|Patriots rookie TE Asa Watson no stranger to Gillette Stadium||05.14.14 at 9:15 am ET|
FOXBORO — Most of the Patriots rookies are getting their first look at Gillette Stadium this week, but you could pardon Asa Watson for being a little blase compared to the rest of the first-year players.
The former North Carolina State tight end has been to Foxboro before — he used to journey to New England to watch his big brother Benjamin play when he was with the Patriots from 2004-2009.
During a break in the offseason workout program Tuesday, Asa recalled the trips he made to Gillette to watch his brother play, including the regular-season finale in 2005 when Doug Flutie delivered a memorable drop-kick in a loss against the Dolphins.
“I remember that vividly, just sitting up in the stands,” he said Tuesday. “And now I’m like actually here, actually a part of it.”
Asa played in 36 games for North Carolina State and caught 29 passes for 351 yards with one touchdown. The 6-foot-3, 237-pounder wasn’t drafted, and confessed Tuesday he was a bit “disappointed” to be forced to go the free agent route.
But when the opportunity came up to follow in the footsteps of his big brother and sign with the Patriots, he jumped at the chance.
‘He told me it’s a great place to go — it will help me develop as a young player. It’s a great opportunity,” Asa said of his brother’s guidance. “I’m just really thankful that they would choose me. To go as a free agent, it’s an awesome opportunity. I’m grateful to be chosen.
“He’s always been there to give me pointers and anything I need help on,” Asa added of his brother, who is currently with the Saints. “He’s always been an example of how to work hard, how to be determined, how to hustle.”
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|Could releases of Champ Bailey, Devin Hester, Cortland Finnegan have impact on potential free agency of Aqib Talib?||03.06.14 at 7:00 am ET|
When free agency begins next week, three veterans — Champ Bailey, Devin Hester and Cortland Finnegan — will be on the market. Could their sudden availability have any impact on Aqib Talib‘s asking price if he ends up in free agency?
The 35-year-old Bailey, a three-time All-Pro, will be released by the Broncos, Jason LaCanfora of CBS Sports reported Wednesday night. He saw a reduction in his playing time in 2013, as he struggled with injury, playing in a career-low five regular-season games and finishing with 23 tackles. The 2013 season marked the first year he did not have an interception — he had 52 picks over the course of his career. Bailey, who reached the Super Bowl for the first time in his career this season with the Broncos, has said he’s not done playing. (For what it’s worth, he doesn’t sound open to the idea of moving to safety.)
As for Hester, the 31-year-old Swiss army knife of a player told NFL Network on Wednesday he understands the Bears are ready to go a “different route,” which means he’ll be on the open market when free agency begins later this month. He’s made his bones as one of the best return men in the history of the league and occasional receiver, but was drafted out of Miami as a corner in 2006, and could still line up opposite a receiver if need be.
When it comes to how Bailey’s situation relates to Talib’s impending free agency, Bailey’s presence on the market probably won’t have a sizable impact on Talib’s overall value. Bailey is a Hall of Famer, but not the player he once was, and certainly not among the elite corners who are set to hit the market later this month. Someone who is likely closer to the top of the list is Finnegan, a 30-year-old who bid farewell to the Rams on Wednesday via Twitter. Finnegan, who signed a five-year, $50 million deal with St. Louis before the 2012 season, might have made an intriguing addition to the Patriots in 2012, but it remains to be seen what sort of fit he’d be with New England at this point in his career. (There’s a school of thought that’s already out there that says Finnegan will return to the Rams at a reduced rate.) If Talib does sign elsewhere and Finnegan is on the market, he might be an option, but he probably isn’t an overwhelming priority for New England if it gets to that point.
As far as how this all relates to Talib, given Denver struggles with depth in the secondary at times in 2013 (and the potential of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to bolt as a free agent), it would certainly put the Broncos in the market for another corner. And given the fact that they just unloaded a major cap hit — believed to be in the $10 million range — with the decision not to bring Bailey back, the Broncos suddenly have a few extra dollars to throw around. This is not to suggest that John Elway is going to open up the checkbook for Talib (the Broncos also could be players in a possible chase for Darrelle Revis) but Denver likely will be shopping for a corner when free agency begins.
While you should never say never, New England doesn’t figure to be a destination spot for Bailey. However, Hester does present an intriguing skill set. We all know that Bill Belichick loves football players, and Hester has lined up on offense, defense and special teams over the course of his career. He’s still one of the best in the league when it comes to working as a return man — he led the league in kickoff return yardage in 2013, and finished fifth in kick-return average. He’s not an elite receiver, but had six straight seasons of 20 catches or more prior to last year. There’s no telling what sort of payday Hester is seeking (it’s likely out of the Patriots’ price range), but his versatility would certainly be intriguing if he could connect with New England.
|Setting the scene from the Mile High City as Patriots battle Denver Broncos in AFC championship||01.19.14 at 1:04 pm ET|
DENVER — Mother Nature is apparently a big fan of the Broncos and Patriots.
In January weather more befitting of Florida or Southern California, sunshine and 67 degrees is expected for the 1 p.m. MT kickoff here in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, as the Patriots and Broncos do battle in ideal conditions for the AFC championship.
The temperature is expected to reach as high as 69 by halftime before cooling off in the evening.
If that holds, it will unofficially go down as the warmest outdoor game in Patriots playoff history.
On Jan. 12, 1986, when the Patriots beat the Dolphins, 31-14, the game-time temperature at the Orange Bowl was 64 degrees. It was officially 60 when the Patriots lost in the 1998 playoffs in Jacksonville. When the Patriots beat the Chargers, 24-21, in the 2006 playoffs it was only 53 and Super Bowl XXXIX in Jacksonville was only 59.
Ironically, today’s AFC championship is the 12th anniversary of the epic “Snow Bowl” at Foxboro Stadium, a game won by the Patriots over the Raiders, 16-13, in overtime in the last game ever played at the venue.
The two biggest injury question marks coming into the game appear to be the health of two rookie receivers that could challenge the Broncos secondary deep.
Kenbrell Thompkins continues to nurse a sore hip while Aaron Dobson is dealing with a stress fracture in his left foot. Both were limited all week in practice and both were questionable coming into the game. Dobson returned to practice on Wednesday after missing the Colts playoff game.
The Broncos have won both previous playoff meetings against the Patriots in Denver, beating the Patriots 22-17 in the 1986 AFC divisional round and winning, 27-13, in the 2005 playoffs, the game most infamously remembered by New England fans by Champ Bailey‘s game-changing 100-yard interception return off a Tom Brady pass to the end zone.
The Patriots gained their revenge two seasons ago when they blew out Tim Tebow and the Broncos, 45-10, in the divisional round. Including Super Bowl XXXVIII, when the Patriots beat the Panthers, 32-29, Bill Belichick is 2-0 against John Fox in the postseason.
|Peter King on M&M: ‘Silly’ to say AFC championship determines Peyton Manning’s legacy||01.17.14 at 1:21 pm ET|
Peter King of Sports Illustrated and NBC Sports made his weekly appearance on Mut & Merloni Friday to talk about his AFC and NFC championship predictions and Peyton Manning. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.
While they have different stories, King compared the legacies of Jerry Rice and Manning to prove his point that one game should not completely define Manning’s career.
“When I think of Jerry Rice, I don’t think that he couldn’t do it when he was 42,” King said. “The Manning story is different, but not altogether so. I think we place so much emphasis on how a guy does in very, very big games, and rightfully so if you’re talking about the greatest of all time, if you’re making that argument.
“I think it’s silly to say what happens in one game, this one game 20 years from now, is going to put Peyton Manning 18th on the mental all-time quarterback list, however you’d rank it, or fourth.”
For King, the argument against decreasing the value of Manning’s legacy on one game includes the potential for a worst-case scenario during Sunday’s game.
“Suppose that Manning puts up — take a number — 35 points,” King said. “And the Denver D just totally disintegrates and [Tom Brady] scores 45, and it’s a shootout and Brady wins.
“I just don’t think you can judge Peyton Manning based on you telling me, ‘Well if he loses this game he is here in NFL history or he is there.’ … Whether he wins another Super Bowl or not, I will consider him among the top five who ever played, but I won’t consider him the greatest, because you’re right, a quarterback does have to win championships.”
FOXBORO — He is regarded as the Patriots’ best pure deep threat. He could make a big difference, especially deep against an aging and injured Broncos secondary.
Dobson, who re-injured his left foot against the Bills in the first half of the regular season finale on Dec. 29, returned to practice this week and has been officially listed as limited on the team’s injury report.
“I really don’t know right now,” Dobson said Friday morning before the team’s final practice. “I just have to go out there [to practice] and see how it feels and go from there.”
The rookie initially sustained a stress fracture in the left foot the first time the Patriots played the Broncos on Nov. 24. He missed the next three games. He returned against the Ravens on Dec. 22 before pulling up while running a deep post route against the Bills. Dobson missed practice all week during the bye and last week leading up to the Colts game. He missed the divisional playoff before returning to practice on Wednesday.
“It’s frustrating, but I’m trying to improve, keep getting better, keep rehabbing and keep doing what I have to do to go on the trip,” Dobson said.
“It was hard, just to watch my team battle [the Colts] without me but they pulled it out, so I’m glad I get another opportunity hopefully to get back on the field this Sunday.”
In his rookie year out of Marshall, Dobson caught 37 passes for 519 yards and four touchdowns in 12 games.
Dobson admitted to having to shake off some rust but said his work on mental reps in practice has kept him sharp.
“It was just getting a feel for the game and getting back on the field,” Dobson said of his first return on Dec. 22. “Just sitting out for a while, [you have to] just get the timing back right [and] just things of that nature.”
‘It’s football, man. We’re both in the NFL,” Dobson said. “He’s a great player and has been doing it for years, so I’m going to have to go out there and play good.
‘I just try to go out there and do my job. I don’t try to put too much on my shoulders. I just have to go out there and do what I have to do and do what I have to do to help the team.’
Does he think of himself as a potential difference-maker?
“I just try to go out there and do my job, I don’t really try to put too much on my shoulders,” he said. “I’ve got to go out there and do what I have to do and do what I have to do to help the team.”
|Wes Welker ‘probable’ for return to New England Sunday night||11.22.13 at 3:49 pm ET|
Wes Welker is on track to make his return to Foxboro Sunday night.
There had been serious doubt at the beginning of the week as to whether Welker would be able to play Sunday night against the Patriots when he suffered a head/neck injury while catching a pass in the fourth quarter last Sunday night against Kansas City.
Welker missed practice on Wednesday but returned Thursday and was again at practice on Friday. After attending practice Friday, Welker was officially listed as probable on the final injury report of the week.
Meanwhile, tight end Julius Thomas was listed as questionable after a second straight limited practice with a knee injury. Even if Thomas is able to play, Joel Dreessen and Jacob Tamme figure to see more playing time at tight end in multiple packages.
Cornerback Champ Bailey is also questionable with a foot injury but is expected to play.
|WEEI NFL Power Rankings, Week 7: Patriots bump up a spot to No. 8||10.15.13 at 11:17 am ET|
Week after week the NFL proves to be as unpredictable as the weather in New England. Who would’ve thought at the start of the season that the Giants would open the season 0-6? Or that the Chiefs, who won just two games last year, would be 6-0? The defending NFC South champion Falcons started the season in the top five of the WEEI NFL Power Rankings. Now they’ve plunged all the way to No. 20.
One thing about which there’s no doubt is the Broncos‘ stranglehold on the top spot. Denver has rolled through its first six games and now is seeing Pro Bowlers Von Miller and Champ Bailey return to its defense. Behind the Broncos, no team has separated itself to become a clear second best in the league. With the Saints’ last-second loss to the Patriots, the Seahawks jump a spot to No. 2.
The much-anticipated Week 7 is near. Peyton Manning makes his first trip back to Indianapolis to play the Colts, who slipped to ninth after their Monday night loss to the Chargers. It should be another fun and wild week in the NFL.
1. (1) Broncos (6-0) — The undefeated Broncos didn’t even notice that Miller, the All-Pro linebacker, was missing for six weeks. Miller will just make the powerhouse even better with his return.
2. (3) Seahawks (5-1) — The imminent return of Percy Harvin and Zach Miller will help this offense greatly in the red zone. Russell Wilson and Co. have struggled to punch the ball in the end zone.
3. (2) Saints (5-1) — It’s never easy going into New England. The Saints were delivered their first loss, but they could have easily won that game with better coaching and clock management from Sean Payton. Great coaches make mistakes, too (just ask Bill Belichick). The Saints will be fine.
4. (4) 49ers (4-2) — Since back-to-back losses, the Niners have gone back to the ground game on offense. Running back Frank Gore had a total of 20 carries in Week 2 and 3. In the last three San Francisco victories, Gore is averaging 20 carries per game.
5. (6) Bengals (4-2) — With wins against the Steelers, Packers and Patriots, the Bengals are sitting pretty atop the AFC North.