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Patriots to play playoff game with heavy hearts as Sam Berns passes away

01.11.14 at 5:19 pm ET
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FOXBORO — As the Patriots take the field against the Colts to open a hopeful playoff push to Super Bowl XLVIII, they will be doing so without a teenager who brought them together in the opening month of the season.

Sam Berns, a 17-year-old who battled the disease Progeria, died Friday night. Berns was to have been the Patriots honorary game captain for their playoff contest against the Colts. The team will hold a moment of silence before the game.

Berns was a guest of Patriots owner Robert Kraft and coach Bill Belichick at a September practice as they prepared to play the Atlanta Falcons.

‘€œI loved Sam Berns and am richer for having known him,” Kraft said. “He was a special young man whose inspirational story and positive outlook on life touched my heart. I am so lucky to have had the opportunity to spend time with him and to get to know his incredible family. Together, they positively impacted the lives of people around the world in their quest to find a cure for Progeria.

“The HBO documentary, ‘€˜Life According to Sam’€™ shared his incredible story with a national audience. It was so beautifully done. It made you laugh. It also made you cry. Today, it’€™s the latter for all who knew Sam or learned of his story through that documentary. Earlier this week, I had extended an invitation for Sam to be the Patriots’€™ honorary captain for tonight’€™s playoff game. I was looking forward to spending more time with Sam and his family.

“News of his passing came as a complete surprise. It is another reminder that we can’€™t take anything for granted. Be sure to give your loved ones hugs and kisses and tell them how much you love them. My heart aches for his parents, Scott and Leslie, his aunt Audrey and the rest of Sam’€™s extended family. Words cannot express the sadness or the depth of sympathy I feel for them today.”

Progeria is a rare syndrome in children and adolescents characterized by physical signs and symptoms of premature old age. Most diagnosed with the disease do not live past the age of 20 and there is no known cure for the disease.

Read More: Bill Belichick, Indianapolis Colts, New England Patriots, nfl

Report: Brandon Spikes placed on IR due to tardiness at team meeting in bye week

01.11.14 at 11:36 am ET
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FOXBORO — On the morning of their divisional playoff game against the Colts, there is word that the latest starter on defense to end his season on injured reserve didn’t land there because of injury alone.

Brandon Spikes, who told the Boston Globe about playing through the pain of a knee injury this season, was placed on season-ending injured reserve last Monday because he showed up late to a team meeting during the playoff bye week, according to a report by ESPN’s Chris Mortensen.

The team had practices and meetings on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of the team’s bye week, including the morning of the major snow storm “Hercules” that hit New England on Jan. 3. It was being late to that Friday meeting that Mortensen reported was the “final straw” for Bill Belichick.

In December 2009, the quartet of Adalius Thomas, Randy Moss, Derrick Burgess and Gary Guyton were sent home after arriving minutes after an 8 a.m. meeting started.

The Globe’s Shalise Manza Young reported before the regular season finale that Spikes’ knee issues would require surgery as soon as the season was over.

Spikes played in all 16 games of the regular season for the first time in his four-year career, finished third in team tackles as the team’s best run-stopping linebacker. The news of Spikes being disciplined in this way is an ominous sign for his return to New England in 2014 as he is a free agent after the season.

Read More: 2014 playoffs, Adalius Thomas, Brandon Spikes, Indianapolis Colts

Final thoughts on Colts-Patriots

01.11.14 at 10:19 am ET
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1. The forecast for Saturday night is for winds and rain, but with highs in the mid-50s. (Weather.com says highs on Saturday could reach 55 degrees.) While much has been made about the Patriots being a superior cold weather team, this could be the warmest outdoor playoff game in Foxboro during the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady era, and one of the warmest playoff games in the recent history of the franchise. The highest temperature at kickoff a postseason game at Gillette — according to NFL gamebooks — was last year’€™s AFC divisional playoff against the Texans, where the mercury reached 51 degrees. Prior to that, the 2006 wild-card contest against the Jets was 49 degrees at kickoff. But the warmest postseason game of the Belichick-Brady era was Super Bowl XXXIX in Jacksonville, where the Patriots and Eagles met in a game that was 55 degrees at kickoff. (For what it’€™s worth, according to our records, the Patriots are 7-2 when the temperature is 40 degrees or more at kickoff, with their only two losses, coming in last year’€™s AFC title game — 41 degrees at kickoff — and the 2005 divisional playoffs in Denver — 45 degrees at kickoff.

2. While Pete Morelli and his crew will work Saturday’€™s Patriots-Colts game at Gillette, New England fans might have shuddered when they heard about another one of the other officiating assignments for this weekend. Clete Blakeman was named as the lead official for the Broncos-Chargers game. Blakeman was at the center of the controversial finish to the Patriots-Panthers game, one that ended with a decision to pick up a late flag on a play that who had gone as a pass interference call against Carolina. One more note on officiating: our pals at Football Zebras indicate that Tony Corrente and Gene Steratore will work the conference championship games. If New England does advance to the AFC title game, they will see a familiar face in either Corrente and Steratore — both worked two Patriots games this season without incident.

3. It was a good week for a pair of former Patriots who were able to land new coaching gigs. Ex-New England linebacker Mike Vrabel made the move from the Ohio State staff to join Bill O’€™Brien as the new linebackers coach with the Texans. As a player, Vrabel always struck as an extremely cerebral type — he considered quitting football to go to law school before he ended up signing with the Patriots — and in the wake of his success at Ohio State, it isn’€™t a surprise to see him make the leap to the pros as quickly as he did. The 38-year-old Vrabel could very well be following the same career path as Pepper Johnson, who carved out a niche as a smart and heady linebacker with Bill Belichick when he was with the Giants, and then parlayed that into an extensive career as an NFL assistant. In addition, it was nice to see former New England defensive back Terrell Buckley also get the call to join Bobby Petrino‘€™s staff at Louisville. Buckley had been working as the defensive backs coach at the University of Akron. In his tenure with the Patriots, Buckley distinguished himself as always being pleasant and accommodating with the media, and a smart individual who always had a love for the game.

4. In that same vein, it was interesting to see O’€™Brien take a page out of Belichick’€™s book this week in Houston when he reportedly took all sorts of mementos that emphasized individual over team that were hanging throughout the Texans facility. Two things comes to mind: One, it’€™s a move right out of the Bill Belichick playbook — the coach did the same thing around Gillette in 2010 when he was trying to reinvent the franchise, putting an emphasis on team ahead of individual. (That was the same offseason when he brought in veteran leaders like Alge Crumpler and got rid of players like Adalius Thomas.) And two, it can be a potentially risky move for a new coach. Several reporters responded to the initial news of O’€™Brien clearing the walls with reminders that Josh McDaniels and Steve Spaguolo did the same thing when they arrived, only to see themselves out on the street within two years. It can be a risky move, but from this perspective, O’€™Brien is likely in for the long haul in Houston. (After all, it’€™s not every day that the new coach gets a visit from an ex-President.)

5. Ex-Pats personnel man Lionel Vital is becoming a hot name around the league when it comes to potential GM openings. Multiple reports indicate that Vital is a candidate for the vacant GM job in Tampa Bay. Vital is currently the director of player personnel with the Falcons, but he made his bones with the Patriots, where he spent five seasons in New England, mainly as an assistant director of college scouting, where he worked closely with Thomas Dimitroff. After leaving New England, Vital served three seasons under Ozzie Newsome as a national scout in Baltimore before joining Dimitroff in Atlanta — he became director of player personnel with the Falcons last January.

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Ten things you have to know about Colts-Patriots

01.10.14 at 7:50 pm ET
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Here’€™s everything you need to know about Saturday’€™s divisional playoff game between the Patriots and Colts:

Our three favorite matchups on the night:

1. Cornerbacks Aqib Talib/Kyle Arrington vs. wide receiver T.Y. Hilton: There’€™s still some level of debate as to who will be the one to try and neutralize Hilton, the Colts’€™ leading option in the passing game. While it doesn’€™t figure to be man coverage most of the evening — like Talib vs. Jimmy Graham earlier in the season — some of the aspects of the matchup will likely be dictated by where Hilton is lined up. If he’€™s in the slot, he could see more of Arrington, who has carved out a rep as one of the best slot corners in the game, and has the ability needed to jam an opposing slot receiver on the line with a dose of physicality. If Hilton is kicked outside, he could see more of Talib, who has struggled occasionally against the quicker, shiftier pass catchers (like Steve Smith) but has done better when he’€™s been on the outside. If Arrington does line up opposite Hilton, look for Talib to work against tight end Coby Fleener or rookie receiver Da’€™Rick Rogers. Regardless, if the Patriots are able to contain Hilton consistently, it will take away a sizable portion of the Indy passing game, and allow New England to make the Colts a one-dimensional team.

2. Wide receiver Julian Edelman against cornerback Darius Butler: The Colts have the same dilemma when it comes to Edelman. Butler — the former New England corner — has done well as a slot corner for Indy this season, but with Edelman clearly the Patriots leader in the passing game, the Colts might be tempted to gofer an upgrade at the spot. (Problem is, they might not have a healthy option there, as Vontae Davis clearly isn’€™t at 100 percent. The same is true for the rest of their secondary, as safety LaRon Landry and his giant arms are also banged up.) Indy also could lean more on zone packages in hopes of trying to get a handle on Edelman, as well as wide receiver Danny Amendola and running back Shane Vereen. This is one to watch early — if Butler does find himself matched against Edelman out of the gate, Tom Brady could be tempted to test his former teammate Butler.

3. Right tackle Marcus Cannon against outside linebacker Robert Mathis: Mathis usually lines up on the quarterback’€™s blind side, but given the fact that the left side is very ably manned by Logan Mankins and Nate Solder, the Colts might feel that a matchup with Cannon could create more of an advantage. The 32-year-old Mathis had a career-year in Indy, finishing with a league-leading 19.5 sacks. But with Mathis, it’€™s not so much the sack totals, but when they have taken place — his strip sack of Kansas City quarterback Alex Smith in last week’€™s wild-card contest was the turnover that really changed the tone of the game. Cannon has struggled occasionally over the course of the season, but has seen an improvement as of late. If Cannon — presumably with help from a tight end like Matthew Mulligan — can hold off Mathis and give Brady time to operate, it will go a long way toward a New England victory.

4. Under the radar opponent who Patriots’€™ fans need to know: Fleener is a sneaky good tight end who isn’€™t usually the first read in the Indy passing game, but remains tight with Luck for several reasons, not the least of which is the fact that they have a history all the way back to Stanford. Fleener is second on the team in receptions (52), targets (88), yards (608) and receiving touchdowns (four), while 32 of his 52 catches this season have gone for first downs.

5. By the numbers: Per Scott Kacsmar of Football Outsiders, since 2001, the Patriots are 8-0 in the playoffs when playing a team for the first time, and 9-7 when it’€™s a rematch.

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Hulk Hogan gives another shout out to Patriots

01.10.14 at 6:09 pm ET
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Hulk Hogan is making a bid to become the Patriots newest superfan — the former WWE champ has shot another video showing his support for New England in advance of Saturday’s divisional playoff contest:

Read More: Hulk Hogan,

Patriots Friday injury report: Aaron Dobson (foot) ruled out Saturday, Alfonzo Dennard, Kenbrell Thompkins questionable

01.10.14 at 3:48 pm ET
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FOXBORO — The Patriots officially ruled out deep threat Aaron Dobson for Saturday night’s AFC divisional game against the Colts at Gillette Stadium. Dobson re-injured his left foot in the season finale against the Bills.

Another receiver, Kenbrell Thompkins is one of two Patriots listed as questionable for the game. Thompkins has been battling a sore hip. Also questionable is cornerback Alfonzo Dennard with a sore knee and shoulder.

Logan Mankins was one of nine players officially “probable” for the game. Mankins injured his left ankle in the season finale against the Bills and returned to practice this week, but was limited in the full practices on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. The Patriots only conducted a walkthrough on Friday at Gillette Stadium, customary for the day before a game.

Aqib Talib (hip), Marcus Cannon (ankle), Rob Ninkovich (ankle) Josh Boyce (ankle) and Michael Hoomanawanui (knee) were not on the injury report at all during the week after appearing on the last injury report before the game against the Bills.

Devin McCourty is still listed as limited with a concussion but is officially probable for the game. McCourty missed the season finale after sustaining a concussion in the win over the Ravens on Dec. 22.

For the Colts, receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey (hamstring) has been ruled out. With Reggie Wayne also out on injured reserve recovering from a torn ACL, Andrew Luck will be forced to find different ways to get the ball to receiver T.Y. Hilton among others in the passing game, including former Patriots receiver Deion Branch, who was signed on Monday by the Colts.

Here is Friday’s complete report:

Did Not Practice
WR Aaron Dobson (foot) OUT

Limited Participation
WR Kenbrell Thompkins (hip) QUESTIONABLE
CB Alfonzo Dennard (knee/shoulder) QUESTIONABLE

CB Kyle Arrington (groin) PROBABLE
S Devin McCourty (concussion) PROBABLE
LB Dane Fletcher (groin) PROBABLE
S Steve Gregory (finger/knee) PROBABLE
OL Logan Mankins (ankle) PROBABLE
OT Will Svitek (ankle) PROBABLE
RB Shane Vereen (groin) PROBABLE

Full Participation
WR Danny Amendola (groin) PROBABLE
QB Tom Brady (right shoulder) PROBABLE

Read More: Aaron Dobson, Alfonzo Dennard, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Deion Branch

Peter King on M&M: Colts QB Andrew Luck ‘not been averse to making some huge mistakes’

01.10.14 at 1:31 pm ET
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Peter King of Sports Illustrated and NBC Sports made his weekly appearance on Mut & Merloni on Friday to talk about the NFL playoffs and other league news. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.

Andrew Luck is drawing high praise as he leads the Colts into Foxboro for a divisional-round game Saturday night.

“I think most people look at him right now and think that he’s on his way to having a top-10, 20 quarterback career,” King said. “There’s a couple of reasons. He’s so precocious about the game, he knows so much about the game. His dad raised him in the game, because obviously his dad was a pro quarterback. I think he also learned the other side of the game also. He learned the team side, he learned you’re nothing without your teammates, and the media part of it doesn’t matter. ‘€¦ It’s just not in his pedigree right now to set himself apart from the crowd. So I think more than anything, Andrew Luck gets it.”

However, King said he isn’t convinced Luck will add to his growing legend Saturday.

“When you look back at his career, why I’m skeptical he’ll play one of his great games is, first of all, he’s gotten hit quite a bit this season, so I think the Patriots are probably going to be able to pressure him,” King said. “And secondly, I think if you take away T.Y. Hilton you’ll be able to do some good things against their passing game.

“He’s not been averse to making some huge mistakes. Look at the first half last week, where he was vastly outplayed by Alex Smith, then early in the third quarter. So, to me, I kind of look at him right now and just say I think he can be great any week. But I also think he’s going to still make mistakes ’cause he’s still learning the game.”

King said that this matchup could turn into a battle of the ground games.

“Everybody has sort of said, ‘If Andrew Luck can’t do it then they’re in huge trouble.’ But just look at Donald Brown — to me, anyway — in the last few weeks. He hasn’t run it a lot, but he’s run it very productively — high yards per rush; he’s averaged over five [5.3] for the year,” King said. “If I’m [offensive coordinator] Pep Hamilton and the Colts, I’m saying, look, I want Donald Brown and Trent Richardson to have very prominent roles in this game plan. In part because we’d like to keep it away from Tom Brady. And also in part because this team this year, the Patriots are vulnerable against the run. They’ve shown it week after week. They’re surrendering 4 1/2 a carry.

“And you understand because of the marquee value of quarterbacks, they’re making it out as an Andrew Luck-Tom Brady game. And it well could be. But I think it could also be a Donald Brown-Shane Vereen game as well. Or LaGarrette Blount.”

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Read More: Andrew Luck, Donald Brown, Drew Brees, Josh McDaniels

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