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The Big Nickel: Thursday with Vince Wilfork, an injury update and meet the two new guys 12.16.10 at 1:54 pm ET
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FOXBORO ‘€” The five most important things you need to know about the Patriots on Thursday:

1. The highlight of most Thursdays is the appearance of defensive lineman Vince Wilfork, and he certainly didn’€™t disappoint this week.
In an almost 10-minute Q&A with reporters he discussed a wide variety of topics, including the importance of playing with consistency, forcing takeaways and the play of both Gerard Warren and Jerod Mayo. Here are a few highlights:

On playing with consistency: ‘€œWhen your number is called, you have to be ready to perform, and perform pretty well, so I think as a team, it’€™s not just certain positions. You just can’€™t say it’€™s just the defensive line or the offensive line. I think as a team, you have to be consistent, day in and day out, and most of the time, that starts in practice. I think any football team will tell you that preparation is the key to everything. If you don’€™t prepare well, you won’€™t have a chance on game day. So we’€™ve been through those days. We came through a practice in a week where we say, ‘€˜You know what? I hope we have it on Sunday.’€™ And it wasn’€™t the case. But we’€™re more consistent. We’€™re starting to get more consistent. Everybody is starting to rally around each other and trust one another out there on the field. So I’€™m happy with the way things are going, but we just have to keep striving forward and keep our head down and keep fighting. It’€™s the only thing we can do right now.’€

On the Patriots’€™ defense and its’€™ ability to force takeaways: ‘€œThat’€™s something we’€™re proud of. We preach it every day in practice. Guys make plays all the time in practice and I’€™m telling you, it sounds like I’€™m saying this a lot, but I’€™m going to tell you that you can’€™t get enough practice. The more you do in practice, the more plays you make in practice, the more consistent you are in practice, you have a good chance of bringing that out on game day. And it’€™s been working for us. And I think that’€™s the best thing, because everybody is starting to see what we do in practice, we can carry that over into the games. And if we do carry it over into games, we’€™ll be OK. So we always talk about turnovers, getting ahead in the turnover game.’€

And the ability to turn those into points: ‘€œThat’€™s even bigger. We’€™ll try to continue to do that, so … I love giving Tom Brady a short field to work with. The best quarterback in the game. Our job is to keep him in those situations. The more we do in practice and the more plays you make in practice, we just have to have confidence in the game that we’€™ll have the same success.’€

On his relationship with Warren: ‘€œHe’€™s a helluva player, a helluva person. Smart, intelligent when it comes to football ‘€” and off the field. But it’€™s easy when you can have a veteran, a 10-year vet come in and adjust to a new system and catch on. And he’€™s done that. Everything we’€™ve asked of him, he’€™s done it. He’€™s taught people, the rookies. Even me. We sat down and watch film all the time. It’€™s very special when you sit back and hear him talk about the game itself. He’€™s very, very smart, so I’€™m happy to have him on this side with me, and he makes my job a little easier at times and probably vice-versa. We’€™re in it together, and he’€™s a heckuva player and I’€™m happy he’€™s here. He’€™s been doing a good job for us every week. I’€™m pretty sure he’€™s excited to be here, excited to be a part of something, a winning organization and a great group of guys.’€

And on Jerod Mayo ‘€” who he said could play at the U ‘€” and his tackle totals: ‘€œI’€™ll tell you, he’€™s an every down player. He’€™s every bit of a linebacker you’€™d want from a defensive person to a football player. And to be a middle linebacker in this game, you have to be able to tackle well. I know he’€™s taking it a little personal if he misses a tackle or whatever. I don’€™t think he misses many. I’€™m not sure, you’€™d have to ask him. I don’€™t think I’€™ve seen him miss one. But don’€™t quote me on that one. But he’€™s a very good tackler. He works his tail off. We see that guy working, his backers see him working, [and it] makes it easier for us to go out there and work, especially when you have somebody that’€™s giving 100 percent every play and playing every snap, that’€™s tough. The guy’€™s on special teams. He’€™s put together very, very well and he’€™s meant a lot to this organization and this team, especially for me to be a defensive lineman. He actually means a lot for me. Even though I’€™m taking up blocks for him I’€™m happy to have a man like Jerod with me. He’€™s probably one of the top guys at the position right now.’€
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Read More: aaron rodgers, Bill Belichick, Brandon Deaderick, Chevis Jackson
‘Sunday Night Football’ crew weighs in on Patriots-Packers 12.16.10 at 9:27 am ET
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In advance of this weekend’€™s Patriots-Packers game on NBC’€™s ‘€œSunday Night Football,’€ a handful of people who will work the game for NBC ‘€” including former Patriots safety Rodney Harrison, former Indianapolis coach Tony Dungy, play-by-play man Al Michaels and analyst Cris Collinsworth ‘€” talked a little about the matchup between New England and Green Bay.

MICHAELS ON PATRIOTS: ‘€œRight now, there is nobody that doesn’€™t think the New England Patriots are the best.’€

COLLINSWORTH ON PATRIOTS: ‘€œThey are a clear-cut Super Bowl favorite.’€

HARRISON ON PATRIOTS OFFENSE: ‘€œ Offensively they are playing at the top of their game right now.  Tom Brady is clearly the MVP and the Patriots are the best team in the league.’€

HARRISON ON PACKERS PLAYING ZONE DEFENSE: ‘€œWith Green Bay playing a zone defense, this sets up perfectly for Brady.  He loves to exploit the zone.  He finds himself a lot of holes and he throws to a lot of different receivers.  He will pick that zone apart.’€

HARRISON ON PACKERS: ‘€œGreen Bay was off just a little bit (against Detroit) and late in the season this is when you start seeing teams lose focus.  If you are Green Bay, you must win the division to get into the playoffs in the NFC.’€

DUNGY ON THE PATRIOTS DEFENSE: ‘€œTom is playing great, but a lot of people are overlooking their defense.  They’€™ve shut people down the last three or four weeks.  They blanketed the Jets and shut Chicago down.  This defense is playing better than people give them credit for.’€

HARRISON ON PATRIOTS DEFENSE: ‘€œThe strength of this defense used to be the defensive front, but you have to now look at the linebacker position and the secondary.  They’€™re creating turnovers and they’€™re scoring touchdowns.  That is why Bill Belichick brought these young guys in.’€

Read More: Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Rodney Harrison, Tony Dungy
Tom Brady and Bill Belichick continue to rewrite the record books 12.15.10 at 11:59 pm ET
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FOXBORO ‘€”Now in their 10th season together as starting quarterback and coach, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have been together longer than any other active QB/coach combination in the National Football League, and so it’€™s no surprise to see them start to push the record books when it comes to wins and losses as a duo.

On Sunday, Brady and Belichick moved out of a tie with Terry Bradshaw and Chuck Noll (107) into sole possession of second place for most wins as a quarterback-coach combo with 108. Brady and Belichick could theoretically break the record sometime in the first half of the 2011 season ‘€” only Dan Marino/Don Shula ever won more games together (116).

While they’€™re in second place on the wins list, they are first when it comes to the best winning percentage among head coach-starting quarterbacks since the 1970 merger at .771, and have been for some time. They recently passed Ken Stabler and John Madden, who posted a 60-19-1 mark (.756) when they were together in Oakland. Third on the list are Jim McMahon and Mike Ditka, who were 46-15 (.754) together with the Bears, while Peyton Manning and Tony Dungy ‘€” the only contemporaries of Brady and Belichick ‘€” are fourth with a 73-24 (.753) mark.

Read More: Bill Belichick, Chuck Noll, Dan Marino, Don Shula
Westhoff: Patriots also form special teams wall 12.15.10 at 4:17 pm ET
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The same day that the Jets suspended strength and conditioning coach Sal Alosi indefinitely after the team got ‘€œnew information’€ that Alosi ‘€œinstructed’€ five players to stand in a wall before he tripped a Dolphins player on Sunday, New York special teams coach Mike Westhoff hinted the Patriots engage in many of the same tactics.

Appearing on the Waddle & Silvy Show on ESPN 1000 in Chicago, Westhoff said ‘€œa number of teams do it,’€ including ‘€œa pretty good team up north.’€

Asked by one of the hosts if he was talking about the Patriots, Westhoff added, ‘€œWell, if you watch them, their defense when the opponents’€™ punt team is out there …  they’€™re up there pretty close to the line so it looks like they are trying to do it. Now are they doing anything illegal? Are they tripping anybody, heck no. I’€™m not saying that. That’€™s not the point. But, yeah, they’€™re lined up there. Is it making a difference? I don’€™t know. I really don’€™t know, because to tell you the truth before this happened I never really looked at anybody’€™s sideline in all my years.’€

Read More: Jets, Mike Westhoff, Patriots,
Brady, McCourty don’t practice for Patriots 12.15.10 at 4:12 pm ET
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FOXBORO ‘€” Quarterback Tom Brady, cornerback Devin McCourty and defensive linemen Myron Pryor, Gerard Warren, Mike Wright and Ron Brace all did not practice for the Patriots on a chilly Wednesday. Here’s the complete injury report as issued by the team:

Did Not Practice
QB Tom Brady (right shoulder/foot)
DL Myron Pryor (back)
DL Mike Wright (concussion)
DL Ron Brace (head)
CB Devin McCourty (rib)
DL Gerard Warren (knee)

Limited Participation
WR Deion Branch (knee)

Full Participation
CB Kyle Arrington (elbow)

Read More: injury report, Patriots,
The Big Nickel: Patriots’ offensive line preps for new challenge, the team chills out and more Aaron Rodgers speculation 12.15.10 at 3:22 pm ET
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The five most important things you need to know about the Patriots on Wednesday.

1. The New England offensive line has yielded 21 sacks through 13 games, tied for sixth-lowest in the league. Circumstances have forced the Patriots to use different combinations along their front ‘€” Logan Mankins‘€™ contract dispute at the start of the season forced New England to use Dan Connolly at left guard, but not soon after Mankins’€™ return, right guard Stephen Neal went on season-ending injured reserve with a shoulder problem, which allowed Connolly to step back into the starting lineup at the other guard spot.

However, they have managed to keep quarterback Tom Brady mostly clean against some of the better pass defenses in the league ‘€” the Patriots have gone against five of the league’€™s Top 10 defenses in terms of total passing yards allowed, and will face the Packers on Sunday night, the No. 3 pass defense in the NFL. (Don’€™t sleep on Green Bay’€™s run defense, either ‘€” they allow only 117.3 rushing yards a game, 19th in the league.)

It’€™ll be another challenge for a group that continues to play at a high level.

‘€œIt’€™s been pretty solid. There’€™s always things we can do better, there’€™s do doubt about that,’€ Patriots coach Bill Belichick said of the offensive line. ‘€œThey’€™ve consistently done a good job ‘€” we haven’€™t had a lot of missed assignments. You don’€™t see a lot of guys running through the line of scrimmage unblocked bearing down on the quarterback. Usually, we have everybody; usually we have a hat on everybody and have everybody picked up.

‘€œSometimes, technique-wise we get beat, but haven’€™t had a lot of missed assignments, and that’€™s really a credit to those guys individually preparing but also working together and making sure they’€™re all seeing the same picture and making the same reads. Dante does a great job with that group, and gets all five guys to play as one. That’€™s really what offensive line play is about.’€

The senior member of the offensive line ‘€” a starter for three Super Bowl teams ‘€” left tackle Matt Light said there’€™s been some good and some bad over the course of the season.

‘€œHonestly, I never rate what we do and how we do it from week-to-week,’€ Light said. ‘€œI think individually, you rate yourself and what you do, and I think collectively, there are things we have to improve on. I think there are things we’€™ve done OK. There are some things we haven’€™t done so well. But I think overall, we’€™re playing pretty well together. I think we all trust each other and the guys next to us.’€

2. The following players were absent from the start of Wednesday’€™s practice, which was held on the lower fields behind Gillette Stadium: Brady, cornerback Devin McCourty and four defensive linemen ‘€” Myron Pryor, Gerard Warren, Mike Wright and Ron Brace. Brady’€™s absence is consistent with the way he’€™s been utilized in previous weeks, while McCourty (ribs), Pryor (back) Brace (head) and Wright (concussion) have all sustained recent injuries. Warren’€™s absence should be explained when the injury report is released at 4 p.m.

The fact that the players were outside ‘€” in freezing temperatures ‘€” was no surprise to wide receiver Deion Branch, who joked that they never seem to use the practice bubble.

‘€œMr. Kraft had that bubble built, which we don’€™t use,’€ Branch said with a smile. ‘€œI don’€™t know how much it cost him, but I think Coach Belichick cares more … it’€™s over to the side of us and we look at it, but he don’€™t care. The thing is, we have to play in it, so we practice in this type of weather.’€

On that same topic, before practice, Belichick was informed that his team was 10-0 in the snow since he started coaching the Patriots in 2000.

‘€œHonestly, I didn’€™t even know that. That’€™s great. We’€™ll get the snow-making machines out there; start firing it up,’€ he said. ‘€œI wasn’€™t even aware of it. Those aren’€™t the kind of records I keep track of.

‘€œLook, our team has to be ready to play in whatever the elements are every week. They practice in them. They play in them. They’€™re the ones that are out there trying to throw, catch, kick in those conditions, tackle, block, whatever it is. We’€™ve got some good football players. Those guys prepare for not only the opponent they have to play, but also the conditions they have to play in, whether it’€™s 90 degrees against Cincinnati or zero against Chicago. That’€™s their job and they do a good job of it. They’€™re the ones that deserve the credit. They’€™re out there playing.’€
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Read More: aaron rodgers, Bill Belichick, Bill Brasky, Clay matthews
Patriots remain one of the least-penalized teams in the NFL 12.14.10 at 9:44 pm ET
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One of the contributing factors in the Patriots’ recent success has stemmed from the fact that they’€™ve been playing close to penalty-free football. New England has committed just 11 penalties in the last four games (including just one penalty each in wins over the Colts and Jets), and is now fourth-best in the league when it comes to assessed penalties with 65, behind only the Falcons with 49, the Dolphins with 55 and Colts with 64. (The list does not include declined penalties.) In addition, the Patriots have lost 602 penalty yards, 12th in the NFL.

As a group, the most penalized position is defensive back, where the Patriots have taken 18 penalties for 229 yards ‘€” close to half the total yardage assessed against the team this year. The most frequently penalized defensive back is rookie corner Devin McCourty, who has been flagged five times for a total of 45 yards. However, Brandon Meriweather has lost the most penalty yardage for New England ‘€” the safety has been flagged three times for a total of 77 yards, including a 38-yard defensive pass interference penalty against Pittsburgh, the most penalty yards the Patriots have taken on one play this year.

The second-most penalized position for the Patriots is tight end, where the trio of Alge Crumpler, Rob Gronkowski (five penalties for 40 yards each) and Aaron Hernandez (three penalties for 25 yards) has picked up 13 penalties for 105 yards.

When it comes to impactful penalties (penalties of more than 10 yards), Meriweather has three (a 15-yarder for a personal foul and two for defensive pass interference, one for 24 yards and another for 38 yards), as does cornerback Darius Butler (three defensive pass interference penalties for 23, 16 and 13 yards). In addition, linebacker Tully Banta-Cain has two, both of which were 15-yard flags for unnecessary roughness. McCourty also has two longer than 10 yards, a 16-yarder for defensive pass interference and an 18-yarder for the same reason.

The least penalized position? The defensive line, which has taken just one penalty for zero yards this season ‘€” a defensive offsides penalty on Mike Wright. Other than that, they have been clean. A close second are the running backs, who have picked up just one penalty, a 15-yarder on BenJarvus Green-Ellis because of a chop block against Pittsburgh.

When it comes to notable players who have avoided penalties, two names really stand out ‘€” defensive lineman Vince Wilfork and linebacker Jerod Mayo, two players who have played just about every snap this season who have yet to pick up a single penalty. In addition, running back Danny Woodhead, who has become an integral part of the offense since his arrival in September, has yet to account for a single penalty this season. Other key position players like wide receiver Wes Welker, safety Pat Chung and offensive linemen Logan Mankins and Dan Connolly have picked up only one penalty all season.

While the 65 penalties rank among the fewest by any team in the league, they won’€™t be the most flag-free team of the Bill Belichick Era. Remarkably, the 2008 Patriots finished the season with 57 penalties, the fewest since the strike-shortened season of 1982, when New England had 49 in nine regular-season games.

Read More: Aaron Hernandez, Alge Crumpler, BenJarvus Green Ellis, Bill Belichick
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