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Rob Ninkovich on M&M: Antonio Smith’s insinuation ‘kind of a silly comment’

12.02.13 at 12:24 pm ET
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Patriots defensive end Rob Ninkovich joined Mut & Merloni on Monday to talk about New England’€™s 34-31 win over the Texans on Sunday.

The Patriots moved to 9-3 on the season, but Houston defensive end Antonio Smith stole the spotlight with his comments after his team’€™s 10th straight loss. After the game Smith said he was ‘€œvery suspicious’€ of New England’€™s adjustments in the second half, after the Patriots fell behind 17-7 in the first 30 minutes.

‘€œIt’€™s kind of a silly comment,’€ Ninkovich said. ‘€œI’€™m sure they’€™re a little upset that in the second half they couldn’€™t stop Tom [Brady] and our offense. It’€™s a comment where I really don’€™t know where that would come from.’€

Stephen Gostkowski kicked the game-winning field goal with just over three minutes remaining to complete the comeback. The Texans also held a 31-28 lead in the fourth quarter.

‘€œIt’€™s an emotional game that we play, and people put a lot of heart and effort into preparing for a football game,’€ Ninkovich said, adding: ‘€œThat’€™s a tough loss. ‘€¦ When you lose 10 in a row, I’€™m sure there’€™s a ton of frustration in that locker room.’€

Ninkovich and his defensive unit did not play well against the hapless Texans. Rookie quarterback Case Keenum threw for 272 yards, and running back Ben Tate rushed for 102 yards and three touchdowns. Keenum also ran for a touchdown.

‘€œWe definitely do have to do a better job of playing our responsibilities and everyone doing their job,’€ said Ninkovich, who made four tackles and recorded two QB hits. ‘€œGood team defense is everybody playing their gap responsibly and not having those holes.’€

The game was the Patriots’ second straight come-from-behind win. Two weeks ago, New England trailed the Broncos 24-0 heading into the third quarter. The Patriots went on to win 34-31 in overtime.

‘€œWe need to figure it out and play better, because you can’€™t spot a team 17, 24 [points], whatever it may be, in the first half and expect to win every game,’€ Ninkovich said.

To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page. For more Patriots news, visit the team page at weei.com/patriots.

Read More: Antonio Smith, Ben Tate, Case Keenum, Rob Ninkovich

What pundits were saying about Patriots on Sunday

12.02.13 at 10:42 am ET
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Here’€™s a quick rundown of what some NFL analysts were saying about the Patriots before and after Sunday’€™s game against the Texans.

Sterling Sharpe on NFL Network before the game: ‘€œThe New England Patriots are the only team that doesn’€™t care whether they get the No. 1 seed.’€

Steve Mariucci on NFL Network before the game: ‘€œThis team is just getting better and better, and gaining some confidence’€¦This is a very dangerous team and it’€™s the best team in the AFC.’€

Bill Cowher on CBS before the game: “New England can wait for one of the slip’€‘ups right there because they hold the tie-breaker now over Denver having beaten them last week. From where they’re sitting right now, I think their schedule may be the easiest of those three. Certainly, Denver, look at them there. They should win out. If they win, get by [Sunday]. Right now, New England is sitting there at number two.”

Tony Dungy on the Patriots on NBC after the game: ‘€œThis team reminds me so much of our 2006 Super Bowl team in Indy. They’€™re decimated on defense, but they’€™ve got a great quarterback who’€™s making plays and keeping them in every game. Tom Brady is the reason they’€™re winning.’€

Marshall Faulk on NFL Network after the game: “The mismatch of [covering] Shane Vereen [in the passing game] will be giving teams trouble [the rest of the season].”

Read More: marshall faulk, Sterling Sharpe, Steve Mariucci, Tony Dungy

Adam Schefter on D&C: ‘Antonio Smith doesn’t realize the power of his words and the ramifications they will have’

12.02.13 at 10:10 am ET
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ESPN’€™s Adam Schefter joined Dennis & Callahan on Monday to discuss the Patriots’ 34-31 win over the Texans on Sunday, and other news from around the NFL.

One week after rallying from a 24-0 deficit against the Broncos, New England forged its second straight comeback, as the Patriots overcome a 17-7 first-half hole. Houston defensive end Antonio Smith made headlines with his comments questioning the Pats‘€™ ability to adjust in the second half.

‘€œ[The Texans have] lost 10 straight games, it’€™s been a really disappointing season, they have been maybe the most disappointing team in the NFL, they’€™re in contention for the No. 1 pick when many people thought they might win the division and go to the Super Bowl,’€ Schefter said. ‘€œAntonio Smith is as bewildered and as frustrated as anybody else. ‘€¦ Somebody like Antonio Smith doesn’€™t realize the power of his words and the ramifications they will have when he says something like that and they go viral on national video.’€

Schefter added that it would surprise him if the league fined Smith for his comments.

‘€œIf the league wants to fine players for saying something, they could do that all the time,’€ Schefter said, adding: ‘€œI think it’€™s a case where Antonio Smith can say whatever he wants, and they’€™re just words that kind of vanish after a while.’€

On Thanksgiving night, the Ravens beat the Steelers, 22-20, but it wasn’€™t without major controversy. Mike Tomlin faced severe scrutiny after he stepped on the field during a Jacoby Jones kickoff return and seemingly impeded Jones’ progress. The NFL reportedly is considering disciplinary action against Tomlin, and ESPN reported that it’€™s possible Pittsburgh could lose a draft pick for Tomlin’€™s antics.

‘€œI don’€™t know that they’€™re going to a take away a draft pick, I think that would surprise me in the end. They’€™re going to discuss that,’€ Schefter said, adding: ‘€œI think at the very least you’€™re going to see a six-figure fine for Mike Tomlin and a six-figure fine for the Steelers organization.’€

The Giants-Redskins game on Sunday also ended controversially. One play after awarding the Redskins a first down with Washington driving with less than two minutes remaining and down seven points, the officials took away the first down and set up a fourth-and-one. Washington converted but fumbled, and the Giants secured the 24-17 win.

‘€œThe officials basically blow the call at the end of the game, [and] change the dynamic of the Redskins’€™ play-calling,’€ Schefter said, adding: ‘€œThere’€™s no doubt that that call by the officials changed the way they were operating on offense.’€

To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page. For more Patriots news, visit the team page at weei.com/patriots.

Read More: adam schefter, Antonio Smith, Jacoby Jones, Mike Tomlin

Tom Brady on D&C: ‘I don’t really think much of’ cheating accusations

12.02.13 at 9:59 am ET
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Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, joining Dennis & Callahan on Monday morning for his weekly conversation, dismissed the insinuation by Texans defensive lineman Antonio Smith that the Patriots somehow cheated in order to gain an advantage in Sunday’s 34-31 comeback victory in Houston.

The Patriots trailed by 10 points at halftime but turned things around in the second half. Smith questioned how New England could have figured out what the Texans were doing defensively and made the necessary adjustments so quickly and seamlessly.

Brady said the players learned of Smith’s comments after their plane landed back home Sunday night.

“Truthfully, we just played a little bit better in the second half,” Brady said. “We’ve kind of been through a lot of this before, so I don’t really think much of it, truthfully. I just kind of have moved on. I’ve already started work on the Browns and trying to figure out a way to play those guys better and get off to a better start.

“Houston was a really good team and they played well. We certainly didn’t play well in the first half to get us in that deficit. They’ve got a good defense, they’ve got good cover guys. With [J.J.] Watt and Antonio Smith they can really rush the quarterback. It was a tough game, but we found a way to win on the road, which was something that we talked about all week.”

Brady explained that the Patriots did not make major adjustments until halftime, but he said the turnaround had more to do with performance than strategy.

“If you have a bad first drive, you don’t really come over to the sideline and go, ‘All right, guys, we’ve got to change everything. Let’s scrap all the crap we’ve been practicing all week and just start making stuff up on the fly.’ But I think by halftime you have really a good enough sample size to figure out how the game’s being played, the matchups that go in our favor and the matchups that don’t go in our favor, maybe there’s some new things that they’ve done that we’ve got to adjust to,” he said.

“But ultimately, after halftime when you get a chance to kind of evaluate and say, ‘OK, well, how did that half play out?,’ you’ve got to be able to say, ‘Well, let’s stick with it and stick with what we’re doing,’ kind of what we did against Denver, or last week we said, ‘OK, these are some of the things that we’re going to get to and these are some of the matchups that we like, and we’ve got to start making the plays that we’re capable of making.’ You can call the perfect play against the perfect defense, but if I make a crappy throw, it doesn’t matter. It’s a nonproductive play. I know it’s boring, but execution is the name of the game.

“I thought we did a good job there in the second half of trying to figure out — they had a few new things that they had implemented for our game, and they definitely did some different things than we were expecting, but nothing that really blew our mind. It just was different, and we had to adjust. Then the execution ultimately was better in the second half than it was in the first half, obviously. I think that was the major difference.”

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Read More: Antonio Smith, Bill Belichick, James Develin, Julian Edelman

Snapshot of AFC playoff picture: Broncos hold on against Chiefs, maintain lead in race for No. 1 seed

12.01.13 at 11:28 pm ET
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After an exciting weekend of football and the final quarter of the season looming this coming week, here’s a quick snapshot of the AFC playoff chase.

1. Broncos (10-2). Combined record of remaining opponents: 16-32
You’ve got to hand it to the Broncos, who hung in against the Chiefs in Kansas City on Sunday and came away with an impressive 35-28 win. (Although if you’re forced to continue to score at such a high rate, it might not be wholly conducive to a playoff run. But that’s a debate for another day.) Given the weak slate of opponents remaining on the Broncos schedule, it’s hard to see them not going 14-2 at this point, as they have games against the Titans, Chargers, Texans and Raiders, none of whom are at .500. Home against San Diego might be the toughest test for them at this point, but it all goes according to plan, they’ll likely slotted in as the No. 1 seed.

2. Patriots (9-3). Combined record of remaining opponents: 20-28
The Patriots moved a step closer to securing the No. 2 seed with a 34-31 win over the Texans in Houston on Sunday. It wasn’t a classic win, but like the Broncos, they were able to make enough plays when necessary down the stretch and come away with the victory. And like Denver’s remaining schedule, it certainly appears the Patriots have a relatively easy path to 13-3. The only real test for them along the way is the Ravens, who are sniffing around the outer edges of the playoff chase after their Thanksgiving night win over the Steelers.

3. Colts (8-4). Combined record of remaining opponents: 22-26
No one is quite sure what to make of the Colts, who can look incredibly impressive one week and miserable the next — on Sunday, they barely squeaked past Tennessee, 22-14. Over the last five weeks, they’ve pulled a Jets move and alternated wins and losses, and that sort of inconsistency will not serve them well down the stretch. If they can get it together in the next week or two prior to dates at Cincinnati and Kansas City, they might be a force to be reckoned with come January. But that sort of up-and-down play won’t serve them well if they hope to get to the next level, and could even get them dropped down a peg if they do end up dropping one or both of those games.

4. Bengals (8-4). Combined record of remaining opponents: 22-25-1
Still, for all the inconsistency the Colts have displayed, the real wild card when it comes to the postseason could be the Bengals. There have been times — like Sunday — where they have been very impressive, like Sunday when they traveled to San Diego and looked sharp in picking up a 17-10 win over the Chargers. Ultimately, they could be poised for a postseason breakthrough ‘€¦ that is, if you believe in Andy Dalton. It’s still a quarterback-driven league, and there are still some questions as to whether or not Dalton has the pedigree to lift his game to the next level when it comes to playoff time. It’s important to say that the win on Sunday lifted them into a two-game lead over Baltimore in the chase for the AFC North title. The jury is still out as to whether or not that might be the steppingstone to next-level greatness for Dalton and the Bengals.

5. Chiefs (9-3). Combined record of remaining opponents: 20-27
The real hard-luck loser this postseason might be the Chiefs, who have fought the Broncos tooth-and-nail for supremacy in the AFC West, but will likely now finish second, which means they’ll be relegated to the No. 5 spot and top wild card position when it comes to the postseason. Kansas City has a relatively soft schedule the rest of the way (the only team they’ll play over .500 down the stretch is the Colts), and so it still have an outside shot at the top spot in the AFC West — which could also conceivably land them the No. 1 seed if all goes well — but those chances likely went out the window with the Sunday afternoon home loss to the Broncos. Still, considering where they are at this point, this should be remembered as a tremendous season for the Chiefs.

6. Ravens (6-6). Combined record of remaining opponents: 27-20
With three games left against plus-.500 teams (Lions, Patriots and Bengals), Baltimore has the toughest road of any team currently in the playoff picture, so it won’t be easy for them to hang at No. 6. But they still have plenty of the same guys who battled their way through the end of the 2012 season and into that playoff run, and that mental toughness cannot be discounted. At the same time, they have no margin for error — if they slip, there are more than enough teams who could pounce and take that final spot. They hold the tiebreaker on the Dolphins, who are also 6-6, and they’re a half-game up on four teams who are at 5-7 — Titans, Steelers, Chargers and Jets.

Tom Brady: ‘Our coaches do a great job of getting to adjustments’

12.01.13 at 9:38 pm ET
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Texans defensive lineman Antonio Smith might be highly suspicious of New England’s second half adjustments on Sunday, but Tom Brady says it was just about the Patriots coaching staff doing its job and communicating to the offense what needed to be done.

‘€œI think our coaches do a great job of getting to the adjustments that we need to make because you go through the first half and you don’€™t produce much at all, and then the coaches come in at half time and they say, ‘€˜OK, well, these are the things that we’€™re going to have to do to move the ball,’ ” Brady said. “We started with a great drive there to start the third quarter and then scored again, and then scored again, and then scored again, and it was just, it was really a great way for us to play offense.’€

The Patriots were down 17-7 at halftime, as the Texans defense allowed only a 23-yard TD strike from Brady to Rob Gronkowski. Brady was 11-of-18 for 108 yards and a touchdown with one interception. Houston was doing a good job of keeping most passes in front of them in the first 30 minutes.

In the second half, Brady was 18-of-23 for 263 yards with a touchdown and a quarterback rating near 125, finishing with a 104.8 rating. Smith might have thought something was up but Brady just thought it was better execution, pure and simple. That, and a healthy dose of resolve when the deck again appeared stacked against them.

‘€œWe’€™ve got some of that,” Brady said. “I wish we could start fast and put the foot on the gas pedal the whole way, but we just got behind a little bit and played a lot better in the second half. Still have plenty of chances to convert even more, and we’€™ve got to figure out a way to keep moving the ball, getting the ball in the end zone. But a lot of guys made some really big plays. James Develin and Jules [Julian Edelman], I mean, everyone contributed. Steve [Gostkowski] made some great kicks.’€

Brady is looking at the fact the Patriots posted their second straight 34-31 win as a glass half-full scenario, not half-empty, as the playoffs approach in a month.

‘€œYeah, I mean, there’€™s going to be one team that’€™s happy at the end of the year, that’€™s just the way it is,” Brady said. “I mean, we’€™re trying to do our best, trying to go out there and execute the game plan. Certainly it’€™s not always perfect. But every team has talent, it’€™s tough to win on the road, and especially getting behind 17-7, you pump a lot of life into them there. It ended up being a dogfight for us, but we found a way to pull it out and I think that’€™s the most important thing is no matter what the situation, if you’€™re ahead late, if you’€™re behind late, you’€™ve got to figure out a way to win it at the end.’€

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Read More: Antonio Smith, houston texans, New England Patriots, nfl

Bill Belichick on another slow start: ‘We’re not playing well enough’

12.01.13 at 6:33 pm ET
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One week after getting blanked 24-0 in the first half against Peyton Manning and the Broncos, Bill Belichick trotted off the Reliant Stadium field Sunday staring up at the scoreboard that had the 2-9 Texans leading his 8-3 Patriots 17-7.

The Patriots were letting Ben Tate run all over their defense while Andre Johnson looked like the Andre Johnson of old.

What was the problem?

‘€œWe’€™re not playing well enough,” Belichick conceded after his team came from behind for the second straight week and beat Houston, 34-31. “We’€™re not coaching well enough. We’€™re not playing well enough. We’€™re not doing a good enough job, in any area. From opening kickoff, from the defense, to the offense, you know, just, none of it’€™s good enough. Got to do a better job of coaching, got to do a better job of preparing, got to do a better job of executing.’€

How much of this comeback had to do with halftime adjustments against Tate, Johnson and Houston quarterback Case Keenum and how much of it was just execution?

‘€œI don’€™t know, I don’t know,” Belichick said. “Just came down to a couple plays and once again, I’€™m proud of our guys for making the plays they needed to make. We got good contributions from all three units. Obviously the offense put a lot of points on the board and that was important. We got the stops that we needed at the end defensively and a couple big kicks from Steve [Gostkowski], Ryan [Allen], and those units the punt unit, the field goal unit, coming through in key situations there so that we could execute those plays.

Of course, two of those plays on special teams came from the right foot of Stephen Gostkowski, a pair of 53-yard field goals in the fourth quarter, turning a 31-28 hole into a 34-31 win for the second straight week.

“Again, certainly a lot of things we need to work on, need to do better. But overall, proud of the team for the way they hung in there and made the plays they needed to make at the end. Hopefully we can just build on that, do a better job earlier in the game’€¦just keep digging ourselves in a hole here. We’€™ve got to try to do a better job here when we get started instead of leaving it all in the second half. But it was a good offensive performance against a good defense to put up, whatever it was, 27 points in the second half.’€

How much concern does Belichick have over the slow starts in the last two weeks?

‘€œYeah, that’€™s not the way we want to play,” Belichick said. “Hopefully I can find a way to coach better than what I’€™ve done and see if we can find a way to get ahead.’€

After starting the season being unable to get it done in the third quarter, what has been the key to the third quarter resurgence of late?

‘€œJust doing a better job,” Belichick said. “I mean, we haven’€™t like, re-invented the game. We’€™ve just basically done the same thing in the second half we’€™ve done in the first half, we’€™ve just done it better. We had some good match-ups in the second half that Josh [McDaniels] did a good job of matching our personnel groups and formations up. We had some good match-ups and Tom and our receivers were able to take advantage of them and we were able to keep them honest somewhat with the running game. Those guys did a good job, I mean, again, that’€™s a good defensive unit. Real good.’€

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Read More: Bill Belichick, houston texans, New England Patriots, nfl

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