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Chance to catch passes from Tom Brady played major role in luring Brandon LaFell to Foxboro 03.19.14 at 6:38 pm ET
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Brandon LaFell signed a three-year deal with the Patriots. (AP)

Brandon LaFell signed a three-year deal with the Patriots. (AP)

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
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Tom Brady

Tom Brady

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.

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WEEI NFL Power Rankings, Week 12: Pats drop out of top 5 11.20.13 at 11:58 am ET
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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.

Seattle Seahawks1. (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.

Denver Broncos 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.

New Orleans Saints3. (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.

Carolina Panthers4. (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.

Kansas City Chiefs5. (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.

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Heath Evans on M&M: Monday’s game more important for Panthers than Patriots 11.18.13 at 2:40 pm ET
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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.

Heath Evans

Heath Evans

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.

“I think this is definitely more important for the Carolina Panthers, and [coach] Ron Rivera,” said Evans, who works with the NFL Network and the NFL on Fox.

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.”

To hear the full interview, 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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Panthers coach Ron Rivera: Patriots are ‘one of the elites in this league’ 11.15.13 at 6:15 am ET
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Ron Rivera leads the surprising Panthers. (AP)

Ron Rivera leads the surprising Panthers. (AP)

FOXBORO — Panthers coach Ron Rivera comes into Monday’s game against the Patriots with his team on a five-game win streak, with the latest victory an upset of the 49ers in San Francisco.

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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Darrelle Revis still thinks Tom Brady, Peyton Manning are ‘both great’ 08.13.13 at 3:22 pm ET
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Darrelle Revis (24) shares a light moment with Patriots defensive backs Adrian Wilson (right) and Marquice Cole (center) after Tuesday's practice. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

Darrelle Revis (24) shares a light moment with Patriots defensive backs Adrian Wilson (right) and Marquice Cole (center) after Tuesday’s practice. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

FOXBORO — When he was with the Jets, Darrelle Revis had some of that swagger that came with playing for Rex Ryan. But one thing is for sure, he always had respect for Patriots superstar quarterback Tom Brady.

That, apparently, hasn’t changed.

Speaking after Tuesday’s practice, one in which he was limited to 7-on-7 drills due to his recovery from left ACL surgery, Revis made it clear that he still respects the quarterback who once gave him fits in the AFC East.

Asked if he still thinks Brady is one of the best, Revis didn’t hesitate.

“Oh yeah, it’s between him and Peyton Manning, but it’s a good race between both of them,” Revis said. “They’re both great. I played against both of them. They’re awesome quarterbacks. They’re tough, they’re tough to game plan against as well.”

That makes one think what he thinks of Atlanta’s Matt Ryan, New Orleans’ Drew Brees and Carolina’s Cam Newton, all of whom he’ll face twice a season in the NFC South.

Tuesday was a big day for Revis, who was back in pads for the practice but is being guarded carefully by head coach Greg Schiano, who indicated that there’s a possibility that Revis won’t play in any of Tampa Bay’s four preseason games but still be ready for the season opener Sept. 8 against his former team at MetLife Stadium.

Revis said he received words of encouragement from Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who was on hand for the joint practice.

“The New York Jets-Patriots, that’s a crazy rivalry, it really is. It’s almost like a hatred but now I’m a Buccaneer and this is something new for me, being in camp with another team. I’m just taking it in in stride. It was funny because Mr. Kraft came up to me and said some encouraging words and some good words. So, it just shows you how much respect you have with another team when you’re not on that side of the ball.”

The Bucs and Revis open the season Sept. 8 on the road against his former team at MetLife Stadium before visiting the Patriots in Week 3.

“It’s fine, it’s fine,” Revis said. “The schedule is what the schedule is going to be and we know we have them Week 3. It’s something new for me. I’m just trying to take it in stride. It’s kind of weird watching 1-on-1s and seeing Tom throw at our DBs. I wish I could be out here to practice because that would give me some tips if I could be out here in 1-on-1s and go against Tom because it’s good competition at the end of the day.”

Speaking of Brady, it was the Patriots quarterback who had to come back from left ACL surgery when Bernard Pollard hit him in the 2008 season opener against Kansas City. Brady came back and led the Patriots to the playoffs in 2009. That’s inspiration enough for Revis.

“Yeah, I think I’ll be fine,” said Revis, who injured his knee Sept. 23, 2012 against the Dolphins. “At the end of the day, you have to go through the ACL process and waiting, and let’s do this and do these drills, let’s do these exercises, let’s be patient, let’s not get on the field yet, let’s get on the field so, I’ll be fine. Trust me, I’ll be fine. I’m working. I’m back to my old self. I’m getting there. It’s just the confidence and getting that knee drive and breaking on balls.”

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Fantasy Football: Week 9 starts, sits 11.03.12 at 12:11 pm ET
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Welcome to the Week 9 starts and sits. It’s been a rough week for yours truly and all New Yorkers, but I’m now up in Boston with friends — fully loaded with bandwidth and a large coffee. Let’s get into Week 9, shall we? For those of you looking for full rankings, we will be adding them at Rotobahn.com throughout the day as we play catchup in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. We also will be hosting our weekly Sunday chat right here, so check back Sunday at 11 a.m. if you have any pressing lineup questions.

QUARTERBACKS

STARTS

Cam Newton, Panthers at Redskins

Yes, Newton was a lock starter going into the season, but we’ve received enough e-mails about him to put him here. Newton should step up in this game against Robert Griffin III. The bigger issue is the Washington defense, which is prone to lapses in coverage. Newton is a good play here and he has some upside, too. He’s a good play in any league.

Josh Freeman, Buccaneers at Raiders

Stick with Freeman this week in a plus matchup at Oakland. His receivers are making plays and now he has ground support with a surging Doug Martin.

Joe Flacco, Ravens at Browns

There’s some risk due to how poorly he’s played lately, but we wouldn’t be afraid of using him here. The Ravens have had two weeks to prepare for this game and they are well coached. They should be ready. Flacco is a viable start in 12-team leagues.

SITS

Ryan Fitzpatrick, Bills at Texans

Fitz is a very risky play on the road against a quality opponent. Just look at what he did in Weeks 5 and 6 if you require proof. The Bills most likely will be chasing in the game, so there’s some hope, but we’d strongly consider other options in all leagues.

Ryan Tannehill, Dolphins at Colts

Two big things here: Tannehill is not a lock to play, so even if you are going to roll with him, you need a Plan B. The more important thing is the in-game risk. There’s a solid chance that he could start but not finish, and that’s what worries us most. He’s got an easily aggravated injury. The matchup is a very good one, but we’d look for more secure options in Week 9.

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