one of the more intriguing prospects out there. (He should get more interest than he did last year, when he received lukewarm attention from the Giants before returning to New England to sign a one-year deal with the Patriots.)

The rest of the receiving corps was intermittent with its contributions: Amendola had two colossal games (at Buffalo and at Miami) where he hit double-digits in receptions, but appeared to struggle to maintain consistency with the quarterback in his first year in New England. The rookies progressed relatively well over the course of the 2013 — shaking free of the drops that dogged them early in the year — but were up-and-down at times as Brady worked to ease them into life in the NFL. (Sometimes it was quiet and done behind the scenes. Sometimes, it wasn’€™t — although, to be fair, Brady was occasionally barking in frustration over his own mistakes.) And Collie was on and off the roster throughout the season, but appeared to win the trust of Brady down the stretch and into the postseason, so much so that it shouldn’€™t be a surprise if he’€™s back in 2014.

While they got an (mostly) unexpected jolt from Edelman in 2013, there are plenty of questions about this group going forward: Will Edelman return? Can Brady and Amendola get on the same page? Can the rookies continue to progress in the right direction? And will they add depth to this group going forward with a veteran like Anquan Boldin? It won’€™t be as seismic as it was last spring — Welker signing elsewhere, the release of Brandon Lloyd and Deion Branch — but this offseason certainly figures to be another interesting one as it relates to the New England receiving corps.

Best moment: Hard to pick a singular moment here, so we’€™ll go with three, in no particular order: Thompkins catching the game-winner in the final seconds to lift the Patriots to a dramatic win over the Saints; Edelman’€™s beastly 13-catch, 169-yard, one-touchdown performance against the Dolphins in Miami; and Amendola’€™s effort in the regular-season opener against the Bills which (in large part) allowed the Patriots to escape upstate New York with the win. (Honorable mention goes to this move Boyce put on Browns cornerback Buster Skrine in the New England-Cleveland game)

Worst moment: Two: Dobson had three bad drops in the home win over the Jets in September; and the stretch drive output from Amendola, who dropped off the radar screen late in the regular season and in the playoffs. (After a really impressive 10-catch outing in a December loss to the Dolphins in South Florida, he had six catches over the final four games of the season — three in the last two regular-season games and three in the postseason.)

By the numbers: Dobson’€™s 37 catches for 519 yards and four touchdowns were the most receiving yards and touchdowns for a rookie receiver in the Brady era.

Money quote: “I think I’ve always tried to do just whatever I thought we needed to do to try to fill the spots that the coaches can’€™t always do. I’ve been around here long enough so I have an understanding of what our coaches ask. I’ve been coached really hard over the years, and I try to convey a lot of those messages as well.”€ — Brady, when asked about working as a mentor to the young receivers

Read More: Aaron Dobson, austin collie, Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman

Free agent snapshot: Anquan Boldin

01.27.14 at 1:36 pm ET
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When free agency begins in early March, there are a handful of players across the league who could appeal to New England. Over the next two weeks — with the understanding that the status of these players could change because of the franchise or transition tag — we’€™ll look at 10 possibilities for the Patriots to consider. We have to stress that these guys aren’€™t necessarily considered the elite of the free agent class — instead, they are players we think would be a good fit in New England. We kick off the series with wide receiver Anquan Boldin.

Position: Wide receiver
Age: 33 (will turn 34 on Oct. 3)
Height: 6-foot-1
Weight: 223 pounds

The skinny: The veteran is likely near the end of a very impressive career, but clearly still has something left in the tank, as evidenced by the 85 catches for 1,179 receiving yards and seven touchdowns he had last year with San Francisco. He’€™s consistent (he’€™s never had fewer than 56 catches in a season), durable (he’€™s never played fewer than 14 games a season over the last five years) and has an excellent locker room reputation (witness this story that surfaced months after he joined the Niners). The idea of Boldin New England is something we pushed for last year, and things haven’€™t changed.

By the numbers: Per ESPN Stats & Information, Boldin has distinguished himself as an elite playoff performer: since he entered the league in 2003, Boldin’€™s four 100-plus yard receiving games are tied for first in the league during that span. His 1,033 receiving yards are second most and his eight touchdowns fourth most in that stretch.

Why it would work: Boldin is a highly-regarded veteran who would serve as something of a guiding presence for some of New England’€™s pass catchers. One of the toughest guys in the league — he broke his face a few years ago and was back in the lineup three weeks later — he wouldn’t make the Patriots receiving corps any younger, but he could serve as a leader for a relatively younger group in need of a positive role model. The Patriots would be a team that would be considered to be in the mix for a Super Bowl, which would allow Boldin to (presumably) end his career on an up note. (For what it’€™s worth, Boldin was a possibility for the Patriots as a free agent in 2010, but ended up going to the Ravens.)

Why it might not work: Money. The Patriots need to create some financial flexibility for themselves between now and the start of the new league year in March, and even if they’€™re able to do that, they still might not be inclined to spend on a veteran wide receiver, preferring instead to put their financial resources toward landing a tight end of defensive tackle, two other areas of need this offseason. It also sounds like Boldin grew very comfortable with the Niners in his first season in San Francisco — in the wake of the loss to the Seahawks in the NFC title game, he tweeted, “€œThank you 49ers fans for embracing my family and I during our first year in San Francisco. Your support this year was amazing.” First year. And honestly, the Niners would be crazy if they somehow didn’t go strong to try to retain him for 2014.

Quote:Anquan Boldin is a valuable, valuable player and every player should aspire and practice and play the game of football like Anquan Boldin. … Comes to work, goes home, comes back to work and kicks ass.”€ — Niners coach Jim Harbaugh on Boldin

Our take: From this viewpoint, Boldin would be a terrific addition to a Patriots offense that needs a world-class veteran presence who could serve as something of a role model for the younger receivers. It seems like a bit of a longshot right now, but if the Patriots could somehow find a way to make the cash work, it would make sense to try and get him on a two-year deal — nothing more — for relatively short money.

Read More: Anquan Boldin, free agent snapshot,
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