|Setting the scene: Patriots look for playoff berth at Gillette, Stevan Ridley expected to play||12.08.13 at 10:06 am ET|
FOXBORO — Cloudy skies and temperatures in the mid-30s are expected for kickoff as the Patriots look to win their 10th game of the season for an 11th straight season.
Winds should not be a factor as there will be a breeze out of the northwest at just three miles an hour.
The heavy winter precipitation headed for New England is expected to hold off until well after the game. The weather should not be a factor as Stevan Ridley is expected to be active after getting benched last Sunday in Houston. Before last week, Ridley had fumbled in each of his last three games. He has four overall, losing all four to the opposition.
The Patriots will clinch their fifth straight AFC East title with a win and a Miami loss in Pittsburgh. They will clinch the playoffs with a win and a loss by Baltimore at home to Minnesota.
The 9-3 Patriots have won the AFC East in each of the last four seasons and nine of the last 10 seasons. They will look to extend Bill Belichick‘s NFL record of at least 10 wins in a season to 11 straight seasons. In 2011, Belichick became the first coach in history with nine straight seasons of double-digit wins.
The Patriots own the NFL’s best December record since 2001 with a 46-6 mark, improving on that with last week’s 34-31 come-from-behind win over Houston. The Patriots are also 22-2 at home in December since Gillette opened in 2002, with the last loss coming against San Francisco last season.
The Patriots are the first team to win more than half their games in 13 straight seasons since free agency began in 1993 and just the third overall since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. The 49ers (1983-1998) and Cowboys (1970-1985) share the record at 16 straight.
The 4-8 Browns have one win against a winning team this season, when they beat Cincinnati, 17-6, at home on Sept. 29. Overall, they are 1-3 overall this season against teams with a winning record.
Belichick not only started his head coaching career in Cleveland in 1991 but knows their GM quite well as Michael Lombardi worked with Belichick during their days in Cleveland in the early 90s. Browns head coach Rob Chudzinski is in the same position Belichick was in 1991, in his first year as head coach of the Browns, trying to turn around years of losing.
“I definitely remember what some of my experiences were that year,” Belichick said this week. “But as it relates to the Browns right now, we really can’t be too concerned about that. We have a job to do here. They’re a good football team. They have a lot of good players and they work hard and they’ve improved a lot. I don’t want to get caught up in all that. Obviously I’ve talked about this before, I remember the first game. I remember Jimmy Johnson telling me years later that they didn’t even have a scouting report for us in the first game because they were worried about Washington the next week. They didn’t feel like they could dedicate too much time to us, which was about right. So, you remember a few of those things. But I would say, just looking at the Browns organization, overall, separately, it’s obvious they have a plan. Jimmy Haslam, the owner and [President] Joe Banner and then they’ve implemented [General Manager] Mike [Lombardi] and Chud [Head Coach Rob Chudzinski] to go through with it.
“But they definitely have a plan of what they want to do. They have a lot of young players. They’re young on defense, they have a lot of young offensive linemen that aren’t playing who I’m sure they must like. They have a lot of skill players and a lot of good players on defense period. They’ve put a lot of young players into the kicking game. They obviously have a plan – they way they handled the draft last year and so forth. It’s a team that’s young, they’re talented, they’re getting better and it looks like they definitely have a vision that Jimmy and Joe have a definite vision for where they want the team to go and they’ve had Mike and Rob implement it. They have a very experienced coaching staff. Their strength and conditioning staff has obviously done a good job because they have very few injuries, other than at the quarterback position, they’ve remained remarkably healthy throughout the course of the year and they’re a tough, physical team so it’s not like they don’t bang it around in there. Obviously their strength staff has done a great job there. Those are some of the things that I see with the Browns. But really all that’s sort of not really very much in focus because we’re concentrating on what they do, what their tendencies are, what the matchups are going to be, how we’re going to game plan and so forth. That’s really the target for us right now.”
|Bill Belichick, Bob Knight and what it takes to go from the hardwood to the NFL||12.07.13 at 4:21 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Bill Belichick has had a good amount of success recruiting athletes from other sports and converting them into viable and productive NFL players.
There was offensive lineman Stephen Neal, an NCAA champion wrestler and five-sport athlete. There is defensive back and special teamer Nate Ebner, a world-class rugby player.
On other teams, there are numerous examples. Take San Diego tight end Antonio Gates. He turned down Michigan State because Nick Saban would not let him play basketball in addition to football. There’s Jimmy Graham, the Saints All-Pro tight end who also starred in basketball for the Miami Hurricanes.
Then there’s Jordan Cameron, the Browns tight end who could give the Patriots fits on Sunday. Cameron was going to play basketball at BYU before transferring to Southern California to play football.
Is there something those players have in common that Belichick sees when defending them?
“I think the biggest thing that I’ve seen with basketball players through the years is their hands,” Belichick said. “Those guys have to have good hands. They obviously handle the ball a lot and it’s on them quickly. They’re cutting and it’s a short pass and a lot of times it comes at good speed or bounce passes and trying to get it around the defender. They have to be able to react to the ball very quickly. It’s a lot different than football, seeing the ball travel however many yards to you. If you’re coming out of a cut, it’s still not like in basketball where the passes are, a lot of times, very short, very tight and you have to reach out and extend and get the ball away from the defender, like you do in football situations rebounding the ball. It’s not about – you can’t let it come into your body. You have to go up and aggressively take it.
“I would just say in general that basketball players, and certainly basketball players that have come into football that I’ve coached or I’ve observed, one pretty common thing is their hands and their ability to handle the ball aggressively, cleanly and it gets on them quickly but it doesn’t seem to affect them like it does other players sometimes where the ball is on them and they can’t quite find it and adjust to it. Those guys seem like they’re used to it. They’ve done it their whole lives and they’re used to it.”
If history is any indication, Belichick is likely to break out part of the game plan from the Saints game as the Patriots became the only team to hold Graham without a catch so far this season.
As for scouting basketball players to play in the NFL, Belichick says he has spoken with former Indiana legendary coach Bob Knight back in the early 1990s, when Knight was still with the Hoosiers and Belichick was coaching the Browns.
“We’ve seen those guys through the years – guys with football backgrounds than end up playing basketball,” Belichick said. “I’d say I’ve had many conversations with [former Head] Coach [Bob] Knight about that when he was at Indiana. I would say that the big thing for most basketball players is, in general, they’re quicker than they are fast. When you get out there and time a lot of those guys in the 40-yard dash, they’re slow. They might look fast on a basketball court, but we have such a much bigger field that vertical speed, especially for those positions – there aren’t many linemen playing basketball so you’re talking about skills guys, receivers and DBs, those type of positions, that most of them don’t have the speed that we, at our level, they don’t have the speed to play.
“They have quickness and a lot of times they have exceptional quickness but when it just comes to straight, flat-out speed, I’d say that’s where a lot of times, in the scouting part of it, the deficiencies come up. You go see a basketball player and say, ‘This guy has great hands. This guy has great quickness. This guy is strong, he’s competitive.’ Then you go out and time him and he runs 4.75-4.8 and you’re like, ‘What are you going to do with him?’ What corner in this league is – they have to be able to run faster than that or if they’re receivers, they have to able to run faster than that. I’ve seen that several times. Like I said, I’ve been in a couple of those situations with Coach Knight at Indiana, like ‘Hey, I want you to take a look at this kid, this guy he’s this, he’s that.’ And he was, but then you go out and put a watch on him and he’s just not fast enough to play at this level. It’s generalities but that’s my general experience with it.”
|Peter King on M&M: Matt Schaub to blame for collapse of Texans that cost Gary Kubiak his job||12.06.13 at 1:01 pm ET|
Sports Illustrated’s Peter King made his weekly Friday appearance on Mut & Merloni, minutes after the story broke that the Texans had fired coach Gary Kubiak.
“I think the Texans were seriously considering firing Kubiak after the first Jacksonville loss, but the problem was the schedule that was coming up — they’ve got the Patriots and then the Jaguars in a short week,” King said, adding: “I’ve felt strongly he was going to get fired for the last two weeks. Obviously he had an opportunity to save himself, but clearly he couldn’t save himself. And that’s what today is all about. You can’t lose to the Jaguars twice in 11 days and lose 11 games in a row and keep your job. It’s ridiculous. I don’t care what injuries they had. The fact is, this is a team that vastly underachieved this year.”
Added King: “The ownership felt like it’s time, we’ve given this guy more than enough time. And they have.”
King placed the majority of the blame for Houston’s collapse on quarterback Matt Schaub.
“You saw in Houston this year how much one single player can influence your franchise. And that one single player — throwing pick-sixes three weeks in a row — was Matt Schaub,” King said. “Matt Schaub imploded. And as nice a guy he is and as much as he’s done for that franchise, he is the guy that got this team on their death spiral.”
The Texans are loaded with talent, making this an appealing job, especially with them in line for a very high draft pick.
“If you have J.J. Watt coming back, you’ve got Brian Cushing coming back from injury … you’ve got the basis of a very good defense,” King said. “And you’ve got Andre Johnson. It looks like they’ll probably lose Ben Tate, whose a good running back, but they’ve got plenty — plenty — of talent on that team to contend in 2014. If you add [Louisville quarterback Teddy] Bridgewater to that team, they’re going to be very, very good.”
|Bill Belichick tweaks Jets again||12.04.13 at 12:23 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Bill Belichick has fond memories of his time with the Browns, as well as the stretches he spent with the Colts, Lions and Broncos.
The Jets? Not so much.
Belichick was head coach in Cleveland from 1991 through 1995, and talked briefly Wednesday about his time with the Browns. He was asked Wednesday if he still had any affinity for Cleveland, and despite the fact that it was an awful ending, he said that he still has fond memories when it came to his time with Cleveland.
“I was there for five years,” Belichick said. “It was five important years in my life, for myself, my family and all that. Obviously, we’ve all moved on, and I have a job to do here and that’s where my loyalty is, is to Robert, the Patriots organization and this football team. So it’s no different than how I feel, honestly, about the Colts, or the Lions or the Broncos.
“I feel differently about the Jets,” he added with a smile. “We won’t put them in that category.”
Belichick concluded: “Good experiences with all of those teams, and we learned from them, grew as a coach, and as a person and as a family. But we’re at a different time and a different place. This is where we are now, so I’ll try to make the most out of this one.”
For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.
|Despite fact Patriots can wrap up division Sunday, Bill Belichick says focus right now is Browns||12.03.13 at 4:01 pm ET|
The Patriots have a chance to clinch or tie for a share of the division title on Sunday if they beat the Browns and the Dolphins lose at the Steelers, an eminently reasonable scenario given the way the season has played out to this point.
However, Bill Belichick said that’s not the focus heading into the game at home against Cleveland.
“Really, we’re not talking too much about that,” Belichick said of his team, which could capture the AFC East for the 11th time in the last 13 years. “The only thing we can really control is how we play against Cleveland. That’s really what we need to focus on. Whatever else does or doesn’t happen in the league is definitely totally outside of our control.
“Hopefully we can go out there and improve and play better and win,” he added, “and whatever else happens or doesn’t happen, we can’t worry about that.”
Here are some other highlights of the Q&A with the media from the Tuesday afternoon conference call:
Read the rest of this entry »
Patriots coach Bill Belichick joined Salk & Holley on Monday afternoon to discuss New England’s 34-31 victory over the Texans on Sunday, the decision to bench Stevan Ridley in the game, and Antonio Smith‘s postgame comments regarding the Patriots’ second-half comeback.
Sunday’s game against Houston started off in similar fashion to the Patriots’ previous game against the Broncos, as New England looked sluggish and unfocused over the first two quarters. At the end of the first half, the 2-9 Texans had built a 17-7 lead.
“We’ve just got to do a better job, I’ve got to do a better job preparing the team for the beginning part of the game. We’ve got to do a better job executing then,” Belichick said. “It wasn’t great. I didn’t think we took advantage of some of the opportunities that we had and we gave them some, and obviously the interception set them up and fortunately we were able to hold them to three on that.
“We gave up two good drives defensively. … We were trying to find our rhythm and our execution on a number of things yesterday, and it wasn’t a great feeling.”
New England’s first-half slump would not last, as Tom Brady and company outscored the Texans by a 27-14 margin in the final two quarters to come away with the 34-31 victory.
One notable move that Belichick made before Sunday’s game was to list Ridley as inactive. Despite showing talent out of the backfield with 2,280 career yards in 42 NFL games, Ridley has struggled with holding on to the football, as he has nine fumbles in his career, with six of those being recovered by the opposing team.
“We make those decisions week to week,” Belichick said. “Every week, we have to make a decision as to who we feel are the players that we’ll activate for the game, and sometimes injuries and the availability of a player takes care of that. After that, it comes down to decisions that we make as a coaching staff. … That’s the way that it is every week.”
After the game, Smith, the Texans defensive lineman, made postgame comments questioning the Patriots’ ability to turn around their play in the second half, calling their adjustments “highly suspicious.” (Smith said Monday that he was joking.)
“I’m sure [Houston] is frustrated,” Belichick said. They lost to us twice last year and lost to us again down there at home. We’ve seen that before and I’m sure there was some frustration. … There’s nothing we can do about, we just have to worry about what we can do.”
|Antonio Smith: Patriots ‘spying’ comments were a joke||12.02.13 at 11:08 pm ET|
After saying there was something “fishy” and “highly suspicious” about the way the Patriots were able to make adjustments in the second half of New England’s 34-31 win over Houston on Sunday, Texans defensive lineman Antonio Smith quickly backtracked from his comments on Monday, saying it was all a joke.
“It tickles me how much the country loves the Patriots so much they take everything so seriously,” Smith told reporters Monday evening. “I wasn’t angry or serious and I didn’t say that’s why they beat us.”
After the Patriots rallied from a 10-point deficit with a 27-point second half to pin the 10th straight loss of the year on the Texans, Smith intimated something was up with the way things happened in the second half.
“You can tell they changed their scheme in the second half,” Smith told reporters after the game. “It’s miraculous they changed some things on offense that keyed on what we put on this week to stop what they were doing. They did things they never did all year before. It was a specific thing that was important to what we were going to do today, as to how we were going to call the defense. We’d not ever did it before, and they never changed like that before. It just let me know that something wasn’t right.
“Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are among the best at their craft because they work so hard at their craft. But you have to be a descendent of ‘Tones-tradamus’ to know what we put in this week to be able to change that fast. I’ve got the only crystal ball in existence. I don’t know what it is. Either teams are spying on us or something’s going on.”
On Monday, Smith was singing a difference tune, saying he wasn’t aware his comments created such a controversy.
“I was definitely surprised,” he said. “I didn’t think anything else about it after we talked until I woke up this morning and everybody wanted to kill me on Instagram.
“My teammates were telling me about ESPN. I don’t really watch ESPN that much, but [my teammates] pretty much got a good laugh out of it, me being the butt of everybody’s jokes today. I had no idea it would have that (kind of) effect.”
Smith said it was taken the wrong way.
“I said it, but you have to check the manner in which I said it,” he added. “I didn’t accuse them of beating us with cheating. Come on, don’t you have a sense of humor? Though it may be something I was curious about it, I wasn’t thinking they spied on us or they were cheating.
“Half the stuff I say is spontaneous and witty, and I don’t think anything else about it. I’m sorry I said the word spying. I was joking and having fun with it.”
Asked about it on Monday, Belichick said it was a league matter, while Brady dismissed it, saying he didn’t think much of the allegations. And Texans coach Gary Kubiak didn’t sound like he was too pleased with Smith’s comments.
“I have the utmost respect for their organization, their players, their coaches, their head coach,” Kubiak said. “I mean, the standard that they’ve been setting for a long, long time in this league. They did a great job (Sunday). They’ve been doing it for a long time.”
For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.
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