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League outlaws Patriots unbalanced line approach that New England used against Ravens 03.25.15 at 1:59 pm ET
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John Harbaugh and the Ravens are likely pretty happy after hearing that the unbalanced line the Patriots used in the playoffs is now illegal. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

John Harbaugh and the Ravens are likely pretty happy after hearing that the unbalanced line the Patriots used in the playoffs is now illegal. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

The eligible receiver/ unbalanced line tactics the Patriots utilized in the AFC divisional playoff game agains the Ravens have now been ruled illegal. The league announced Wednesday that they have passed a proposal to make it  “illegal for an offensive player with an eligible number to report as ineligible and line up outside the core of the formation.”

The genesis of the rule change came from the postseason contest between New England and Baltimore when Patriots ran a handful of plays using four offensive linemen and a running back (Shane Vereen) or tight end (Michael Hoomanawanui) lined up as the tackle. Before the plays, the Patriots informed the referee of the ineligible player, and on at least one occasion, the referee announced to the crowd that No. 34 (Vereen) was ineligible, adding “don’t cover (Vereen).”

The Ravens were clearly steamed at the legal sequence after the game. Ravens coach John Harbaugh called it “deception,” and took issue with the idea that “they don’t give you the chance to make the proper substations and things like that.”

He added: “We wanted an opportunity to be able to ID who the eligible players were. What (the Patriots) were doing was they announce the ineligible player and then Tom [Brady] would take them to the line right away and snap the ball before we had a chance to figure out who was lined up where. That was the deception part of it. It was clearly deception.”

In the midst of the confusion, the Patriots were able to capitalize — on three plays, New England hit on pass plays of 16, 11 and 14 yards. While it wasn’t the biggest turning point in the game, it was clear that it contributed to the normally unflappable Ravens coming unglued, as Baltimore twice choked up 14-point leads on the way to the Patriots win.

After the game, Brady was asked about the play.

“Maybe those guys (should) study the rule book and figure it out,” said the quarterback with a smile.

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Read More: Baltimore Ravens, Bill Belichick, John Harbaugh, New England Patriots
Free Agent Snapshot: Torrey Smith 02.11.15 at 12:00 pm ET
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Torrey Smith was on New England's radar screen when he was a collegian. Could he intrigue the Patriots as a free-agent possibility? (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Torrey Smith was on New England’s radar screen when he was a collegian. Could he intrigue the Patriots as a free agent possibility? (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

When free agency begins in early March, there are a handful of players across the league who could appeal to New England. With the understanding that the status of these players could change because of the franchise or transition tag, here are a few possibilities for the Patriots to consider. We have to stress that all of these guys aren’t necessarily considered the elite of the free agent class — instead, they’re players we think would be a good fit in New England. We already featured C.J. Spiller and Hakeem Nicks. Today, it’€™s wide receiver Torrey Smith:

Torrey Smith
Position: Wide receiver
Age: 26 (Jan. 26, 1989)
Height: 6-foot-1
Weight: 205 pounds

The skinny: Smith is a burner who might not be an elite-level deep threat, but has certainly crafted a nice resume over the last four years with the Ravens. Since 2011, he’s averaged 53 catches and almost 900 yards a season with Baltimore, including 65 catches, 1,128 receiving yards (both career highs) and four touchdowns in 2013. He’s averaged 16.9 yards per catch in that time, one of the best totals in the league of any regular, and has established himself as a solid and dependable big-play target. When the Patriots don’t necessarily covet receivers with terrific straight-line speed, Smith also has the shiftiness and quicks to fit in nicely with the rest of their pass catchers. New England loves players who excel in the 3-cone time as collegians, a good barometer of how they’ll do in the Patriots passing game. Smith’s 6.72 time in the 3-cone as a collegian is certainly the sort of skill set that would mesh nicely with New England.

“He’s always been able to run and [be] the guy that makes all the plays down the field,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said of Smith in January 2013. “He can also run after the catch on the shorter and intermediate routes. If you give him a big cushion, that’s a problem too. He’s made a lot of big plays down the field on deep balls and that’s opened up things for him underneath as well. He’s been very productive.”

One more thing about him — he’s a very smart pass catcher: including the postseason, he drew 12 pass interference penalties for 261 yards this season, best in the league.

“I love Torrey. He’s been a huge part of what we’ve done since he got here. [He’s been] a great part of the community, all those things, made a ton of plays for us,” said Ravens coach John Harbaugh at the end of the season. “Personally, and I think I speak for everybody, when I say that we like Torrey a lot. We’d like to have him back. We’ll just have to see how it plays out.”

By the numbers: 16.9 —
The average yards per catch for Smith since 2011, when he first entered the league. The last time the Patriots had a regular receiver approach that for a single season came in 2011 when Chad Johnson averaged 18.4 yards per catch, and Johnson certainly didn’t display anywhere near the level of consistency that Smith has shown over the last four years.

Why it would work: The Patriots need a deep threat, and Smith is a well-regarded veteran who would appear to be able to fill the bill. He was on New England’s radar screen coming out of college, and his background while adjusting to a variety of different teammates in Baltimore suggests he’d adaptable when it came to working with new teammates. In addition, the idea of bolstering your own roster at the expense of a conference rival also figures to be an attractive possibility.

Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: 2015 Free Agent Snapshot, Baltimore Ravens, New England Patriots, Torrey Smith
Which teams have best shot at denying Patriots back-to-back Super Bowl titles? 02.04.15 at 12:33 am ET
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Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner could very well square off in Super Bowl 50 next February. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner could very well square off in Super Bowl 50 next February. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

After knocking off the Seahawks Sunday night and capturing the fourth Super Bowl in the history of the franchise, the 2015 Patriots will attempt to become the first team to win back-to-back titles since New England’€™s 2003-04 team. While it’s wildly early — there’ a lot of time between now and the start of the 2015 season — here are our five best bets when it comes to potential challengers to the Patriots, in no particular order.

Ravens: Joe Flacco, John Harbaugh and the rest of the Ravens are a perennial nemesis for the Patriots, having split their last four playoff meetings with New England since 2009. What has become one of the most underrated rivalries in the NFL should have a little extra spice, given the bad feelings that came out of their most recent postseason showdown.

Broncos: While the status of Peyton Manning is still up in the air, the Broncos appear to be as well-positioned as anyone in the AFC when it comes to trying to mount a challenge for AFC supremacy. Denver is stacked on offense with wide receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas, as well as tight end Julius Thomas and running back C.J. Anderson. It’s a similarly star-studded defense, with defensive tackle Terrance Knighton, edge rushers Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware and cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Chris Harris. With or without Peyton, expect them to contend in 2015.

Cowboys: If Dallas can somehow finesse the cap to allow free agents stars DeMarco Murray and Dez Bryant to return, the Cowboys appear to be in as good a shape as anyone else in the NFL. They have one of the stoutest offensive lines in the NFL, and a surprisingly competitive defense will get a boost from the return of linebacker Sean Lee in 2015. At the same time, quarterback Tony Romo turns 35 in April, and only five quarterbacks (Tom Brady, John Elway, Jim Plunkett, Roger Staubach and Johnny Unitas) 35 or older have won Super Bowls.

Packers: When it came to second half of the 2014 regular season, Green Bay gave the Patriots probably the best game of the year, knocking off the Patriots at Lambeau in November. Reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers will almost certainly be a man on a mission in 2015, looking to avenge a bitter playoff loss at the hands of the Seahawks in Seattle. If Green Bay can do enough to stabilize its defense and manage to avoid some of the inevitable hangover that comes with a postseason defeat like the one the Packers suffered against the Seahawks, Rodgers and Company should be in the mix for a title in 2015.

Seahawks: There’s the annual Curse of the Super Bowl loser to worry about — of the 49 Super Bowl losers, only two won the big game the next season, with the last instance coming in 1972 with the Dolphins. But provided the Seahawks stay healthy and can retain their talent, there’s no reason to think that they won’t be part of the championship conversation in some form or fashion. They still have one of the best pass defenses in the game and few players are as dominant at their position as running back Marshawn Lynch. Meanwhile quarterback Russell Wilson and coach Pete Carroll will be looking for redemption after Sunday’s withering loss.

Read More: Baltimore Ravens, Dallas Cowboys, Denver Broncos, Green Bay Packers
Dean Blandino corrects Super Bowl ref Bill Vinovich on exactly how to handle Patriots substitutions 01.29.15 at 8:33 pm ET
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PHOENIX — Thursday provided yet another glimpse into unbelievably bizarre year of the National Football League.

Just over 72 hours before the league’s premiere event, the NFL’s director of officiating, Dean Blandino, publicly corrected his Super Bowl referee, Bill Vinovich, on how to handle the Patriots’ substitutions of reporting eligible and ineligible.

Vinovich is the same referee that handled the Patriots-Ravens divisional game at Gillette on Jan. 10. It was the way Vinovich announced Shane Vereen “ineligible” moments before the snap that caused Ravens coach John Harbaugh to lose his mind when the Patriots started subbing in the second half to a four-offensive linemen set.

Blandino made it very clear that there had been a protocol in place for officials and referees to hand signal to players that a player (in this case No. 34 Vereen) was reporting ineligible because it was required that at least five players on the line of scrimmage could not step forward.

“Bill was involved in the first game, the Baltimore-New England game, when New England first presented that formation when basically a player with an eligible number reporting as ineligible, which is legal. You can do that. The one you see more often is when you see a tackle reporting as eligible receiver.”

Then, unsolicited, Vinovich offered, “And I also made the announcement, ‘Do not cover No. 34.'”

To which Blandino responded, “Which we won’t do on Sunday.”

Apparently that was news to Vinovich. “We won’t?” Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Baltimore Ravens, Bill Vinovich, Dean Blandino, New England Patriots
John Harbaugh: No issues with footballs in divisional game against Patriots 01.21.15 at 3:38 pm ET
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Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Wednesday that he didn’€™t notice anything odd about the state of the footballs in their divisional playoff loss to the Patriots at Gillette Stadium earlier this month.

“We did not notice anything,” Harbaugh told reporters. “We never had a ball that they used or anything like that on offense, so we don’€™t know anything about that in our game. We didn’€™t have a chance to handle any of their offensive footballs.”

The Patriots are reportedly under investigation for under inflating footballs in last Sunday’€™s AFC title game against the Colts.

Earlier in the week, CBS Sports reported some Ravens were questioning the kicking balls used in the game after Baltimore’s€™ kicks and punts did not travel as far as usual. Harbaugh said there was an explanation for it.

“As far as the kicking balls, it was 20 degrees out, so the balls were softer,” Harbaugh said. “Our guys told us during the game, and I just chalked that up to the fact that it was cold and that both teams were kicking the same kicking balls, so I didn’€™t think really anything of it during the game. Other than that, it’€™s not something we’€™ve really given any thought to at all.”

Read More: 2015 NFL playoffs, Baltimore Ravens, Indianapolis Colts, John Harbaugh
Tom Brady refuses to get down and dirty with Ray Lewis over tuck rule 01.15.15 at 12:57 pm ET
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Tom Brady had many verbal battles with Ray Lewis in their time together. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Tom Brady had many verbal battles with Ray Lewis in their time together. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

FOXBORO — Just four days before his record ninth appearance in the AFC championship, Tom Brady isn’t about to get distracted by anyone, not even old friend Ray Lewis. That’s why Brady would not fire back at the former Ravens linebacker and self-proclaimed “football historian” for saying Brady would be a nobody without the “tuck rule” helping him win his first career playoff game in Jan. 2002.

Brady, informed of the comments by Patriots spokesman Stacey James, took the high road Thursday at his press conference.

“Everyone has an opinion,” Brady said. “I think Ray is a great player. He’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer. I was fortunate enough to play against him.”

Brady has a bloodshot right eye, courtesy the eye gouge from Ravens defensive end Timmy Jernigan Saturday night. Did Lewis ever try the eye gouge maneuver?

“No maybe worse than that, maybe worse. He was a pretty tough player,” said Brady.

Lewis, appearing Monday on SiriusXM Mad Dog Radio, was asked about the fourth-quarter reception by Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant against the Packers last Sunday that was overturned on appeal because he didn’t complete the process of the catch as he went to the ground.

“There are so many rules in this game that is a very simple game,” Lewis said. “My argument, If you want to make this game and keep this game pure so where integrity drives this game, leave all these man-made lawyer rules out of the game.

“The only reason we know who Tom Brady is, [it’s] because of the tuck rule. There’s no such thing as the tuck rule! If the ball is in your hand, and I knock it out of your hand — whether it’s going backwards, forwards, lateral, sideways, however it’s coming out – that’s a freaking fumble,” Lewis said. “But guess what we created? We created a freaking tuck rule!”

The tuck rule was eventually eliminated by NFL owners in 2013, but to this day, Lewis said Brady owes his fame to the fact it existed in 2001, when Charles Woodson‘s strip sack was overturned.

As for Jernigan, Brady said sarcastically, “it was a good move. You can’t even do that in pro wrestling.”

Read More: 2015 playoffs, Baltimore Ravens, New England Patriots, Ray Lewis
Duron Harmon says ‘I knew I was going to have pick this week’ 01.11.15 at 12:14 am ET
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FOXBORO — Duron Harmon beat Joe Flacco at his own game.

The Ravens quarterback came in the winner of five straight in the postseason and appeared on the brink of doing it again late in the fourth quarter. That’s when he lofted a pass for Torrey Smith down the left sideline, with Logan Ryan on him.

Ryan, filling in for the injured Brandon Browner, stayed tight in coverage as another pair of eyes watched Flacco. Those eyes belonged to Harmon who read the play perfectly. He drifted over and then, once the ball left Flacco’s right hand, raced over and leaped at the right time to pick off Flacco in the end zone with 1:39 left.

“I told the guys [in practice] that I was going to get one this week,” Harmon said. “I’m just glad it helped us win the game.”

Harmon was asked if he were serious about making that bold prediction.

“Yeah, I knew I was going to have a pick this week,” Harmon said.

“Yeah, he said that in practice but he says that every week,” Brandon Browner confirmed. “But I’m really happy for him. He had a great week of practice.”

Flacco would get the ball back for one final “Hail Mary” but that fell incomplete on the game’s last play. It was Harmon that, for all intents and purposes, put the stake in a 35-31 Patriots win.

“It was just me reading the quarterback,” Harmon said. “He threw the ball up there and gave me a chance and I just came down with it. I’€™m glad I caught it and it ended the game for us.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: 2015 playoffs, Baltimore Ravens, Duron Harmon, New England Patriots
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