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Tom Brady does it again: AFC Offensive Player of December

01.06.11 at 1:57 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Tom Brady had one of the best months of his career in December. Now, the NFL has recognized him for it.

For the fourth time in his career, Brady has earned AFC Offensive Player of the Month honors as he was named AFC Offensive Player of the Month for December on Thursday. Brady led the Patriots to a 4-0 record, including back-to-back 300-yard games, with 326 yards and four touchdowns in a 45-3 win vs. the Jets on Dec. 6 and a 369-yard effort with two touchdowns in snowy conditions in a 36-7 win at Chicago on Dec. 12.

Brady, who led the NFL with 36 touchdown passes, threw 11 touchdowns, the best among all NFL quarterbacks. Brady also attempted 136 of his NFL record 335 consecutive pass attempts without an interception in the month.

Brady also won the honor for September and October in 2007 and for the month of October in 2009.

While Brady is the first Patriots’€™ player to be honored with an AFC Player of the Month Award in 2010, New England was honored four times with Player of the Week Awards in 2010. Safety James Sanders was named AFC Defensive Player of the Week following the Patriots 39-26 victory over Pittsburgh in Week 10.

Brady earned the award in back-to-back weeks, following the 45-24 win at Detroit in Week 12 and the 45-3 win vs. the Jets in Week 13. OL Dan Connolly was named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week after setting an NFL record for the longest kickoff return by an offensive lineman with a 71-yard return in a 31-27 win vs. Green Bay in Week 15.

Read More: AFC Offensive Player of the Month, Dan Connolly, James Sanders, New England Patriots

The Big Nickel: Wes Welker talks about going bowling, Dan Connolly sheds the red and Matt Katula discusses the ghost of Lonie Paxton

01.06.11 at 1:57 pm ET
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The five most important things you need to know about the Patriots on Thursday:

1. It was a strange feeling for Wes Welker. The wide receiver was a scratch for last Sunday’€™s regular-season finale against the Dolphins, so he woke up Monday morning without all the usual bumps and bruises that go along with an afternoon of football.

‘€œI definitely felt a lot better physically and everything like that. It was nice,’€ Welker said. ‘€œIt was a little strange having that day off, but at the same time it was relaxing. My body felt great.’€

Less than a week after telling reporters he wanted to give it a go against Miami, Welker said he didn’€™t get any sort of explanation as to why he wasn’€™t playing. (‘€œI didn’€™t get any explanation or anything,’€ he said. ‘€œI was just told that I wasn’€™t playing, so that was all I got.’€) But he believes the week off gave him the opportunity to be at full strength once the Patriots’€™ postseason schedule opens a week from Sunday at Gillette Stadium.

‘€œI hope so,’€ Welker said. ‘€œYou’€™re definitely fresh, and you’€™ve got to make sure that you’€™re getting the practices in and almost make it a game-like situation. Get those reps in and going hard and [running] some tough practices out there. I think that’€™s key for us.’€

Welker got some good news on Wednesday ‘€” he was named to his third Pro Bowl. The Texas Tech product had 86 catches for 848 yards in 16 games this season after returning from a serious knee injury suffered in the 2009 regular-season finale.

‘€œI’€™m definitely happy about being added to the Pro Bowl squad,’€ Welker said. ‘€œCoach announced it after practice [Wednesday], so I didn’€™t really get a call or anything. He just announced it. … I’€™m just happy to be a part of it and be in it. It’€™s exciting, but we still have a long ways to go as a team, and have a lot of team goals we need to conquer.’€

Of course, he’€™ll gladly pass up the trip to Hawaii for one to Dallas.

‘€œThat’s the plan. The way it is right now, I don’t think anyone really wants to play in it at this point,’€ Welker said. ‘€œBut at the same time, it’s a great honor in being able to be a part of it.’€

2. With no game this weekend, the Patriots are not obligated to file a practice/injury report this week, so it’€™s been a guessing game the last couple of days at practice. What we can tell you is that it certainly appears Dan Connolly is closer than ever to returning since he suffered a concussion against Green Bay. The offensive lineman shed his red non-contact jersey at practice on Thursday, and appeared to be working without an issue, at least for the portion of practice the media was allowed to watch.

Meanwhile, running back Danny Woodhead and offensive lineman Dan Koppen stayed in the red non-contact jerseys. And defensive lineman Mike Wright, linebacker Jermaine Cunningham, offensive lineman Sebastian Vollmer and tight end Aaron Hernandez were not present.

For his part, Woodhead tried to stay as noncommittal as possible when asked about his situation. Asked repeatedly about his physical state on Thursday morning, the running back stayed as vague as possible, saying, ‘€œI’€™m just trying to do everything I can possible, whether it’€™s pass-blocking or running, getting better at what I do.’€
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Read More: Aaron Hernandez, Adam Vinatieri, Dan Connolly, Dan Koppen

Vince Wilfork: ‘We don’t think about’ Super Bowl XLII loss

01.06.11 at 12:59 pm ET
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FOXBORO — It’s almost unfathomable. The Patriots have lost their last two NFL postseason games.

And whether it’s the Super Bowl XLII loss in Arizona or last year’s home playoff loss to Baltimore, Patriots defensive captain Vince Wilfork on Thursday repeated the mantra of the 2010 Patriots – the past is the past.

“Every year is a new year and I think that’s what we’ve done a great job with this year, putting the past behind us,” Wilfork said when asked if recent disappoints fuel the desire of this team. “Guys who were here for that, we don’t think about it.”

It happens to be the most painful loss in Patriots history, a 17-14 loss to the Giants that kept them from a 19-0 perfect season and a consensus spot as the greatest team in NFL history. Wilfork was on that team and – of course – last season’s team that took an early exit on home turf with a 33-14 loss to the Ravens.

Wilfork will likely remind the defensive rookies who haven’t been there before – like Devin McCourty, Jermaine Cunningham and Brandon Spikes – that one slip up, like allowing Ray Rice to race 83 yards for a touchdown on the first play from scrimmage, can change the entire complexion of the game.

“But at the same time, we hate to lose and we were on the losing of the stick but we have to prepare better and I think with a new year and a new season and guys in here who don’t know what playoffs are all about, we have to do a real good job of getting guys ready to play whatever football team it may be,” Wilfork said. “Whoever it is, it’s going to be a good team.”

One of three teams – the Ravens again, Chiefs or Jets – could wind up playing the Patriots a week from Sunday in Foxboro. The Patriots – who raced through the AFC this year with a 14-2 record by winning 13 of their final 14 games – are 1-0 this year against Baltimore and 1-1 against the Jets. Again, Wilfork said he’s not worried about the past, even this season.

“We let the past be the past be the past and hopefully we can get better each day,” Wilfork repeated. “That’s our goal, to be a better football team each day. We started [Wednesday] and going back out there again today is a big step for us. We can’t leave the field thinking we took a step back. We’re going to do everything in our willpower not to allow that to happen.”

Wilfork, like Tom Brady on Wednesday, reminded everyone that focus is the key to getting ready for which ever team advances this weekend and visits Gillette on Jan. 16 at 4:30 p.m. – and not what happen in the recent or not-so-recent past.

“I think the focus level is there,” Wilfork said. “I think everyone understands what’s at stake and being able to take it one day at a time. I’m pretty sure everybody is going to be looking at this week and see who’s playing and who we’ll face and whoever it is will be a tough match-up for us so hopefully, we can get the job done.”

Read More: AFC Playoffs, Baltimore Ravens, New England Patriots, nfl

Pats practice: Dan Connolly returns to full contact, 4 others missing

01.06.11 at 12:38 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Patriots starting right guard Dan Connolly shed his protective non-contact red jersey on Thursday as the Patriots continued full-contact practice in full pads in their bye week.

Connolly missed the final two games of the season after suffering a concussion during the same Green Bay game in which he returned a kick-off a record 71 yards. Danny Woodhead and Dan Koppen remained in the non-contact red jerseys at practice on the lower practice field outside Gillette Stadium.

Missing from practice were Mike Wright, Jermaine Cunningham, Sebastian Vollmer and Aaron Hernandez at Patriots practice.

Wes Welker and Matt Light added to AFC Pro Bowl roster

01.05.11 at 4:23 pm ET
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FOXBORO ‘€” The Patriots announced Wednesday afternoon that left tackle Matt Light and wide receiver Wes Welker were named to the AFC Pro Bowl roster. It is the third Pro Bowl selection for Light (2006, 2007) and the third consecutive Pro Bowl selection for Welker (2008, 2009), and leaves the AFC roster with eight Patriots ‘€” Light and Welker join Tom Brady, Logan Mankins, Jerod Mayo, Devin McCourty, Brandon Meriweather and Vince Wilfork.

Read More: Brandon Meriweather, Devin McCourty, Jerod Mayo, Logan Mankins

Marques Murrell returns to the Patriots

01.05.11 at 4:17 pm ET
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FOXBORO ‘€” The Patriots announced Wednesday that they have signed linebacker Marques Murrell.

Murrell originally signed with the Patriots on March 10, and played in the season-opener vs. Cincinnati before being released on Sept. 13. He had one special teams tackle against the Bengals. Murrell, 6-foot-2 and 250 pounds, spent three NFL seasons (2007-09) with the New York Jets. He originally joined the NFL as a rookie free agent with Philadelphia out of Appalachian State in 2007 and began his career on the Eagles’ practice squad before being signed to the Jets 53-man roster on Nov. 7, 2007.

The spot opened up because of a seven-day roster exemption ‘€” which expires Monday ‘€” on linebacker Brandon Spikes, who returned to the team this week after a four-game suspension because of a violation of the league’s substance abuse policy.

Read More: Brandon Spikes, Marques Murrell,

The Big Nickel: Tom Brady talks about self-scouting, there’s a mystery man wearing No. 53 and Atiyyah Ellison hears the sweet sound of the cash register

01.05.11 at 2:57 pm ET
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FOXBORO ‘€” The five most important things you need to know about the Patriots on Wednesday:

1. In a bye week during the season, usually much of the time is spent looking back and engaging self-scouting, as well as looking forward to your next opponent. However, with the Patriots’€™ divisional round opponent yet to be determined ‘€” it could be the Jets, Ravens or Chiefs ‘€” it sounds like the focus around Gillette Stadium, at least for this week, is going to be more on self-scouting.

In the eyes of many of the Patriots’€™ players, it’€™s not a minute too soon.

‘€œWell, there certainly is a lot to fix. I don’€™t want to sit here and tell you all of the things that we’€™re working on, but there are plenty of things that we need to figure out ‘€” ways to do things better,’€ quarterback Tom Brady said Wednesday morning. Certain guys haven’€™t been out there in a few weeks so, a guy like Aaron [Hernandez] and Deion [Branch] ‘€“ hopefully they can get out there to practice and make some improvements.

‘€œThere are teams that are practicing today and that do have games this weekend and the team that we play is going to win a playoff game this weekend, and they are going to have made improvements, and I sure hope we can make improvements, too.’€

Apparently, coach Bill Belichick and Patriots were able to examine themselves sharply in a rather critical Wednesday morning film session. According to players, it’€™s all part of a process that will culminate at the end of the week. And once the opponent has been determined, that’€™s when more of the looking forward will begin.

‘€œI think if [you] look at our work and look at what we’€™ve done the past couple of games, it looks good. I think the coaches did a great job of breaking down the game tape,’€ said Branch. ‘€œ[But] I think we’€™ve got a lot of stuff that we’€™ve got to correct. And there was a lot of stuff that was pointed out. I know a lot of guys took that to heart. And we’€™re going to go out and improve it with these two days and the extra days that we have next week.’€

‘€œYou’€™ve just got to make sure that when you come into work, you’€™re working; you’€™re working on something to get better,’€ said tight end Alge Crumpler. ‘€œWe’€™ve all been critiqued this morning and we’€™ll watch a lot of film, do a lot of things, get out and practice and bang around for a little bit. I can’€™t think of anything else that we can do right now other than look back on the things that we can get better at and just make sure that we go into this postseaon game fully prepared and ready.’€

2. The following players were missing from the start of Patriots practice on Wednesday afternoon: Tight end Aaron Hernandez, linebacker Jermaine Cunningham, defensive lineman/outside linebacker Eric Moore and defensive lineman Mike Wright. In addition, we saw red noncontact jerseys for the first time since training camp, with Danny Woodhead and Dan Connolly (both of whom have suffered concussions) and Dan Koppen all wearing red noncontact jerseys, at least at the start of practice.

In addition, there was a player working with the linebackers who was wearing No. 53. Given what we know about the length of Wright’€™s injury, the fact that there was a new body wearing No. 53 working with the linebackers and the fact that former Patriot Marques Murrell was still available, it wouldn’€™t be a stretch to think that Murrell had been re-signed. (In this context, it’€™s important to consider that Adam Caplan of Fox Sports reported the Patriots have a seven-day roster exemption for Brandon Spikes, which began on Monday.) Regardless, we will try and get more information, but a personnel move should be announced shortly.
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Read More: Aaron Hernandez, Adam Caplan, Alge Crumpler, Atiyyah Ellison
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