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Patriots looking forward to Sunday’s home opener vs. Raiders 09.20.14 at 8:00 am ET
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The Patriots enter Sunday 11-1 in home openers at Gillette Stadium. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

The Patriots enter Sunday 11-1 in home openers at Gillette Stadium. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

FOXBORO — It’€™s no secret the Patriots are one of the most dominant teams in the NFL at home.

Since 2002 New England is 81-15 in the regular season at Gillette Stadium — the best winning percentage (.844) by almost 100 points to the second best team in the NFL — the Ravens at .755. Home openers have also gone in the Patriots favor as since the stadium opened in 2002, they are 11-1 in home openers, winning by an average of 9.2 points.

To no one’€™s surprise, the team is looking forward to Sunday’€™s first game of the season at Gillette Stadium when it hosts the Raiders.

“Honestly, personally I can’€™t wait,” defensive end Chandler Jones said. “I really can’€™t wait to run out of the helmet here at Gillette Stadium — just the feeling that we have playing here at Gillette Stadium is a feeling you can’€™t explain and I can’€™t wait for it.”

Sunday’€™s game will be a special one for running back Stevan Ridley whose dad’€™s favorite team was the Raiders and he has 14 family members coming to town for the game.

“€œMy mom’€™s very excited about it — the family is going to be here so it’€™s going to be an exciting atmosphere coming back to Foxboro and getting in the home stadium,” said Ridley. “€œWe’€™re looking forward to it not being on the road — coming back to New England and playing Patriots football.”

Ridley had a strong game the last time the Patriots faced the Raiders in 2011 when he ran for 97 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries in a 31-19 Patriots victory. The game was played at the O.co Coliseum.

After playing the first two games on the road this season, the team is ready to open its home portion of the schedule.

“€œIt’€™s good when you’€™re at home playing in front of your own fans,”€ Ridley said. “We go to away stadiums and our fans are way up top in the nosebleeds somewhere and you don’€™t really hear them. There is nothing like being here. We know they love the Patriots here. We love playing at home. It’€™s going to be exciting and we just have to start a streak here this year. It doesn’€™t matter what we’€™ve done in the past, let’s get off to 1-0 right here at home.”

Oakland comes into Sunday’€™s game 0-2 — traveling back to the East Coast for a second time in three weeks before going to London after the game for their Week 4 matchup with Miami. Even with the struggles Oakland has had, being outscored 49-28 in the two games, the Patriots are focused on opening the year with a win at home.

“That will be a great statement to get in a win in front of our home crowd and that is our goal, just to get a win,” Jones said.

Read More: chandler jones, Gillette Stadium, Patriots, Stevan Ridley
Chandler Jones: ‘Whenever you can get the ball into [Tom Brady's] hands good things will happen’ 09.17.14 at 5:57 pm ET
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Chandler Jones

Chandler Jones

FOXBORO — Winning the turnover battle is one of the biggest keys to winning each week in the NFL, regardless of the opponent.

Since 2000, the Patriots are 116-12 when winning the turnover battle, compared to 27-37 when they don’€™t. Even further, New England is 97-5 since 2003 when having a plus turnover margin.

The Patriots have won the turnover battle in each of the first two games this season and are tied for the lead the AFC with a plus five turnover differential. They are also tied for second in the entire NFL, with only the Panthers having a better differential at plus six.

“We try and emphasize on just getting the ball,” defensive end Chandler Jones said. “Turnover differential, turnover margin, we just have to win always. We try and get the ball back into our offenses hands and whenever you can get the ball into Tom’€™s hands good things will happen.”

Although Jones didn’€™t have any of the four Patriots turnovers against the Vikings, he did have a monster game. Jones blocked a 48-yard field goal attempt and returned it 58 yards for a touchdown to give New England a 24-7 halftime lead. He also finished the game with eight total tackles and his fifth career two-sack game. For his performance he was named the AFC Defensive Player of the Week.

“Our defense played very well, but there is always room for improvement,” said Jones. “As far as the Player of the Week thing, that’€™s our defense. It’€™s a defensive effort, it’€™s all 11 men on the field. We play hard out there and the biggest thing is moving forward to Oakland.”

The defense enters Sunday’€™s home opener against the Raiders ranked fourth in the NFL in total defense. They will have a chance to build even more confidence as the Raiders come into the game with the second-worst ranked offense in the entire league.

After allowing 33 points in Week 1, the defense rebounded nicely only allowing seven last week against the Vikings, partly because of the team’€™s preparation leading up to the game –€“ something they are already hard at work on getting ready for Week 3 and the Raiders.

“€œI feel like we went out there and we saw the results of buying into what the coaches said and doing our job — executing, paying attention to detail, the little things that coach said trying to dot the I’€™s and cross the T’€™s,” Jones said. “It definitely showed out there when we go out and execute.”

Read More: chandler jones, Patriots defense, Tom Brady,
Stevan Ridley sees ‘drastic’ improvement in Patriots rushing attack 09.17.14 at 4:54 pm ET
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Stevan Ridley

Stevan Ridley

FOXBORO — Sometimes one week can make all the difference in the world.

In Week 1 against the Dolphins the Patriots ran for just 89 yards, only 28 of them coming in the second half as they ran just seven running plays the final 30 minutes of the game. Week 2 against the Vikings was a different story as the team ran for 150 total yards, 96 of them coming in the second half.

Stevan Ridley led the way, rushing for 101 yards on 21 carries.

“We’€™ve improved each week. I think Miami to Minnesota, I think [the offense and offensive line] made a drastic improvement,” Ridley said. “€œWe all keep leaning on each other and relying on each other. I think we’€™re going to be OK towards the end of the year.”

On a personal level, the key for Ridley was staying patient as he only rushed for 29 yards in the first half, but was able to pick it up in the second half against a tired and demoralized Minnesota defense.

“Every back goes out there and wants to take it the distance, but there are going to be times that it’€™s going to be just two yards, three yards and you just have to keep plugging,”€ said Ridley. “You have stay disciplined as a runner and keep your legs moving and falling forward. That’€™s what you have to do to get the tough yardage, eventually they are going to break and you’€™ll get some big runs.”€

Overall, the Patriots rank 16th in the NFL in rushing, this after being ranked 21st following Week 1. Like Ridley said, the Patriots are focused on getting better each week, wanting to reach its peak once December and the end of the season hits.

Ridley isn’€™t the only back who has seen time as Shane Vereen has been a force both in the running game and catching passes out of the backfield. Vereen has 76 yards on 13 carries and has caught six passes for 35 yards. Running the ball effectively and with consistency goes a long way in the Patriots offense as the team is 38-1 when a player runs for 100 yards or more under Bill Belichick.

“It’€™s only Week 3. The first week we struggled and the second week we got it going. There’€™s a lot of football left to be played, so I don’€™t want to jump in front of myself. From week-to-week I see improvement and that’€™s all we can ask for, especially with the group of guys that we have up there. There are some new faces –€“ I think we all know that –€“ but, like I said we’€™re just going in week in and week out showing what we can do,”€ Ridley said. “Eventually, these upcoming weeks, hopefully we will have a balanced attack going into every game and that’€™s what makes us hard [to stop]. The key word is hard work around here and that’€™s what we do.”

Read More: Brandon Bolden, Patriots, Patriots offense, Shane Vereen
Tom Brady on Patriots offense: ‘We’re still trying to figure out what we’re good at’ 09.17.14 at 11:34 am ET
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Tom Brady and the Patriots rank 27th in the NFL in passing offense.  (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Tom Brady and the Patriots are 27th in the NFL in passing offense. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

FOXBORO — Tom Brady looked visibly frustrated after Sunday’€™s 30-7 win over the Vikings and for a valid reason — the offense, especially the passing game, hasn’€™t performed to its capabilities through the first two games of the season.

Over the first two weeks of the season, the offense ranks 27th in the NFL in total offense and 27th in passing. Brady threw for 249 yards in Week 1 against the Dolphins and 149 yards last week against the Vikings. Its 368 net passing yards is only ahead of the Jaguars, Jets, Texans and Buccaneers.

“We have a long way to go,” Brady said Wednesday. “€œLike I said, every week it starts again and whatever we did last week we’€™re trying to make improvements so that we come out the next week and play better. There is more margin of error because we’€™re doing things better, more crisp with better anticipation and confidence in one another. We’€™ll ultimately see how it plays out. It’€™s really early in the year and we have a lot of football left.

“We’€™re still trying to figure out what we’€™re good at and we’€™ll probably be trying to figure that out for a long time. All the way through the season we have to adapt to changes with the guys out there and with what we think we need to do to win. We’€™re trying to make improvements. I don’€™t think we’€™re ready for the Super Bowl this week, but I think we have a lot of work to go and certainly playing against Oakland is a big challenge because they have a great pass defense and we need to understand where there strengths are and execute better than we have in the first few weeks.”

In comparison to the 149 passing yards last week, Brady has thrown for less than 149 yards only three times since 2009 — two of them coming last year.

One of the major things that stands out in the passing game is the way the ball is being distributed. Brady has 78 pass attempts this year with 70 of them being targeted at a receiver. Of those 70, Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman have been targeted 46 percent of the time and of Brady’€™s 44 pass completions, 20 of them (45 percent) have been to Edelman or Gronkowski.

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Read More: Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski, Tom Brady,
Shane Vereen on having balanced offense: ‘You have to execute in all areas’ 09.11.14 at 7:00 am ET
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FOXBORO — The key to any NFL offense is being balanced.

In the Patriots’€™ 33-20 loss to the Dolphins, in which they were outscored 23-0 in the second half, the offense was anything but balanced.

Entering the fourth quarter, trailing just 23-20, the offense ran just three designed running plays. This after rushing for 61 yards in the first half and then running seven total rushing plays in the second half.

“You have to have execution in the run game, the pass game, the screen game, play action — everything needs to execute well,” running back Shane Vereen said. “€œIf not, then you become unbalanced and start getting away from one thing that’€™s maybe not working, as well and going to things that work, but you just have to execute in all areas.”

Vereen had a productive first game of the season as he finished with seven carries for 36 yards and a touchdown to lead the team and then caught five passes out of the backfield for 35 yards.

Some pointed to the number of different players seeing time on the offensive line and a few playing multiple positions as a possible reason why the offense and particularly the offensive line struggled — but Vereen was quick to shut that point down.

“It adds another level of complexity to the offense, but we’€™ve all been doing this since spring,” he said. “Personnel groups are nothing to do us or this offense. That’€™s no excuse for anything that’€™s going on right now.”

For the first time since 2003, the Patriots lost their season-opener, but the team is not even thinking about that. The Pats already have put Sunday’€™s loss behind them and are focused on the Vikings and the remainder of the season.

“We have a lot of football left,” said Vereen. “It’€™s just one week and you can never dwell on one week, especially the first week. We still have 15 games left to go and that’€™s what our focus is on now.”

On Sunday the Patriots will be looking to avoid going 0-2 for the first time since 2001, and Bill Belichick has only lost back-to-back road games twice in his career in New England. That streak is largely due in part to the team’s preparation leading up to each game and the ability to put the past in the past.

“You have to get to work,” Vereen said. “€œYou have to practice hard this week, have a good game plan, go in there and execute on Sunday.”

Read More: Shane Vereen,
Matt Cassel recalls his time in New England, what he learned from Tom Brady 09.10.14 at 8:00 pm ET
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Matt Casell will face the Patriots for the first time on Sunday. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

Matt Casell will face the Patriots for the first time on Sunday. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

FOXBORO — It’€™s been six years since Vikings quarterback Matt Cassel was a member of the Patriots, but that doesn’€™t mean he still doesn’€™t refer back to his time in New England.

“I think I constantly refer back to some of the things that I learned in New England and throughout my career,” Cassel said on a conference call Wednesday. “It was a great stepping stone, and it also gave me time to mature as a player and as a quarterback. I got to learn from one of the best in the game to ever play the game in Tom [Brady], and he was such a great mentor to me. Not only that, but the way that they prepared, the attitude they had, the way they went about their business –€“ I really carried that to every place that I’€™ve gone.”

Cassel’€™s 2008 season with New England was what put him on the map as Brady went down in Week 1 with a torn ACL and Cassel stepped in, despite not starting a game since high school and led the Patriots to an 11-6 record. The performance received attention throughout the league and Cassel along with linebacker Mike Vrabel were traded to the Chiefs in Feb. of 2009.

“€œA tremendous amount of confidence, obviously,” Cassel said of the 2008 season. “€œI think that everybody was skeptical –€“ probably even to a point myself — when I first got the nod and got the opportunity because I hadn’€™t started a game since high school. But at the same time, I knew through my preparation and also working diligently throughout the course of the week and also over the years that I had the ability to do it. Then it was just a process of getting out there and getting the game time action.”

After starting for two seasons with the Chiefs, Cassel was delegated to a back up role for the next two seasons. In 2013 he moved up north to Minnesota and started in seven games. He’€™s kept that starting job for 2014 despite Minnesota taking quarterback Teddy Bridgewater with the No. 32 overall pick in this year’€™s draft.

Sunday, the Vikings will host the Patriots in their home opener and Cassel will face his former team for the first time. The quarterback will be reunited with his former mentor and someone he now views as a good friend in Brady.

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Read More: Matt Cassel, Tom Brady,
Despite struggling Week 1, Patriots defense ready for Adrian Peterson and Vikings 09.10.14 at 6:28 pm ET
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The Patriots will have their hands full with Adrian Peterson on Sunday. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

The Patriots defense will have their hands full with Adrian Peterson on Sunday. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

FOXBORO –€“ Facing Adrian Peterson and the rest of the Vikings rushing attack, many opposing defenses may look at it as a tough task, especially for the Patriots who allowed 191 rushing yards for a five-yard per carry average in their season-opening loss to the Dolphins.

But, unlike many may think, the Patriots are actually looking forward to facing Peterson and the Vikings this Sunday.

“We have a lot of ball to play, it’€™s really early in the season so as long as this doesn’€™t become a continuous thing,”€ said linebacker Dont’a Hightower. “€œIt was definitely something we strived to work on today and keep going each and everyday.

“For us to be a great defense — which is something all of us agree that’€™s what we want to do — you definitely can’€™t allow an offense to run the ball like they did so we’€™re definitely going to pride our self on the running game — we’€™re going to do our best and this is the perfect week to go out and do that.”

Peterson, for good reason, is considered one of the best running backs in the game, as he’€™s coming off a 1,266 yard season last year and a 2,097 yard season in 2012. Hightower and the rest of the Patriots defense know they need to know where he is on every play and know that it may take more than one tackler to bring him down.

“He’€™s definitely one of the better running backs in the league,”€ said Hightower. “He’€™s big, fast, strong, smart, great vision –€“ he has everything in a good back that you want. It’€™s going to take all 11 guys being at the point of attack and getting to the ball so he isn’€™t getting a 1-on-1 matchup to break a tackle and get the extra yards. Just everyone getting to the ball and playing with good technique.”

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Read More: Adrian Peterson, Dont'a Hightower, Patriots defense, vikings
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