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ESPN: Brady second-best starting QB in the NFL

08.31.10 at 10:02 am ET
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Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. (AP)

ESPN’s John Clayton of ESPN has ranked the NFL’s starting quarterbacks and has the Patriots’ Tom Brady at No. 2 overall, trailing only his contemporary Peyton Manning of the Colts.

Of Brady — one of 14 quarterbacks Clayton included in the “Elite” Division, Clayton said, “I resisted the urge to put Drew Brees ahead of him, but Brady, with three Super Bowl rings, is still the master. The knee injury slowed him a little in 2009 (4,398 yards, 28 TD passes), but I expect his numbers to be much better this season.”

(If you’re curious, here’s what he had to say about Manning: “At 34, Manning doesn’t show any signs of slowing. He sets the agenda for modern NFL quarterbacks with the no-huddle and three-receiver offenses and generates 12-win seasons as easily as he completes passes. Under Manning, the Colts have won 12 or more games for seven consecutive seasons.”)

Brees, Ben Roethlisberger and Brett Favre round out the Top 5. As for the rest of the AFC East, you have to go a long ways down the list before you see either the Jets’ Mark Sanchez (No. 23 overall), the Dolphins’ Chad Henne (No. 25) or the Bills’ Trent Edwards, all of who were placed in the Hit-Or-Miss Division by Clayton.

Read More: Patriots, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady,

Nuggetpalooza’s Pats schedule preview: Baltimore

08.31.10 at 9:55 am ET
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nuggetpalooza-small5The Patriots meet Baltimore on Oct. 17 at 1 p.m. in Foxboro in a rematch of their playoff debacle last January .

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What The Ravens Did Well Last Season:

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* – Got the Defense Off the Field: The Ravens allowed their opponents just 19 drives of 10+ plays in 2009, tied for the 2nd fewest in the league (NY Giants, 17).  Better yet, on 7 long drives allowed by the Ravens over the final four weeks of the season, none of them resulted in a touchdown.

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* – Third Quarter Monsters: The Ravens scored a league high 123 points in the 3rd quarter last season.  No other team had more than 111 (Minnesota).  What’s more, the Ravens allowed only 47 points during the 3rd stanza, 4th best in the NFL.  That’s a net +76 points in the 3rd period, the best margin in the league:

+76 – Baltimore Ravens
+55 – Minnesota Vikings
+54 – Washington Redskins

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* – Played Tough Defense Following Giveaways: Baltimore’s offense turned the ball over 22 times last season, but their opponents managed only 26 points off those gifts, an average of 1.2 points per turnover, the best mark in the league:

1.2 – Baltimore Ravens
1.8 – Pittsburgh Steelers
2.0 – New England Patriots

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* – Lots Of Long TD Runs: The Ravens had 8 touchdown rushes from outside the 10 yard line last season.  Only Carolina and Tennessee (9 each) had more such carries.

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* – Big Net Field Position Advantage: The Ravens’ average starting field position (the 31.8 yard line) was nearly 5 yards better than their opponents’ starting position (the 26.9), the best net field position in the league:

+4.9 – Baltimore Ravens
+4.8 – Minnesota Vikings
+3.6 – New York Jets

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* – League’s Best Kickoff Returns: Baltimore’s kickoff returners led the NFL with a 26.2 yard average and 25% of their returns went for 30+ yards (also ranked 1st).

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* – No Quick Strikes Allowed: The Ravens allowed only one touchdown in the first four plays of an opponent possession in 2009.  Only the Jets (0) were better.

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Read More: Patriots schedule preview,

Wright at home in New England

08.30.10 at 11:48 pm ET
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FOXBORO — When you watch Mike Wright work, you can see why Bill Belichick likes him on his team.

You can also see a lot of similarities with another Boston athlete – Kevin Youkilis.

Both are from Cincinnati. Both attended high school there and both stayed close to home when going off to college. Youkilis attended Sycamore High School while Wright at Purcell Marian, played football in the high school conference one on-line publication rated as the ‘best high school football conference in America’ last season.

Both came attended the University of Cincinnati, where each made a name for themselves as self-made athletes who had talent but even more work ethic.

Everyone in New England who has paid attention to the Red Sox knows how the hard weight training and conditioning work has paid off for Youkilis. Now, Patriots fans are getting the same vibe watching Wright. And so is his head coach.

Belichick has entrusted Wright with the responsibility of playing the middle and left end of the Patriots defensive line, trying to make the most of Wright’s power and quickness.

“He’s worked very hard,” Belichick said. “Mike is a very diligent offseason worker. He’s one of those guys who’s always in pretty good shape. He trains hard. He works hard. He’s tough. We’ve asked him to do a lot. He’s played in the kicking game. He’s covered kicks for us and things like that. He’s played on third down. He’s played nose. He’s played end. He’s played inside and outside on a four man line.”

Listed at 6-foot-4, Wright still has a wrestler’s build. His strong, broad shoulders make him a beast to contain. He’s hard to get a hold of, and has shown the ability to routinely shed a block and get to the quarterback when given the chance. Before last season, Richard Seymour was dealt to Oakland so Wright saw more snaps on third down as an extra body that could pressure the QB from the inside and help stop the run.

“He’s a very versatile player, athletic enough to do some of the more skilled things,” Belichick said. “Powerful enough to stand up against big guys or more than one guy, double teams, things like that. He’s got a good set of skills. He’s worked hard. He’s very conscientious. He really wants to do the right thing. He takes the extra time to learn and get it right. He’s really, from where he’s started, he’s really had a good career to this point.

“And he continues to work hard and build on it. Every year, he becomes more dependable, more versatile, a guy who has more experience, and uses it. Some guys gain experience and it doesn’t really seem to help. He’s a guy that gains experience and doesn’t repeat a lot of mistakes from previous years or situations.”

This summer, Ty Warren was lost for the season after being placed on the injured reserve list with a hip injury.

With the Patriots looking for replacements for names like Seymour and Warren alongside Vince Wilfork, Wright has had the door of opportunity swung wide open. Belichick was asked what he thinks of having a defensive lineman who is shorter and quicker play alongside Wilfork on the defensive front.

Belichick, as always, added the appropriate perspective on the 6-foot-4, 285-pound Wright.

“Well, there are a lot of guys who are smaller than Vince,” Belichick quipped. “He’s not a small guy now. He’s an explosive player. He’s strong and he’s explosive. His weight room numbers and his test numbers are competitive with probably most our linemen, but I’d say probably most good linemen in the league.”

Not bad considering Wright was signed by the Patriots after going undrafted in the 2005 NFL Draft. He made the Patriots’ roster out of training camp and played in 13 games in his 2005 rookie season. He was placed on injured reserve in January, 2007, and missed two playoff games that year. In the second week of the 2006 season, Wright made his first career start, and made four overall starts on the year. He led the team once in tackles and twice in special teams tackles in 2006.

Wright played in nine games in 2007 before being placed on injured reserve in December. He returned in 2008 to play in all 16 games, starting two. He finished the season with a then career-high 2.5 sacks and 33 tackles. Wright took his resume to the free market, hoping to land a full-time gig but no offer was forthcoming. So, he gladly re-signed with the Patriots, agreeing on a four-year contract in March 2009.

Last year, Wright played in all 16 games for the Patriots, starting nine. He finished the season with 35 tackles and five sacks.

Read More: Cincinnati Bearcats, Mike Petraglia, Mike Wright, New England Patriots

Bill Belichick Q&A, 8/30

08.30.10 at 4:55 pm ET
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Thanks to the Patriots’ PR staff, here’s the complete transcript of the Q&A between Bill Belichick and the media this afternoon at Gillette Stadium:

BB: We’re into our final week of training camp. It’s a big week for us. It will give us a chance to straighten out a few things and then work on the Giants. The Giants are a real good football team. A little different than what we’ve seen. Physical. Real good in all areas. Offense, defense, special teams. They have a good style of play. It’s very challenging. It will give us a chance to see the new stadium which we’ll be back in, in a couple weeks. It’s a good opportunity for us this week to get a lot of stuff done. Really our last chance till we get into a bye week later on this season where we’re not getting ready for a regular season opponent here every week. It’s important for us to try and iron out a few things. We’ll have a good competitive test down there in New York, New Jersey.

Q: What are some things that you look for when you go into a new stadium for the first time?
BB: Well, any stadium, just getting familiar with it. The field conditions, the footing, obviously. The returners, the ball handling. Whatever the structure is, lights so forth. Not that that will be an issue with the Jets. The familiarity with it, the wind patterns, just being comfortable with the whole setup. Coaches press box, coming down at halftime. It’s a lot of little things, but it’s just easier when you’ve had a run through once before, and you kind of know what you are doing. 40-second clocks for the quarterbacks. Stuff like that.
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Read More: Bill Belichick, training camp,

LB leaders: Bruschi, Vrabel and now… Mayo

08.30.10 at 4:09 pm ET
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FOXBORO –It has been the most-often asked question since Tedy Bruschi and Mike Vrabel left before the 2009 season.

Who will fill the leadership void on defense for the Patriots?

As as much as coach Bill Belichick relies on his linebackers to call his defense and be responsible for so much at once, that leader is naturally a linebacker.

Jerod Mayo stepped forward Monday and said that while he’s still only 24, he’s ready to take on that task full-time this season, his third in the NFL.

Mayo said he’s still learning the Belichick system but now feels comfortable in teaching younger players what is expected on defense every game.

“I’m still a young guy, maybe not a young guy as far as years played on the team, but I’m 24 years old and still learning from guys like [Vince] Wilfork and [Ty] Warren, even though he’s not here right now, I’m still learning from guys like that,” Mayo said following Monday’s practice. “If the guys have a question for me, I’m there to answer it, try to play the same role that Bruschi and Vrabel played for me when I first came here.”

Clearly, the player most obviously in his sights is fellow linebackerBrandon Spikes, the talented rookie playmaker out of Florida who figures to be a big run-stopper and a foundation of Belichick’s interior D for years to come.

Vrabel is entering his second season in Kansas City after eight seasons and three Super Bowl titles in New England and four before that in Pittsburgh. Bruschi is now sharing his football wisdom with the world on ESPN.
And Mayo is left behind in Foxboro to carry the leadership torch along with Wilfork and Warren.

As for last Thursday, when the Patriots failed time after time to get off the field on defense on third down, Mayo said the team was reminded that’s not acceptable starting Sept. 12 against Cincinnati.

“We did get some humble pie and we didn’t play like we were supposed to,” Mayo said.

Read More: Bill Belichick, Jerod Mayo, Mike Vrabel, New England Patriots

Pats practice report-Monday

08.30.10 at 3:19 pm ET
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FOXBORO — The biggest news of the day was who was not on the practice field with the Patriots as they look to put last Thursday’s preseason embarrassment behind them and get ready for their final tune-up before the real games begin against Cincinnati on Sept. 12 at Gillette Stadium.

The team worked out in full pads and helmets on the hot, sunny day on the fields outside Gillette.

WR Julian Edelman and TE Aaron Hernandez both missed practice as did CB Tyrone Wheatley, CB Leigh Bodden, CB Bret Lockett, S Brandon McGowan, OG Logan Mankins, DL Brandon Deaderick, OL Nick Kaczur and DL Daryl Richard.

DT Ron Brace, DE Jermaine Cunningham, DL Myron Pryor, Hernandez and CB Kyle Arrington were on the field but did not practice during the open portion visible to reporters.

A pair of receivers, Matthew Slater and Darnell Jenkins returned to practice after missing time last week. Of those not participating Monday, Richard, Pryor, Wheatley, McGowan, Deaderick, and Brace were new absences.

Bodden’s absence raises eyebrows since he returned from a balky knee last week and played against the Rams.

Read More: Aaron Hernandez, Giants, Julian Edelman, Leigh Bodden

Wilfork, Lewis on D&H: Rams loss looked worse in person

08.30.10 at 1:53 pm ET
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Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork and defensive lineman Damione Lewis joined the Dale & Holley show on Monday morning to talk about Thursday night’s disappointing loss to the Rams and what will need to be improved in the final preseason game against the Giants.

“You can’t be pissed off or nothing like that because we didn’t do what we’re supposed to do. At the same time, we looked at the film and corrected the mistakes,” Wilfork said. “Hopefully, we can go out Thursday against the Giants and put it together and move forward. It would be very encouraging if we can do that. We can’t take another step back this week and I don’t think that we will. I think we’re ready and we’re going to see what’s going to happen on Thursday.”

Lewis also touched on the possibility of the NFL expanding the regular season schedule from 16 games to 18 games.

“If we’re going to play 18 games then we should be paid to play 18 games,” Lewis said. “I don’t see how you can schedule us for 18 and then turn around and pay us for 16. … If they’re going make two preseason games regular season games then they’re not preseason games anymore, they’re regular season games. We get regular checks during the regular season.”

Below are the highlights of the conversations. To hear the interviews, visit the Dale & Holley audio on demand page.

Vince Wilfork:

Tom Brady said earlier that Bill Belichick jumped on you guys for Thursday’s performance. I would think on the defensive side of the ball, you probably deserved whatever he was saying.

I mean at this point, we’ve been through a bunch of practices, been in training camp for a while. Things we can do better, we need to do better. Things we put in from Day One, we need to know how to run it and go forward from there. You can’t be pissed off or nothing like that because we didn’t do what we’re supposed to do. At the same time, we looked at the film and corrected the mistakes. Hopefully, we can go out Thursday against the Giants and put it together and move forward. It would be very encouraging if we can do that. We can’t take another step back this week and I don’t think that we will. I think we’re ready and we’re going to see what’s going to happen on Thursday. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Bill Belichick, Damione Lewis, Vince Wilfork,
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