|Michael Lombardi on D&C: ‘The Bills aren’t going to go away easily’||09.23.11 at 9:13 am ET|
NFL Network analyst Michael Lombardi joined the Dennis & Callahan show for his weekly conversation Friday morning.
Lombardi was the Browns director of players personnel under Bill Belichick in the early 1990s, and he said Belichick had a human side to him. Asked about the NFL Films documentary on Belichick, in which Belichick shows enthusiasm for a halloween party, Lombardi said that was no act: “That actual portrayal of Bill was dead-on,” he said.
Referring to a filmed meeting between Belichick and Randy Moss in which Moss asks about a party, Lombardi said: “I think ultimately players respect knowledge and they respect somebody who can make them better. And you could just see in that meeting the respect that Randy had for Bill, and obviously the respect Bill had for Randy for talking to him and being honest. I think it was mutual. But I think ultimately what people must understand about the NFL is it’s not how old you are or how young are, it’s how smart you are and can you make the players better. If you can make the players better, they’ll listen to you. If you can’t, they’re going to tune you out.”
Following are more highlights from the interview. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.
On Belichick’s game preparation: “Nobody can break the game down to the essential components [like Belichick]. ‘¦ What Bill’s trying to do in the first quarter is to figure out the game plan of the other team. And his preparation all week long is to determine, ‘How quickly can I figure out what they’re going to do to us, and how can I adjust to make sure we can handle it?’ And it’s in that preparation that allows him to do that. Very few people can attack the game the way he did.”
On how the Patriots would do without Tom Brady: “The Patriots will be a good team because they are essentially a team. They’re not like the Colts, who have one great player [Peyton Manning] and a bunch of guys that are just running around.”
On the Patriots’ opponent Sunday, the 2-0 Bills: “I think they are for real in the sense that there’s a tremendous hunger. They’ve lost 14 in a row to the Patriots. ‘¦ I think it will be a really tough game. I think it will be a lot like the Detroit Lions game in Detroit last Thanksgiving Day. It’s going to be a little bit of a fast-paced game. I would expect the Patriots to defer the coin toss if they win it because they’re going to need to get the ball back at the end of the second quarter and into the third quarter to maybe make up for any [Buffalo] lead or potentially to build on any lead that they have. I think this is going to be one of those kind of games, because the Bills aren’t going to go away easily. The Bills are going to fight, scratch and claw, and they’re going to compete as hard as they can.”
On Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick: “I think he’s really a good quarterback. But when you break him down, he’s throws a lot of balls between his line of scrimmage and 10 yards. He doesn’t really chuck the ball down the field. He’s not a down-the-field, drive-the-football [player]. And as the wind changes — the last six games of the  season, his percentage of completions went down to 55 percent. Weather is going to have a lot to do with how he plays. Right now, it’s beautiful and sunny in Buffalo, there’s no wind. And you can handle it really well. But as the weather changes, it’s going to become a factor for him, and I think it’s going to be very difficult.”
|Sources: Aaron Hernandez out two to four weeks … and what it means going forward||09.20.11 at 6:51 pm ET|
League sources now indicate that the Patriots will lose tight end Aaron Hernandez for two to four weeks because of a left knee injury he suffered in Sunday’s win over the Chargers. (The news that Hernandez would miss time was first reported by Shalise Manza Young of the Boston Globe.)
Hernandez, who is third on the team with 14 catches for 165 yards and two touchdowns on two games, has combined with fellow tight end Rob Gronkowski to form a dynamic portion of the New England passing game. If he’s unable to go over the next two weeks, that will rob the Patriots of perhaps their most versatile offensive option — while the Florida product is listed as a tight end, he really plays more like a wide receiver, often lined up on the outside and using his speed to create advantageous matchups for New England.
At the same time, it will provide opportunities in the passing game for some pass catchers who might have struggled over the first two weeks of the season.
‘We have a lot of different skill players in our offense,’ Patriots coach Bill Belichick said when asked if they have anyone who can replicate Hernandez’s versatile role in the offense. ‘We have a lot of different formations and things. As you’ve seen, we use multiple personnel groups, multiple formations, so whatever we have to do, we’ll use some combination of those.’
‘We have a lot different guys that play,’ said Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien. ‘We’re in the process of game-planning right now. We’re going to head out to practice (Wednesday) and we’re going to start putting that first and second half game plan in and go from there.’
The Patriots could do one of two things: First, an increase role in the passing game could be in the cards for one or both of the Gronkowski brothers, the two healthy tight ends on the roster. Two, other pass catchers could see more chances as a result. That includes wide receiver Chad Ochocinco, who was targeted five times over the first two games (the lowest total of targets among the starting pass catchers).
The newcomer, who caught a pair of passes in Sunday’s win over San Diego, is part of a rapidly improving group of wide receivers, according to O’Brien.
‘I think that whole position is moving forward,’ O’Brien said. ‘Each guy — Chad, Deion [Branch], Wes [Welker] — especially those three guys that have played the most for us, those guys really improved from the Miami game to the San Diego game. I think they are doing little things better.
‘We’re a game plan offense, and depending on how teams are playing us, those are the personnel groups we go with and each and every week will be different. That’s kind of what’s always made us tick around here. As long as we can keep people off-balance, that’s part of what we try to do, use different personnel groups. Some game, one guy might play more than another guy. Those guys understand that. That’s why they’re here and they buy into that role. So I think all those guys are getting better.’
|What happens if the Patriots have to go without Zoltan Mesko for an indefinite period of time?||at 3:52 pm ET|
In the second half of Sunday’s game against the Chargers, Patriots’ punter Zoltan Mesko went down with what appeared to be some sort of left knee injury after a San Diego player blocked New England’s James Ihedigbo into Mesko. Mesko did not punt for the rest of the game, but limped on and off the field while working as a holder on an extra point for kicker Stephen Gostkowski.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick was asked about the state of New England’s punting game, specifically the possibility of bringing someone in to replace Mesko, presumably for the short term.
“We’re still working our way through those questions today, it may take longer than that,” Belichick said Tuesday. “I don’t know. It’s possible.”
Prior to drafting Mesko prior to the start of the 2010 season, the Patriots ran through a steady series of punters, a group that included Chris Hanson, Ken Walter, Todd Sauerbrun and Josh Miller. However, Mesko, who has averaged 39.5 yards per punt over the first two games of the season, has clearly distinguished himself in his year-plus that he’s been around — he finished his rookie year with a 38.4 net average to set an NFL rookie record for net punting average.
In short, replacing him would be a challenge.
“There are plenty of things that go into the punting position — it’s not like standing out on the driving range, teeing it up and hitting it as far as you can,” Belichick said. “Situation punting is probably over half the game in punting, whether it’s directional punting, rushes, plus fifty, end of the game or end of half-type situations. One deep, two deep, overload rushes, I mean you can just keep going.
“There are a million things that the punter has to deal with — the punter, then whole punt team, personal protector, snapper, [things] that everyone has to deal with. There’s certainly a lot more to it than just catching the ball and kicking it as far as you can, so that’s something we work on every week and it changes every week. Every team we play is different and then you always have to deal with the conditions and the situation within the game so there’s plenty of stuff going on there.”
The Patriots have been big proponents of the hurry-up offense this season, using the no-huddle an extraordinary 42 of the 138 plays from scrimmage this season over the first two games. (For more on that, check out my story here.)
But the Chargers found a way to slow down New England on Sunday — albeit very briefly — when San Diego linebacker Shaun Phillips went down early in the game. Phillip returned to the contest shortly afterward, but his actions (as well as the actions of some of the players in the Giants-Rams game Monday night) have sparked a discussion across the league about defensive players possibly faking injuries in hopes of taking an offense out of a rhythm.
“I think we all see, the way the game is now,” said Patriots coach Bill Belichick, speaking on a conference call with reporters Tuesday afternoon. “There are different breaks in the game at all points in time. You can have the momentum, and positive things going in your favor, and we stop and review a play, review a score, or a play gets challenged, or a player gets injured, a beach ball rolls on to the field. It could be a dog runs out there. It could be anything. Streakers, you could have that.
“Things happen,” Belichick added. “That’s part of being focused and playing through the situation, whatever it is that comes up, you have to be able to deal with it, both sides of the ball, for and against it, on the road and home. It’s just part of the game. I think if you want to address that whole issue, that’s something that needs to go to the people who make the rules.”
Of course, the Patriots have been accused of similar stalling tactics in the past. In a 2003 game against the Colts, Indianapolis was in the midst of a second-half comeback before New England linebacker Willie McGinest went down with what appeared to be a knee problem — a strange sight for one of the Patriots most durable players of that era. (He returned to the game soon after, and later, was a little coy about the nature of the injury.) Of course, McGinest made the big play at the end of the game, stopping Edgerrin James on the goal line, but the memory of McGinest’s action is still fresh for many Indianapolis fans.
Of course, this give us an excuse to post our favorite fake sports injury of all time:
|The next day, the Patriots talk about the ‘funky looks’ they showed San Diego’s Antonio Gates||09.19.11 at 4:45 pm ET|
The Patriots decided to dedicate their efforts to stopping Gates, using multiple series of coverages against the All-Pro tight end. As a result of the work of a series of defenders, New England held Gates without a catch for the first time since Dec. 4, 2008, when he was shutout by the Raiders. (A stretch of 34 games.) After the game, Gates talked about the variety of ‘funky looks’ the Patriots showed him.
‘They would put a corner and a safety on me, or two safeties ‘¦ they did a lot of different things to take me out of the game,’ said Gates, who had eight catches for 74 yards in a 24-17 win over Minnesota the previous week. ‘I kept working at it, kept trying. The end result was I couldn’t get the ball to come my way.
‘They had a tremendous game plan and they executed well. They gave us different looks, a combination of things, making it difficult for me to release off the ball. With the defensive end, linebacker and the safety dropping down to help once I released. They made a lot of funky looks.’
One of those ‘funky looks’ came the one time that San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers only threw in his direction once all afternoon, a second-half pass attempt where the ball was picked off by New England defensive back Sergio Brown. On that play, Gates wasn’t jammed off the line (as he had been for much of the afternoon) but was allowed to pass into the secondary unabated before Brown picked him up.
‘We tried to mix it up,’ Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Monday afternoon when he was asked about the interception. ‘Between jamming receivers, doubling them off the line with a jam, not doubling, doubling them downfield. We had various degrees of success with each. We tried to keep them off-balance and change up coverages.
‘It wasn’t anything revolutionary.’
In the end, while Jackson had 10 catches for 172 yards and two touchdowns (most of which came at the expense of cornerback Devin McCourty, who was left in single coverage with him while the rest of the defense shadowed Gates), the tight end was a non-factor.
‘I think looking at the final stat sheet says a lot,’ said safety Josh Barrett of the work they did on Gates. ‘Guys really did a good job, especially on the back end and even with the linebackers and even the defensive ends, getting hands on him early, and it was just keeping him somewhat contained. It was a great team effort doing that.
‘We put an onus on it, and coach made sure that we had a scheme that was going to be able to kind of lock down what we had to do with him.’
|Transcript of Tom Brady on D&C: ‘I won’t ever say that again’ about drinking before games||at 1:32 pm ET|
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady checked in with Dennis & Callahan for his Monday morning conversation, following Sunday’s 35-21 victory over the Chargers.
Brady created a controversy last week when he encouraged fans in Foxboro to get “lubed up” before Sunday’s late-afternoon start so Gillette Stadium would be loud and rowdy. He said Monday that he regretted how his joke played out.
“I hope there was nobody that was drinking irresponsibly,” Brady said. “I was trying to just make a very subtle joke. But for a guy that doesn’t even drink — me — it gets a lot of attention. I think that I won’t joke like that anymore. That wasn’t the best thing for me to say. I won’t ever say that again.”
Following is a transcript of the conversation. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.
In my humble opinion, the most significant play yesterday is a play where nothing happened. The hit to your knee early in the third quarter could have been devastating. It was not. What’s your recollection of that moment in the game?
I’m glad I had a knee brace on. Those are scary, man, when you’ve been through those ones before. He got me in a good spot, and I’m glad the knee brace took the brunt of the force. Why I never wore a knee brace before, I have no idea. Why every quarterback doesn’t wear one on their left knee, I have no idea. It’s just so unprotected.
But we were able to kind of withstand those literally and figuratively, the different blows from San Diego. We made some good plays out there in all three phases. That was really a great complementary game by all of us in a team win. It’s a very good San Diego team. And really, if you remember last year, that was a tough game that we played against them last year. Had we not gotten the turnovers last year in San Diego, we didn’t do anything offensively. So, to come out and play this way offensively against a very good defensive team was I think very encouraging for all of us.
CBS Sports NFL analyst Boomer Esiason made his weekly appearance on the Dennis & Callahan show Monday morning to discuss the Patriots’ fast start.
Esiason said Sunday’s 35-21 victory over the Chargers made him think of the successful Patriots teams of the previous decade.
Said Esiason: “It reminded me of their Super Bowl teams, where the opposing offenses would go up and down the field ‘¦ and then all of a sudden, somebody like Ty Law would come up with a big play, or Rodney Harrison would come up with a big play, Mike Vrabel would knock a ball down. It would be a key fumble recovery by Vince Wilfork. And lo and behold, what did we see yesterday? It was the same thing. It was great offense, tremendous special teams, a couple of gaffes here and there on defense, but at the end of the day four turnovers. The most key stat of all in the NFL is turnovers. And when you have a plus-four, the score is going to look like it did yesterday.
“And when your quarterback is comfortable, he’s playing maybe better than he ever has — and I can’t believe I’m saying that, after taking a look at what he did in 2007 then again in 2010 — can he play any better? I think defenses have got to start adjusting. I think they have to start blitzing, they have to start hitting him. ‘¦ Defenses have got to get after him. They can’t just let him sit back there.”
Following are more highlights from the conversation. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.
On the key to the Patriots’ offensive success: “No pressure. No pressure whatsoever. I know Tom [Brady] took a shot there at the beginning of the third quarter, but or the most part, when you watch their games, the last two games, the offensive line has been unbelievable. And I think teams have decided, OK, we’re going to play zone, we’re going to put eight men in the secondary, and we’re not going to pressure Tom. When a quarterback is in the zone or a quarterback is doing what Tom is doing right now, you have to get after him. You have to put him on the ground. I don’t care if it leads to a big play down the field.
“If there’s one thing that maybe the Patriots are missing, it’s the big-play, Randy Moss-type wide receiver down the field. I don’t know if [Chad] Ochocinco will become that. I don’t know if there’s anybody that can cover [Rob] Gronkowski or [Aaron] Hernandez down the field. But you can’t let him just sit back there. ‘¦ If there’s no pass rush, he’s going to rip you apart.”