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The Big Nickel: Tom Brady preaches the value of YAC and the future of Dan Koppen

12.08.10 at 3:13 pm ET
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FOXBORO ‘€” The five most important things you need to know about the Patriots today:

1. On the heels of his performance against the Jets ‘€” 21-for-29, 326 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions ‘€” Tom Brady took home another AFC Offensive Player of the Week award on Wednesday, the second straight time and 17th time occasion in his career he’€™s won the award. Over his last four games, Brady is 91-for-124 for 1,203 yards, 14 touchdowns (13 passing, one rushing) and zero interceptions, a four-game passer rating of 138.6.

‘€œRegardless of how I play, it’€™s how our offense plays. That’€™s what I’€™m concerned most about,’€ Brady said during his mid-week session with the media Wednesday morning. ‘€œI think we’€™ve been playing better as of late, and we’€™re going to need to continue to play better. The weather is getting colder. The conditions are getting tougher. Everyone has to be able to execute at a high level, and I think that the guys that are on the field that are playing play-in-play-out we’€™re doing a good job of that. We’€™re still searching for more consistency for all us, myself, Wes [Welker], Deion [Branch], the veteran guys, the younger players. The games only get bigger from here. That’€™s really what we’€™re preparing for.’€

One of the keys to the success of the offense has been an ability of the wide receiver to pick up big yards after the catch. Through 12 games, New England is seventh in the league in YAC with 1,576 yards. Three Patriots’€™ receivers are in the Top 20 league wide ‘€” Welker is 11th with 338 yards, running back Danny Woodhead is 17th with 289 and Aaron Hernandez is 20th with 283.

‘€œAnyway you can gain them. I think that’€™s really a strength of what our guys are able to do,’€ Brady said. ‘€œThere’€™s very good quickness by our team, by Wes, by Brandon [Tate], Aaron, Deion. All those guys can run after the catch. If you get it in their hands they’€™re very dangerous with it. We’€™ve got to continue to get the ball in their hands so they can do that. That was really something that we went into last week saying, ‘€˜Alright guys, this is what we got to do. After we catch it we got to make some yards.’€™’€

2. The Patriots went through a walkthrough in the Dana Farber Field House, and cornerback Jonathan Wilhite, defensive lineman Mike Wright and center Dan Koppen were not present for the media portion of practice. The absence of Koppen ‘€” and the report from Adam Caplan of Fox Sports that the Patriots worked out veteran center Jake Grove ‘€” is enough to cause speculation that New England could be concerned about the long-term health of Koppen, especially given the fact that it was a walkthrough and not a full-pad practice.

Two points to keep in mind here: One, Koppen appeared to go wire-to-wire on Monday night, and he was pleasant and chatty with the media in the wake of Monday night’€™s win, usually a sign that there are no injury issues with a player. Two, teams will often work out available players at this time of the season to gauge their ability in case they do need to pick them up somewhere down the line. Regardless, more about the state of Koppen’€™s health should be revealed when the injury report is released at 4 p.m. on Wednesday.
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Read More: Aaron Hernandez, Adam Caplan, Bill Belichick, Brandon Tate

The Patriots, John Lennon and the ‘unspeakable tragedy’

12.08.10 at 2:05 pm ET
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Sports is often the ultimate backdrop for drama. Thirty years ago tonight, it was the stark reminder of how fragile life can be.

As the Patriots played the Dolphins in the Orange Bowl on Monday night football, the world was about to be stunned and incredibly saddened by the words of Howard Cosell with three seconds left in a 13-13 game by an ‘unspeakable tragedy’ – the death of John Lennon.

The announcement by Cosell, along with the perspective provided by colleague Frank Gifford, is considered by many as one of the most powerful moments in live television history, along with 9/11, the first man on the moon in 1969, Walter Cronkite announcing the death of JFK in 1963 and the Munich tragedy at the 1972 Olympics.

Lennon, along with Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, played in many sports venues over their years with the Beatles.

In another ironic footnote, the man running onto the field to attempt the game-winning field goal – as Cosell was making his announcement – was John Smith, the Patriots kicker from Leafield, England. Smith’s kick was blocked and the Dolphins won in overtime, 16-13.

Read More: Frank Gifford, George Harrison, Howard Cosell, John Lennon

Report: Patriots work out veteran Jake Grove

12.08.10 at 1:41 pm ET
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FOXBORO ‘€” The Patriots worked out veteran center Jake Grove, according to Adam Caplan of Fox Sports. The 30-year-old Grove was originally selected in the second round of the 2004 NFL Draft by the Raiders, and spent five years in Oakland before spending the 2009 season with the Dolphins. He was cut before the start of the 2010 season.

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Dan Koppen joins Mike Wright and Jonathan Wilhite on sidelines

12.08.10 at 1:29 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Starting center Dan Koppen leads the list of names not present at Patriots practice inside the Dana Farber Field House on Wednesday as they began preparations for the Chicago Bears on Sunday afternoon.

Koppen joined cornerback Jonathan Wilhite and Mike Wright as players to miss the open portion of the walkthru in Field House. Wilhite has missed the last three games with a hip injury while Wright has missed two straight games with a neck injury and concussion.

Read More: Chicago Bears, Dan Koppen, Jonathan Wilhite, Mike Wright

Tom Brady: ‘Don’t think we have it all figured out’

12.08.10 at 12:14 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Sounding a tone of humility, Tom Brady said the Patriots return to practice completely focused on the Chicago Bears and not basking in the afterglow of Monday’s 45-3 thrashing of the New York Jets.

“I don’t think we have it all figured out,” said Brady, who was honored with his second straight AFC Offensive Player of the Week award. “We certainly don’t. It was a good win on Monday night but it doesn’t do anything for us.”

The Patriots have scored 45 points in each of their last two wins. Before that the Patriots scored 31 in a win against the Colts and 39 against the Steelers, prompting questions and comparisons to the 2007 Patriots, which set the NFL all-time record for points scored. Brady shot down the comparison immediately.

“I wouldn’t say so,” Brady said. “We’re not even close to that. Entirely different team in style than what we’re trying to accomplish here.”

In other words, this offense can be just as productive as the machine of ’07 without having to go deep to Randy Moss. Then again, when you don’t have Randy Moss, that doesn’t leave you much of an option. Still, the Patriots haven’t missed a single beat without him in the last month.

And it shows by how Brady has spread the wealth among his receivers. Since the loss in Cleveland, Rob Gronkowski has three TDs (all vs. Pittsburgh); Deion Branch has three; Aaron Hernandez two; and Wes Welker four.

“Anyway you can gain them,” Brady said of the yards and scoring production in the offense. “I think that’€™s really a strength of what our guys are able to do. There’€™s very good quickness by our team, by Wes, by Brandon [Tate], Aaron, Deion. All those guys can run after the catch. If you get it in their hands they’€™re very dangerous with it. We’€™ve got to continue to get the ball in their hands so they can do that. That was really something that we went into last week saying, ‘€˜Alright guys, this is what we got to do. After we catch it we got to make some yards.’€™’€

Brady, who kept his presser a bit briefer than normal, seemed focused on maintaining the rhythm the offense has found since the 34-14 pounding to the Browns on Nov. 7.

“We’€™re just trying to get the ball in the end zone,” Brady said. “That’€™s what our job is. We don’€™t go out there to punt. I always said that he doesn’€™t send us out there and say, ‘€˜Run three plays. We’€™ll send the punt team out.’€™ We’€™re trying to go out there to score and sometimes we do it and other times we haven’€™t. I think we’€™ve been the beneficiaries of a lot of turnovers by our defense, which has really helped us. Situationally, we’€™ve got to continue to do a better job as well like before the half last week, before the end of the game not really being productive there.”

Read More: Chicago Bears, Deion Branch, New England Patriots, nfl

WEEI NFL Power Rankings: Week 14

12.08.10 at 10:01 am ET
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For the fourth straight week, the Patriots rule in the WEEI NFL Power Rankings. The Pats‘ 45-3 clobbering of the Jets makes Bill Belichick‘s team the clear-cut favorite for the No. 1 spot. Soaring not far behind are the Falcons at No. 2. The Patriots will defend their top spot against the Bears (7) in Chicago this Sunday while the Falcons have the pleasure of traveling to North Carolina to take on the Panthers (32).

Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers (3)  jump back into the top five after their huge road win against the Ravens (5).  Marching in at No. 4 are the defending champion Saints.

The Colts have lost four of their last five games and continue to take a nose-dive in the rankings. Their only win in that stretch came against the 2-10 Bengals (31). Peyton Manning and the defending AFC champions drop to 14.

The bottom seven teams remain the same as all of them suffered another loss in Week 13.

1. (1) 10-2 The Patriots are in first place because they continue to win the turnover battle. Tom Brady hasn’t thrown an interception in his last seven games. The Pats are also atop their conference with a plus-14 in the giveaway/takeaway differential category. If the Pats can lock up home-field advantage and a first-round bye, it’s tough not to like their chances of reaching yet another Super Bowl. The Brady-Belichick combination is just too difficult to beat when playing in Foxboro during the playoffs.

2. (3) 10-2 Matt Ryan has led the Falcons to six fourth-quarter comeback drives. The Falcons have one of the most balanced offensive game plans in football. They can run and pass the ball effectively. Two of their remaining four games are against the 1-11 Panthers. That makes the Falcons’ chances of winning the NFC and gaining home-field advantage throughout the playoffs very good.

3. (6) 9-3 The offensive line is in shambles. The latest injury for the Steelers comes to starting right tackle Flozell Adams. He suffered a high ankle sprain in Sunday night’s slugfest against the Ravens. Roethlisberger needs better protection if the Steelers want to go deep into the playoffs.

4. (5) 9-3 The defending champs have won five straight games and are in a race for the NFC South division. They’ll also be adding more firepower to their offense. Pierre Thomas is set to return after suffering an injury in the first month of the season.

5. (4) 8-4 The Ravens crumpled in the fourth quarter and gave up 10 unanswered points to the Steelers. The loss to Pittsburgh puts them in a tough position going forward as they will likely have to settle for a wild card playoff spot.

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Read More: NFL Power Rankings, Tom Brady,

Ex-Patriots kicker John Smith recalls night John Lennon was killed

12.08.10 at 9:29 am ET
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Wednesday marks the 30th anniversary of the death of former Beatle John Lennon. Older Patriots fans remember that night well, as the Pats were playing the Dolphins in Miami on ABC’s “Monday Night Football.” When legendary announcer Howard Cosell informed the nation that Lennon had died, Patriots kicker John Smith was preparing to attempt a field goal with three seconds remaining in a tie game. The field goal was blocked, and the Patriots went on to lose in overtime, 16-13.

Smith got the second dose of bad news after the game when reporters let the players know that Lennon had been shot and killed outside his New York City apartment.

Smith, who now coaches area youth soccer teams and runs an indoor soccer facility in Milford, noted the irony of the fact that he was the only Englishman in the NFL and he happened to be the one on camera when the nation was told of the death of one of England’s most famous sons.

“I was a teenager in England when the Beatles became popular. We were all big Beatles fans,” he told Tuesday night. “It meant more to me than the other players. It was very sad to hear what happened to John Lennon.”

Smith, who is active with the Patriots alumni group, was in popular demand this week. ESPN called him twice to make appearances and talk about that fateful night. The second time the network called was Monday, and the contact wanted Smith to drive to Connecticut to appear at the ESPN studios. Said Smith: “I told them, ‘No way. I’m going to the Patriots-Jets game. I want to see them beat the Jets. I hate the Jets.’ ”

Click here for the video of Smith getting ready to kick while Cosell makes the announcement of Lennon’s death.

Here’s ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” piece, which includes an appearance by Smith.

Read More: Howard Cosell, John Lennon, John Smith,
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