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A closer look at the Patriots’ inactives against the Broncos

01.14.12 at 7:27 pm ET
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FOXBORO — The following players were listed as inactive by New England for Saturday night’s game between the Patriots and Broncos: quarterback Ryan Mallett, running back Shane Vereen, tackle Sebastian Vollmer, guard Donald Thomas, defensive lineman Ron Brace, linebacker Gary Guyton and cornerback Nathan Jones.

‘€¢The decision to sit Vollmer is perhaps the biggest move, at least from a personnel standpoint. The right tackle, who returned to practice this week after an extended stretch on the shelf, has been hobbled all season long by back and foot problems, and will likely be spelled at the position by rookie Nate Solder. Solder, a rookie out of Colorado, has actually played serious snaps all season long because of Vollmer’s injuries, and has performed well at tackle (as well as an occasional snap here and there at tight end). He’ll be making his playoff debut, and will likely play a ton of snaps.

‘€¢One banged up offensive lineman who will give it a go tonight is guard Logan Mankins. Mankins suffered a knee injury in the penultimate regular-season game, but appears to be good to go against the Broncos. (The decision to deactivate Thomas is likely tied to Mankins’ availability.)

‘€¢Guyton and Jones are two healthy scratches that are interesting, as Guyton has slid down the depth chart all season long (there has been at least one occasion this year where he has dressed but hasn’t played). Meanwhile, Jones has added depth in the secondary, but hasn’t been what you might call an integral part of the roster. Jones’ absence could lead to more playing time at defensive back for Julian Edelman and/or Matthew Slater. In fact, the secondary is an extremely fluid situation. Devin McCourty could see time at corner and/or safety, while Kyle Arrington, and Antwaun Molden the top options at cornerback. Meanwhile, Patrick Chung is apparently feeling good enough to play, while James Ihedigbo, Sergio Brown, and Sterling Moore are available safety.

‘€¢Mallett has been the victim of a numbers’ game all season, while Vereen has also been sidelined by personnel decisions as well as a nagging hamstring injury he’s battled all season long. Veteran Kevin Faulk is active, and will likely see an uptick in activity because Vereen is out.

Read More: Antwaun Molden, Donald Thomas, Gary Guyton, James Ihedigbo

Live Blog: Tom Brady, Patriots take on Tim Tebow, Broncos at Gillette Stadium

01.14.12 at 5:58 pm ET
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Patriots/Broncos

Setting the scene: Patriots-Broncos

01.14.12 at 12:12 pm ET
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FOXBORO — After enjoying one of the mildest seasons in franchise history, Mother Nature will turn Gillette Stadium into an outdoor freezer for tonight’s AFC Divisional Playoff between the Patriots and Broncos. Temperatures in the low 20s with a bitter wind of 17 MPH are expected for kickoff. The thermometer is expected to dip to as low as single digits by the end of the game. The Patriots will hand out 20,000 hand warmers tonight to help fans battle the brutal cold.

There will be plenty of comparisons to the last bitterly cold Saturday night AFC Divisional Playoff in Foxboro.

It was four degrees above (-16 C) for the 8 p.m. kickoff on Jan. 10, 2004, a game referenced in Kirk Minihane’s column about the Gillette Stadium crowd. The wind chill that night in 2004 made it feel like -11 as the Patriots edged the Titans, 17-14 on a late Adam Vinatieri field goal and a defensive stand.

Tonight, the wind chill is expected to be around 6 degrees with it dropping throughout the game.

The Patriots come into the game with 13 players listed as questionable, including offensive lineman Logan Mankins, who injured his left knee in the Christmas Eve win over the Dolphins. The left guard limped off the podium on Thursday after speaking to the media for the first time since his injury. Mankins is expected to dress and test the left knee in warmups at his standard left guard position. Mankins injured the knee when he was filling in for Matt Light at left tackle, when Light couldn’t push off his right foot warmups.

Another player to keep a close eye on is safety Patrick Chung. He returned from a right foot injury in Week 17 against the Bills and fully participated on Thursday in practice. But he suddenly appeared on Friday’s injury report as limited and questionable with a knee issue.

WEEI.com’s Christopher Price has 10 things to look for in tonight’s match-up.

For the Broncos, receiver Eric Decker is out with a knee injury while long snapper and former Patriots snow angel artist Lonie Paxton is out for personal reasons. Paxton is dealing a medical issue in his family. Taking Paxton’s place is 18-year NFL veteran David Binn, who was signed Friday by the Broncos, after 17 seasons with the Chargers.

The Patriots are trying to end a three-game playoff losing streak, having lost Super Bowl XLII to the Giants, the wild card showdown with the Ravens two years ago and last year’s AFC Divisional Playoff to the Jets.

The Patriots started off 8-0 lifetime in playoff games at Gillette before losing their last two.

With a win, Bill Belichick can tie Chuck Noll for fourth place all time in NFL playoff wins for coaches with 16. Tom Landry is tops on the list with 20, while Don Shula has 19, and Joe Gibbs has 17.

Of course, Belichick’s three Super Bowl rings as head coach is second only to Noll (4). Gibbs and Bill Walsh also have three.

The Patriots and Broncos met in this same round in Jan. 2006 in Denver. That’s when Champ Bailey intercepted Tom Brady and raced up the left sideline 100 yards, just beating Ben Watson to the end zone. The Broncos would win the game, 27-13, losing to the Steelers in the AFC Championship the next week.

This is third playoff meeting all-time between two of the charter members of the AFL. The Broncos have won both in Denver, also winning 22-17 on Jan. 4, 1987, the season after the Patriots won their first of six AFC Championships. The Broncos are the only team to have beaten the Patriots twice in the postseason.

Read More: 2012 NFL playoffs, 2012 playoffs, Bill Belichick, David Binn

Jimmy Fallon combines Tim Tebow, David Bowie to create ‘Tebowie’

01.13.12 at 4:03 pm ET
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It seems like everyone is coming up with their own Tim Tebow-related song, and now you can add Jimmy Fallon to the list. NBC’s “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” host changed David Bowie‘s “Space Oddity” to a song about the polarizing Broncos quarterback. Fallon even sings about Tebow’s upcoming playoff game against the Patriots in the song, which you can see in its entirety below.

Read More: David Bowie, Jimmy Fallon, Tim Tebow,

Nuggetpalooza: A statistical breakdown of the Patriots, Broncos, and Tim Tebow

01.13.12 at 11:05 am ET
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It’s playoff time! For the third straight season, the Patriots host a playoff game. They’ve lost each of the last two. Tomorrow, Tim Tebow and the Broncos come to Foxboro brimming with confidence after their stunning overtime victory over the Steelers last Sunday. Get ready for all the action with a bunch of numbers that perhaps you haven’t seen elsewhere (and even a few bonus nuggets on the other games this weekend) :

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* – Saturday will be the fourth time in Patriots history that they will face off against the league’s top rushing team in a postseason game:

2001 – Won 24-17 at Pittsburgh, allowing only 58 rushing yards
1997 – Lost 7-6 at Pittsburgh, allowing 145 rushing yards
1985 – Lost badly… well, really badly to the Bears in the Super Bowl, allowing 167 rushing yards and four touchdowns

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* – Denver went three-and-out a league high 62 times this season, breaking their club record of 50, set in 1999 and tied last season (although they’ve only tracked this since 1995). Last Sunday against Pittsburgh, Denver went three-and-out on their first two possessions, then never again over their final 11 (not counting two one-play possessions at the end of each half). The Broncos went three-and-out at least three times in seven of their final eight regular season games.

Note this: Denver has gone three-and-out multiple times in the first quarter in five of their last six games (including last Sunday’s win). The Patriots’ offense did that exactly once all season, but it came in their last game, two weeks ago against the Bills.

Note this too: Considering all of the hand wringing that’s gone on regarding the Patriots’ slow starts this season, can you guess during which quarter the Patriots offense went three-and-out most often this season? How about which quarter New England’s defense forced the most three-and-outs? Chew on that and I’ll give you the answer later.

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* – You may have heard that prior to Denver’s game winning, 80-yard, touchdown pass in overtime last week, the Broncos had run the ball on 23 of their 24 first down plays in that game. In addition, in their previous 16 quarters of football, Denver had exactly two pass plays of 25 yards or more on first down. For the regular season, Denver led the league with 1,359 rushing yards on first down and ranked third by averaging 4.98 yards per carry on first down. New England’s defense allowed a first down rushing average of 4.81 yards, fourth WORST in the league, and the worst by a Pats’ defense since at least 1991.

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* – Denver also rushed for 671 yards and a 5.20 average in the fourth quarter, both NFL highs. Their average yards per carry was a club record for the fourth quarter. The Patriots allowed 4.58 yards per carry in the fourth quarter this season, the second worst mark in the league.

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* – One aspect of the running game in which the Patriots have outperformed the Broncos is in the red zone. New England rushed for 284 red zone yards (2nd), 17 touchdowns (2nd), and a 2.99 average per carry (8th). Denver managed just 98 red zone rushing yards (28th), six touchdowns (26th), and a 2.45 average (16th).

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* – Tim Tebow passed for 194 yards to the left last Sunday, 80 yards over the middle (all on one play), and 42 yards to the right. It was the most yards to the left by the Broncos all season, surpassing their high of 164 and their average of 82. They had not surpassed 80 yards over the middle in 31 games, averaging 26 such passing yards in that span.

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* – The Broncos became the third team in NFL history to win four overtime games in a season (including postseason). The others were the 2003 Panthers and this season’s Cardinals.

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* – As a group, Broncos’ pass receivers managed only 303 yards after contact this season, an average of 1.53 yards per reception, both league lows. Compare that to New England’s receivers, who rang up 1,016 yards after contact, an average of 2.53 yards per reception, both league highs.

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* – The Patriots finished the season by “winning” the turnover battle in each of their last eight games, putting up a +17 margin in that span. It ties the longest such streak by a Patriots team since 1990, which was set during the final eight games of LAST SEASON, when they put up a +23. These are the only two such streaks of more than five games by the Patriots in the last 20 years. The longest such streak in the NFL since ’90 is 12 games, set by the 1997-98 Giants.

NFL Note: The 2006-07 Patriots had a 17 game streak in which they “won” or “tied” the turnover battle each week. That was the league record until Week 17 of this season, when the Packers ran their streak to 18 games in a row without losing a turnover battle.

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* – Here are the first quarter rushing yards allowed by the Patriots over their last six games of the season: 32, 35, 167, 55, 22, 17. Yes, the 167 is the total rushing yardage that Denver put up in the opening quarter against New England. It’s the most rushing yardage by any team in any first quarter since they began tracking the stat in 1991 and more than double the previous high against the Patriots (80 by the Bills in 1998).

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Eric Mangini: Josh McDaniels will ‘have an impact’ on Saturday night against Denver

01.13.12 at 12:57 am ET
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Former Patriots defensive coordinator Eric Mangini said Thursday that he doesn’€™t see the fact that Josh McDaniels jumped from St. Louis to New England in the postseason as a ‘€œhuge issue,’€ but says that the move will almost certainly ‘€œhave an impact’€ on Saturday’€™s divisional playoff game between the Patriots and Broncos.

‘€œI do think Josh can have an impact on this game this weekend. Not in terms of his knowledge of Tim Tebow, but more in terms of his knowledge of Denver’€™s defensive players, and the players in general,’€ said Mangini, who is currently working as an analyst for ESPN. ‘€œBecause as a coach, your whole job is to help players improve on their weaknesses. And to try to get them to play better based on trends, but more importantly to take care of those weaknesses.

‘€œIn this situation, Josh can sit down with Tom (Brady) and say, ‘€˜OK, these are the issues the guys in the secondary have. These are the issues the linebackers or defensive linemen have.’ That’€™s where I think his biggest impact is going to be.’€

McDaniels, who was New England’€™s offensive coordinator from 2006 until 2008, became head coach in Denver the next year, and held that job for nearly two seasons. He was the Rams’€™ offensive coordinator in 2011, but was hired away by New England last week as an offensive assistant, and figures to take over as offensive coordinator in 2012 when Bill O’€™Brien becomes the head coach at Penn State.

‘€œ(The Patriots) were signing Josh before they knew they were playing Denver, so it wasn’€™t exactly cause-and-effect there,’€ Mangini said. ‘€œI think it’€™s a really good situation for New England. I don’€™t know if you’€™d ever have a situation like this in the future where a coach is going to be able to impact a game the way this has happened, this kind of coincidence.’€

While there’€™s been a large outcry in Denver about the fact that the Patriots could hire the Broncos’€™ former head coach the week before they faced New England in a playoff game, fellow NFL analyst Tim Hasselbeck said it’€™s a slippery slope if you start thinking about blocking movements of assistant coaches.

‘€œYou have to be careful if you try to start to block coaching moves when teams fire their head coach, so that the assistants are kind of sitting there, as lame ducks, waiting for when their next opportunity is,’€ Hasselbeck said. ‘€œIf you’€™re closing doors down to hire assistants for teams that are still playing, I just think that’€™s a bad spot to be in as an assistant coach who was just coaching for a head coach who was fired.

‘€œI can see Denver being upset about it, and I agree with Eric in terms of the information,’€ he added. ‘€œIn some ways, it’€™s no different than talking to a quarterback that plays in the same division who faces somebody twice a year and saying, ‘€˜Well, tell me what you think the best way to attack Champ Bailey is.’€™ And so I do think there’€™s knowledge there because of the familiarity with the players. But I don’€™t know that there’€™s really a right or fair way to start blocking coaches from moving from team to team at this point in the year.’€

Read More: Bill O'Brien, Champ Bailey, Eric Mangini, Josh McDaniels

Offensive lineman Logan Mankins says he’s ‘day-to-day’

01.12.12 at 10:48 pm ET
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FOXBORO — It’€™s been a weird couple of weeks for offensive lineman Logan Mankins.

The offensive lineman has been as dependable a presence in the Patriots’€™ lineup as anyone since he arrived in 2005 — it’€™s big news when he misses a practice or a single snap in a game, much less an entire contest. So when he suffered a knee injury in the Dec. 24 game against the Dolphins, it began an odd stretch for him where he spent more time on the sidelines than in the game.

Mankins had played ever snap this season entering the Miami game, but after suffering a sprained MCL early against the Dolphins while filling in at left tackle for an injured Matt Light, he was sidelined for the rest of the game. He also missed the regular-season finale against the Bills, the first game he had missed because of injury in his pro career.

The Fresno State product returned to the practice field this week, and said Thursday he’€™s ‘€œday-to-day’€ at this point, adding ‘€œwe’€™re not sure what’€™s going to happen yet’€ when it comes to Saturday’€™s divisional playoff game against the Broncos at Gillette Stadium.

‘€œIt felt good; got to move around a little bit out there,’€ he said. ‘€œ(I’€™m) still day-to-day, but we’€™ll see. Just taking it one day at a time and we’€™ll see what happens.

‘€œI’€™m not going to get into too much but like I said, it’€™s day-to-day. We’€™re working on it and we’€™re not sure what’€™s going to happen yet.’€

Patriots coach Bill Belichick was asked about Mankins’€™ progress.

‘€œI think we’€™ve seen progress out of everybody,’€ Belichick said. ‘€œAll the guys are out there working. I think each one of them is making progress. We’€™ll see how things go here after stringing these days together. We’€™ll probably have some game-time decisions. There’€™s definitely ‘€“ a lot of these guys are close. They’€™re getting better.’€

If Mankins isn’€™t ready to go, the Patriots could conceivably turn to Ryan Wendell, who is the No. 1 backup among the interior offensive linemen, and the guy who filled in for Mankins in the regular-season finale against the Bills.

‘€œRyan Wendell played when I was out, and he played a lot of us all year,’€ Mankins said. ‘€œHe’€™s been here for four years now so he knows the deal around here. He did a great job last game.’€

Read More: Bill Belichick, Logan Mankins, Matt Light, ryan wendell

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