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Boomer Esiason on D&C: Patriots best team in AFC 12.03.12 at 9:43 am ET
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Boomer Esiason

CBS Sports NFL analyst Boomer Esiason made his weekly appearance with Dennis & Callahan and talked about the Patriots’ victory over the Dolphins, the AFC playoff picture, the Jets’ quarterback situation and more news from around the NFL. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

The Patriots defeated the Dolphins 23-16 and clinched the AFC East title. Although the victory wasn’t the most overwhelming, like the past two games, Esiason said coach Bill Belichick likely was happy with another win.

“I would say that if I were a fan of the Patriots I would be happy about my defense getting some headlines, especially late in the season like this,” Esiason said. “Because you know this offense is going to put up points. … As Bill Belichick will tell you, and as any coach will tell you, even Rex Ryan would say it this morning, ‘I don’t care how we win, I don’t care what it looks like, just give me one more point than the other team just so I can at least breathe a little bit easier when I wake up this morning.’ ”

The Patriots are on the heels of the Texans and play them next Monday night. Esiason said that if the Patriots can pull out a win over the Texans next week, they put themselves in a position to capture the No. 1 seed.

“If they can beat the Texans, go on to win the rest of their games, and the Texans somehow slip up against the Colts because they have to play them twice in the last three weeks, now all of a sudden you have a tied record, and by virtue of the fact that the Patriots beat the Texans on Monday night next week, they could be the No. 1 seed, which is really amazing when you think of all the stuff we’ve been through thus far to this point,” Esiason said.

In Sunday’s game, the Patriots rushed for 11 yards on seven carries in the first half. But in the fourth quarter, they turned it on when they needed. The Pats embarked on a drive of 77 yards that took 16 plays, 12 of which were runs, for a field goal that gave them a two-possession lead. Despite the loss, Esiason said the Dolphins defense played well.

“I give the Dolphins a lot of credit,” Esiason said. “They played a tough game last week against Seattle. A lot of people, including myself, thought that they would probably lose that game, but somehow they figure out a way to win. Now, all of a sudden, they come into this game knowing that they’re playing one of the best teams in football. They have to raise their level of play, they have to raise their focus during the week to get ready to go against Tom Brady. It’s a great challenge. … For the most part, I thought the Dolphins defense supported themselves very well yesterday.

“Ultimately, what’s going to happen, the best team is going to come out and they’re going to come out and they’re going to win nine times out of 10. And put these two franchises on the field and that best team is always going to be New England, and the reason that it’s going to be that way is because of the quarterback that’s behind center for them.”

After Sunday’s games, there are three AFC teams at 9-3: the Patriots, Ravens and Broncos. Esiason said he would rank the Patriots first among those teams, but cautioned that the return of Ben Roethlisberger could give the Steelers an edge.

“I thought about three weeks ago that it would be the Broncos and the Texans that would be heading to the AFC championship game, now I’m not so sure,” Esiason said. “Simply because, injuries start to take hold. The Texans lost two linebackers who are two of their most important players. And their quarterback in Matt Schaub is not as good as what’s going on in Denver and certainly with the Patriots. … If Pittsburgh can get Ben Roethlisberger back and that defense can play like it has for the past three weeks, now all of a sudden you have to put them in the mix. In my estimation, how I would rank them would probably be: Patriots, Texans, Broncos, Steelers, in that order. I think the Ravens are a little bit outside of that, simply because their defense is probably the worst of the four.”

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Read More: Ben Roethlisberger, Bill Belichick, boomer esiason, Mark Sanchez
Mike Lombardi on D&C: ‘I think it’s going to be New England and Denver’ in AFC 11.30.12 at 10:29 am ET
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Michael Lombardi

NFL Network analyst Mike Lombardi joined Dennis & Callahan on Friday morning to preview Sunday’s Patriots-Dolphins game and discuss news from around the league. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

Heading into Sunday’s game with the Dolphins, Lombardi said that the Patriots have to figure out a way to run the ball against a Dolphins team that a lot of people credit as having a better defense than they actually do.

“People say that all the time,” Lombardi said. “But when you study the team, and you’re in a nickel formation, they allow five yards per carry. So, the reality of the situation is if you want to be in two backs and you want to show how tough you are, and you want to try to prove a point and you want to prove that they can stop the run, line up in two backs and run the ball at them. You won’t have any success. So, you have to solve the problem, you have to be divergent in your thinking. So, what teams have done is spread them out, get in nickel and see if they can force the run in nickel, which fits the Patriots perfectly.”

Tom Brady and the Pats are coming off a Thanksgiving night victory over the Jets. Lombardi said that Brady is a patient quarterback and that it will benefit the Patriots in Sunday’s game.

“I think what Brady is able to do is make the right decisions almost all the time,” Lombardi said. “Since the Seattle game when he threw the ball to Deion Branch and he should’ve probably thrown it to [Rob] Gronkowski or [Aaron] Hernandez on a crossing route, you rarely see Tom take a chance that’s not there. Sometimes you get upset that he doesn’t try to at least throw it up the field, but Tom always is doing what’s best for the offense. … I think Tom plays a patient game and that really helps when you play a team like San Francisco or when you’re going to play Miami. Patience is a virtue. You’ve got to be able to continue on up the field and not always kind of try to be desperate, and I think he does a great job of that.”

Added Lombardi: “I think he’s having a great season. It’s swept under the carpet because of the running game of the Patriots. … But I think now he’s throwing the deep ball better than he has pretty much in the last three or four years.”

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Read More: Colin Kaepernick, Jim Harbaugh, Mike Lombardi, Ryan Tannehill
Pats DB Steve Gregory on M&M: Defense ‘starting to jell now’ 11.26.12 at 12:42 pm ET
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Steve Gregory

Patriots defensive back Steve Gregory joined Mut & Merloni on Monday to talk about his role in Thursday’s Pats-Jets game, the defense’s progress, and other Patriots news. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.

Gregory intercepted Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez during the Patriots’ 49-19 win Thursday. He said the defensive setup allowed him to read Sanchez and pick off the ball.

“As in every play, you always want to disguise your coverages, disguise what you’re going to be doing so you can’t just kind of let the quarterback read and know exactly what we’re in,” Gregory said. “So we did a good job at disguising the look and Kyle [Arrington] was covering in the slot. … I got a good read on Sanchez where he was looking and was able to jump the route.”

Gregory recovered the fumble after Sanchez ran into linebacker Brandon Moore’s butt. Gregory said he was in the right spot to recover the ball.

“It was just a broken play,” Gregory said. “Obviously he went to hand it off and he read it wrong. And then I guess just trying to salvage what little loss he had left, he tried to run up into the line and get some positive yardage. I just happened to be standing there at the time and the ball popped out and I picked it up and ran. It was just kind of an interesting play, I don’t know that I’ve seen it before happen like that. But, hey, I’ll take it.”

Added Gregory: “Sometimes some funny stuff happens out there. This just happens to be one of them. Like I said, I’m glad I was on the positive side of the play and not the laughable side.”

Gregory said the defense is beginning to do better working together in games and that the Pats have been focusing on that over the course of the season.

“We’re starting to put it together now,” Gregory said. “We’ve been getting to know each other over the year. Obviously a lot of new faces, new guys playing with each other. Sometimes, when that happens, it takes a little time to build that chemistry. We’ve been working on that really hard in practice. Understanding certain guys’ tendencies, techniques, the characters of some of the players we are playing with. And I think it’s all starting to jell now.”

Gregory said Bill Belichick’s hands-on, detail-oriented coaching makes the team better.

“He has high expectations for us,” Gregory said. “The attention to detail, understanding the team you’re playing, the game plan that you’re going in with each and every week is really important. I think that’s a credit to the success that they’ve had here. The paying attention to the little things, the being in your playbook studying film. … I think the type of guys that they bring into this locker room is high-character guys. Guys that take pride in their profession. Guys that want to be in the film room studying, that really care about winning, and winning for the guy next to you. And I think that’s what this locker room is about.”

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Read More: Aqib Talib, Bill Belichick, Devin McCourty, Mark Sanchez
Pats-Jets roundup: Mike DeVito says Jets are ‘loose’ heading into Thanksgiving night game 11.21.12 at 12:50 pm ET
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Mike DeVito

The Jets are 4-6 and heavy underdogs heading into Thursday night’s game against the Patriots, but one player indicated the team is feeling “loose” heading into the contest.

Jets defensive end Mike DeVito said the normal tightness associated with a matchup against the Patriots is missing this week, and he said the team is ready to go.

“I feel like we were real loose this week at practice, which is good to see,” said DeVito a Cape Cod native who played collegiately at Maine. “I think a tendency that we’ve had in the past when it’s Patriots Week is to tighten up, you naturally get a little bit tight because you recognize the importance of the game, and how physical and ratcheted up it always is. … You play this game too tight, you’re not going to be successful. You play this game loose and with swag and having fun, that’s when you’re going to do well, and I think guys are happy about that.

“I just know we play well when we feel like this.”

Added DeVito when asked if the team was ready to play its best game: “Without a doubt, yeah, without a doubt. Guys are really confident. We’re jelling as a team, we believe in each other, and I have no doubt that we’re going to be ready to go on Thursday night.”

Jets center Matt Slauson wants it to be known that the Jets are ready to fight.

“I would expect to see a high-motor, high-enthusiasm team. … We’re going to be flying around that field,” he said. “Regardless of what happens in the game, we’re going to fight until the very end of the game with everything we got.”

Rex Ryan is not underestimating the talent level of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. The Jets coach hailed Brady as a “once-in-a-generation quarterback” as he prepares his team to defend the Patriots offense.

“The thing about him, he’s a machine yet he’s passionate and a fiery leader,” Ryan said Tuesday. “You wish he was just a machine. His competitive side elevates his team as well. That’s what you get from those once-in-a-generation-type quarterbacks.”

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Read More: antonio cromartie, Darrelle Revis, Matt Slauson, Mike DeVito
Patriots WR Julian Edelman on M&M: ‘Got to do something’ with the opportunity 11.19.12 at 2:13 pm ET
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Julian Edelman

Patriots receiver Julian Edelman joined Mut & Merloni on WEEI’s Patriots Monday following Sunday’s dominating 59-24 win over the Colts to talk about his electric performance. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.

Edelman, who amassed 222 all-purpose yards and scored on a punt return and pass reception, said he was lucky to be as involved in Sunday’s game as he was, and he wanted to take advantage of it.

“The game plan was just go out there and execute what we’ve been practicing all week,” Edelman said. “This week I was fortunate enough to get some opportunity on the outside with some guys banged up and some of the transactions that we’ve made. So if you’re going to get that opportunity, you’ve got to do something with it..”

Edelman returned a punt 68 yards for a score in the second quarter. Edelman explained the way he normally returns a punt.

“You usually can tell by the trajectory of the punt if you’re going to be able to return it,” Edelman said. “You’ll look, you’ll kind of take a pre-snap before-you-catch-it read and then right when you catch it, you kind of try to process what you’ve got. You set it up. You know where your blockers are going to be, and they were there. And that’s what you’ve got to do.”

Added Edelman: “Best punt is right down the middle, kind of shanked off his foot where it doesn’t turn over so it’s low and you’re going to get it quick. With your blockers there, you’ve got a vice out there holding the gunners. Those are usually the punts that you want.”

Edelman was targeted five times by Tom Brady. Edelman credits their chemistry to offseason work.

“It was a big offseason,” Edelman said. “That’s where you get your fundamentals and you build a cohesive unit is in the offseason. … It’s where you gain your confidence, and your timing, and your rhythm, is all in the offseason and training camp.

Added Edelman: “I want to try to be in [Brady’s] back pocket, whenever he needs me. … He’s the general. Whatever he wants, I’m there to give it to him.”

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Read More: Julian Edelman, Patriots Monday, Rob Gronkowski, Tom Brady
Boomer Esiason on D&C: Patriots lose a ‘major, major player’ with Rob Gronkowski injury 11.19.12 at 10:13 am ET
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Boomer Esiason

CBS Sports NFL analyst Boomer Esiason made his weekly appearance with Dennis & Callahan and talked about Rob Gronkowski’s injury, the Patriots’ 59-24 win over the Colts, and more news from around the NFL. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

After the Pats’ commanding win Sunday, all focus shifted to Gronkowski, who reportedly broke his left forearm on an extra-point attempt while the Patriots were ahead by 35 points. Esiason said the loss would be big for the Patriots over the next few weeks.

“Gronkowski is a beast in the middle,” Esiason said. “He is impossible to cover. When he’s playing at the level that he played at yesterday, he’s a major difference-maker every time the Patriots play. With him out for the next maybe three to four to five weeks, maybe Aaron Hernandez comes back, maybe he’s ready to go. I don’t know. That is a major, major player that now is missing out of this Patriot offense. I know everybody else did their part yesterday, but certainly he is one of the guys that spearheads the success of that team. … We have never seen a guy who is that big, that talented, that athletic and to be able to make a play like that, to hold on to the ball while he’s getting hit in the back is pretty damn impressive.”

Added Esiason: “I would think that once Tom [Brady] found out, he probably was like, ‘I can’t believe this, I have to go down the next three or four weeks without legitimately my best player.’ ”

Keeping with the Patriot way, Bill Belichick did not pull his starters, including Gronkowski, out of the game even though New England far ahead and has a short week before the Thanksgiving game with the Jets on Thursday.

“I think it’s a part of the game,” Esiason said. “Belichick has always played it that way. Whether their team is 15-0 and there is a 16th game to be played, and they’ve already locked up home-field advantage, he’s playing his guys. He makes no excuses for that, he makes no apologies for that. It’s just the way it goes.”

The Patriots will have to plug the big void Gronkowski leaves as he recovers from the injury, and Esiason said he wasn’t sure exactly how they would go about this.

“A lot of this depends on where Aaron Hernandez is. I know he practiced on Friday,” Esiason said. “I thought when they first brought Aaron back, that was way too early. When you come back with the ankle injury he had suffered, you’re asking a lot for a guy to come back that quickly. … A lot of that will be determined by whether or not he is healthy. The other thing, too, remember, it’s a short week. So, I just don’t know if he is ready to go or not. … They’ll figure something out. If there’s a team that can do something on a short week and still be very good offensively, even without one of their best players, it’s going to be the New England Patriots.”

Overall, Esiason was impressed by the Patriots’ strong performance against the Colts on Sunday.

“Yeah, it was pretty impressive, no question,” Esiason said. “Julian Edelman was great. Certainly Tom Brady was more than efficient; he was actually surgical if you ask me. And then a couple of those interceptions that Andrew Luck threw were because of pressure that he was receiving. Anybody who watched the game can certainly see that Andrew Luck has all the skills to be one of the great ones, his time will definitely come. … I give Aqib Talib a lot of credit. He was in the right spot at the right time. A little bit of pressure forced the interception. To me, that was the point that really changed the whole dynamic of the game.”

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Read More: Aaron Hernandez, Andrew Luck, Bill Belichick, boomer esiason
Mike Lombardi on D&C: Aqib Talib will have ‘significant impact’ on Sunday 11.16.12 at 10:48 am ET
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Michael Lombardi

NFL Network analyst Mike Lombardi joined Dennis & Callahan on Friday morning to preview Sunday’s Patriots-Colts game and discuss news from around the league. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

Cornerback Aqib Talib joins the Patriots this week and Lombardi said he can make an immediate impact on the struggling secondary.

“I think he can make a significant impact on the outside,” Lombardi said. “This week against the Colts, it’s a little different game because the Colts have a couple of those receivers who have quickness and vertical speed in [Donnie] Avery and T.Y. Hilton so they’re not really the matchup for Talib. But certainly I think he can help on outside. What it will allow the Patriots to do is, if you really break down Patriots tape, the middle of the defense — the ‘backers, the safeties — this is where they’re getting killed more than anything. … Get more speed on the field at linebacker, try to create some more situations where there is more depth in the zone drops, something that didn’t happen last week.”

The Patriots play the Colts and Andrew Luck on Sunday. Lombardi said the Colts aren’t a playoff contender yet because their defense hasn’t played a full, four-quarter game.

“[Luck] been able to control the ball, and I think [interim coach] Bruce Arians has done a wonderful job of implementing the Pittsburgh Steeler offense,” Lombardi said. “I think the whole offense is tailored exactly after the Steelers when you watch them closely on tape. They’ve been able to play what I call ‘Little League games,’ their defense has only played seven innings, they only have to play like 26 minutes in a game. And so they’ve never played a full nine-inning Major League Baseball game defensively. This week, they’re going to have to play nine innings and then we’ll find out if they’re a playoff team. … They’re a year away from me looking at them like a legitimate playoff team, but don’t underestimate Andrew Luck.”

Lombardi pointed out some of Luck’s abilities and cautioned that the Patriots need to stop him from moving in the pocket this Sunday.

“He’s only completing slightly over 55 percent of his passes, he’s taken a pounding, but one thing about Luck, he gets back up,” Lombardi said. “It doesn’t affect him whatsoever, he keeps looking down the field to take a shot down the field and that’s where he’s been so effective. … I don’t know if he has [a weakness]. His mental ability and his mental toughness to me carries over for any slight deficiencies he might have in the game. … His movement in the pocket is really what makes him so effective. The Patriots have to do a good job of controlling him in the pocket and not allowing him to move. Not because they’re afraid he’s going to run. … What he typically likes to do, like Big Ben [Roethlisberger] is move in the pocket and then make plays up the field. I think Patriots have to do a really good job of protecting him, keeping him in the pocket, and forcing him to hold that ball.”

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Read More: Andrew Luck, Aqib Talib, Mike Lombardi,
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