|Tom Brady on his regular-season dress rehearsal: ‘I think we can be a lot better’||08.23.14 at 12:46 am ET|
There’s no disputing that 17-for-21 for 204 yards, two touchdowns and a 138.9 quarterback rating are numbers most NFL quarterbacks would take in their final regular season tune-up. But, of course, Tom Brady is not most quarterbacks.
He knows that the rhythm wasn’t there to begin the game, as a miscommunication with his wide receivers on third down and a stumble and near fumble on the second series would indicate. He didn’t appear to have his timing on the first two series, both ending in punts. Then Ryan Mallett came in on the third series to get some work in with the starters.
Brady tripped over someone’s foot and fell awkwardly to the turf, handing off to Shane Vereen in the nick of time, but not before a defensive lineman came barreling over him to get to Vereen.
“I couldn’t tell because I had my back turned, but I think someone just got my foot,” Brady said. “I don’t know if it was a defensive lineman or offensive lineman, but, yeah, you never want that to happen. That, against a good team like this, usually ends drives, and that one certainly did this time.”
Brady certainly recovered. On the next series after Mallett came out of the game, Brady led the Patriots down the field, going completing all four pass attempts, including a 40-yarder to a wide-open Vereen in the right flat on the Vereen staple — the wheel route — for a touchdown.
“Yeah, it was a slow start all the way around, but it was good to make some plays there late in the second quarter and then the third quarter,” Brady said. “There’s a lot of work to do, but it was fun being out there. It’s great to win, especially this game. They’re a good football team and if you don’t execute well, they’re going to be really tough. I’ve got a lot of respect for those guys [from] playing them last year. They’ve got a great team.”
Even on the 60-yard field goal from Stephen Gostkowski before the half, Brady and Bill Belichick thought that maybe with some slightly better clock management, they could’ve made things easier on themselves and their kicker. Still, for the starters to put 20 points up on the board against one of the better defenses in football provides some confidence going into the season.
“Yeah, it wasn’t bad, but there are a lot of things that we left out there,” Brady said. “We got bailed out there a few times on a few defensive calls. Missed some blitz stuff, missed some throws. I think we can be a lot better. It’s an important week for us to try to get better. The days are winding down until all these games count. It gets pretty exciting here in a few weeks, but you’ve still got to try to use these days to make as many improvements as we can. This game was good because you can really see where you’re at and you can see the things you need to get better. I think there’s a lot of things we can improve on.”
|LB Quentin Groves visits Patriots, Rex Ryan backs Calvin Pryor and more||06.11.14 at 8:57 pm ET|
Four football notes from a relatively quiet day with the Patriots:
1. Former Browns pass rusher Quentin Groves visited the Patriots on Wednesday, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Media. The seven-year veteran, who was part of a surprise cut by Cleveland coach Mike Pettine late last week, had two sacks and five tackles in just 53 snaps last year with the Browns. (The 6-foot-3, 265-pound linebacker was limited to just five games in 2013 because of an ankle injury.) The Auburn product has played for four teams in his seven seasons in the league, and had his best stint with the Cardinals in 2012 when he had 46 tackles and four sacks in 16 games with Arizona.
2. Less than a week after Jets rookie Calvin Pryor acknowledged he’s well aware of who he’s not supposed to like when it comes to the rest of the NFL, New York coach Rex Ryan said he has no problem with Pryor’s statement. “I like it,” Ryan said in a Wednesday press conference. “He knows who the enemy is.” Last week, New York’s first-round pick out of Louisville was asked if he knew he was supposed to hate Tom Brady and the Patriots. Pryor responded in the affirmative: “Yeah, man. We don’t like Tom [Brady] at all. When I first came here, that was one of the first things I heard about: We hate the Patriots, and we hate the Giants,” he said. “That’s what everybody was telling me. We hate those guys, and I look forward to playing them this season.”
3. Panthers quarterback Cam Newton was asked by Carolina media about the comments from wide receiver Brandon LaFell, who said last week that his new team (the Patriots) works “a little harder” than his old team (Carolina). “That’s Brandon,” said Newton, who told reporters he’s happy for LaFell and his new three-year, $9 million contract with the Patriots. “If that’s how he feels, that’s how he feels. … I will always say I beg to differ. But that’s just me talking. … I feel as if the Carolina Panther way is we don’t do too much talking. We have to prove it.”
4. In the wake of our Sunday notes column where we noticed the fluctuations in the average age of NFL GMs in recent years, we found the average ages of MLB GMs over the last decade. By way of comparison, the average age in the NFL has gone from 52.8 (2004), 49.4 (2009) and 50.4 (2014). In the majors, it is lower, but not by much — the average age of MLB GMs has gone from 46.2 (2004) to 46.5 (2009) to 50.2 (2014).
|Chance to catch passes from Tom Brady played major role in luring Brandon LaFell to Foxboro||03.19.14 at 6:38 pm ET|
When it came to the possibility of the Patriots landing free agent wide receiver Brandon LaFell, Tom Brady didn’t have to do any recruiting. Turns out, his mere presence was enough to lure LaFell to Foxboro.
The 6-foot-2, 210-pound receiver, who spoke with the New England for the first time Wednesday since signing a three-year deal with the Patriots, answered quickly when he was asked what went into his decision to depart Carolina.
“Because I had a chance to play with a Hall of Fame quarterback,” he said on a conference call with reporters. “One day, Cam [Newton] will be there probably, but he’s not there now. I felt like it was a better chance to come up here to get more balls and win up here than it was in Carolina. Nothing against those guys, it’s a great organization. Those guys are going to win, I can see them winning but it’s proven up here, man.
“We were winning last year in Carolina,” he added. “These guys were winning up here for the last 10-plus years, so why not come to a winning organization?”
LaFell recalled watching film of Brady and the New England offense last season, and recalls being amazed at the level of quarterback play.
“We were watching film last year when we were going to play those guys, (and) we were always like, ‘Man, those receivers have to put their hands up.’ No matter what route they ran, no matter how the guy was on them, if they just put their hands up, the ball was always in perfect placement,” he said.
“When you have a guy that can pinpoint the ball like he does year-in and year-out, it’s great.”
The 27-year-old LaFell is an LSU product who has been in the league for four years ‘ all with the Panthers ‘ and has 167 career catches, including 49 receptions for 627 yards and a career-high five touchdowns last year.
While he hash’t had the chance to connect with Brady face-to-face quite yet — he said they’ve traded texts the last few days because Brady is out of the country — he has spoken with another LSU teammate in running back Stevan Ridley, who was apparently pretty fired up about the possibility of lining up alongside his old friend.
“He was so excited. He was like, ‘You have to be lying to be right now,’” recalled LaFell. “He was like, ‘We have a bunch of young guys that play a lot of good ball, but we need another veteran that will step in and help those guys grow. You’re proven and this and that. You can be one of those final pieces of us, taking us to the next level.’
“He just kept saying the word sacrifice; sacrifice and hard work. ‘If you’re committed to do that with the rest of the guys, you’re going to fit in well and help us win games.’”
Here are some of the highlights of the rest of the Q&A:
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|Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Russell Wilson headline our list of 10 finalists for NFL MVP||12.18.13 at 7:47 pm ET|
FOXBORO — As the 2013 regular season nears the end of the road, the MVP race is starting to come into sharper focus. With two games remaining, here are our top 10 candidates — in no particular order — to take the honors.
Tom Brady: After a relatively slow start — he completed 56.6 percent of his passes over the first five games of the season, and in two of those games he threw for less than 200 yards — the quarterback has nudged his way back to the forefront of the MVP debate. Over the last six games, he’s gone 181-for-271 (67 percent) for 2,225 yards, with 14 touchdowns and four interceptions, all while dealing with serious personnel losses. He’s received a boost in that time from wide receiver Julian Edelman (who could be the first Patriots wide receiver other than Wes Welker to catch 100 passes from Brady since Troy Brown broke the 100-catch mark in 2001) and Shane Vereen (who could be the first 50-catch/50-carry running back in New England since Kevin Faulk turned the trick in 2008). He needs a strong finish to really put a capper on his candidacy, but is every bit the equal as most of the people on this list.
Calvin Johnson: Johnson is enjoying another terrific season, and with 81 receptions through 14 games, appears to have an outside shot at another 100-catch year. (If he does reach 100, it would be the second time in three seasons he’s hit that mark.) He’s tied for eighth in the league in catches, but is second in the league in receiving yards (1,449) and touchdown grabs (12, tied with Vernon Davis). The 6-foot-5, 236-pounder is the prototypical big receiver, one who can only be stopped if he drops the ball (he has eight drops on the season) or someone gets to his quarterback before he can get the ball out to him. If he’s able to crack 100 catches and the Lions reach the postseason (right now, they’re 7-7), Johnson should be considered a candidate.
Peyton Manning: In the eyes of many people, the default choice for the award, based primarily on his performance over the first half of the season. (He hit on 60 percent or better of his passes over the first six weeks of the season, and didn’t throw a pick until Week 5.) Manning stands poised to breaks Brady’s single-season mark for touchdown passes in a season (50, set in 2007), and it appears the Broncos will capture the No. 1 seed in the AFC while possibly setting a handful of new offensive records. That could be enough to lift him above the rest of the field in the eyes of the voters.
Robert Quinn: Probably an outside candidate at this point for several reasons, including the fact that defensive players almost never get their proper due when it comes to MVP voting. But the St. Louis defensive lineman has really come on down the stretch. He’s second in the league in sacks with 15, and leads the league with seven forced fumbles. You can argue whether or not a defensive player on a team that will struggle to reach .500 deserves a shot (the Rams are 6-8 heading into the final two games of the season), but Quinn’s overwhelming dominance at times certainly suggests he should earn a spot in the Top 10 — at the very least, he’ll certainly receive Defensive Player of the Year consideration.
J.J. Watt: Another defensive lineman who deserves to be on this list despite the fact that his team has had a bad year, the Houston defensive lineman remains a transformative defensive presence. Rated as the No. 1 3-4 defensive end in the league by Pro Football Focus, PFF also has him graded out as the leading pass rusher and run stopper at his position. He has 9.5 sacks through 14 games, and while he’s not batting down passes as the same rate he did last season (he has six this year, as opposed to 16 last season), but he’s someone you have to always account for on every play. Probably not in the running for the top spot this year, he’ll almost certainly garner serious consideration (along with Quinn) for Defensive Player of the Year honors.
Josh Gordon: He’s the best wide receiver the Patriots have faced to this point in the season, and while he’s probably more in the running for something like ‘Best Offensive Player’ as opposed to MVP, it’s still worth mentioning that the Cleveland pass catcher leads the league with 1,467 receiving yards, and is 15th overall with 74 catches. His epic streak of four straight games with at least 125 receiving yards included a memorable seven-catch, 151-yard effort against New England — that came on the heels of back-to-back performances of at least 200 receiving yards. Like Quinn, you can argue the merits of handing out the MVP to a player on a team that won’t make the postseason, but his numbers are undeniable, and that should be enough for him to warrant consideration.
|WEEI NFL Power Rankings, Week 12: Pats drop out of top 5||11.20.13 at 11:58 am ET|
The Seahawks are showing no signs of wanting to fly south as winter nears. Seattle continues its reign at No. 1 as it heads into its bye week and prepares for a tough stretch against the Saints (3) and 49ers (8).
The Panthers (4) claw their way into the top five after a statement win in the Monday night game. The Patriots drop three spots to No. 7 and have no time to focus on a controversial call in Week 11 because the Broncos (2) are set to roll into Foxboro. Tom Brady will prepare for his 14th showdown vs. Peyton Manning. Brady has had the upper hand in nine of the 13 meetings between the two stars.
The bottom five welcomes its latest playoff team of 2012. The Falcons plummet to No. 30 and join the Vikings (28) and Texans (31) as teams to have hit rock bottom after reaching the postseason last year.
Many teams still are in the thick of the playoff race as the final quarter of the season approaches. Check back next week to see who’s on the way up and who’s on the way down.
1. (1) Seahawks (10-1) — The Seahawks look to be getting stronger and stronger as they inch closer to capturing the No. 1 seed in the NFC. They go into their bye week with six straight wins.
2. (2) Broncos (9-1) — Manning has been the story all year, but the Broncos offensive line deserves the credit after Sunday night’s performance. The O-line came up huge on the biggest stage by not allowing a sack to the team that led the league in that category going into the game.
3. (5) Saints (8-2) — The Saints are a scary team when the offense is firing on all cylinders. Drew Brees is quietly putting up monster numbers once again as Peyton Manning gets all the attention.
4. (7) Panthers (7-3) — Cam Newton and the Panthers finally got the league’s attention. Newton needed to prove he could lead his team late in the fourth quarter against a playoff-caliber team, and he accomplished just that.
5. (3) Chiefs (9-1) — That ferocious Chiefs defense was non-existent Sunday night. Kansas City had a tremendous opportunity to rough up Peyton Manning but was unable to even knock him down. Despite the loss, many of the mistakes are fixable and the Chiefs should be able to rush Manning better when they face him again at Arrowhead.
|Heath Evans on M&M: Monday’s game more important for Panthers than Patriots||11.18.13 at 2:40 pm ET|
Former Patriot Heath Evans joined Mut & Merloni on Monday to talk about New England’s matchup with the Panthers and his take on the bullying scandal in Miami.
Monday’s game is a surprisingly good matchup as quarterback Cam Newton has led his team a 6-3 start to the season. With the Saints winning on Sunday, Carolina moved to 1½ games behind New Orleans in the NFC South.
Newton has played well this season, but the reason for the turnaround from a 7-9 record in 2012 revolves around the strong play of the Panthers defense. Second-year pro and Boston College product Luke Kuechly leads the team from his middle linebacker position. Evans compared Kuechly to former Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi.
‘Luke Kuechly, and I think Tedy would probably agree with me, is more physically gifted than Tedy,’ Evans said. ‘This kid just gets it. ‘¦ There’s literally not a weak point to this kid’s game, and it’s just going to get a lot better.’
New England ran the ball during its last game against the Steelers, but achieving the same level of success against Kuechly and the Panthers’ impressive defensive line will be a daunting task.
‘You’ve got a lot of pieces here where, if you can run the ball, this offense can grow into a Patriots offense that we’ve never even seen before that could maybe even be more spectacular than what we’ve seen in the past,’ Evans said.
Evans, a member of the Dolphins in 2005, took on the issue of the Jonathan Martin-Richie Incognito bullying saga.
‘Jonathan Martin, if you’re having mental issues, and you have to step away from the team, what are you doing at a Stanford game the other night, on national TV in front of hundreds of thousands of people?’ Evans said. ‘When everything that will be exposed is exposed, I’m sure we’re probably going to see Jonathan Martin in a different light, we’ll probably see Richie Incognito in a different light, so to speak.’
|Panthers coach Ron Rivera: Patriots are ‘one of the elites in this league’||11.15.13 at 6:15 am ET|
But he acknowledges that this week’s game against New England will provide a good litmus test for his team as it prepares for a possible run for the postseason.
“Is it a litmus test?” he asked on a conference call with the New England media. “Yeah, they all are, but again I do agree because of who we are playing. We’re playing one of the elites in this league, who just also happens to have one of the elite quarterbacks in this league.
“[But] they are all litmus tests. They are all important because it is our next, most important, game because it is the one we are about to play,” he added. “That’s kind of been my mantra. I don’t want these guys to get ahead of themselves. I want these guys to understand that we have to take care of business every week, so every week is an important game. You know, heck, our first game was important, our second one was, and this one is important just like last week as well.”
The 6-3 Panthers have become one of the surprise teams in the league over the first nine games of the season. Buoyed by an aggressive young defense and a third-year quarterback in Cam Newton who has come into his own, Carolina is on a roll. It’s been a particularly gratifying stretch for Rivera, who was on the hot seat at the start of the season, but is now seeing his name bandied about as a possible Coach of the Year candidate.
“It is very satisfying,” Rivera said. “It’s really about just the culmination of the hard work we’ve put in. We’ve come a long way in the last four and a half seasons; two seasons before I got here and my first two, have been very hard. [They've been] hard on a lot of young players. A lot of guys have gone through four tough years and now just the fact that we are winning, we’re playing pretty good and we’re doing things that right way we’ve given ourselves opportunities. It’s very satisfying.”
Rivera is someone who made his bones on the defensive side of the ball — first as a linebacker in Chicago, and then as a defensive coordinator with the Bears and Chargers. He took over the Panthers in 2011, and has seen the maturation of a talented young defense, led by Boston College product Luke Kuechly. Rivera offered a scouting report on Kuechly, who was taken in the first round of the 2012 draft.
“Probably the biggest thing and the best thing he has is a great first step, for the most part. He doesn’t take a lot of bad steps and then put himself in bad positions,” Rivera said of Kuechly, who was selected ninth overall. “He plays with his hands pretty doggone well, and if there is one thing I like about him, I think he is a good hit-and-wrap tackler. He led the NFL in tackling [last year] and I think for two years he led the NCAA in tackling. It’s something that he does very well and he’s adept at it. A very bright, very smart guy. He handles most of our calls and checks, so he is a complete package and he keeps getting better and better.
“He is smart like a Brian Urlacher. He is a physical tackler like Jeremiah Trotter was,” he added. “He is a combination of several guys that I have coached. I coached a young man named Stephen Cooper [who] played at Maine, from that area up there. Coop was one of the smartest guys that I’ve had and a very good tackler as well. There are just so many guys that he is similar to, but again he has his own personality, his own style.”
Here are a few more highlights of Rivera’s Q&A with the media:
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