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How Bill Belichick views the 2-minute drill and why it matters 11.14.14 at 1:14 pm ET
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Stephen Gostkowski (3) converts a preseason 60 yard field goal at the end of the first half. (Getty Images)

Stephen Gostkowski (3) converts a preseason 60 yard field goal at the end of the first half. (Getty Images)

FOXBORO — No one in football has scored as often in the two-minute drill like the Patriots have this season. At least, the two-minute drill before halftime.

But as we learned from Patriots coach Bill Belichick Friday, there’s a big, big difference in his mind between scoring in the final two minutes of the first half and scoring when the game is on the line.

In nine games, the Patriots have scored 12 times in the two minutes before halftime. They scored three times against the Bears when Jay Cutler and company gave them the game. They scored twice apiece against the Bills and Bengals. (It should be noted that the 12 times includes the blocked field goal return against the Vikings by Chandler Jones and a 15-yard fumble return against the Bears by Rob Ninkovich).

As the clock winds down to :00, the Patriots have been particularly deadly, kicking three Stephen Gostkowski field goals as time expired while scoring six times under 10 seconds.

But the truth of the matter is the Patriots have not been tested with the game on the line. Only two games have come down to the final possession and in both cases, against the Raiders and Jets, the Patriots held on because of a lack of execution by the opponent.

“The two-minute at the end of the half is a lot different than the two-minute at the end of the game,” Belichick said. “They’€™re two, really completely different situations. I mean, I know everybody talks about them like they’€™re the same, but to me they’€™re not anything the same. You don’€™t have to score at the end of the half. I mean, if you have to score at the end of the game to win the game, then that’€™s a totally different situation.”

Time will tell if Belichick’s team can handle that situation at the end of a game. This week, as has been well-documented, features two clutch kickers in Adam Vinatieri and Gostkowski who have been extremely dependable.

“If you don’€™t score at the end of the half, then you haven’€™t lost the game,’€ Belichick added. “Do you want to score? Yeah, you want to score every time you have the ball, that’€™s why you put the offense out there, but it’€™s just different at the end of the half.

“Try to take what you can get, if not, you don’€™t want to put yourself at more risk than you have to. At the end of the game you’€™ve gotta do whatever you’€™ve gotta do to move the ball and get in position to win the game. So if you have to take chances, if you have to do things you may not want to do in order to have an opportunity to make the plays you need to make, then you’€™re willing to do that. But it’€™s dictated by the situation.”

Field position can dictate, more than anything at the end of the first half, whether a team wants to go down and do everything possible to score. But there’s the fine line of not wanting to give the opponent another chance.

“I think field position is part of it, but so is everything else: time, timeouts, how you match up in that situation,” Belichick said. “I think it’€™s all part of it. I think there are a lot of factors in that, in what you call and what happens in the sequence of plays that you call. Each one is different. Obviously, there are some common threads, but I think each situation each week is different based on the matchups and based on whatever the specific situation is: time, timeouts, field position, playing conditions, etcetera.”

Read More: Adam Vinatieri, Bill Belichick, Indianapolis Colts, New England Patriots
Stephen Gostkowski: Adam Vinatieri is ‘super impressive’ but it’s not a head-to-head battle between kickers 11.11.14 at 3:37 pm ET
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FOXBORO — It’ll be a special teams showdown on Sunday night, as two of the best and most consistent kickers in the league will meet under the dome at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

Indy’s Adam Vinatieri and New England’s Stephen Gostkowski are the only two kickers in the league who have attempted at least 20 field goals and have a success rate of better than 95 percent. (Vinatieri is 20-for-20 on the season, while Gostkowski is 24-for-25.)

“He’s really kicking the ball great,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said of the 41-year-old Vinatieri. “The ball goes perfectly straight, doesn’t move. Every kick is right on the money. You have to try and block it, waiting for him to miss you’ll be waiting all day. You have to see if you can somehow affect the kick, but he’s kicked the ball great. No question.”

Vinatieri’s resume should be enough to get him to the Hall of Fame, as he distinguished himself as one of the best big-game kickers of his generation. Part of three Patriots’ Super Bowl teams, he left New England for Indy following the 2005 season, and has managed to continue to kick at a high level since then.

“He’s super impressive,” Gostkowski said of the guy he replaced. “I mean, the guy is unbelievable. I’ve heard stories of how hard he works, and all that stuff. To be able to be that good … I don’t know how he feels, but he doesn’t make it look like he feels old. I wouldn’t say 42 is old, but he’s doing a good job.”

Of course, Gostkowski has assembled an impressive resume in his own right. The 30-year-old was named an All-Pro in 2008, and led the league in scoring in 2012 and 2013. After nine games, he leads the NFL in scoring this season with 101 points — nine points ahead of Vinatieri.

Gostkowski said a head-to-head matchup with Vinatieri doesn’t enter into his thought process.

“All I’m worried about is kicking some touchbacks and scoring a lot of points and hopefully we can win,” he said. “I admire every kicker in the NFL — I know how hard it is to be successful in a week-in, week-out basis, and no one has done it better than Adam, and he deserves all the accolades and respect in the world.

“But it doesn’t pass my mind. I’m more worried about playing in a dome and getting ready to kick there. If he goes out and kicks nine field goals, it doesn’t affect me one way or another.”

Read More: Adam Vinatieri, Stephen Gostkowski,
Bill Belichick on Adam Vinatieri: ‘I don’t think anyone is kicking better than he is’ at 10:29 am ET
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Adam Vinatieri hasn't missed a field goal this season. (Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)

Adam Vinatieri hasn’t missed a field goal this season. (Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)

FOXBORO — Sunday’s game with the Colts will feature two of the best quarterbacks in the game in Tom Brady and Andrew Luck, but the game will also pin two of the best kickers in the game against one another in Stephen Gostkowski and former Patriots kicker Adam Vinatieri.

Of kickers in the NFL with 15 or more field goal attempts, Gostkowski and Vinatieri are the best in the league when it comes to percentages. Vinatieri is a perfect 20-for-20 (100 percent) with a long of 50 this year, while Gostkowski is 24-for-25 (96 percent) with a long of 53.

Coach Bill Belichick had nothing but praise for his former kicker on Tuesday.

“He’s really kicking the ball great,” he said. “The ball goes perfectly straight, doesn’t move. Every kick is right on the money. You have to try and block it, waiting for him to miss you’ll be waiting all day. You have to see if you can somehow affect the kick, but he’s kicked the ball great. No question.”

The 41-year-old is in a great place in Indianapolis as he only kicks field goals with Pat McAfee handling the kickoff duties. Belichick doesn’t see an end in the near future.

“Right now, I don’t think anyone is kicking better than he is,” said Belichick. “There’s a lot of guys kicking good, but I don’t think anyone is kicking better. He’s in a great situation as far as not having to deal with kickoffs, but as far as putting the ball down between the uprights, tremendous. The way he’s kicking now I don’t see where the end in sight is. Distance isn’t a problem. He gets good lift on the ball, not exceptional, but good. He’s kicking in a good environment, so he’s drilling it. Looks great.”

After placing the franchise tag on Vinatieri in 2004, the Patriots chose not to in 2005 allowing him to become a free agent. After 10 seasons with New England, the kicker signed with the Colts. He is still the all-time leading scorer in Patriots history with 1,158 points, while Gostkowski is third with 1,111.

Belichick said the decision to move on from Vinatieri was just part of the business.

“Look, it’s the NFL,”he said. “Players change teams every year. This isn’t a big news story is it? Players change teams.”

“Look, I’ve always had a good relationship with Adam,” he added. “The NFL is a business, I’m not trying to write a story for you here, but this isn’t news. There is free agency every year. Players change teams. We get them, other guys get our guys.”

Read More: Adam Vinatieri, Bill Belichick, Stephen Gostkowski,
5 things you have to know about Colts 11.10.14 at 3:07 pm ET
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Andrew Luck has led the Colts to a 6-3 record. (Al Bello/Getty Images)

Andrew Luck has led the Colts to a 6-3 record. (Al Bello/Getty Images)

Here are five things you have to know about the Colts, who will face the Patriots this week Sunday night at Lucas Oil Stadium.

1. Andrew Luck is playing at an MVP level.

The Colts quarterback has had a terrific first half of the year, and is on pace to finish 444-for-699 (64 percent) for 5,484 yards with 46 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. (At that rate, the entire city of Indianapolis will be growing neckbeards by the end of the season.) Part of his success can be rooted in the fact that the Colts are playing in a mostly pillowy-soft division, and he’s managed to take advantage of a couple of woeful defenses in Jacksonville and Tennessee (he was a combined 60-for-80 for 763 yards, eight touchdowns and one pick in back-to-back games earlier in the year against the Jags and Titans). But at the same time, he’s risen to the challenge nicely when faced with some of the better defenses in the NFL. He’s passed for at least 300 yards in seven straight games, and at this point in the season, he’s one of two quarterbacks who have a completion percentage better than 60 percent (64), has thrown for at least 3,000 yards (3,085) and has at least 20 touchdown passes. The only reason Ben Roethlisberger is the other one in the conversation is because he’s played 10 games, while Luck is at nine.

2. For a (presumably) playoff-bound team, they don’t do a great job taking care of the football.

As good as Luck has been at times this season, he has been occasionally careless with the football, and can throw some bad picks. He’s throw nine interceptions on the year, which ties him for third in the league with luminaries like Andy Dalton and Kirk Cousins. (Luck had nine all year last season.) The Colts have also fumbled the ball six times, but are still even when it comes to takeaway ratio (six interceptions and nine fumbles recovered on defense).

3. They don’t do a great job defending tight ends.

Indy has what can be be described as an above-average secondary, with some talented corners. But at the same time, the Colts have had issues against good tight ends this season. According to Football Outsiders, through Week 9 the Colts are 29th in the league in defending tight ends. In all, the Colts have allowed 49 receptions for 577 yards and seven touchdowns, an average of 11.8 yards per catch. Those numbers should be sweet music to the ears of the Patriots, who have leaned heavily on Rob Gronkowski over the course of the last five weeks, and will almost certainly do the same this time around against Indy. Gronkowski has caught 36 passes for 516 yards and five touchdowns over the last five weeks, while the Colts have had issues containing players like Heath Miller (seven catches on eight targets for 112 yards and a touchdown), Owen Daniels (five catches on seven targets for 70 yards), Zach Ertz (four catches, 86 yards) and Delanie Walker (five catches on seven targets for 84 yards and a touchdown). If they had issues with Walker, Indy will almost certainly have problems trying to slow Gronkowski.

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Read More: Adam Vinatieri, Ahmad Bradshaw, Andrew Luck, Griff Whalen
What we learned Sunday: J.J. Watt is a beast, Steve Smith is awesome and Adam Vinatieri is ageless 09.28.14 at 8:55 pm ET
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With the Patriots set to play Monday night, here’s a quick look at what we learned around the league Sunday, mostly from a New England perspective.

1. J.J. Watt could be an MVP.

Remarkably, the last defensive player to win MVP was Lawrence Taylor in 1986, but if he continues on his current path, Houston’s J.J. Watt could certainly make a case to be the next defensive player to take home the honor. The defensive lineman had six quarterback hurries and a pass defense before picking off an EJ Manuel pass and rumbling 80 yards for the pick-six to help lift the Texans past the Bills.

Through the first three games, the Patriots offense has five touchdowns. Watt has two of his own this year, and is just the second player since the merger with a receive touchdown and interception in the same season. (Ex-Pats linebacker and current Houston assistant Mike Vrabel was the first to turn the trick back in 2005.)

2. EJ Manuel is apparently suffering from a crisis of confidence. The second-year Buffalo quarterback was apparently pretty shaken in the wake of Sunday’s loss to the Texans. Manuel ended the day 21-for-44 for 225 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions against the Texans as the Bills lost their second straight to fall to 2-2 on the young season. To be fair, things were a little shaky around Manuel, given the fact that his offensive line was struggling, there were a couple of key drops and the fire-breathing monster known as Watt was on the other side of the ball. Coach Doug Marrone said after the game there were no plans to hand the reins to backup Kyle Orton, but the idea of jumpstarting the offense with a switch at quarterback has to be entering the minds of the Buffalo coaching staff.

3. Maybe the Dolphins weren’t as dysfunctional as we thought. The week of back-and-forth between Miami coach Joe Philbin and quarterback Ryan Tannehill ended Sunday in London, where the Dolphins absolutely crushed the Raiders, 38-14, at Wembley Stadium. Tannehill, who engaged in a weird public exchange with his coach after Philbin refused to name him the starter in the media, was an impressive 23-for-31 for 278 yards and two touchdowns in the win. Meanwhile, the Raiders, who looked good last week when they came to Foxboro and put a scare in the Patriots, were a mess. Their issues were compounded by the fact that rookie quarterback Derek Carr left the game in the third quarter, and told the media after the game that he has a high ankle sprain and sprained MCL. Yikes.

4. The Jets are in trouble. New York struggled at home against the Lions, and it was another bad outing for quarterback Geno Smith, who was 17-for-33 for 209 yards, one touchdown and one pick in a 24-17 loss to Detroit. After the game, Rex Ryan said he was standing by Smith. “I’m confident in Geno. If Geno’s healthy, then Geno Smith will start,” Ryan told reporters after the game. “I’m not gonna replace him. I feel good about Geno, and again, I think he’s gonna get it turned. He’s a tough, resilient young man, and I think we’re gonna win.” Meanwhile, it doesn’t sound like Jets fans are going to stand by Geno.

Jets defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson told reporters after the game that fans who were booing Smith should “shut up.” Yikes.

5. Not everyone needs a punter.

Sunday’s game between the Packers and Bears was either the second or third game in NFL history without a punt. Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw for 302 yards and four touchdowns in the 38-17 win over Chicago. The Packers, who had been suffering from offensive inconsistency over the course of the first three games of the year, scored on their first six possessions and finished with 358 total yards on the way to their fifth consecutive victory at Soldier Field. It was a bit of a redemption for Rodgers, who told Green Bay fans to “R-E-L-A-X” this week when they started worrying about the Packers‘ 1-2 start.

6. No one knows what to make of the Steelers.

There are weeks where the Steelers look ready to crush all those who come before them. Then, there are occasions like Sunday, where they melt down in the fourth quarter and end up losing a game to a Tampa Bay team ‘€¦ that lost to the Falcons by six touchdowns a week ago. Mike Glennon hit Vincent Jackson with the game-winner with six seconds left on the way to a shocking 27-24 win over host Pittsburgh. The Steelers, who were poised to move to 3-1 with the win, fell back to .500 with the surprising last-second loss. (Pittsburgh committed a whopping 13 penalties for 125 yards.)

7. Steve Smith is never not awesome.

As promised, the gritty receiver one-upped his old team. The former Panther lit up Carolina for seven catches — including an awesome reception on a tipped ball he ended up taking for a touchdown — for 139 yards and a pair of scores on the way to a 38-10 win over the Panthers. There wasn’t “blood and guts” like he promised, but Smith, who played 13 seasons in Carolina before he was cut in the offseason, clearly enjoyed making his old team eat a little crow after the contest. “I’m 35 years old and I ran by those guys like they were schoolyard kids,” the veteran said after the game. Meanwhile, while we were all upset about the state of the Panthers’ offense, it’s worth noting that Carolina has yielded 75 points in two games.

I want to know what this kid is thinking.

8. Adam Vinatieri is some sort of superhuman.

It’s remarkable to think that the former Patriots kicker is now in his ninth season in Indy, and while the 41-year-old isn’t the kicker he once was, he’s still money when it comes to working extra points and field goals. Through four games, he’s 8-for-8 on field goal attempts and 16-for-16 on extra-point attempts, including a pair of field goals and five extra points Sunday in the 41-17 win over the Titans.

Oh, and this happened 18 years ago.

9. Chip Kelly can feel Bill Belichick‘s pain.

Philly went West on Sunday and nearly knocked off the Niners, despite the fact that the Eagles continue to have serious offensive line issues. Pro Bowl left guard Evan Mathis went down in Week 1, and with starting right tackle Lane Johnson already serving a four-game suspension, things got even worse when starting center Jason Kelce went down last week with a sports hernia. Despite those woes, Philly nearly pulled off the upset, despite the fact that the Eagles’ offense didn’t pass midfield until the fourth quarter and it had just two more first downs (five) than turnovers (three) late in the third quarter. Things should get better next week when Johnson is eligible to return from his ban, but the fact that Kelce and Mathis won’t be back until the second half of the season should provide some interesting phone conversation between BFF’s Kelly and Belichick when it comes to commiserating about their woes.

10. The Patriots are in first place.

The Bills’ loss to the Texans in Houston allowed the 2-1 Patriots to sneak into first place in the AFC East.

Read More: aaron rodgers, Adam Vinatieri, Bill Belichick, Chip Kelly
History of Patriots and franchise tag 02.17.14 at 10:56 am ET
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We’ve written about this a couple of times to this point in the offseason, but with the franchise tag window open Monday, it’s worth taking another look at how the Patriots have used the tag in the past and what happened as a result:

2002: Adam Vinatieri, contract extension
2003: Tebucky Jones, traded
2005: Adam Vinatieri, played it out and later departed as a free agent
2007: Asante Samuel, played it out and later departed as a free agent
2009: Matt Cassel, traded
2010: Vince Wilfork, contract extension
2011: Logan Mankins, contract extension
2012: Wes Welker, played it out and later departed as a free agent

To be clear, there are two types of franchise tags:

The non-exclusive franchise tag: The most common designation. Under this agreement, the player must be offered a one-year deal based on the average of the non-exclusive franchise numbers at his position over the last five seasons and their percentage of that year’€™€™s salary cap or 120 percent of his prior year’€™€™s base salary, whichever is greater. If a player does get a non-exclusive franchise tag, they can talk with other teams, but if he signs an offer sheet with another club, his team has five days to match the offer. If the offer is not matched, his team will receive two first-round picks as compensation from the signing team.

The exclusive franchise tag: With this designation, the player receivers a one-year offer from his own team that’€™€™s the greater of the average of the top five salaries at his position once the restricted free-agent signing period has ended or 120 percent of his prior year’€™€™s salary. A player cannot negotiate with other teams with the exclusive franchise tag.

Teams have a two-week window, starting Monday, to tag their players.

Read More: Adam Vinatieri, Asante Samuel, Logan Mankins, Matt Cassel
Thoughts on Julian Edelman, Aqib Talib and franchise tag 02.05.14 at 5:20 pm ET
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We’€™re now less than two weeks away from the start of the franchise tag window — it begins on Feb. 17 and lasts for two weeks — and while New England has a dozen free agents, it’€™s believed the Patriots have two seriously taggable possibilities this year in wide receiver Julian Edelman and cornerback Aqib Talib.

Both were essential elements to the success of the 2013 team, but both were playing on one-year contracts. While the deal Talib signed this past offseason was more of a “show-me” contract (one signed in the wake of a depressed market for free-agent cornerbacks), Edelman was more or less forced to take New England’€™s one-year offer, as it was one of the only ones that was extended to him.

However, as a result of their work in 2013, the pair could enter the market poised to make a sizable piece of change. But would the Patriots be inclined to let them walk without a new deal to keep them in place? The franchise tag is a hammer the teams have over potential players when it comes to retaining their services, and history tells us that the Patriots have never been shy about using it, whether it’€™s a way to keep the player around Foxboro for one more season, a way to keep a player under their umbrella while still negotiating a deal, or as a sign-and-trade maneuver. And it could certainly come into play when talking about Talib and Edelman.

To be clear, there are two types of franchise tags:

The non-exclusive franchise tag: The most common designation. Under this agreement, the player must be offered a one-year deal based on the average of the non-exclusive franchise numbers at his position over the last five seasons and their percentage of that year’€™s salary cap or 120 percent of his prior year’€™s base salary, whichever is greater. If a player does get a non-exclusive franchise tag, they can talk with other teams, but if he signs an offer sheet with another club, his team has five days to match the offer. If the offer is not matched, his team will receive two first-round picks as compensation from the signing team.

The exclusive franchise tag: With this designation, the player receivers a one-year offer from his own team that’€™s the greater of the average of the top five salaries at his position once the restricted free-agent signing period has ended or 120 percent of his prior year’€™s salary. A player cannot negotiate with other teams with the exclusive franchise tag.

Here’€™s a look at how New England has utilized the franchise tag, and what has happened as a result:

2002: Adam Vinatieri, contract extension
2003: Tebucky Jones, traded
2005: Adam Vinatieri, played it out and later departed as a free agent
2007: Asante Samuel, played it out and later departed as a free agent
2009: Matt Cassel, traded
2010: Vince Wilfork, contract extension
2011: Logan Mankins, contract extension
2012: Wes Welker, played it out and later departed as a free agent

As we said, the tag can be a relatively easy way for a team to retain the services of a player, even for a year, but in the case of both Talib and Edelman, it would come at a serious price. While the franchise tag numbers are not expected to be announced until after the 2014 cap number is officially set (usually in late February or early March), according to former agent Joel Corry — who is an excellent follow on Twitter for all things cap related — the projected franchise tag value for cornerbacks in 2014 will be $11,256,000 million. At wide receiver, the price is even steeper — $11,539,000. (For a complete look at Corry’€™s projections click here.)

With all this in mind, we want to get your take: If you could only use the franchise tag on one — Talib or Edelman — who would you tag and why?

If you had to choose between franchising Julian Edelman or Aqib Talib, who would it be?

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Read More: Adam Vinatieri, Aqib Talib, Julian Edelman, Logan Mankins
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