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Rob Ninkovich, Jerod Mayo on M&M: ‘Frustrating loss for us’ 10.07.13 at 12:36 pm ET
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Defensive end Rob Ninkovich and linebacker Jerod Mayo appeared on Mut & Merloni on Monday to discuss the Patriots’ defensive performance in the team’s 13-6 loss to the Bengals.

Rob Ninkovich

Rob Ninkovich

New England lost its first game of the season on Sunday. Much of the consternation surrounded the offense, which failed to score a touchdown and accumulated just 248 yards, in addition to turning the ball over twice.

The Patriots defense allowed just one touchdown, but it came in the fourth quarter, and it proved to be the game-winning points.

“It’s a frustrating loss for us as a defense, because you play well early in the game, you have some big stops and turnovers, you keep them from scoring,” said Ninkovich, who recorded three tackles and half a sack in the game.

New England forced Cincinnati into a pair of turnovers, and the defense sacked Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton four times.

But the defense faltered on the most important drive of the game. At the end of the third quarter, the Patriots trailed 6-3 and had Cincinnati stuck in a third-and-15 from its own 2-yard line. Dalton pulled off the improbable, as he connected with wide receiver Marvin Jones for a 28-yard gain to move the chains.

The Bengals marched the ball up the field, and former New England running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis punched a touchdown in from a yard out.

Jerod Mayo

Jerod Mayo

“Obviously we didn’t play well enough,” Mayo said. “Our job is to go out there and hold them from scoring any points at all. Unfortunately they scored more than us yesterday. We had some good plays, but we also had a lot of plays where we just weren’t ready to go. That’s my fault. I’ve got to get the guys ready.”

Said Ninkovich: “With us giving up 13 points, it was too much and we lost. I’m not one to make any excuses, so I think that we’re going to get better, we’re going to continue to progress as a defense the younger guys are going to continue to mature and get better.”

One of those younger guys to show up on Sunday was defensive tackle Chris Jones, who filled in admirably for the injured Vince Wilfork. The rookie recorded 1½ sacks. Jones must continue to step up with Wilfork out for the season, and the other defensive tackle, Tommy Kelly, possibly sidelined as well with a knee injury.

“You don’t really have to communicate as much with those older guys because they kind of know the situation and they know kind of what to expect,” Ninkovich said. “But the younger guys, you’ve just got to make sure that, ‘Hey, expect this, play it this way.’ So you just kind of have more communication.”

The Patriots play host to Drew Brees and the high-powered Saints offense next Sunday.

“I think Drew, his track record kind of speaks for himself as far as the things he’s done in his career,” Ninkovich said “It’s going to be a good challenge for us, and I’m happy we’re going to be playing at home and not the [Superdome], because that’s a hard place to play, kind of similar to Georgia when you’re down there playing the Falcons, similar atmosphere.”

To hear the interviews, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page. For more Patriots news, visit the team page at weei.com/patriots.

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BenJarvus Green-Ellis on his former team: I wouldn’t ‘want to go back and change anything’ 10.02.13 at 9:57 pm ET
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BenJarvus Green-Ellis back in 2011 with the Patriots. (AP)

BenJarvus Green-Ellis back in 2011 with the Patriots. (AP)

BenJarvus Green-Ellis made a living running hard for the Patriots for four seasons between 2008-11. He also made a small fortune when the Cincinnati Bengals, in need a of running back heading into 2012, signed him to a three-year deal worth $9 million.

Green-Ellis earned a reputation as one of the most reliable short yardage backs in the game, averaging 4.1 yards per carry, not fumbling once and scoring 29 touchdowns in his four seasons. The Bengals thought they had a red zone force when Green-Ellis punched it into the end zone 13 times in 2010 and 11 more in 2011.

Green-Ellis hasn’t been quite the same player with the Bengals. He had just six touchdowns in 2012, his first season in Cincinnati. Most alarmingly, he actually fumbled for the first three times in his NFL career, losing two of them. He did set career highs in carries (278) and yards (1,094). This season, the “Law Firm’s” production is way down, averaging just 2.7 yards per carry, more than 1.4 yards below his career average.

While not saying he made a mistake signing in Cincinnati, Green-Ellis could not help but rave about the “Patriot Way” he learned while he was in New England and what it meant to him. How did the “Patriot Way” Green-Ellis learned in New England help him in Cincinnati?

“I could never go back and change anything that happened in the past, and nor would I want to go back and change anything, but the things that I learned in New England not only helped me on the football field but also in life,” Green-Ellis said Wednesday in a conference call from Cincinnati. “How you approach your business and how you go about being a professional at whatever you’re doing, not just a professional football player but just a professional in life, doing things the right way. The Patriot way has helped me tremendously throughout my career, not only throughout my career but coming into the league as a young man and also growing into a full-fledged adult now and having a family of my own. It’s things like that that I think the Patriot way helped me tremendously.

Is there a difference between the Patriot way and what he’s experienced in Cincinnati with the Bengals?

“No, it’s the same thing here,” Green-Ellis said. “Guys are working extremely hard and going about their business the right way, and I’m here also mentoring some younger guys that have just come into the league and just teaching them some of the things that I know as well. But we’re all about business as well over here; it’s been same thing since I left New England. It’s strictly business every time we step into the building, and we’re just trying to win games.”

Adding to the drama this season in the Bengals backfield is the emergence of Giovani Bernard, a 2013 version of former Pro Bowl back James Brooks, a smallish, tough-as-nails back who helped lead the Stripes to Super Bowl XXXIII.

How will it turn out Sunday? Stay tuned.

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Fantasy Football: Week 14 starts, sits 12.07.12 at 9:24 am ET
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Welcome to the Week 14 starts and sits. It’s a high-stakes week and I have found some matchups worth highlighting, but a lot can change between now and Sunday, so stop by our Sunday morning chat if you need any last-minute help or a second opinion on a lineup decision. We’ll kick off the chat at 11 a.m. I hope to see you there. We also have full lineup rankings at Rotobahn.com and I will update them over the weekend, so check that out, too.

QUARTERBACKS

STARTS

Josh Freeman, Buccaneers vs. Eagles

Freeman will get back on track after a few rough weeks of tough matchups. The Eagles at home looks like a get-well game to me. Start the Bucs QB if you normally would.

Matthew Stafford, Lions at Packers

Don’t overthink. Stafford has a few red flags, like injuries to his receivers and a road matchup against Green Bay, but he also has a piping-hot Calvin Johnson to work with, and Stafford himself has played a bit better recently. The Lions also have solid depth players like Tony Scheffler, who can replace guys like Titus Young and Ryan Broyles in the slot. Unless you have a really strong second option, just roll with Stafford in Week 14.

Eli Manning, Giants vs. Saints

He was OK last week despite the medium statistical output. Look for Manning and the Giants to post better numbers at home against a weak Saints defense. I have him ranked 12th overall this week in our preliminary rankings.

SITS

Chad Henne, Jaguars vs. Jets

Henne is likely to be playing without Cecil Shorts and already has lost Laurent Robinson for the year. The Jets play solid defense, so this is a situation to avoid for Week 14.

Philip Rivers, Chargers at Steelers

He’s going bad and his team is in turmoil. Throw in a bad road matchup against a very motivated team and you have a reason to look elsewhere. Rivers is viable but very risky and he lacks the upside he’s had in recent years. Avoid him if you can.

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Patriots’ running backs find new role early on in preseason 08.21.12 at 4:05 am ET
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Shane Vereen takes a handoff from Ryan Mallett Monday against the Eagles. (AP)

FOXBORO – The most dynamic offense in the NFL is adding more options.

For years, it’s become expected that the Patriots offense is revolved around the air attack, with quarterback Tom Brady at the helm of some of the most potent offenses in team history. And for better or worse, the rushing attack has got a bit of a shaft because of that.

In two preseason games, however, it’s starting to become apparent that the running game is getting a makeover, with a little help from the passing game.

In an offense that, last year, was so centered around its depth at wide receiver and even more notably, tight end — where Rob Gronkowski had the most prolific season by someone at the position — it appears that the Patriots are trying even harder to make that offense more potent. In the first preseason game, running backs were actually used more in the passing game than tight ends.  Danny Woodhead, Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden combined for seven catches on nine targets, bettering their tight end counterparts, who had just four catches on seven targets.

On Monday night against the Eagles, it was more of the same. While the backfield couldn’t quite get it going on the ground, mustering just 71 yards on 28 carries as a unit, it was the way it seemed to be more comfortable catching balls out of the backfield that comes off as the most encouraging sign. And with the departure of BenJarvus Green-Ellis to free agency in the offseason, it’s an important sign, considering the experience and production left behind.

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Stevan Ridley taking lead in battle for starting running back role 08.03.12 at 8:28 pm ET
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Stevan Ridley is out to prove he can carry the running load for Tom Brady and the Patriots. (AP)

FOXBORO — With the departure of BenJarvus Green-Ellis to Cincinnati via free agency, the Patriots entered training camp with a group of young, largely unproven backs each looking to take the helm as the new feature back for the offense. But in the early showings of camp, it appears that second-year back Stevan Ridley is outpacing fellow sophomore Shane Vereen and presumptive third down back Danny Woodhead for the starting job.

The 23-year-old Ridley enters camp as the team’s top returning rusher after finishing his 2011 regular season with 87 carries for 441 yards and one score. However, the focal points of Ridley’s rookie season heading into camp remain his two fumbles he recorded late last year: one in the season finale against Buffalo and another in the Patriots playoff victory against Denver. It was the second fumble that effectively ended Ridley’s season, as he remained inactive for the rest of the Patriots’ post season run, apparently losing the coaching staff’s confidence to hold onto the ball

“I’m not a coach. I’m just a player and I went out there and played the best I could,” Ridley said of his ball-handling after practice Friday. “Unfortunately, as a running back, you can never have the ball on the ground and that’s something that I know and that’s been since Pee Wee football.

“I have to put that behind me and focus on what’s ahead of me. That’s the future and that’s me holding onto the football. So I’m just going to go out there every day and run hard, tuck the ball and keep it high and tight and be the best that I can so I don’t repeat any mistakes.”

With his size, the 5-foot-11, 225 pound Ridley is the obvious candidate to handle the bulk of the running between the tackles, particularly as a short-yardage back, a role he’s ready to take up, but not as his sole identity in the offense. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: 2012 Training Camp, BenJarvus Green Ellis, Cincinnati Bengals, New England Patriots Print  |  Bark It Up!  |  Digg It
A closer look at the Patriots’ decision to release Joseph Addai 07.25.12 at 5:46 pm ET
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Joseph Addai was released by the Patriots on Wednesday. (AP)

If nothing else, this offseason will be remembered as a stretch where the Patriots picked over the remnants of a once great array of Colts’ skill position players like a shopper at a table full of day-old bargains and found nothing more than spare parts.

New England kicked the tires on wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez (who was on the roster for all of a couple of months) and tight end Dallas Clark (who they took a look at this spring in a workout). Reggie Wayne was also a possibility that never came to fruition. And Joseph Addai was cut Wednesday as training camp began.

(To be fair, the Patriots did add one former Colt this offseason who has managed to stick around to this point: offensive lineman Jamey Richard, who played the last four seasons in Indy.)

The decision to release Addai comes as a bit of a surprise, especially after a series of spring workouts where coaches and teammates all praised him as a committed veteran who was fitting into the Patriots’ system very nicely. (One opposing scout I spoke with praised him as a great pickup for New England.) Combine that with the fact that he signed a  one-year deal with a base salary of $725,000, to go along with a $75,000 signing bonus and $50,000 workout bonus. However, it’s reasonable to think that injuries may have played a role in his situation. The LSU product missed some of the spring camps, and has struggled with the injury bug since 2010.

The Patriots now have 89 players on the roster, and four running backs: Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, Danny Woodhead and undrafted rookie Brandon Bolden. It would appear that Ridley is the biggest beneficiary of the move: the certainly flashed well throughout the spring, and even before Addai signed as a free agent, he figured to get the bulk of the carries in 2012 with the departure of BenJarvus Green-Ellis. However, New England could add another free agent running back, possibly Ryan Grant or veteran Kevin Faulk, who has played the last 13 seasons with the Patriots but remains unsigned at this point.

Read More: Anthony Gonzalez, BenJarvus Green Ellis, Brandon Bolden, Dallas Clark Print  |  Bark It Up!  |  Digg It
Countdown to Patriots Camp: Running back/fullback 07.23.12 at 4:04 pm ET
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Stevan Ridley enters his second season in New England. (AP)

In the days leading up to the start of Patriots training camp, we’ll take a quick look at how each position shakes out. We started our previews at quarterback. Now, we take a look at the running back position:

Roster (2011 stats): Stevan Ridley (87 carries, 441 yards, one touchdown), Shane Vereen (15 carries, 57 yards, one touchdown), Danny Woodhead (77 carries, 351 yards, one touchdown, 18 receptions, 157 receiving yards), Joseph Addai (118 carries, 433 rushing yards, one touchdown, 15 receptions, 93 receiving yards with Indy), Brandon Bolden, Eric Kettani, Spencer Larsen, Tony Fiammetta.

THREE THINGS WE KNOW

There will be no bell cow in 2012. With the departure of BenJarvus Green-Ellis (a team-high 667 rushing yards in 2011), the Patriots’ running game will be a collective this season, utilizing the entire group in an attempt to be more of a game-plan attack. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Patriots lean on Ridley one week, and then Addai or Vereen (if he can bounce back from a rookie season that was spent mostly on the sidelines) the next depending on the type of defense New England is facing. But don’t look for one back to top 800 yards.

If he’s got anything left, Joseph Addai could be the next great veteran Patriots’ pickup. It’s been easy to see why the Patriots jumped on the former Colts’ running back when he hit free agency. His new teammates and coaches have been impressed by his veteran presence, hard work and overall commitment. One opposing scout says that Addai still “has something still left in the tank, and can benefit from being in the offense that has so many things for defense to be concerned about.” Addai has worked as a running back, receiver and in blitz pickup over the course of his career, and if the 29-year-old can stay away from the injury bug, he could be the next veteran who receives a career jolt by relocating to Foxboro.

Danny Woodhead will continue to be one of the most important parts of the New England offense. He was the only guy on the roster last season who was in the Top 5 on the team in rushing attempts and receptions, finishing the season with 77 carries for 351 yards and a touchdown and 18 catches for 157 yards.

THREE QUESTIONS

1. Will the Patriots use a fullback in 2012? The Patriots picked up Spencer Larsen and Tony Fiammetta in the offseason, and welcomed Eric Kettani back into the fold. It’s unlikely they’ll keep more than one fullback, which means there will likely be a nice positional battle this summer at the spot. Right now, odds favor Larsen for a few reasons, not the least of which he has some impressive positional versatility — he’s played both fullback and linebacker at the NFL level.

2. Is Stevan Ridley past his rough finish to the 2011 season?
The LSU product had a pair of ill-timed fumbles (are there any other kind?) at the end of his rookie year, fumbling once in the regular-season finale against the Bills and again in the divisional playoffs against the Broncos. He was scratched from the AFC title game, and while he was active for the Super Bowl, didn’t touch the ball. It’ll be interesting to see if Ridley, who showed real flashes throughout the season, can bounce back from a rough stretch.

3. Does Kevin Faulk return?
With training camp a few days away, the veteran is unsigned. He’s made it clear that he’s going to come back for the Patriots, and if New England doesn’t call, he’ll call it a career. If that’s the case, he’ll be remembered as one of the toughest, most dependable players to ever wear a New England uniform.

By the numbers, courtesy of Nuggetpalooza: The Patriots’ longest rushing play last season was 33 yards. In the last 18 seasons, only in 2005 did the Pats fail to bust a longer rushing play (31 yards). In 2001, only one team, the Jets (31 yards), had a long rush that was shorter than New England’s 33 yards.

The skinny: While the possibility exists that someone seizes the job and (no pun intended) runs with it, it’s looking like the Patriots are going to go with running back-by-committee, at least at the start of the season. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. While New England does need a steady running game, it’s not like the Patriots are going to start running the option. Because of the strength of the passing game, what you’re looking for from this group of backs are three things: One, an ability to average four yards a carry and keep the chains moving. Two, the need to at least keep defenses on their toes when it comes to the possibility of running play action. And three, ball control — with no fumbles. While they got that the last two seasons with Green-Ellis, they’d love to get that this season from the current group.

Read More: BenJarvus Green Ellis, Brandon Bolden, Countdown to Camp, Danny Woodhead Print  |  Bark It Up!  |  Digg It
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